Wednesday, 26 December 2012 00:00

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

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 Will Durant, The Story Of Philosophy. (New York: Simon And Schuster, 1926) 412 Pages. 

Book Review By Ozodi Thomas Osuji 

Western philosophy began at Athens, Greece. So, to Greece we go. Something happened in the little Greek city states between 600-300 BC to lead Greeks to produce thoughts that the entire world has not seen produced in a corner of it, again. As if they drank some sort of wine that led to philosophic thinking, Greeks thought about everything in their world.  Whereas in other parts of the world folks conformed to the religions of their people, individual Athenians questioned everything and sought to understand reality as it is, not as their culture or other people told them it is.

So, what is reality? What is the truth (Pontus Pilate asked the religious Jews asking him to crucify Jesus)?

Nobody knows what the truth is (religion gives people assumptions of the truth and folks go through their lives living with the unproven assumptions given to them by their religions and cultures).

Greek thinkers began from agnosticism and skepticism and then studied their world to see if they could figure out what the truth of things is.

Different individuals posited their views on reality. Democritus and others hypothesized that matter could be broken down into parts that could no longer be subdivided, and called that part atom. Democritus, Archimedes, Pythagoras etc. and their ideas gave rise to what we now call physics (the physical sciences).

(The Catholic Church’s interregnum that began with the fall of the Roman Empire in 450 AD banished physics and sentenced Europe to a thousand years of darkness until John Dalton rediscovered the idea of the atom in 1800.  In 1911, Ernest Rutherford showed that not even the atom is the smallest part of matter; Rutherford discovered the nucleus, proton of the atom. In 1932 James Chadwick discovered the neutron of the atom; J.J Thompson discovered the electron in 1897. Today the atom is seen as having a nucleus with protons and neutrons in it and electrons circling it; there are other sub-particles of the atom.)

The sophists went around debating with themselves and whoever wanted to debate with them as to the nature of reality. Socrates was the king of the sophists and insisted on people clarifying their terms. If, for example, you said that there is no justice in society he would ask you to tell him what justice means. An argument would ensue on the meaning of justice. Days, weeks, months and even years later it would become clear that the person talking about justice does not have clarity in his mind as to the meaning of justice.

What is justice? Is your opinion of what justice is the nature of justice, if so what is it? Is justice of God? What is God, does God exist, and have you proved that God exists?  How do you know that God exists, and if not how can you talk of the justice of God?

Your wish that God exists is exactly that, your wish? You do not have proof that God exists. If all you have is faith that there is a force called God then are you willing to accept that other people have faith in different conceptions of God and if so why should folks fight over God if God is their ideas and not self-evident reality?

Many schools went about teaching their ideas of what life is. Zeno propounded his stoicism. He said that we do not know what life is all about, that there is no knowing that life has meaning or not or that it was created by God. What matters is how one lives one’s life. You do not have control over what is happening in the world, what matters is how you respond to them. You can allow yourself to be disturbed by events that you do not have control over or be equanimous towards them.

Seneca, Cicero, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius (Roman stoics) said that one’s anger or depression or fear (ones emotional state, cheerful or sad) is a function of how one thinks about the events of this world but not caused by the events of this world. You can choose to see things differently. It is all up to you how you react to what happens to you; you do not have one set way that you must respond in.

Epicurus taught that given the pointlessness of living that the best lived life is one that enjoyed it. Horace said carpe diem, make the most of today, for you do not know what is going to happen to you tomorrow; you might be dead tomorrow. Have fun today and that is all there is to life. There is no point in depressing yourself about life, just make the most of it and leave it at that.

Epicureanism is often mistaken to mean indulging in hedonic life style; no, it does not mean eating too much food. One can find joy in intellectual pursuits and doing so is ones idea of living the good life.

Then there were the cynics and skeptics. Whatever you say from a positive perspective can be seen from a negative, pessimistic perspective. Life is good, right?   Didn’t the volcano of Vesuvius erupt and bury the whole city of Pompeii and charred people to death?  How then is life good? God loves his children, right?  God so loves his children that he gives them diseases, suffering and death! The cynic does not believe in anything; moreover, he is a killjoy. (That would suggest that joy is generally predicated on ignorance of the nature of reality. But then one may ask: what is reality, anyway?)

