Peregrination: Post-Graduate Studies of Bodies in Motion

In the beginning was motion or, in this case, self-motion or peregrination as Mears termed the activity (Mears, 1978; Mears & Harlow, 1975). Peregrination is probably the earliest, simplest, and most fundamental form of play initiated by infants. Peregrination or vigorous movement of the body through climbing, jumping, rolling, etc., clearly has the potential for allowing the exploration of or attention to the moving body in space. Though, at birth, we all graduate with a degree in coordination and movement, so to speak, there is still much to learn. It is expected that such learning should be more manifest in organisms that develop in unpredictable, variable, or complex environments that present challenges to movement in that environment. Arboreal and mountainous environments would seem to particularly encourage such forms of play. Also organisms moving from one sort of environment to another, either in the course of migratory activities or in the sense of having an evolutionary history in which they are successively arboreal and terrestrial as many primate species appear to have had. Such organisms will have to be prepared to engage in a wide variety of forms of locomotion, such as walking, climbing (trees and cliffs), jumping, and even possibly swimming. There are non-human primates to be found who specialize in any one of these and humans regularly do all of them.

Mears’ ideas are based on her observations of young rhesus monkeys that seem at times to personify peregrination. Yet we would not deny that the peregrinations of human children is, if less prodigious in terms of gross motor control, quite impressive, even trying at times. Mears’ definition explicitly refers to self-initiated motion of the whole body through space. However, her reference to the existence of such self-motion play existing in newborn humans implies a remarkable perambulatory precocity. Moreover, additional examples indicate an unstated, implicit, and apparently unconscious bifurcation of use of the term peregrination. On the one hand she gives as an example of pleasurable peregrination a baby “cooing and gurgling while jiggling himself all over, his arms, his legs, and his body all in volatile vibration (Mears porn, 1978, p. 372). This is immediately followed by a further example reminding us that “the rocking of cradle or carriage soothes the infant long before the first authentically documented laugh at 4 months of age.” Clearly neither example meets the criteria specified by Mears for peregrination. The first example involves self-initiated activity but no motion of the whole body through space. The second example involves bodily motion through space but is not self initiated. This suggests that we may be getting two phenomena for the price of one. That is, peregrination operationally appears to cover both self-initiated activity and motion of the whole body through space. Mears discussion implies that both components may be pleasurable perhaps even, absorbing. Yet it might be helpful to separate rhythmic motion from say, a simple monotonic plunge into a river. Nonetheless, it may be worth noting in passing that many human activities are rhythmic. Running, swimming, skipping, speaking, and, to less obvious extent, writing are all rhythmic activities.

In addition to opening up a diverse set of possible motor responses, body schemas, and special understanding peregrination may form a basis for subsequent rough and tumble play (Blurton Jones, 1967; Harlow & Harlow, 1965) and approach avoidance play (Harlow & Harlow, 1965; Harlow & Some, 1971). Since rough and tumble play includes chasing, wrestling, pushing and jumping they simply reflect peregrination in a social context. However, while this behaviour may represent the pinnacle of sociality for young rhesus monkeys and may warm the cockles of a simian mother’s heart, a human parent, whether out of higher or lower standards of tolerance, appears less impressed with this behaviour in her own offspring and often brand it as anti-social. Yet, in spite of the low esteem in which rough and tumble play may be held by humankind (and it must be admitted that rhesus mothers do frequently become tense when play becomes more rough than tumble) it is clear that it is enjoyed immensely by young aficionados for whom no other for of social intercourse is entered into so affettuoso. Even solitary peregrination, however, although it appears earlier than rough and tumble play and increases more rapidly, does appear to be very much facilitated by the presence of other monkeys.

The Basic Rhythm: Consider the following quotation from Thelen (1979).
In contrast to other primates, however, play is exceedingly common in apparently normal humans during one stage of the life cycle. Normal infants raised in western cultures perform large amounts of rhythmical, highly playful behaviour, such as kicking, waving, bouncing, swaying, scratching, and twirling. These often bizarre behaviours have intrigued observers of infants for many years. Unlike other human behaviours, play appears to be performed for its own sake. The child seems absorbed in its own movements, and it is very difficult to ascribe goal or purpose to those movements. Also since much of the infant’s play is strikingly similar to movements seen in abnormal populations of humans and other primates, observers have questioned whether they are indeed normal, or, rather, deviant behaviours. (p. 699)

