Wednesday, 26 December 2012 00:00

The Story Of Philosophy by Will Durant: Book Review by Ozodi Osuji

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Francis Fakuyama made the same mistake in 1991 when building on the collapse of the Soviet Union he talked about the end of history, how liberal democracy, American style, has prevailed.

Alas, his American liberal democracy that is supposed to be permanent is now experiencing the emergence of plutocrats like Mitt Romney who call themselves job creators and do not want to pay taxes to support the society they mercilessly exploit. The result would be French type revolution in America where the Jacobeans, masses would be led by a new Robespierre and cut off the heads of the plutocrats. As Thomas Paine said, the land is always cleansed with the blood of tyrants, oppressors. America is overdue for revolution and one is in the air.

The injustice of paying America’s corporate chief executive officers millions of dollars while paying their workers not even enough money to pay their bills cannot last forever. Conservatives may delude themselves with their claptrap of how job creators need to have all that money so as to create jobs for the people but soon the people would know that they are not creating jobs; the criminals are merely living off the people’s suffering; when this consciousness becomes mass the oppressed people would rise up and chop off the heads of their oppressors. Sooner or later, the Marie Antoinette’s of America will eat their cakes.

Society is characterized by constant struggle of opposing social forces; there seems no end to this conflict; we rest in peace only when we die!

Aristotle talked about the unmoved mover, well, everything is always in motion and there is no first mover. Aristotle was afraid of infinite regress, of seeking the original force that got things going to infinity and he did not want to do so and abruptly end the chain of causation; he should not have done so.

(If God created us the next logical question is: who created God? Uncorrupted children ask this question before society and religionists browbeat them into silence and conformism to the mass delusion called religion.)

Hegel needed to be in a psychiatric hospital and treated for delusion disorder; therefore, we do not need to waste more time on him.

His rival, Arthur Schopenhauer (he was the philosopher of my pessimistic youth) sees the world as a bleak place. The world is pointless and meaningless; man ought not to exist! But the world exists so let us understand it. 

As Schopenhauer sees it, built into people is a powerful instinct to live; he called it will to live. We are driven by this blind force to live.  We live because we have an instinct to live.

We do not live because of any well thought-out reasons why we should live. The day the individual no longer experiences a powerful blind desire to live and must consciously have reasons why he should live is the day he commits suicide.

Your reasoning alone cannot give you purpose and reason to live. First, you live and then you come up with excuses why you live.

The ideas we cloud our minds with as to why we live are not really why we live. But we can play with those intellectualistic ideas that tell us why we live, such as living for love, for God. No one lives to serve God; one lives because one experiences an urge to live.

If we thought about it life is awful; consider that we are born, suffer, age and die. Who would want this sort of life?  Pure reason does not justify living.

Because there are blind forces in us that make us do what we do we will always do what to our reasons seem irrational.

We have sex instinct and despite the fact that the sexual act is filthy and animalistic we must seek it if we are to reproduce the race, and, as some say, have pleasure (if we devote energy trying not to seek sex, as old Sigmund Freud tells us, we become more preoccupied with it or worse become perverted as in Catholic priests molesting children while pretending celibacy).

We have instinct for aggression and therefore will always go to war and kill each other and then give ourselves pseudo reasons why we went to war. The real reason we go to war is that we are driven to kill each other, what Freud called Thanatos (was Napoleon and Hitler powerful; one ended up on a piece of rock in the south Atlantic, St Helena, and the other killed himself and his body was incinerated into ashes and dumped at a rose garden near his fuhrer bunker).

Our pursuit of power does not give us power; why then do we pursue power and fame? Vanity? Why vanity?

Schopenhauer says that we do these things because they are part of our nature whereas our reasons inveigh against them yet we cannot stop doing them! Man is a miserable animal; he is addicted to his instincts, his will to live; live for no known rational purpose. 

Herbert Spencer responded to Charles Darwin’s book, the Origin of species published in 1859. Darwin made the argument that we are animals that evolved like other animals and that we are always in competition where the fittest adapt to changes in the environment and the weakest die out. Life is a perpetual struggle where the fit survive and the unfit die out.

If in nature the powerful survive and the weak die why not construct a society that reflects that reality in its ethics?

During the early stages of the industrial revolution, American robber barons, such as Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford, J.P Morgan, Vanderbilt and Stanford etc. were powerful animals; they ate the weak with whose labor they built their economic empires. Spencer said that that was as it should be.

Do not waste your time crying for the proletariat workers used by the robber barons to build their economic empires, in nature the weak are used by the strong; big fish eats small fish; lions eat sheep. Society must therefore be brutally competitive and the able rewarded and the weak left to die.

