Books by Martin Milligan

ON BLINDNESS by Bryan Magee
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

Two philosophers, one blind since just after birth, exchange views more over their philosophic differences than their perceptual ones. Oxford professor and social activist Magee looked for a counterpart and correspondent in Milligan, the head of philosophy at the University of Leeds and a campaigner for the rights of the blind. This resultant, diverging book collects their brief correspondence (cut short by Milligan's death), starting with empirical questions over sighted and blind perceptions of the world and the differences in comprehending and describing it. Their dialogue quickly and unsurprisingly veers from the stated topics into a purely philosophic debate over types of knowledge and theories of epistemology. Milligan, citing Bertrand Russell, subscribes to the idea that all knowledge is effectively propositional, distinct from sensory experience and easily transferred; Magee, preferring Kant and Schopenhauer, distinguishes between the separate knowledges by acquaintance and by description, i.e. ``knowing'' vs. ``knowing that/about.'' Their temperamental differences likewise emerge quickly: Milligan is an analytic and combative debater, sensitive to any presumption about blindness from the sighted; Magee is a sympathetic, flexible investigator, ready to change topics and tactics. Although their philosophic differences are eventually put aside unreconciled, the two find useful common ground in discussing problems the recently blind have in adjusting, with special attention to John Hull's memoir of going blind, Touching the Rock. Milligan at his best (when not arguing over logical positivism) fascinatingly conveys the experience of his condition without making excuses for his handicap; he offers intense descriptions of the feel of different spaces, of ``hearing'' obstacles, and of his own dreams. Milligan and Magee's tangling with philosophic theories of knowledge detracts from their intelligent, unfortunately truncated dialogue of the experience of sightlessness. Read full book review >