While this may sound like a follow-up of Mears’ work on primate peregrination, the author was not describing play at all. Rather, she was describing a set of behaviours frequently described as autisms, blindismis, or stereotypes, such as, rocking, head-banging, or hand waving or fluttering, that are frequently associated with pathological conditions and are often the result of sensory and social deprivation or neurological dysfunction. I merely substituted the italicized words play and playful (with appropriate grammatical adjustments) for the original words, stereotypy or stereotyped in Thelen’s passage to illustrate the remarkable parallel between the two concepts. Not only are the two sets of activities very similar but also they present some of the same challenges to a functionalist analysis. Interestingly Thelen’s point was to argue that these repetitive stereotypies were not only to be found under pathological conditions but could be identified as part of the normal repertoire of the infant.

Earlier Wolff (1968), reporting on some observations of his colleague Imamura, suggested that the “function of stereotypy may change from a goal, to become a means of social communication or a method of exploring the physical properties of objects” (p. 477). Thus the peregrination of Mears and the stereotypes of Thelen may serve as a preparation, not for some adult activity, but for some further development of play. In the process of changing function the locus of control may also change from one of internal regulation of vestibular stimulation to external stimulation of input from objects and persons. Pursuing this line of argument Wolff noted that body rocking represents a transitional means of locomotion (as did Gesell, 1939; McGraw, 1941, and Louvie, 1949). Thus, Mears’ ambiguous rhythmic activity may become full peregrination after all. Wolf further noted that while rocking might presage crawling it might remain as a “fixed, monotonous pattern” in children with Down’s syndrome even after they have learned to crawl.

Wolff sees rhythmic stereotypes as basic to the development of speech and skilled acts involving rhythms. He bases his speculations on Lashley’s (1951) postulated “generalized schemata of action which determine the sequence of specific acts.” Such schemata were thought to be inherent properties of the CNS and quite separate from the acts they organize. Wolff argues that rhythmic stereotypes are characteristic of immature, undifferentiated organisms and that persisting stereotypes indicate a “lack of developmental differentiation.” Such a condition may arise because of organic pathologies or social stresses that may retard, distort, or reverse development. Older individuals and sometimes younger individuals suffering from certain pathologies may resume stereotyped movements. This suggests that endogenous oscillators continue to be operative even in the absence of overt simple stereotypes. They are only, perhaps temporarily decoupled by our continuing engagement with the constraints of the physical and social world. Wolff argues further that rhythmic stereotypes are most likely when there is little variation in environmental input or when attentiveness renders the individual insensitive to such variation. Wolff concludes

Since variable stimulation tends to interrupt the inherent rhythmical activity of the central nervous system; since lesions of the nervous system may modify or reinstate motor stereotypes; and since “spontaneous activity” of the central nervous system is the most likely source of biological clocks in the frequency range I have considered (approximately one or two Herz), it is reasonable to assume that the motor patterns I have described here derive their temporal organization from the central nervous system oscillators (p. 479).

Wolff rejects the hypothesis that the overt expression of the endogenous oscillators is simply suppressed by “more flexible regulations and groupings of behaviour.” An alternate hypothesis he offers involves the interactions among oscillators resulting in sequential patterns in which simple rhythms are not easily discernible. Thus, oscillators may become phase-locked during which some rhythms may entrain others (magnet effect) or, more interestingly may become mutually entrained. Wolff suggests as examples, the endogenous phase relations in infants among sucking, swallowing, and breathing; sucking and breathing; and sucking and eyelid closure. Other examples, most of which have become available since Wolff’s writing would include the exogenous entrainment of infant activity by adult speech, and by infant games such as peek-a-boo (Bruner) or turn-taking games (Ross and Goldman). Perhaps one of the first zones of proximal development opened up by social tutors is in the entrainment of endogenous rhythms. This suggests two alternative zones of development, and endogenously and an exogenously produced zone. Why would the infant be provided with these two?