Good and bad are our opinions but not the verdict of nature, right? Is nature impersonal and does not give a damn about human affairs? How do you know that whatever your response is is the correct assessment of nature (and nature’s God, if there is one)?

Simply stated, many schools of thought were in Athens and each attracted followers. In this mix came Plato. Plato was a disciple of Socrates but when Socrates was judged a corrupter of youth (teaching them not to believe in God), imprisoned and forced to drink the hemlock and die Plato continued Socrates teaching. He employed the Socratic Method; his books were dialogues supposedly between prominent members of the Athenian society. These gentlemen would gather and talk about issues, such as justice, politics, ideal society, God etc.  Plato wrote on many subjects but he is famous for his idealism (explicated grandly in the Republic).

Plato’s idealism consists of his belief that what exists imperfectly in our world have perfect archetypes of them in the world of ideas (if you like, spiritual world). There are ideal things that we do not see; we are corruptions of those ideals. There are ideal human beings and ideal animals etc. and we are imperfect renditions of them.  (Are there ideals or are ideals wished for perfect state of being?)

In his politics Plato sketched how to govern an ideal society. He said that all children from about the age of ten should be offered compulsory education (mostly physical education) for ten years. At age twenty they are given examinations and a few pass and the rest are weeded out (and made to become farmers and laborers etc.).  The few that passed the examination are given further ten years of instruction on the nature of things. At age thirty there is another weeding out examination. Those that make it are thereafter taught philosophy. At age thirty five they are examined and thereafter told to go put what they learned into practice, to live in the world.  At age fifty those who have succeeded are gathered together to rule society as its guardians, the philosopher kings.

The philosopher kings are to live communal life, share things, including wives and generally not have private property. Their function is to do what is good for society. 

Plato was an idealist. He wanted to change people, change society and its institutions and bring about what seemed to him ideal society. His Republic delineated how he planned to go about getting guardians, philosopher kings’ rule his utopia. He was a little, timid man with a wish to change himself, change other people and change social institutions, all by his self. This showed that he had wish for power to recreate the world. He was teetering on delusion disorder, grandiose type. He was a dangerous lunatic.

His wish to replace god and recreate people and make them what he wanted them to be led him to justify infanticide. He wanted to be more powerful than God and all people hence he was living in fantasy land.

Plato, like Socrates ran afoul of the leaders of Athens; they imprisoned him and gave him the choice of exile or drinking the hemlock and he chose to go to exile. He was not going to allow Athens to kill another philosopher.

He went to Syracuse, Sicily (now part of Italy but then one of Greek outposts in the Mediterranean). He was welcomed by the king of Sicily, Dionysius. The king told him to implement his ideal republic.

What do you know? The unrealistic philosopher wanted to do away with the king and initiate his ideal pattern of governing society by philosopher kings. Plato had no clue about human egoism and desire for power. The king arrested and sold him into slavery!

His friends rescued him but thereafter he died, a broken man.  These timid men who are dreamers and want to transform the world into their dreams always come to tragic ends. 

Barbarians living two hundred miles to the north of Athens, Macedonians were rising to power. Their king, Philip eventually conquered Athens. His son, Alexander caught the conquering bug and embarked on conquering the known world. By the time he was done he had conquered Egypt, Judea, Mesopotamia (Iraq), Syria, Persia and India.

Alexander the great spread Greek culture to the areas he conquered just as Napoleon spread the French culture of reason and enlightenment to the parts of Europe he conquered.  Alexander drank himself to death at age thirty.

Aristotle was Alexander’s teacher. Apparently, with financial support from Alexander he established his school, Lyceum in Athens (to compete with Plato’s school, the academy). Unlike Plato Aristotle was a scientist of sorts. He gathered specimens of all animals, fauna and things around him and categorized them.  He tried to study things as they are, not as he wanted them to be, hence sowed the germ of the scientific method in the Western world.

