On Saturday October the 14th Professor Emeritus Peter Munz stopped breathing. In a sense it was the end of an era. Peter was born in Chemnitz(1), Germany, in 1921. Originally I had met Peter after a visit to the Professor of Music, Jenny McLeod. Her home had been turned into an Ashram for followers of Divine Light. Peter was somewhat disturbed about this turn of events as a neighbour and colleague of Jenny's at Victoria. I got to know Peter a little better in 1975 when I was a student in the Philosophy and Religious Studies department at Victoria University. Over the next thirty years we kept talking.
I had spent some time in Europe before attending Victoria and been introduced to some very clever people. I still remember with fondness the late Dr Hans Rookmaaker who was Professor of Art History at the free university of Amsterdam. He was an intellectual giant, as was the man who was a student of Sartre who lectured me in existentialism while I was living in Swiss Alps . I felt completely relaxed talking to Peter Munz so I asked him about the origin of the concept of the autonomous man. Peter cut straight to the chase and cited GIOVANNI PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA, Count (1463-1494), Italian philosopher and writer, the youngest son of Giovanni Francesco Pico, prince of Mirandola, ... Peter Munz had an encyclopaedic mind. When Peter arrived in New Zealand there was a great divide between town and gown. That was intensified by the small number of people who had attended a university. As a small isolated country with a population of about two million there was an even a smaller number who had matriculated. In fact I can remember one of my friends who rose to be a top civil servant saying that he knew all the graduates in the civil service in 1950. That was the world that Peter was about to enter as a teacher.
One day in 1980 I happened to bump into Peter outside the Victoria University library and we struck up a conversation about Ludwig Wittgenstein. To my horror he said "Wittgenstein was a one book man who did some good work on atomic sentences". Up until then I had been of the opinion that Wittgenstein was possibly the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century. Just like that Peter had dethroned him, but not in my mind. I wasn't ready then and still not now, to dismiss his greatness. The fact that Peter had met and known Wittgenstein no doubt played a part in his thinking. Peter had also studied with Karl Popper and been influenced by him. Peter had a absolute commitment to the "Open Society". The later Wittgenstein had embraced a kind of mysticism whereas Popper had clung to rationalism to the end. In fact it can be argued that instead of demolishing local positivism he simply put it into reverse. If a synthesis of both Popper and Wittgenstein was to take place it would be difficult to see that with Popper and the later Wittgenstein, however it would be not so difficult with the early Wittgenstein, who was a logical positivist.
Modern science has its roots with Newton who was a Christian even if an unconventional one. The problem of epistemology for Newton never arose but not so with Popper who had embraced Peter Munz's autonomous man. In an earlier conversation Peter had declared to me that he, "Peter", was the autonomous man. I still remember the day he made the claim as Peter Munz always made me take deep breaths and on that day I took a deep breath and declared that Heteronomy was not dead yet as it was the name of a broad sheet that I had started and regularly handed out around the university. As a teenager I had come across the work of Martin Luther and to my delight also discovered that he was also a skilled philosopher. Reason and God were absolutely compatible for Luther and that had given me some comfort as a student under Professor Geering. I also had been a student of the late Francis Schaeffer and the one thing he taught me was there was no need to feel threatened by people who held different views to myself; faith should always be subject to reason. I'm afraid that Peter would have terrified some people who were not secure in themselves. In that sense he was no different to the independent thinker Lloyd Geering who I saw again at Peter's funeral.
Peter's athesism meant that he saw no justification for the state of Israel and he was an opponent of Zionism. Over the years I was to hear many assertions to the effect that the Jews should have been content with their books and been left alone. As a Jew his views would not have been popular with many in the Jewish community.
Peter had picked up the problem of logical positivism that Karl Popper has so carefully exposed - verification was no longer an acceptable methodology and with an ever present uncertainty one was forced to use the tools of falsifcation. It would be a world without absolutes and yet we still needed them in order to make the right judgments. In the place of absolutes Peter placed his hope in reason . Starting from himself, reason would be enough to bridge the epistomological, moral and metaphysical problem of a universe without absolutes, and also without God. That debate is not over nor should it be but Peter Munz in his own way has sharpened it and it is with his arguments that contemporary theologians will have to westle in order to gain credibility for the forseeable future.
Peter Munz had the advantage of a European background where culture had a high place and as child he had been educated in both Germany and Italy and exposed to a depth of culture that was not part of New Zealand life. In Europe there were many people of Peter's ability and I met some of them personally so I do speak of experience. That is not to take away anything from Peter as he was without equal in many ways in Australasia . While Peter was an intellectual prince he was also a member of the human family with feet made of clay. I'm sure his close friends would have been quite familiar with that fact. I will miss my conversations with Peter Munz
On Friday the 20th of October I attended Peter's Funeral at Old St Pauls in Wellington and there was a lot to be said. We will be talking about Peter Munz for some time to come. Peter is survived by his wife and family.Bryan Pepperell
October 21 - 2006
An early Slavic tribe's settlement was located at the place of Chemnitz called Kamienica. In 1143
there was a Benedictine
monastery at the place where the city now is. A settlement grew around the monastery and about 1170 Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor
granted it the rights of an imperial city. In 1307
the town became subordinate to the margravate
(which was the predecessor of the Saxon state). In medieval times Chemnitz became a centre of textile production and trade. More than one third of the population worked in textile production. This continued through the industrial revolution
: factories were established, and by the early 19th century
Chemnitz had become an industrial centre (sometimes called "the Saxon Manchester
"). In 1913
Chemnitz had a population of 320,000 and is one of very few cities which were larger at that time than they are today.
In World War II
the factories of Chemnitz produced mainly goods for the military. As a consequence, the city was heavily bombed and almost entirely destroyed.