Two Sources of Vestibular Stimulation: As Thelen has illustrated, human infants perform, to some degree, stereotyped movements involving whole body swaying, rocking of the torso and/or head, or swinging, banging, rubbing or scratching with the limbs. Very young children engage in these activities to a remarkable extent. Rhythmical stereotypes may occupy as much as 40% of the normal infant’s wakeful periods and virtually all infants engage in some degree of stereotyped movement. This increases dramatically in the first six months of life and begins to decline thereafter. While these stereotypes have been linked in the past to pathological behaviour we have noted the similarities of stereotypes and play. In particular, we noted that Thelen characterized stereotypes as being difficult to ascribe goals to porno and as being engaged in for their own sake. In addition, she notes that infants become “completely absorbed” in the activity. High levels of rhythmic stereotypes have frequently been traced back to some deficiency in adult-infant interaction. Thelen found that the amount of stereotypy in infants was negatively correlated with the amount of time the infant was carried, rocked, jiggled, or bounced by the caregiver. Thelen characterized these forms of stimulation, collectively as forms of vestibular stimulation. Although, other forms of stimulation, such as, tactile stimulation, auditory stimulation, and other forms of contact with the infant were also found to be negatively correlated with stereotypes, this was depend upon the correlation of these latter forms of stimulation with vestibular stimulation. That is, caregivers who provided high levels of vestibular stimulation also provided high levels of other forms of stimulation. Subsequent analyses suggested that it was specifically the vestibular stimulation that was most directly and inversely related to the extent of stereotypy in infants. Moreover, the greatest differences in vestibular stimulation between children high and low in stereotypes occurred in the first 14 weeks of life whereas the greatest differences between these groups in the stereotypes themselves occurred at six months.[1] Thus it appears that early vestibular stimulation may lead to later reduction in stereotypes.

A possible developmental model based on the foregoing might go as follows. Given that the development of sensory components of the nervous system appears to require some minimal level of sensory input and that some level above this is optimal and given that the vestibular system seems to be one of the earliest developing systems then early vestibular stimulation may be a necessary prerequisite for neurological development. Deficiencies in exogenously induced vestibular stimulation may be compensated for by autochthonous or self-generated vestibular stimulation monitored by a negative feedback. Within relatively broad limits such a system would assure a finely tuned neurological growth rate. This argument is likely especially important for primate, and especially human, development. If it is the case that primate development is more open-ended it will necessarily by more dependent upon environmental events. However, such a system might potentially maneuver the species into a rather precarious situation if conditions changed dramatically precluding the availability of the environmental “scaffolding” of a zone of proximal development. The evidence of human culture certainly suggests a history of crises during which the social and physical environment may have been considerably less that optimally supportive (Harris). Such conditions might lead to a “default” option in development in which endogenous process would make the organism less than completely dependent on external guidance.

Serious Play from Peregrination to Cultural Change: A Bateson-Gadamer-Harris Hypothesis

The girls are in the next room. Over and over I hear, “Let’s pretend.”, “Say.”, “What if . . . ?” They do not say, but I imagine them to be saying, “Let X =  .”  There are two phases in their pretend game, deciding on and decidingin. First they must decide on the game. Once they are in the game things change considerably. As Bateson so engagingly noted, that the playful bite does not denote what bites normally denote. There is an inherent difference in the playful nip and the angry bite. The many differences between rough and tumble play-fighting and serious, angry fighting are now well know from the work of people such as Harlow, Goodall, McGrew, and Blurton Jones. The frame of play does not simply mark, or place in quotations, events that are inherently the same and essentially unaltered other than in their context. What happens inside the frame is structurally different what occurs outside the frame. It is an analog, a simulation of that which occurs outside the frame, but is typically not, for good reasons confused with what happens outside the frame. Whether playing a game of hopscotch, reflecting on Lear’s fate, or squinting n the glare Van Gogh sun, our involvement is different from that outside these special frames. A game, a play, and a painting are all different from the everyday in the same way. They are involving and absorbing,drawing us in and compelling our attention for a little while at least. When we are done, we turn away from the frame back to our everyday existence.

