Tuesday, August 21, 2012

C. E. M. Joad

Some recent posts on Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad have come up recently.

Mr Joad's 'Buzzing Bluebottle' at "Nigeness"

Joad of Joad Hall at "Philosophy, lit, etc."

I happen to have a copy of Joad's Guide to the Philosophy of Morals and Politics, which is a pretty decent, if occasionally plodding and occasionally glib, undergraduate-level work. One occasionally sees it quoted. Rather remarkably, it is quoted rather extensively in Wilson's concurrence in the notorious abortion case R. v. Morgentaler brought before the Supreme Court of Canada, in order to argue that the state's neutrality on the subject of abortion (and thus the state's refraining from giving it any criminal penalty) is necessary for freedom of conscience. Joad, or, at least, the young Joad, would be pleased; it fits well with his activism in the thirties (during which he explicitly argued for precisely this). I'm not sure if the older Joad would have agreed; he became more conservative, and more pessimistic about what he saw as the decadence and decay of modern society, as he grew older.

It's also briefly mentioned in Olaf Stapledon's Philosophy and Living, although as an appendix to an appendix because the two books came out the same year; but even a brief glance at Stapledon's reading list for beginners in philosophy shows a notable enthusiasm for Joad: "Readers will find that I have made use of Joad's treatment of several subjects. He has a surprising gift for expounding difficult ideas in such a manner that we are left wondering why people say philosophy is obscure." (Stapledon is most famous for his science fiction, most notably Sirius, Odd John, and Starmaker, but, of course, he started out as a philosophy lecturer; he gave it up when he began to think that science fiction might be more lucrative and a more influential venue for his philosophical ideas -- and on both points he was surely right.) So, despite his controversial character, he had his fans, even among philosophers.

ADDED LATER: Paul Raymont discusses some other connections between Joad and the law.


  1. Surely Joad's most valuable contribution to knowledge is his groundbreaking work of the study of Gamesmanship, as documented by Stephen Potter. I would type up the whole lovely bit, but as I gave my copy to my brother-in-law (following the copy I gave to my dad), I'm gratified to find that the internet has done the work for me.

  2. I had not heard about that, but that's definitely Joad. His big downfall was that he bragged that he never paid for train tickets -- and then got caught, which led the BBC to fire him. And he also, being an enthusiastic hiker and walker, famously said that whenever he had the chance to trespass, he did.

  3. Or another good Joad anecdote that's often told. An express train had to make a brief unscheduled stop at Reading station. Joad, who had missed his train, jumped on. The porter shouted at him: "Sorry, sir, you'll have to get off because the train doesn't stop here!" Joad just slid comfortably into a seat and replied, "In that case, don't worry, because I'm not on it!"

  4. You've never read Gamesmanship? Stop what you're doing right now -- job, schmob, you don't need it -- and acquire a copy. His writing on golf is particularly inspired, and I don't even know jack about the game. Here's a WSJ piece on golfsmanship, but I can't find my favorite story online. Why do I give away books I want to re-read? 


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