Alas, he had strong opinions of what things are and propounded those without basing his conclusions on pure observations alone, as scientists do.  He proffered interesting but weird views of phenomena, most of them false.

Yet his ideas ruled the West for the next two thousand years and, more or less, retarded the growth of science (because he was deemed the authority on most issues and scholars referred to what he supposedly said to give their views credibility).

Democritus was on the right path to science but Aristotle attacked him for saying that atoms exist in a void. As he sees it void cannot exist.

Aristotle established syllogistic logical process. Even here he was wrong. Consider: 

All animals have four legs. (Major premise)

A dog has four legs (Minor premise)

Therefore, a dog is an animal (logical conclusion). 

This is the logic taught by Aristotle. The problem is that the major premise is assumed and not self-evident.  Are all animals four legged?  There are two legged animals, and animals with hundreds of legs (millipedes).  As long as one assumes the truth of the major premise the minor premise and conclusion follow as logical.  The point is that Aristotle did not help us understand the truth by positing his logical processes but merely showed us how we think. We tend to posit major premises, assume them to be true and then draw inferences from them.  For example, we say, God created people. Therefore people are the children of God, not the creator of God.  We say God is love and people are the children of God, therefore, people must love like their father, God. How do we know that that is true; how do we know that God is love, that we are his children hence are like him, loving? We have made many assumptions but given our major assumption our deductions are logical.

Aristotle’s famous statement that God is the unmoved mover is one of the instances in which he assumes a major premise to be true. He reasoned that all things are in motion. We can go on showing how one thing moved another and go as back as we could. If this logic is true then it is possible that there is infinite causation of motion. But that would not do, for it would lead to infinite regress so Aristotle suddenly ended the discourse by saying that there must be a beginning to the chain of causation and that beginning is God. God is the unmoved mover.

The assertion that God is the first cause is, of course, nonsense for it assumes that there is an unmoved mover.

When the Catholic Church embraced Aristotelian logic it used it to justify the existence of God. Thomas Aquinas, in the 1200s essentially posited a God that got everything in motion.  This is an assumption but an assumption that as we speak colors extant Catholic, Christian theology.

Aristotle had interesting ideas on politics. Essentially he believed that there are different types of people and that each person is suited for certain professions. There are those suited by nature and training to rule society (aristocrats) and there are those fitted by their nature to be in the military or trading, businessmen, or bureaucracy, or work as slaves. Slaves and women are not fitted to rule society.

Both Aristotle and Plato embraced aristocracy, as opposed to mob rule, democracy, or the rule of one man, monarchy or the rule of a few persons, oligarchy or the rule of the rich, plutocracy. They gave their reasons for their choice. We shall not concern ourselves with their complex and convoluted reasoning.  Our society’s choice is democracy, properly put, aristocratic democracy, and a society where all are given equal opportunity, and competition is allowed to select folks for whatever goods society gives people. 

Aristotle’s philosophy influenced the West and made the West stagnant until Francis Bacon (born 1561) came along and insisted that philosophy can be a forum for useless speculations and that what we need to do is base knowledge on empirical observation.

What is the truth? We do not know. The aspect of the truth that we can say something for sure is that aspect of it that we can observe, and experiment on and verify. Bacon established the philosophy of science in the West.

Copernicus was the first modern scientist when in 1543 he insisted that the sun is the center of the universe (he was wrong; the sun is the center of the solar system). Galileo in 1610 became the first empirical scientist when he actually used the telescope to prove that the planets revolve around the Sun. In 1687 Isaac Newton established his three laws of motion and gravity and established physics as a scientific discipline.

England embraced the scientific method and thus we had such hardnosed realists as Thomas Hobbes (men are atoms, they are individuals pursuing their self-interests, Leviathan), John Locke (there is no evidence of the notion that we are born with souls; we are born tabla-raza and experience write in our brains what we now have), David Hume (there is no proof that God exists, only experience is real), George Berkeley (tried to prove that God exists by saying that since scientist say the external world is known to us as ideas in our minds, therefore the world is ideas  in our minds and since we do not know everything, there must be a larger mind, God’s mind that everything is in it), Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill (utilitarianism, that laws should reflect what gives pleasure to the greatest number  of people in society, that is, laws are not what God say that they are but what is good for us). 