Overview of the argument: The thesis  explored here assumes that all life forms are inherently conservative and that change is slow, uncertain, and dangerous. It is also, however, given sufficient time, also inevitable. Change is thrust upon us. We dodge it when we can, resist it always – even now, in our own apparently novelty hungry culture we resist real change. This is continues to be true in that remarkable extension of biology called culture. Evolutionary theory takes these assumptions for granted at the level of phylogenesis. I consider the implications of this conservatism at the level of ontogenesis and cultural change – or, rather, how mammalian and especially human species capitalized on an innovation that itself became an engine of change without changing the necessary conservatism of life. This innovation was play. Play and its derivatives – art and aesthetics – is a form of experimentation and as such, is the R&D of mammalian life. As such, it is framed, compartmentalized, isolated, and trivialized, as are its novel products. It is this last feature that is critical for my argument. One of the reasons novelty is dangerous is that many of its consequences are unforeseeable. A strategy that provides a short-term advantage may also conceal one or more long-term disasters. Thus, even when playful experimentation throws up useful novelties they will be bracketed out from everyday routines. This is as true of the play of kittens as of humans. Playful inventions are bracketed, but not necessarily forgotten. They often persist as a kind of useless memory load. They are not only useless, but among humans, at least, perceived to be useless. Has reader not commented at some time or other on some obscure skill as a residue of a “wasted youth”? Yet, especially to the extent that a novel skill is unique and potentially functional, it will often be remembered and possibly accessible should the more available everyday skills fail. This will not happen often but, given time, it will happen. On those rare occasions play will become temporarily unframed. I emphasize that it will be rare, for the everyday must fail badly and persistently before it will be abandoned. The failure of the old ways must be persistent so that novel ways are unframed repeatedly until the new has become a more familiar part of the everyday than the old. Thus, it is that conservatism itself consolidates novelty and change, almost unnoticed, insinuates itself into organic life.

That play is an engine of change is not a novel idea. Just how it functions, and the complexities of how it functions are, however, perhaps not very much appreciated. In what follows some of those complexities will, I hope, become more evident.

Some Features of Play: play is, above all, activity: spontaneous, exuberant, diffuse, extremely variable, sometimes inventive and frequently laden with affect. As organisms develop the play actions become less diffuse but remains variable and somewhat less predictable than non-play activities. In the very young infant play is organized around body parts and movements as well as around those of parents, siblings, and peers. Among humans, objects are incorporated into play from a very early age. This engagement of the body and its actions with one another and with the activities of others and with objects seems to be a very primary guiding value (sensu Edelman, 1989) of virtually all mammals, but particularly of social mammals and most especially of primates. Play is a particularly absorbing activity. Indeed, this property of absorption may be more fundamental than positive affect that is very often taken as a hallmark of play. However, much activity that is clearly play occurs without overt signs of mirth. There is much serious play, even among children in which they are obviously motivated, even driven, to pursue play, but with great seriousness. Perhaps the most serious of play is “deep play” in which the stakes are “irrationally high” (Geertz, 1960). In such play moods may range from elation to terror, but it is undeniably absorbing in all events. This quality of absorption links play very nicely with aesthetic activities such as dance and teather, and all the arts. It also links play to religious experience (Huizinga, 1950) and hypnosis (Tellegen & Atkinson, 1974) and perhaps even dreams. In recent years Tellegen and others have postulated individual differences in absorption as underlying differences in hypnotizability. This tendency to absorption is said to involve intense and sometimes protracted involvement with certain “engaging” stimuli (exploration) or ideation (play) and a reification of the imagined (Tellegen, 1978).

It is also this quality of absorption that renders Gadamer’s notion of the player “being played by the game” most apposite. Gadamer argues that play can fullfil its function only when we as players lose ourselves in play. Gadamer also notes that, although few of us would define play by its seriousness, our comportment towards play indicates that we do implicitly appreciate the importance of taking play seriously. It is impossible to play with someone who does not take play seriously. Such a person, Gadamer points out, we call a spoilsport. At the same time, we are often embarrassed by the idea that we might be taking our play too seriously. Seriousness, though not a very obvious part of our understanding of play, is an important part of the way we experience play. There is also always a sense of otherness in play. Even when there is no other player involved there is always something responsive with which the player engages with moves that are always followed by unpredictable, surprising countermoves.

There are a number of conceptual conundrums that trouble play researchers. Play appears often to be activity without a goal, engaged in for its own sake. Play is also often its own focus. As Bruner puts it, play focuses attention on means not ends. It tends to turn attention around from the “business end” of the stick, as it were, and directs it to what it is we are doing. Thus, in the goal directed activity of charging after a Wildebeest, the lion’s attention is all on the wildebeest. In reaching for the banana, or seeking support for a simple ladder, the chimpanzee’s attention is captivated by the goal and not the means.

