Wisdom and Abstract Thought

By Ralph Dumain

DEFINITION & BACKGROUND

This idea is an outgrowth of a Café Philo DC discussion on philosophy and everyday life, which took place on 28 September 2002 and was not fully satisfying. I also experienced a comparable round of discussion on the Philosophy Now magazine's discussion list, spanning the dates 22 September - 12 October 2003, on issues of popularization and the philosophical temperament. As with Café Philo, I attempted to head off a bad-faith artificial separation between the practical orientation of everyday life and the accumulated intellectual heritage of the species, in contradistinction to the more customary anxiety over the relevance of academic philosophy to everyday life, which presupposes a dualism I reject. (If you wish to refresh your memory of the Café Philo discussion, you can read the paper I circulated at the time [1], and a summary of my introductory remarks at the meeting. [2])

Now I want to formulate my concern differently. I am hoping this formulation will point us to the heart of the matter. The new topic is: what is the relation between wisdom and abstract thought?

While abstract, theoretical thought may not be an exact synonym for philosophy, "philosophy" as professionally practiced involves formal intellectual traditions. "Wisdom", however, connotes something we value in everyday life, but whose relation to formal knowledge remains unclear. What is the relationship (intersection or disjunction) between wisdom and (formal) knowledge in our day and age?

"Wisdom" usually encompasses the notions of judgment and proportionality, of knowing how to correlate, ascertain, judge and act based on a total grasp of a phenomenon or situation. Wisdom involves accumulated experience and an achieved ability to intuitively grasp the dynamics of a situation or phenomenon. What role do you think abstract thought or formal knowledge plays in this process today? In what areas will spontaneously acquired cognitive skills suffice, and what phenomena or properties in/of one's world cannot be adequately addressed in this manner but can only be grasped through the development of abstract conceptual thinking?

While I have always had an interest in this issue, as in its parent issue, this idea was specifically triggered by a section of a book chapter now on my web site. There is some distracting political propaganda in this text, but the author does raise essential issues involving the complex historical relationship between wisdom and formal knowledge: "Problem of Wisdom as a Real Problem" by Theodore Oizerman. [3] I will return to this essay later. Now I want to expand on the problems I have had getting other people to understand this topic.

ATTEMPT AT DISCUSSION

I raised this topic on the Philosophy Now discussion list on 21 November 2003, in hopes of generating feedback I could use in preparation for a possible Café Philo discussion. The silence was deafening. The only response I received must have come from an analytical philosopher, as he basically dismissed the issue. He could not see a distinction between wisdom and abstract thought: "Wisdom is a somewhat antiquated and vague word that is inclusive of abstract reasoning." Furthermore: "What reasoning does not involve an abstract generalisation, rule or purpose?" What reasoning does not involve abstraction? And thus, what intelligent reasoning would not be an exercise in wisdom? "Arithmetic may be considered as an abstract skill yet its use in successfully arranging the fiscal policy of a community could be congratulated as an act of wisdom."

I tendered my response on 2 December (this is an emended version):

Well, it may be vague and antiquated, and perhaps irrelevant to academic philosophy, but it is no less important. It is an important concept in everyday life, and thus its linkage to formal philosophy is an important question.

I imagine that no reasoning exists without some abstract generalization. However, those not trained in abstract generalization or those not consciously aware of what that means or how they use it may benefit from understanding explicitly how it works. The question would then be: how do the trained and the untrained differ in their use or mastery of abstraction, given that both reason sometimes?

The example of arithmetic [given by the respondent] is about as non-mystical a department of "wisdom" as one can find. I hope it is clear that I am not suggesting some mystical state of understanding completely removed from rational knowledge and mundane reasoning, as the term is often popularly understood. That is why I cited the text that I did, just to give a springboard for a non-mystical discussion of the topic. "Wisdom", however, implies more than reasoning, it implies judgment, depth, and a scale of values.