If one may play the devil’s advocate and ask Mr. Spencer: do you really think that society can be organized as you fantasize? What prevents the workers exploited by the robber barons from killing the barons? Fear of God and his alleged punishment. What god, didn’t Darwin do away with God?

If each of us is for himself and not for others life would be as Hobbes said it was in the state of nature: war of each against all and life would be nasty, brutish and short. Would your robber barons enjoy their moneys in the early graves they would be relegated to by those trying to appropriate their wealth? (Karl Marx talked about expropriating from the appropriators; what is good for the goose is good for the gander.)

It is amusing how so-called philosophers are dumb asses and do not think about the consequences of their philosophies. Take away love from people and what is left is chaos and anarchy. I have learned to see Western philosophers as asses!

Nietzsche said that we are like camel; in our youth, like camels we squat down and other folks place heavy loads on us; give us culture that oppresses us; bid us to get up and walk; we walk around carrying that load of culture. Okay. But what prevents us from throwing away the load, and attacking those who loaded us down? Fear of harm and death.

When the people overcome the fear that holds them down they would do away with their oppressors; we would then have a fair and just society.

As John Stuart Mill observed (On Liberty) until a people can look death in the face and say come get us, we do not want to live if we must live as slaves they cannot fight and if needs be, die for their Liberty. The tree of liberty is watered with patriots’ blood. 

Frederick Nietzsche took Spencer’s realism to its logical and absurd conclusion.  Those who seek logical conclusions to human speculative ideas always go mad. Nietzsche went mad…he suffered from delusion disorder or mania, for he was going about boasting that he was the best man on earth hence delusion of grandeur, saying that his philosophy is the final word on the subject.

What he was trying to do in “Thus Spake Zarathustra” and “The Will to power” is be logically consistent. He accepted Charles Darwin’s evolution theory and believed that it is true. If it is true that we are animals who compete for survival and the fittest survive and the weakest die out he then tried to apply that hypothesis to society. As he saw it, society is composed of people competing and the best should make it to the top and become supermen, the aristocrats who ruled society. He did not like democracy for he did not believe that all people are equal.  Let the strong lead the weak, the man believed.

But, alas, he was so foolish that it never occurred to him that in a world where there is no purpose and meaning and where we are all animals struggling for survival there is no reason why the weak should accept the leadership of the strong. Why shouldn’t the weak kill the strong?  If the strong should dominate the weak for the sake of dominating them, as he said, then the weak should kill the strong for the sake of doing so. There is no justice in the world.

If evolution theory is accepted, society is an artificial social contract for what is natural is for the strong to eat the weak. Since Nietzsche is weak he would be eaten by the strong. Nietzsche was almost blind as well as insane; Nazis probably would have considered him socially useless and a burden on the taxpayers and gassed him to death in one of the gas chambers and killing fields. We must be very careful what we write for unbalanced dictators who claim to be acting independently are almost always acting out the half-baked philosophies they heard from half crazed philosophers.

Nietzsche did not see the logical contradictions in his writings; he assumed that the rule of the strong is good for the weak; who said so, the weak? Why should the weak accept the rule of the strong?

Nietzsche was an immature writer, he never grew up. If he grew up he would have accepted inconsistence in logic.

Yes, we are born unequal;  some are strong and some weak yet to have society we must assume our equality and work for social good, as in democracy, some socialism and love (Nietzsche says let the weak die off and should not be helped by the strong).

Clearly, Adolf Hitler embraced this immature view of existence and embarked on trying to be the superman and kill the weak. He killed millions but other super men, Russians, killed him. In a world where we all struggle to be supermen there was no reason why Hitler should not be killed by other aspirants to superman-hood.

Nietzsche’s world would lead to anarchy and chaos and life would be nasty, brutish and short.  In the real world we need to accept the contradiction of strength and weakness, equality and inequality, we need the aristocracy of ability and some mass democracy. 

The late nineteenth century and early twentieth century gave us Henri Bergson, William James, John Dewey and Bertrand Russell and a few other philosophers. By the 1930s it was clear that the world had no more use for mere speculative philosophers. The physicists and chemists had replaced the speculators as the explainers of the world.

Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Ernest Rutherford, Neils Bohr, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, Pauli, Dirac, Chadwick, Freidman, Lemaitre, Edwin Hubble, Alexander Fleming, Fred Hoyle, George Gamow, and other scientists have shown that we really do not have to merely speculate about nature, as philosophers did, that we can study nature through the scientific method. 