Rousseau was enthusiastic about the role of play for education and saw it as the first and truly natural form of learning. For Rousseau play was not merely something to be used artificially to make learning enjoyable, but something upon which development naturally depended. Thus, for Rousseau, even running and skipping had a natural developmental function. In his characteristic romantic vein Rousseau admonished us to Love childhood, promote its games, its pleasures, its delightful instincts . . . Childhood has its own ways of seeing, of thinking, of feeling, which are suitable to it; nothing is less reasonable than to substitute our own . . . Work and play are alike to him. (Emile)

Clearly, for Rousseau, play was a natural educator through which we become more fully what we are as humans. His ideas on play were extremely influential and the impact of Rousseau’s ideas on early childhood educators through his influence on Pestalozzi and Froebel has been considerable. The following quote from Froebel is probably held as a self-evident truth by all early childhood educators.

The plays of childhood are the germinated leaves of all later life; for the whole man is developed and shown in these, in his tenderest dispositions, in his innermost tendencies. The whole of later life of man, even to the movement when he shall leave it again, has its source in the period of childhood.

A common sense view of play is that it simply represents the expenditure of a certain amount of “excess energy.” Schiller was one of the few who speculated about the sources of play as well as of its uses. Schiller imagined that nature was over-generous in her endowment of life energy and hence animals of all sorts expend much unnecessary energy. He imagined that the lion was just bursting with energy that when not locked in combat with some would-be usurper of his royal prerogatives “he fills the re-echoing desert with his terrible roars and his exuberant force rejoices itself, showing itself without an object.” As it turns out lions are remarkable energy conservers, spending an average of 14 hours a day quietly staring off into the distance. The rest of the time they spend resting up from this arduous activity waiting for something to die or for somebody else to kill something so they can steal it. If truly pressed they will occasionally hunt. Lions seem to have been a particularly bad example for Schiller to have picked to illustrate his surplus energy notion. The surplus energy notion has, nonetheless, enjoyed a certain popularity. Spencer, writing from an evolutionary perspective, also subscribed to the surplus energy theory that he took to be left over energy from the struggle for survival. “Play is equally an artificial exercise of the powers which in default of their natural exercise become so ready to discharge that they relieve themselves by simulated actions.” This is clearly an early expression of the notion of “vacuum activity” popularized by the classical ethologists in the 1950’s. On this view, sometimes referred to as a “hydraulic model,” energy spontaneously produced by the organism is stored, building up sufficient pressure, if not discharged or released, to eventually discharge spontaneously. Perhaps there is something to the surplus energy notion. Some of the rare cases of primate communities in which play did not occur were also cases in which resources were so scarce that virtually all time-energy budgets were spent on foraging. As we will see there are potential costs involved in play.

Perhaps the first serious theorist of play was Karl Groos (1896) who, like Goethe and Rousseau before him, saw play as an essential developmental mechanism in mammals. For Groos play was not simply an incidental activity engaged in during play but was rather the very reason for a period of immaturity. We should not think, wrote Groos, that animals simply play as a luxury of youth but rather that they have a period of youth in order to play. Groos felt that play was a new kind of instinct that forms the basis for intelligence and, in the same way as the related instinct of imitation, replaced more primitive instincts. Groos believed that the mammalian and especially the human repertoire are so complex that we need an extra developmental period of youth to attain the “higher” final level of achievement. This notion of play as development porno practice has been an enduringly popular one (e.g., Bruner, 1973; Beach, 1945). For Groos play was an endogenous “tutor” continuing the task of development for organism requiring a flexible developmental trajectory.

[Primitive] instincts are not sufficient equipment for human life, and the child has to acquire imitatively, and experimentally, a number of capacities adapted to individual needs. These capacities are variable and inherited, and are capable of development far surpassing the most perfect instinct. This presumably must go hand in hand with the evolution of culture. For now rather than having a fixed set of instincts for a fixed niche in the environment people were now seen as having flexible instincts and may now enter a variety of niches.

There are some interesting implications for Groos developmental view of play. It is important to note that, for Groos, running is not simply pre-exercise for hunting, but represents a more general increment in body control (as it was for recapitulationists such as Hall.). Piaget put very similar ideas in much more explicit and positivistic terms.
For instance when . . . the child discovers free-fall he amuses himself by throwing everything on the ground. In this way, he exercises his new power, which will one day be integrated in his knowledge of the laws of the physical world.

Another advocate of play as preparation for future adaptive behaviour is Konrad Lorenz. The young raven experimenting with feeding behaviour on a new object does not want to eat; he wants to know if it is edible in principle. The information acquired by exploratory behaviour is objective in the most literal sense of the word.