What do I mean by spontaneously acquired cognitive skills? Well, thinking about various subject matters and the development of perspectives does not always take place within the realm of formal training, either of a scientist, philosopher, doctor, welder, or construction worker, to take some examples. People think about areas in which they have no credentialed expertise. How good their thinking is in those areas or even in areas in which they have some background is another question, or pair of questions. However, there's no getting around the issue, unless you are prepared to argue the notion that people without degrees are incapable of serious thought, in which case you will only demonstrate your insanity. The uneducated have their limitations, but the nature of those limitations need to be analyzed, and it is important to learn how far people can get with what they have. It is a profound question, not at all trivial.

The development of abstract conceptual thinking in a formal way differs from the usual sort of informal thinking that goes on. There is also an intermediate position to be considered, the self-development of philosophical perspective which may be substantially, partially, or not at all developed in connection with exposure to the ideas of the past formally developed and accumulated in books. This is from the standpoint of the individual.

From an historical standpoint, there is the development of thinking from symbolism, analogical reasoning, myth and religion to "philosophy" as we know it, and from various mixtures of what we call objective knowledge and superstition to science as we know it. All of these modalities of what pretends to be knowledge and intelligence still exist, and are adopted by various individuals in a society depending on access, education, indoctrination, and ideological commitment. I am not suggesting they are all of equal validity; rather I am posing the problem of what is necessary to learn in order to understand what. One needs to know something about probability to be a good gambler. One needs to be trained in some kind of medicine to be a nurse or a "barefoot doctor", etc. However, there are less clearly defined areas to which critical thinking may be applied, such as judging social institutions, belief systems, cultural forms, etc., or more personally and directly, human behavior and life situations. "Wisdom" in such matters can hardly be decided by formal training alone, it is learned at least in part through experience, and critical thinking may or may not be exercised by the uneducated as well as the educated. All thinking involves abstraction of some kind, but again, there are differences, and the question is, what sort of differences matter in which ways in relation to which objects of understanding? It is actually an obvious question to ask, and quite an important question, as most obvious questions are. One never thinks about what one takes for granted, which is why the question needs to be asked. And quite clearly it has relevance to the project of popularizing philosophy, for example, in magazines such as Philosophy Now.

My interlocutor completely dismissed my response as fuzzy thinking and saw no question worth discussing. "If you try to be rigorous and error free in any pursuit, you will obtain 'critical thinking' skills. If you're lazy, don't care and don't think hard—you won't learn them no matter what you do." At this point, I decided to give up.

Perhaps if I try to pinpoint my dissatisfaction with previous discussions I will be able to make my concerns intelligible and thus accelerate the progress of our Café Philo discussion. Customarily, our moderator includes a series of questions followed by quotations from the philosophical literature. I do not know what quotations he will dig up this time, but the philosophical literature itself is where my problem begins. I do not base my own thinking on this topic on anything in the recognized philosophical corpus, of any tradition. I would not deny that there is relevant material in the philosophical literature of the world—the ancient Greek, the medieval and modern European, Indian, Chinese, or other traditions—but chances are I will not be entirely happy with the results. In order to explain why, let me backtrack to our discussion of last year. Someone suggested there were two ways to think about philosophy: one was as a way of life, as it was conceived by many in ancient Greece, the other, reasoning about intellectual problems not bound to living in a particular way. I don't recall which one he advocated if either. I am unhappy with both, however.

THE NEW YORK CAFÉ PHILO EXPERIENCE

But before I explain why, I want to reference a discussion on "What is Wisdom?" that took place at the New York Café Philo on 11 October 2000. A summary of this session is available on Bernard Roy's web site. I want to cull the main points for our discussion. The ancient Greeks made wisdom a major theme. A summary of Aristotle's view was given: ". . . wisdom is knowledge of causes and of principles, and that the wise man 'knows all things (i.e., he has the highest degree of universal knowledge), as far as possible, although he has not knowledge of each of them in detail,' and finally the wise man knows those things which are the hardest because 'they are the farthest from the senses.' Others found this focus on theoretical knowledge questionable. For Plato, the wise individual is just, and the just individual is ruled by reason. The participants in this discussion ended up distinguishing knowledge from wisdom and debating the relationship between the two:

The wise can address the question, 'How should I live?' and the knowledgeable can look at the question, 'How should I build a house?' I asked whether the distinction was similar to the one made by our use of language when we say 'I know that...' (knowledge) as apposed to 'I know how. . .' (wisdom) [. . . . ] Wisdom, for [one participant] had to be both. Who is wise? Who considers himself or herself wise? 'Look at the way they live and you’ll know whether or not they are wise,' [ . . . ] We seemed to agree that the wise was the individual who can analyze problems and accurately predict outcomes.

