American Philosophy

American Philosophy

American Philosophy

American Philosophy

Excerpt

Understanding is the end of philosophic studies. The beginning lies in confusion. So we have to start with confused minds and lead them to clarity. It is not that people do not think: they definitely do. They apply their minds, however, mainly to tangible things rather than ideas. They are usually able to solve practical problems -- concerning home and work, food and clothes, friends and enemies -- just as well as, if not better than, distinguished scholars. But when it cmomes to matters of general significance, scientific or philosophic, their intellectual processes are haphazard, superficial and hesitant, through lack of experience and training. Just as some scholars manage to live chiefly by theory without practice, so most people succeed in living chiefly by practice without theory. And yet this does not prevent them from thinking. They even argue, sometimes with deep conviction, about things they have negligible acquaintance with, such as income tax or the use of atomic energy. How can they do it?

The strange truth seems to be that it is not necessary to understand deeply or correctly in order to think and to argue. Under the influence of home upbringing, family affiliations, school education, community interests, church sermons, political campaigns, newspaper comments, law pressures, and the like, the individual finds himself committed to taking sides before he clearly comprehends what is involved in them. Besides, if he happens to express disagreement with the prevailing public opinions, he will soon learn that too many departures-or even one serious departure -- from traditions and "common sense" may bring unpleasant consequences. Conformity thus becomes an advantage and, in the end, a virtue. Under these conditions, inertness of the mind turns out to be rather typical of men.

Epictetus, a Roman philosopher-slave, once said that "men are disturbed not by the things which happen, but by the opinions about the things." We can go one step farther and maintain that . . .

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