Let us shift gears a bit and focus on French philosophers such as Rene Descartes, Blasé Pascal, Voltaire, Jean Jacque Rousseau, and Denis Diderot (and thereafter shift to Spinoza and German idealistic philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and end by focusing on Herbert Spencer, Henri Bergson, William James, John Dewey and Bertrand Russell).

Rene Descartes studied mathematics (geometry) and philosophy. He brought his analytic geometry to bear on philosophy but his greatest contribution was in metaphysics, the issue of matter and spirit. Does God exists or does God not exist?  Descartes began from what he called skepticism, doubting all known ideas on everything. Having done so he proceeded to say that the only thing that he knows for sure is that he thinks that he exists (cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am).

Of course this is not persuasive for just because a person thinks does not prove that he exists, does not prove that God exist or that there is a part of him that exists as part of God. Contemporary neuroscience teaches us that thinking is epiphenomenal, is a product of the dance of neurons in our brains. Contemporary brain science teaches that thinking is strictly biological.

We do not see dead people thinking; what is empirical is that some life biological animals, human beings do think and to say anything beyond that is speculative.

Descartes tells us that human beings have two sides to them, their bodies and their souls. Their body he concedes is like any other material in the universe and is affected by the laws of motion (mechanics). The human body obeys the laws of motion and gravity (and, as we would today say, the laws of heat, light, electricity, sound, gases, liquids, solids).The human body is composed of matter and particles and obeys all the laws of matter, space and time.

The question is whether all we are are our bodies. Descartes thinks that there are spiritual parts of us hence his famous dualistic philosophy: man is composed of matter and spirit.

But where is this spirit that Descartes talked about? How do we know that spirit exists?  We do not have objective evidence that spirit exists. Of course, there are poetic writings on the nature of spirit but no one has demonstrated that those are anything but wishful thinking.


Descartes made seminal contribution to analytic geometry. However, his metaphysics is mere restatement of popular superstition: human beings believe that they are made of mind and matter, spirit and body. We know about the body part but have no idea about the spirit part and on that we leave the French man to console himself with his philosophy (Boethius). 

The English made hay of the idea that mind is determined by matter. David Hume showed that all we know is derived from our five senses. Our memory stores what our senses send to it. The senses of touching, feeling, seeing, smelling, and hearing are the only demonstrable source of information available to us. Claims that there are other ways of knowing are exactly those, claims.

Hume further talked about the nature of inductive and deductive reasoning, logic but those are not our present concern. What is salient in the great racists view (he believed that Africans are incapable of thinking or civilization) is his contention that experience is how we get to know what we think that we know.

John Locke reinforced that materialistic epistemology by showing that we are not born with memory of anything already in our minds. We do not remember anything before we are born; we remember only what, subsequent to our births, the five senses store in our memories.  In effect, we are mind and body made of matter, and the philosophy of materialism is the only real philosophy there is. Religion’s conception of God and life after we die is mere wishful thinking that has no bases in reality.

George Berkeley the Irish bishop tried very hard to demonstrate the existence of God through his solipsistic philosophy. If a tree fell and there is no human being to hear its sound or witness its fall did a tree fall? In other words, does the external world exist apart from us or does it exist in our minds?

We can have fun talking about metaphysics, epistemology and ontology, beauty and ethics but the fact is that we seem to live in a world that encompasses us.

Upon hearing about Berkeley’s philosophy, Dr. Johnson reportedly (to his side kick, Boswell) stomped his feet on a rock and felt pain and said that the world must be external to him for it caused his body pain (dream stones also cause our dream bodies pain, so Dr. Johnson may not have won his argument that the world is outside us).