Bruner, in a similar vein, suggests that play permits a focus on the act rather than the means. Most of Groos’s ideas would seem to have some currency today because his emphasis on function is compatible with the tenor of current evolutionary interests. Play presents a particular challenge to such interests because many definitions of play emphasize its lack of at least immediate benefit. On the face of it play seems to entail several sorts of costs by exposing the player to fatigue, injury, predation, and even disease. Since it is difficult to make a strong case for immediate benefits to counter the immediate costs it became conventional to argue for potential future benefits. However, there are a number of constraints on such models. Play cannot appear just anywhere in the life span. Obviously, from a reproductive fitness perspective, play cannot appear or peak at the end of the reproductive period. Play may increase monotonically from birth and may peak unimodally or multimodally. Preferably this should be earlier rather than later. To derive the maximum benefit from play, it has been argued, animals should play “as soon as they have developed coordinated movements of their bodies and limbs” (Wilson, 1972, p.165). However, this may be a bit too nonspecific. Particular forms of play may have particular functions. It may turn out to be optimal to practice closer to the time when they will be more obviously functional. One might rather then expect certain forms of play to appear or peak just prior to maturity.

Most functional theories of play appear to assume that the effects of play are fairly direct. Thus the rough and tumble play of weanlings is thought to somehow prepare them for adult fighting. Vygotsky’s educational argument that instruction and developmental guidance should move just in advance of current abilities may be worth consideration in this context. If this is a general rule of optimization of development and if play is a kind of endogenous “tutor” extending the zone of proximal development then it follows that play will precede functional activity fairly closely.
Groos also hypothesized that the amount of play was related to the ultimate level of complexity required. This certainly seems to hold in very general terms. Play is limited to vertebrates and play of any degree of elaboration seems to be largely restricted to mammals. A far as we know, no invertebrates play. Indeed, there are no documented cases of fishes, amphibians, or reptiles playing, with a single dubious exception of a Kimodo dragon that is said to have played with his shovel in his cage (Wilson, 1974). Many birds perform activities that seem to be structured like play, however. In organisms that play, a state of absorption accompanies play, which can be induced either exogenously by the environment, by social agents (exogenous tutors), by developing capacities or sensibilities (endogenous tutors). This absorbing sate focuses attention on the source of novelty in a manner similar to Bruner’s idea that play focuses attention on “means” rather than “ends.”

Philosophers and the Iraq war

The 2003 Iraq war already seems a long time ago. The long build up, global protests and wranglings at the UN all culminated in a war that dominated the news for three weeks and then quickly dropped off the front pages.

The war has since been fought and won; the peace is still being contested. History has yet to pass its judgement on whether, in the end, it did more harm than good.

When we have the benefit of hindsight, we shall be able to judge better the wisdom of those who argued for or against the war. On which side of the divide will philosophers be seen to have pitched their camp?

Most of the evidence points towards a strong trend of opposition to the conflict among professional academic philosophers. The clearest sign of this came when the American Philosophical Association eastern division passed a motion opposing war. The eastern division is the largest of the APA’s three regional groupings and hence its passing of an anti-war motion by a ratio of six to one is probably representative of American academic opinion.

In the United Kingdom, there was no such unified response. Several universities organised petitions against the war, the wording of which was usually almost identical to that used in Oxford’s:

We, the undersigned, working at Oxford University, find the case for launching a pre-emptive war against Iraq unconvincing and morally questionable. We urge the Government not to embark on a course of action that will bring death and suffering to the people of Iraq.

Several leading philosophers signed these petitions, including Onora O’Neill, Quentin Skinner and Simon Blackburn at Cambridge; and Joseph Raz, Timothy Williamson, Derek Parfit, G A Cohen and Michael Ayers at Oxford.

It is impossible to know, however, what is signalled by the absence of many philosophers from these lists. For example, Jane Heal at Cambridge was against the war and didn’t sign only because she was not aware of the petition’s existence. Her Cambridge colleague Edward Craig, on the other hand, didn’t sign because he “thought that the issues were far too finely balanced to want to go signing petitions over them.”

Furthermore, the internet hub for these protests, only lists nine universities which organised such petitions (Cambridge, Southampton, Oxford, Reading, UEA, LSE, UCL, Surrey and York). This is again indicative of the somewhat ad hoc nature of the formal campaign against the war in UK universities.

