Socratic Method and Critical Philosophy

Socratic Method and Critical Philosophy

Socratic Method and Critical Philosophy

Socratic Method and Critical Philosophy

Excerpt

Leonard Nelson, that remarkable German philosopher with the the very English name, is practically unknown in this country, even to the philosophic community. I knew nothing about him myself until one of his former pupils, Dr. Julius Kraft, sent me some of the essays contained in this book and asked whether I thought they merited publication. I had no hesitation in saying that they did. Leonard Nelson should be better known. He was an arresting personality; by all accounts he was a strikingly original teacher; and he was a philosopher whose words have a special importance in our own time.

As for Nelson personally, what impresses one first is the variety of achievements he crowded into a life that was far too short. He died at forty-five, leaving behind him a three-volume work on the foundations of ethics and politics; substantial books on jurisprudence and on the theory of knowledge; a treatise, still unpublished, on the history of metaphysics; and a great many essays on mathematics, epistemology, and educational theory. So far he sounds like many another sedulous German professor. But he was more than that. He was moulded of the stuff of which reformers are made. In accordance with the principles of an exacting ethics, he lived with Spartan simplicity and Stoic self-discipline. He practiced as well as preached new methods of teaching, and in order to carry out more freely his educational and social principles, he founded the Walkemühle School near Cassel. One of its chief aims was to train its pupils in enlightened and liberal citizenship. Not unnaturally it fell under the ban of Hitler and had to be transferred first to Denmark and later to England.

Nelson was an ardent internationalist, an outspoken opponent of power politics, and an eloquent advocate of the sort of law, domestic and international, that is based on a common reason. On July 31, 1914, the day before the outbreak of the First World War, he ended his long cycle of lectures on the philosophy of politics with a plan and a plea for a League of Nations. "The glory of a nation," he said, "like that of an individual, does not consist in things which one can grasp with one's hands or of which one can deprive another, but consists only in the innate spirit of justice." The lecture could not at the time appear in print, but Nelson did succeed in publishing in the . . .

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