If you walk into a wall you would bump your head and sustain bruises and feel pain. If you jump out of your upstairs window you would break your bones. If you want to get from point A to B in the world of space, time and matter you must travel (motion). Thus, in the here and now world the world is outside us; the world determines our activities. Materialism seems to be the reality of this world. (But is this true? John Bell’s theorem shows that entangled particles do communicate non-locally, that regardless of where they are in the universe they seem to know what others are doing and respond when one responds; that is to say that space, time and matter may be an illusion that seems to exist but in fact do not exist?  Perhaps, the sense of union and oneness of all things that Berkeley and mystics talk about is after all true? We are not here dealing with quantum mechanics and will not pursue that subject.) 

François Marie Arouet, aka Voltaire was a poet and skeptic. He was not an atheist but liked to make fun of theists’ conceptions of God. In his most famous novel, Candide, he wondered what kind of god allows earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, draughts, diseases etc. to destroy his creation.

It is said that the children of God chose to separate from God and have free will. Okay. Does this mean that a loving God should then ignore his separated children’s suffering?  What earthly father bases his relationship with his children on their past mistake, separation, and on their alleged freedom to do as they choose and suffer the consequences of their choices?

Do we in fact have freedom? If you have freedom can you choose not to die, do you even know when you will die?

You see your child put his hands in fire and you know that he will be burned and you ignore him and let him get burned?  It does not seem that God who supposedly loves practices the type of love we have on earth.

On the other hand, it is difficult to say that there is no God for how did matter write Shakespeare’s plays?

The French laughing philosopher made the best of this world without accepting religionists’ delusions about the nature of God.

Voltaire emphasized reason in what people do. Never mind whether God exists or not, just do what pure reason tells you is right. With pure reason we can solve our earthly problems. This is Voltaire’s humanist credo; we do not need the auspices of God to help us adapt to the exigencies of our world.

Blasé Pascal made contributions to mathematics and science but had mystical experiences that told him that God exist and that he and that God share one self and are one (in mystical union there is no space and separation between people and their creator, no you and I, no subject and object, no seer and seen; all share oneself and one mind). In his Pensees Pascal waxed eloquent about how we are all part of one unified spirit. Not all of us have had mystical experience hence can corroborate and verify Pascal’s subjective experience based ideas on God. 

Denis Diderot was an atheist and could do without what Laplace called the god hypothesis. What is salient is reason so let us use reason to solve our problems (the philosophy of secular humanism).

Diderot and Voltaire and others wrote the French encyclopedia; in it they tried to capture all known objective knowledge, not religious razzmatazz, in one book. 

Jean Jacque Rousseau rebelled against the enlightened philosophers over emphasis on pure reason, and recommendation that we should make decisions based on reason. As he sees it, we really do not make decisions based on our heads, reason but on our hearts, feelings.  When we make important choices we do not do so because of rational discourse but because of feeling. When you sacrifice for your children you do so for the reasons of the heart not your head.

Rousseau wanted to return to the world of feelings. He stimulated Romanticism, the emphasis on feelings rather than reason. He wanted to return to the alleged simpler world of our primitive forefathers that did not emphasize reason. As he sees it, the noble savages of North America lived happier lives than the civilized people of Parisian salons.

Unfortunately for the nostalgic Rousseau, his supposed noble Indians were actually busy hunting each other down, and scalping each other’s heads!  In his Novel, Emile Rousseau waxed sentimental but the realistic reader dismisses him as a child yearning for a return to a world where his mother took care of him. In the adult world there is no protector father figure.

In his book, social contract he talked about how men are born free but everywhere are on chains. Civilization is chaining people. Despite this sentimentalism, Rousseau did manage to talk about government been contractual, that we set it up to serve our good.

(When was this social contract, covenant actually enacted? There is no evidence that people sat down and negotiated to have governments; governments evolved as people tried to govern their affairs; the contractual theorists of government such as Rousseau, Hobbes and Locke were making a lot of assumptions but let us forgive them for we know what they are trying to accomplish: emphasize that governments exist to serve the people.)

