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Raimond Gaita was awarded the Doctor Honoris Causa from University of Antwerp for his exceptional contributions to contemporary moral philosophy and for his singular contribution to the role of the intellectual in today’s academic world, so recognising the influence of Gaita’s ethical thought beyond academic philosophy. The essays in this collection – by philosophers, legal theorists, political scientists, social workers, screenwriters, poets, novelists, literary theorists and critics – examine the influence of Gaita’s ethical thought in this broad sense, and particularly within Australian society and culture, where it has been most significant. The collection includes an interview with Gaita by Anne Manne, in which Gaita reflects on the origins and development of his ethical thoughts. (Monash University Press)

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Raimond Gaita

“Apart from the consistently high quality of the papers, perhaps the most gratifying aspect of A Sense for Humanity is the diversity of contributors, within and outside academia – philosophers, legal theorists, political scientists, social workers, screen writers, poets, novelists, literary theorists”

Raimond Gaita
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Raimond Gaita is unusual among moral philosophers in having presented the world of his childhood as food for thought. Most notably, he has given us his Romanian father, Romulus – ‘Johnny the Balt’ to his Australian neighbours – whose understanding of life’s moral necessities is articulated by Gaita as the core of his ethical thought. it is hard to think of an instance in the history of Western philosophy, other than the Socrates of Plato’s Apology, where an individual’s life story is as intrinsic to the views expounded as the life of Romulus Gaita is to those of his son.

The connection hasn’t always been clear. When Gaita first made his indelible mark with Good and Evil: An Absolute Conception (1991), calling it to account for its lack of moral seriousness, Romulus was not mentioned. The profound influence of father on son became apparent with the publication of Romulus, My Father (1998), but it was only in After Romulus (2011) that we begin to see that the ‘moral genius’ here (to quote a homeless man at one of Gaita’s book readings) is, in the first instance, not Raimond, but Romulus. And so we should see it, for the younger Gaita has consistently emphasised that it is in the nature of goodness to reveal the uniquely individual and irreducible humanity of others. The more we are moved by Romulus and his world, and the less we are dazzled by Gaita’s depth and subtlety of thought, the more the latter’s philosophy succeeds on its own terms.

it is a mark of that success that so many of the prominent writers and academics who have contributed to this collection of essays (and two poems) on Gaita’s ethical thought accept Romulus as the ground of that thought and are comfortable with the idea that a barely educated blacksmith of peasant background, a man who once contemplated murder and who never fully recovered from the psychosis to which he succumbed in mid-life, had a depth of understanding which, when presented in the language of moral philosophy, put that profession to shame (as the endorsements to the second edition of Good and Evil attest).

Jean Curthoys
A Sense for Humanity

Mining the work of ‘national resource’

By RICHARD KING

THE AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW JANUARY 16, 2015

Contributors
Nick Drake(poet and playwright), J.M Coetzee (novelist), Barry Hill (historian, poet, essayist), Alex Miller (novelist), Brigitta Olubas (academic literary critic), Helen Pringle Political theorist), Robert Manne (historian, political theorist), Gerry Simpson(academic legal theorist(, Steven Tudor(practicing and academic lawyer), Geoffrey Brahm Levey (political theorist), Dorothy Scott (practicing and academic social worker), Christopher Cordner (philosopher), Craig Taylor (philosopher), Miranda Fricker (philosopher).

Extract

From Barry Hill’s contribution: ‘Rai Gaita’s Mont Blanc’

“Here is a poem I dedicated to my good friend Rai Gaita. It was written after he took me to the site of his old house, the day before the premier viewing of Romulus, My Father in Castlemaine. It’s called ‘Reading on the Darkening Plain.’

In the dusk of the plains


he held his hands together palms up


each open hand the page of the book

‘I would read until there was no more light .’

 

Then he’d leave the veranda


go inside to light the lamp

breathe the fumes of kerosene
that singey smell

that was weak heat

 

and light for the reading and waiting.

Eventually, across the plains, he heard


the crackling of the motorbike.

The father’s head down over the handlebars

 

the son’s still over the last page
on the road to truth … Then the soup.


Night closed in. The dog warmed him.

Outside, the moon, mother of clouds, drifted.

Now, a father, a husband


he dwells on the plains once more

reading among boulders

books as solid as deeds, good as stone .

 

The house is beautifully lit


inside and out. A wood fire roars.


Under the moonless sky of the stone country one word virtuously contests the other

the other word, the lunar one,


sails in under the bedclothes,

reconnecting the sentences of the day.

The latest book cracks along its spine .

A sorrowful poem, manifestly: Rai’s sorrow, and that of the beautiful bare place, as we stood in the dusk that afternoon, and the sorrow that belongs to the film and to the book that led to it, the book itself, having come from Rai’s eulogy to his father, which was interlaced, we now all know, with a complicated yearning and unresolved grief for his mother.

I was happy to have written a poem that could stand without saying too much. It’s one of those poems that rests with the mood of things, and therefore not the kind of poem that could possibly do justice to the concerns that inhabit Rai’s work. All I can try to offer – in the interests of love and clarity, those ancient mistresses of philosophers and poets – a sketch -map towards such a poem. A rough sketch, necessarily, ‘only a few hints,’ as Whitman wrote in ‘When I Read the Book’ – ‘a few diffused faint clews and indirections.’2

The intimation of the poem has been with me for some time, for reasons I should explain, not the least of which is the poetic qualities of Rai’s work, as he has told me more than once he would have liked to have been a poet. Suffice to say the poem would seek to explore notions of philosophical embodiment – intellectual, moral, spiritual – a poem that bridges memoir and philosophical discourse, and which conveys what is not quite sayable otherwise because it has a music of its own. . . . . . .

Gaita went to England to do his doctorate, where he went climbing in Scotland and the Alps. Eventually he realised he’d have to make a choice between mountaineering and philosophy. He could not be fully serious in both professions. One love had to surrender to the other.

Yes, there is an extraordinary sweetness about this choice. And even more so if you feel they need not be apart, that they have long been together – of necessity. The mind-heart leaps. Instantly the philosophy becomes heroicised, just as the mountaineering takes on an intellectual, if not positively literary aspect – which in Europe it has long had. But with Gaita the choice was not an idle one, no mere abstraction. For years he had been mountain climbing, and the passion for that arduous activity had been coterminous with his mental work. The hard climbing did not come before the ‘hard thinking’ – to use one of his favourite phrases. For his definitive years in philosophy they climbed together. Not only that: they are still together, imaginatively. Much is still both absolute and precarious, as it is both classic and romantic.”