Anecdotal evidence certainly does suggest that British philosophers were generally against the war, although perhaps not as interested in it as one might expect. One of the most vociferous philosophers against the war was Rupert Read at the University of East Anglia, who could report, “My philosophy department is united against the war, and we got a motion passed through the University Assembly condemning it.” However, it should be noted that this motion was passed at a small meeting by 65 votes to five, when over 2,200 members of staff were entitled to vote.

A more typical report of how philosophers have reacted comes from a lecturer at Cambridge University who prefers not to make their own views public. At their college, “the atmosphere has seemed largely against the activities of the US and UK in Iraq, expressions ranging from the scornful to the angry. I have heard the occasional voice speaking in favour of the war, but if there is a large group of people with this view they are keeping very quiet.”

Brendan Larvor at the University of Hertfordshire found his peers even more circumspect. “Some colleagues were firmly anti. I don’t think anyone was firmly for it. On the whole the mood was one of suspended judgment. We knew we were being fed propaganda by all parties.”

As our straw poll seems to reflect (see TPM 23, page 10), many philosophers simply haven’t been talking much about the war. Christian Perring, an academic in New York, reports, “I have some colleagues who are strongly anti-war and who have gone on anti-war marches and protests. I don’t know anyone who is strongly pro-war. But it does seem to me that many philosophers are to a large extent more preoccupied by worries about potential budget cuts, fee increases, and decreased student population, and of course, the still-terrible job market in philosophy.”

Certainly, there have not been many philosophers who have made their voices heard in public on the war, whether by choice or simply because the media takes no interest. Noam Chomsky took up his usual role as leading spokesman for the intellectual left. Chomsky has warned that the war is likely to increase hatred of the US in the Middle East and create more problems than it solves. Back in September last year, he wrote in the Guardian, “As for a US attack against Iraq, no one, including Donald Rumsfeld, can realistically guess the possible costs and consequences. Radical Islamist extremists surely hope that an attack on Iraq will kill many people and destroy much of the country, providing recruits for terrorist actions.” Nothing that has happened since has prompted him to change his mind.

In Britain, only the few philosophers who regularly appear in the media anyway have made their voices heard. Mary Warnock has argued passionately against the war. In an interview for TPM last September, she spoke of her concern for the undermining of international law. “The thought of a war against Iraq without the United Nations seems to me to be absolutely monstrous,” she said. In March of this year, echoing Chomsky’s concern for the repercussions of a war, she wrote in theObserver, “For me, the most convincing argument against a pre-emptive attack on Iraq is a consideration of the consequences in the rest of the Middle East and beyond, regardless of what America’s long-term aims might be.”

It has been left to Roger Scruton to provide a lonely public voice of a philosopher generally supportive of the war. Chastising those who criticise US “imperialism”, Scruton cites America’s record in intervening and then withdrawing, saying that “The vices of the USA are always before us; but the virtues are not sufficiently remembered.

“US foreign policy isn’t always right,” he adds. “But it emerges from a rational process – one in which criticism is permitted, and accountability assumed. The foreign policies of North Korea and Iraq issue from no such rational process: which is one reason for using force in order to prevent them from issuing at all.”

If there is an overall picture, then it is one of philosophers being much more opposed to the war than in favour of it, but not on the whole feeling as strongly on the issue as might be expected. It hasn’t dominated their discussions and it has not resulted in a large outpouring of public words for or against the conflict.

What is perhaps most interesting is whether or not the reasons given for or against the war will turn out to be vindicated by events. At the time of going to press, it does not seem at all clear whether the conflict has, in the round, created more problems than it has solved, or made the lives of Iraqis worse in the medium to long term than they would have been. Even the number of civilian casualties, which both hawks and doves accepted would be inevitable, was lower than many pre-war estimates. As to the international rule of law, if anything, countries like Israel, Syria and North Korea seem to have moved more towards multilateral than unilateral solutions to their regional tensions since the fighting stopped.

The APA resolution was in part premised on what it saw as the likely outcomes of the war, so seeing what these actually are will surely help us to judge its wisdom. But one part at least was not based on consequences at all. Appealing to just war theory and international law, the resolution maintained that countries can only go to war in self-defence, and thus the so-called “Bush doctrine” of pre-emption is wrong, no matter what the consequences. Depending on how this situation pans out, that might be the biggest source of philosophical fall-out. If – and it remains a big if – this war turns out to have made the world a safer and better place, philosophers will be forced to reconsider the centuries-old principles of just war theory. And if it doesn’t, then the philosophical community can feel vindicated about the stand it took, albeit rather quietly.