In Memoriam

Paul Branton (1916-1990)

Although not a professional philosopher, Paul Branton played a noteworthy part in the history of the Neo-Friesian School. A tailor by professon, Mr. Branton, seeing the growth of the Nazi movement, left his native Austria and moved to Palestine. He was there during the Arab revolt of 1936, where he saw people near him shot on a bus he was riding. Busses have still been attacked quite recently in Israel.

When World War II began, he joined the Royal Navy to fight against the Germans; but curiously he carried around with him a book in German: the great Kritik der praktischen Vernunft of Leonard Nelson. This must have struck fellow sailors as curious. When the war was over, his interest in Nelson led him to seek, with some difficulty, to be demobilized in England rather than Palestine and join some of the Nelson people there. His contact with one of Nelson's students, Mary Saran (1897-1976), helped him get started in England and eventually led to his marrying Mary's daughter Rene.

Although Mr. Branton chose a career in ergonomics rather than philosophy (or tailoring), he remained active in Nelson circles in England and Germany, continued to be involved in Friesian thought, and administered the funds in England, through the "Society for the Furtherance of the Critical Philosophy" (whose activities Rene continued), to subsidize the journal Ratio until it was taken over by Basil Blackwell.

In 1986, after I had just gotten my Ph.D. and was on the beach without employment, Mr. Branton paid for me to meet him in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he was to attend a conference. This was a marvelous experience, and Paul had many stories about his life and experiences with the Nelson people. I'm actually sorry I didn't take notes or even record his oral history. It did not occur to me at the time that I would not just remember everything perfectly, or not always have Paul to consult with.

Also attending the conference were Charles Hartshorne, from my own University of Texas philosophy department, Richard Rorty, and some other infamous contemporary luminaries in philosophy. Hartshorne informed me that Schopenhauer had not understood Buddhism, although I expect he understood it a lot better than many people running around now who think that Buddhism is some sort of self-realization psychology.

Paul Branton's death caught me by surprise. I was still young enough to be shocked that certain people -- e.g. Issac Asimov (1920-1992) or Carl Sagan (1934-1996) -- were not just going to be around forever. There was still a lot I wanted to talk to him about.

The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors used to offer "The Paul Branton Meritorious Service Award"; but the award has now been renamed, repurposed, and Paul's name dropped. This seems rude.

Kay Herrmann in Conversation with Rene Saran

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