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Czech exile in dialogue over Plato

The Independent Archive: 20 August 1988 Dr Julius Tomin argues that he is being discriminated against for his unorthodox philosophical views. Simon Midgley reports
AN EXILED Czech philosopher claims he is being cold-shouldered by the British establishment because of his unorthodox views on the chronology of Plato's Dialogues and his insistence on reading philosophical texts in Ancient Greek.

In an open letter in the Times Higher Educational Supplement, Julius Tomin, aged 49, calls on 1,000 international philosophers attending a world congress of philosophy in Brighton next week to support his demand for the restoration of his Czechoslovak citizenship.

Dr Tomin was deprived of his citizenship eight years ago after he staged a series of alternative philosophical seminars in his home. The authorities would not give him an academic post because of his political views. He arrived in Oxford in 1980, where he delivered a series of lectures but subsequently failed to secure a permanent academic post despite applying for several.

The Czech government says he can return, but as a foreigner with no civil rights - with no possibility of employment or state accommodation.

Dr Tomin, who specialises in the study of Plato, contends that the British classical philosophical establishment has closed ranks against him because his revisionist theories of ancient philosophy are too revolutionary for comfort.

He also claims that he is being denied opportunities to promote, by publication in scholarly journals or via public lectures and seminars, his view that Phaedrus is the first Platonic dialogue, coming before the Republic. He adds that his insistence on studying Plato in the original ancient Greek runs against the grain of British philosophical practice which involves studying texts in translation and secondary sources.

These charges are briskly contended by leading Oxford philosophers such as John Ackrill, Professor of the History of Philosophy, and Dr Anthony Kenny, Master of Balliol.

They say Dr Tomin has had the opportunities to promote his unorthodox views - he has taught several classes at Oxford, read papers and given occasional lectures. Plato is, moreover, studied in the original Greek at Oxford where there are as many as 20 philosophers who can read ancient Greek fluently. They add that it was not that surprising that he had been unable to secure a permanent academic teaching or research post in a British university at a time when philosophy departments are being cut in size and competition for jobs is intense.

Professor Ackrill said: "There is no prejudice against him as a Czech or somebody who has got an unusual view." He added that most philosphers did not consider Dr Tomin had made his case for the Phaedrus being the first dialogue. Nor was it clear what the implications would be, had the case been made.

Dr Kenny said it was very hard to think that an unusual view of the order of the Platonic Dialogues would stand in his way of getting a job. "It is very sad that he has not got a job. I am very sorry that he is in an unhappy state. I think it is a great pity that his Czech citizenship has been taken away. I think it should be restored."

Professor Michael Dummett, Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford, said that, while not qualified to judge Dr Tomin's scholarly work on Plato, he appeared to have a strong case which should be argued. Whether the case was reasonable or not was another matter.

As far as getting an academic post was concerned Professor Dummett said, "Universities are not free to help people. Before the war universities had the resources to create posts for refugee scholars escaping persecution in their own countries." But now with government spending cuts the the only posts being created were in business studies, computation and engineering.

To add to Dr Tomin's problems, on Tuesday he is appearing before a social security appeal tribunal in Oxford to oppose a ruling that he is ineligible for social security because he is not available for work. He says he is available for work - as a philosopher.

From the Home News pages of `The Independent', Saturday 20 August 1988