Bryan Magee

Bryan Edgar Magee (born 12 April 1930) is a noted British broadcasting personality, politician, and author, best known as a popularizer of philosophy.

Early life

Born of working class parents in Hoxton, Magee was close to his father, but had a difficult relationship with his abusive and overbearing mother. An evacuee during World War II, he was educated at Christ's Hospital school on a London County Council scholarship. He did National Service in the Army and served in the Intelligence Corps seeking possible spies among the refugees crossing the border between Yugoslavia and Austria. After demob he obtained a scholarship to Keble College, Oxford where he read History and Philosophy. Friends there included Robin Day, William Rees-Mogg, Jeremy Thorpe and Michael Heseltine. While at Oxford Magee became interested in socialist politics and was elected president of the Oxford Union.

Renegade Politician

After a period at Yale University, he returned to Britain in 1958 with hopes of becoming a Labour Member of Parliament (MP). In this he was unsuccessful, and instead took up a job presenting the ITV current affairs television programme "This Week". He made documentary programmes about subjects of social concern such as prostitution, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion and homosexuality (illegal in Britain at the time).

In 1959, Magee met Karl Popper and became close friends with the philosopher, even suggesting the eventual title of Popper's autobiography, "Unended Quest". Magee also suggested improvements for the first volume of Popper's "The Open Society and Its Enemies".

He was eventually elected MP for Leyton at the February 1974 general election, but found himself out of tune with the Labour Party's leftward tendencies under Michael Foot and announced on 22 January 1982 that he had resigned the Labour whip. Magee subsequently (in March 1982) joined the defection of moderate Labour MPs to the newly founded Social Democratic Party. He lost his seat at the 1983 general election and returned to writing and broadcasting (which, indeed, he had continued during his parliamentary career).

Broadcaster and writer

Magee's most important influence on society though, remains his efforts to make philosophy accessible to the layman. Transcripts of his television series "Men of Ideas" are available in published form in the book "Talking Philosophy". This book provides a readable and wide-ranging introduction to modern Anglo-American philosophy.

Another series and book, "The Great Philosophers", covers the history of Western philosophy, as does Magee's "The Story of Thought" (also published as "The Story of Philosophy"). Magee has also published "Confessions of a Philosopher" (1997), which essentially offers an introduction to philosophy in the form of an autobiography. This latter book was involved in a libel lawsuit as a result of Magee repeating the rumor that Ralph Schoenman, a controversial associate of Bertrand Russell during the philosopher's final decade, had been planted by the CIA in an effort to discredit Russell. Schoenman successfully sued Magee for libel, with the result that the first printing of the British edition of the book was pulped.Fact|date=August 2008

In "Confessions of a Philosopher", Magee charts his own philosophical development in an autobiographical context. He also emphasizes the importance of Schopenhauer's philosophy as a serious attempt to solve philosophical problems. In addition to this, he launches a scathing critique of analytic philosophy over three chapters, contesting its fundamental principles and lamenting its influence.

His book, "The Philosophy of Schopenhauer", (first published in 1983), remains one of the most substantial and wide-ranging treatments of Schopenhauer to be found, it is particularly appreciated for its several essay-appendices in which Magee assesses in depth his influence on Wittgenstein, Wagner and other creative writers. He also addresses Schopenhauer's thoughts on homosexuality and the influence of Buddhism on his philosophy. He regards the work as his "academic magnum opus".

Magee has a particular interest in the life, thought and music of Richard Wagner and has written two notable books on the composer and his world "Aspects of Wagner" (1988), and "the Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy" (2001). He is also an admirer of the philosophy of Karl Popper on whom he has written an introduction (Modern Masters series, 1997).

His autobiography, "Clouds of Glory: A Hoxton Childhood", won the J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography in 2004.


* Magee, Bryan, "Go West, Young Man", Eyre And Spottiswoode, 1958, ASIN B0000CK2LH
* Magee, Bryan, "The New Radicalism", Secker & Warburg, 1962, ASIN B0006D7RZW
* Magee, Bryan, "One in Twenty: A Study of Homosexuality in Men and Women", Stein and Day, 1966, ASIN B000O7VY8Q
* Magee, Bryan, "The Television Interviewer", Macdonald, 1966, ASIN B0000CN1D4
* Magee, Bryan, "Karl Popper", Penguin, 1973, ISBN 0670019674
* Magee, Bryan, "Facing Death", William Kimber & Co Ltd, 1977, ISBN 0718301358
* Magee, Bryan, "Men of Ideas: Some Creators of Contemporary Philosophy", Oxford University Press, 1982 (reprint), ISBN 0192830341
* Magee, Bryan, "Philosophy and the Real World: An Introduction to Karl Popper", Open Court Publishing, 1985, ISBN 0875484360
* Magee, Bryan, "Aspects of Wagner", Oxford University Press, 1988, ISBN 0192840126
* Magee, Bryan and Martin Milligan, "On Blindness: Letters between Bryan Magee and Martin Milligan", Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0198235437
* Magee, Bryan, "The Philosophy of Schopenhauer", Oxford University Press, 1997 (reprint), ISBN 0-19-823722-7
* Magee, Bryan, "Popper", Fontana Press, 1973, reprinted 1997, ISBN 0006860087
* Magee, Bryan, "Confessions of a Philosopher", Random House, 1998, ISBN 0-375-50028-6
* Magee, Bryan, "The Story of Thought: The Essential Guide to the History of Western Philosophy", The Quality Paperback Bookclub, 1998, ISBN 0789444550
* Magee, Bryan, "Sight Unseen", Phoenix House, 1998, ISBN 0753805030
* Magee, Bryan, "The Great Philosophers: An Introduction to Western Philosophy", Oxford University Press, 2000, ISBN 019289322X
* Magee, Bryan, "Wagner and Philosophy", Penguin, 2001, ISBN 0140295194
* Magee, Bryan, "The Story of Philosophy", Dorling Kindersley, 2001, ISBN 0-7894-7994-X
* Magee, Bryan, "The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy", Owl Books, 2002 (reprint), ISBN 080507189X
* Magee, Bryan, "Clouds of Glory", Pimlico, 2004, ISBN 0712635602

External links

* [,12084,971329,00.html Guardian Unlimited profile]
* [ Sijmen Hendriks Photography Web] Photo of Magee.
*Screenonline name|id=1336298|name=Bryan Magee

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