Henri Bergson was product of English empiricism/French positivism (Saint Simon, August Comte, Emil Durkheim etc.). He was trained in both biology and mathematics and was up to date in science. He could not deny the reality of matter. So what did he do? He could not accept epiphenomenalism, the idea that matter determined mind. He sought ways to show that there is a life force, what he called élan vital in our lives.  This is Rene Descartes all over. There is a part of us that is not material, that is pure life or spirit, operating inside matter.

Like his country man, Descartes, Bergson did not persuade us to see eye to eye with him that there is spirit in our lives. 

William James was an American medical doctor who went to Europe and studied psychology and philosophy. He returned to America and taught at Harvard University and wrote the first American text book on psychology. His fame, however, rested on his study of the American character.

The American white man is not interested in psychology or philosophy; he is a doer and wants to do what adapts to his world.  The American is that breed of humanity that does not worry its little mind with metaphysics, with questions about meaning and purpose. Just give him food and he is happy. He is a magnificent animal.

(Europeans who witnessed the massacres of the first and second world wars became depressed and invented existentialism, the philosophy of despair but Americans could care less for existentialism. Sartre, Camus, Jasper, Heidegger and other existentialists did not find takers of their ideas in America. I will not review existentialist philosophy here; I have written extensively on that subject elsewhere, besides, Will Durant did not cover it.)

The American works hard, earns his food, figures out a way to use science (he is not interested in theoretical science but in applied science, technology and business) to make a living.  He is a magnificent pagan and that is all there is to him.

The American does not even think about the Christianity that he professes to be a part of. If he thought about Christianity, what Jesus taught, love all people, would he enslave people?

The American is not thoughtful at all. If you’re interested in philosophy America is not a place for you, perhaps you should try France?

James says that since Americans are not interested in epistemology, ontology, metaphysics, or abstract matters in general that their philosophy is pragmatism. Americans do what works in this world; they take from philosophy whatever seems to enable them work and make a living on planet earth. We grant the American his choice to be happy cattle and move on. 

John Dewy asked pragmatic and realistic questions. Man must make a living; he must work to extract food from his world to live. Therefore, education should not be wasted on abstract subjects like philosophy, but must be centered on science and technology.

Our schools must work with industry to identify what industry needs and train students in those areas. We do not need to train students in the liberal arts and humanities, such as Latin, Greek, languages, History and philosophy; areas where there are no jobs. Train them in engineering, medicine and science. Teach folks how to farm the land and work in factories.

Dewey is down to earth but his dismissal of intellectual life is annoying. Man does not live by bread alone.  Philosophy may be impractical yet it enriches the human mind. The technocrat who does not enjoy the arts is a clod. 

Bertrand Russell, a scion of the English aristocracy, studied mathematics and dabbled in philosophy. He restated logical positivism, emphasized the English preference for experimental science over idle speculation on the nature of reality. To him there is no god but we can make the most of this world.

He was an atheist and pacifist; he opposed the First World War and for his troubles he was booted out of his teaching position in England. He came to America. When America joined the war he was also harassed. 

Will Durant gave us summaries of seminal Western philosophers’ ideas. He did not bother with oriental philosophers. As for African philosophers he probably did not think that Africans can think?  Do Africans have philosophers, and if they do who are they?

(For what it is worth, let it be stated that I am African. Am I a thinker, a philosopher, a psychologist? Has the West produced a mind like my mind, a mind at home in science and philosophy. What do you think?)

What shall we make of this book? It is a good read and should be read by every college graduate. When you have nothing to do instead of eating or drinking yourself to early death just coil up on a couch and read the book. Never mind if in the real world philosophy is useful or not, this book will give you information on the spirit of the West.

We need to understand the West, to understand how a few human beings managed to defeat all other human beings. If we are going to compete with them we must understand their psychology, philosophy and history. This book is an introduction to all three areas of western life. I highly recommend it to all people. 

(I read Will Durant’s book when I was in secondary school in the 1970s. Rereading it in my middle age has given me a different perspective on Western philosophers. In my youth I thought that these philosophers were supermen; now, I see them as a bunch of immature thinkers. How we change! We bring down those hitherto we had placed on a pedestal. The West initially seemed like something one ought to admire but at present one has seen through its underbelly and while respecting its science and technology is no longer enchanted with it. And such is the story of life. Finally, I enjoy talking philosophy, psychology and the history of science. If those are your cup of tea please do not hesitate in giving me a shout out. If these subjects are not your idea of having a good time please do not bother trying to talk to me, for you would bore me and I would not talk to you!) 

Ozodi Thomas Osuji, PhD

December 10, 2012

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: ozodiosuji@gmail.com (907) 310-8176