In as much as the king was not elected by the people he ruled illegally. Rousseau’s pen stimulated the French revolution by delegitimizing the rule of unelected monarchs; claiming to rule the people by divine right of kings sounds hollow to those who do not believe in divinity. A legitimate ruler is one elected by the people and who represents their aspirations, will; we are talking about democratic government as the only legitimate form of government.

Of course there are other forms of government, such as oligarchy, aristocracy, monarchy, plutocracy, fascism and socialism but let us not pretend that they are legitimate governments elected by the people to serve the peoples interests. 

In Germany Leibnitz (and Goethe) joined the Romantic Movement and wrote holy nonsense about God and his parts. God projects himself into monads and each of these monads is in each of us as our souls, our real selves. Let us not go there; we have no time to indulge in philosophic abstractions here.

What Leibnitz did manage to do that is useful is invent calculus (independent of Isaac newton doing the same in England). 

Spinoza was born in Amsterdam (of Jewish parents who were driven out of Spain after the re-conquest of Spain from the Arabs in 1492). Jews living in reconquered Spain were told to choose between converting to Christianity and leaving the country. Spinoza’s Jewish parents left Spain and sought refuge in Holland. They prospered in their new country.

Spinoza received the best education in his synagogue but at some point his study of geometry and English materialists (such as Hobbes and Locke) convinced him that the biblical tale of God creating this world could not be true.  He made his views known and the Jewish synagogue fearing alienating their Christian neighbors asked him to recant his views and he refused and he was excommunicated from Judaism.

He thereafter committed his short life to philosophy. He made his living by polishing glasses.   Spinoza did not write many books. His primary work is his Ethics, and it was published posthumously. Essentially, he seems to be saying that there is what we might call spiritual and material substances at work in the universe and that the two of them are not separated but are the manifestations of one force.

One substance, let us call it god, acts as human thinking and also acts as the human body.  Body and mind are two manifestations of the same force.  This philosophy is often called pantheism.

This philosophy is not persuasive. Spinoza made his greatest contribution in ethics, our public behavior. Since we are all the manifestations of one force, loving all people loves our whole selves, Spinoza said. Virtue is not something done to please other people but that which is its own reward. You and other people are oneself so in loving and caring for other people you love your whole self. A world where we love our whole self, our individual and other selves is a peaceful and joyous world.

This is good metaphysics but it has not proved the unity of all things for we certainly see space and time between us. I do not know for sure that you and I are joined, unified but if talking about our eternal union in spirit makes us love our selves, such talk is happy fiction in my ears. 

We have talked about materialism, science, reason and romanticism in Western intellectual tradition; now, let us take a peek at our German friends and see how they reacted to all these movements in Western intellectual life.

Immanuel Kant (of Scottish parents who migrated to Germany) set out to prove that materialism, especially Locke and Hume are wrong.  His efforts are aimed at showing that God exists and that soul exists. He tried to build his argument on Newtonian physics and Kepler’s astronomy. He borrowed heavily from Newton’s mechanics but what he ended up saying is that matter seems incapable of moving itself and that there must be a force that moves it.

Think of your body. Something in you makes your hand to move and Kant would like us to believe that it is soul, spirit (Noumenon) that made your hand (phenomenon, matter) move.

We now know something about electro-magnetism and the behavior of atoms in the nervous system…fire, heat can make your hand withdraw itself without your mind telling it to do so.

Kant‘s philosophy was magnificent abstraction that to his mind proved that pure reason has its limitations (hence critique of pure reason). He talked about what he called apriori and posteriori ideas. Mathematics, for example, he thinks exists independent of matter. Two plus two is four and this seems to be an abstract reality (apriori) and exists regardless of the existence of matter (phenomena).

There is a part of knowledge (posteriori) that is a result of our experience. What Kant is really saying is that there is knowledge that is outside experience and matter and he associates that knowledge with God.  In his view he had dealt a blow to materialism.

But has he?  I would like to argue with Kant but that is not my goal here.  Let us just say that he did not persuade me or any materialist that pure reason is not all we have going for us.

