Notes from fall of 1987 – Some Reflections on Philosophy III

By | December 11, 2011

By Juan Bernal

Walt Kaufmann tells us that “in the end, true education is a process of self-education.”  But, as he also notes, there is still a great need for teachers and guides in this process of educating oneself.

An analogy might help: Suppose I set out to climb Mount Everest. If I accomplish my goal I will have realized a great personal achievement; something I will have done myself, but not entirely by myself. For this great personal achievement will have required the help of others; instructors, trainers, guides and such.


Genuine education involves self-development and spiritual growth.

Philosophical development:  All persons start as nature’s primitives; many have the potential to become much more, to develop their intellectual, creative and spiritual faculties.  But this growth and development does not come easily. Effort and sacrifice are required.   Most people are not willing to pay the price.



Start with the premise that we are rational, autonomous beings; that we are meant to think for ourselves, …that we are not mere drones who perform functions mindlessly,  unquestioningly following appointed authorities.

Then ask: How much is truth and how much useful myth in the pronouncements of our religious, governmental, and military authorities?



Truth-Seeking                |

God-Seeking                  |       Are these aspects of the same

Soul-Development         |        enterprise?

Seeking the True Self     |

It’s difficult to say how one would deal with this question.

The poet might say that all these seek to achieve the same goal.  But certainly such a proposition cries out for clarification, and even if we were to clarify it, we probably would have no way of evaluating it.


(Nov. 24, 92)

…check W. Kaufmann’s Future of the Humanities (p. 26) for a statement of the utter failure of German academic philosophy in the 1930′s to confront the crisis of NAZI criminality.

(Nov. 30, 92)

A dilemma for academic philosophers: ..we prefer to deal only with “philosophical issues,” and avoid the messy arena of the world’s social, economic, political, and moral problems. We don’t want to become partisans and advocates for political movements and ideologies; and we surely don’t pretend to be prophets and wisemen.

Subsequently, we mostly avoid discussion of society’s political/economic, social and moral problems. Most of us don’t think it is our business to do critiques of other people’s behavior and values, or to criticize government policies and social conventions.

We go on as if things were generally all right. But things are not all fine. (“Peace! Peace!” they cry, “but there is no peace…”  Jeremiah (?) ) And there are plenty groups and individuals ready to step into the role we have abandoned and offer their “solutions” and ideologies as remedies, often to the greater detriment and increased suffering of society.


Two tendencies in philosophy:

1) ….to be impressed and excited by mathematical reasoning (& formal logic) and the scientific method as models for philosophical inquiry. [Here we find most rationalists such as Descartes, Spinoza; Logical Positivists; Bertrand Russell (at some stage of his development); the early Wittgenstein; and many Anglo-American, analytical philosophers.

2) be excited by poetry, literature, drama, and thus see philosophy as imaginative work that attempts to express some aspect (or aspect(s) ) of human experience. [Here we find such philosophers as Nietzsche, Santayana, W. Kaufmann; some of the existentialists (Sartre, Camus, Heidegger)]

[Plato's work touches both camps.]

Roughly, the two tendencies are those of the positivist and the existentialist. One sees philosophy primarily as analysis; the other tends to see it as human drama.


Our motto could be: Learn to think for yourself, but also work to discipline your thinking. (…suggests that genuine autonomy is conditioned by self-discipline.)

Practical ethics/morality: One should emphasize the need for fair dealing with our fellow humans.  . . . the need for honest, candid talk. The principles of seeking the truth and speaking the truth to the best of our ability. (Compare this to the attitude of the politician/salesman, who says whatever will gain him an advantage and help to achieve his purpose.)

From one style of critical philosophy: The study of epistemology in which we do an analysis of the concepts concerning knowledge, belief, is our central focus. . . .  We carry on inquiries into the different kinds of knowledge, the grounds for knowledge, the range of our knowledge.  We explore the many ways in which belief, opinion, conviction, and such pass for knowledge.

We argue the need for rational inquiry, empirical observation  and rational argument. We recognize the power of emotion and the effectiveness of different methods of persuasion.

We analyze the uses of language, the need for clarification and straight thinking.

We learn how better to handle information; how to find the relevant points; how to draw the logical or probable conclusion.

We shall consider whether there are limits to science and rationally-based knowledge. Is the range of reality far greater than the range of the rational mind?  ….whether science and the rational approach presuppose some conformity between nature and the human mind, which brings in questions as to the value of metaphysics. (…consider also the challenge of quantum physics.)

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