At any rate, despite his labors to prove that God exists, in his old age Kant became insane and suffered Alzheimer’s diseases. The God he struggled mightily to prove exists did not come to his rescue. So, does his God exist?

If one may ask: why is it that men are always making arguments for the existence of God? Why not let god make arguments for his existence? And since he does not show us that he exists he does not exist.

You cannot prove to those who do not know that God exists that he exists by citing your subjective experience of him. It is only if God can appear to all of us at the same time so that we can verify his existence that we know that he exists. Let God, spirit, Jesus Christ stand where all of us can see him and we would all know that he exists.

If we have to do with a person telling us that God exists based on his experience, say, Mohammad telling us that God exists because he heard the voice of an angel Gabriel we can always suspect that angels do not exist and that he was hallucinating, was insane?

Many deluded religionists have misled mankind by claiming to hear the voice of God in their heads. It is now time for God to reach all of us, but not through select persons.

God is probably our creation. As psychoanalysts say, we are intimidated by the affairs of this world and are looking for some external force to protect and rescue us. Alas, no force comes to our rescue.

Until God speaks for himself and does so in such a manner that all of us can simultaneously hear him speak to us we cannot accept him as real. Whatever arguments that philosophers like Kant make or religionists say about God do not prove the existence of God.

Kant’s idealistic philosophy is wishful thinking, nothing more nothing less. A mind sees an ugly world out there and seeks an ideal version of it. Human beings always seek ideals.

As we all know when one takes ones ideals as reality one has left the world of reality and is now deluded, paranoid, and insane. The insane person thinks that his ideals are reality. If you are ugly and want to be handsome that is understandable wish but if you now believe that you are handsome, that your wish is your reality you have left the real world and fled to the world of fantasy. In the end Kant fled to the fantasy world he was hatching in his philosophy; he became mad. 

Georg Fredrick Wilhelm Hegel did not just play with ideals, he left the world and lived in his ideal world and was insane. The man was living in his idealistic world and had nothing to do with the real world we live in. He was simply insane. Try reading his books, especially the Phenomenology of spirit and I bet you that you would think that it is 800 pages of stuff written by an inmate in a psychiatric hospital. It does not make sense.

Hegel’s writing on history seems to have some rhyme and reason in it. He talked about what he called dialectic historicism (which his student, Karl Marx said that he stood on its head and called dialectic materialism).  Hegel talked about the movement of ideas and history. At any point in time there is a real-world, the idea. That historical situation has other ideas opposing it.

There is the present status quo (thesis) and opposition to it (antithesis); the two struggles and the result is a synthesis of the two in a new idea of history, a new stage of historical development. This is fair enough characterization of how history evolves.

Moreover, we seem to have ideas in our heads, ideas that oppose each other and we seek synthesis that reconciles them in new ideas. Society appears to have similar dynamics.

Having made this much sense Hegel proceeded to talk about the absolute idea where all the theses and antitheses, the world of opposites are resolved in a perfect state. That perfect state that resolves historical dynamics is Germany.

There you have it; Hegel the German nationalist was actually seeking ways to reconcile the differences in the Germanic world into one strong German state. He thinks that the progression of history would end with this absolute idea. His student, Karl Marx talked similar nonsense. 

Marx talked about how progress is due to the struggle of thesis and antithesis and resulting synthesis of both in a new society. However, instead of leaving the struggle at the ideational level, Marx said that it is economic.

In primitive communal society some persons decided to oppress others, enslave others. Thus slave owners and slaves conflicted and the synthesis is feudal society.

In feudal society the forces of the status quo, land owning aristocrats and those wishing for change, the middle class, the bourgeoisie led to struggle. This conflict led to a new society, a synthesis of the two warring parties, socialist society.

Having reached socialism or communism Marx suddenly ends history; the dynamic struggle of oppressors and oppressed, the war of opposites end.

We know that in communist states an oppressive class emerged. The leaders of the Soviet Union oppressed the workers. Thus, both ought to continue dialectical materialism, that is, conflict continues to form new synthesis, a new form of society, something different from socialist society.


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: (907) 310-8176