[Another participant] thought that morality and knowledge of the good had to be component of wisdom, but he stopped short of telling how one acquires this knowledge. Do we need higher education to be moral and good? [Yet another participant] thought that wisdom required 'a deep understanding of human nature.'

Someone raised the question of pragmatism and expediency. Another suggested that "wisdom starts with the knowledge of oneself." The role of reason and emotion was then debated.

DEFINING MY DISSATISFACTION

In order to explain why I find myself disheartened by such discussions, I want to return to the comments I mentioned earlier: we can contrast two historical approaches to philosophy: (1) ancient Greek society, where abstract thought and wisdom are identified, with the assumption that the good life is the end of philosophy, and this is identified with abstract contemplation, (2) contemporary society, in which professional specialization prevails, and philosophy is primarily intended as conceptual analysis and not a way of life (and even ethics is most often a theoretical discipline without connection to practice). This characterization makes me unhappy as well. I find that the fundamental logical problem of many discussions is the mixup of unity and distinction, in which unities are assumed where distinctions need to be made, and distinctions are assumed where generalizations ought to be made. The variety of positions available seem to be the following, individually or in combination: (1) wisdom and abstract thought are inseparable, (2) wisdom and abstract thought are two different things, (3) theory and practice are inseparable, (4) theory and practice are separable, (5) theory is legitimate without regard to practice, (6) practice is legitimate (wise) without regard to theory, (7) theory is only legitimate with regard to practice, (8) practice is only wise with regard to theory. You will notice how I slipped in the question of theory and practice, which is not identical to that of abstract thought and wisdom, though it raises the same issues. (Wisdom may refer to knowledge, understanding or judgment alone, or in connection with action/practice.) Also, my provisional conflation of the abstract thought/wisdom question with the theory/practice question fudges the question of possible roles for non-theoretical intellectual judgment (informal reasoning, intuition), but as we are not automatons, we cannot engage in any practice without some kind of thinking.

I am reluctant to turn to the ancient Greeks for guidance—Plato and Aristotle at any rate—as their identification of wisdom and abstract thought is predicated on the aristocratic monopolization of both knowledge and virtue, and hence the unity of the two they posit reflects a particular, highly questionable social vantage point. The vantage point of Diogenes is more congenial to me, but we should save him for a discussion of irony or cynicism. (As for virtue, William Blake's comments on the Moral Virtues of the Greeks and Romans are apropos. [4])

The modern situation provides a number of conflicting models, most of which make me uneasy as well. There are also dangers in the complete separation of theoretical knowledge and wisdom, as they lead to the extremes of either technocratic, specialized indifference to consequences or to the role of thought outside of one's narrow professional life, or to irrationalism and mysticism as escapes from or alternatives to the former. If we turn to the related issue of theory and practice, the historical experience of the 20th century is a minefield of mischief. The flight from alienated existence generates monsters. The turn from book learning to the ideology of unmediated experience has resulted in the irresponsible misappropriation of Asian philosophies, making false promises to the naive and gullible. In politics, the unity of theory and practice became the ideology of Stalinism, and several political movements since, and the capitulation of intellectuals to power and pragmatism has severely compromised both theoretical and practical activity.

The early Habermas addressed the issue of theory and practice, arguing for the distinction between the organization of enlightenment and the organization of political action. [5] Theodor Adorno was highly attuned to the issues involved. Several quotations are of relevance here, which can be found on my web site. [6] Adorno's most important pronouncement comes from his essay "Resignation", written in opposition to the cult of action becoming prevalent on college campuses in the 1960s. [7] This sentence (from an earlier translation) sums it up: "Repressive intolerance toward a thought not immediately accompanied by instructions for action is founded in fear."

Now what is the upshot of this digression into the ancient Greeks and the moderns? On the one hand, the identification of serious thought with an established set of classics does much less for us than for the people who wrote those classics, because the responsibility for assimilating whatever useful information is contained in them lies with us, and our relationship to that information as well as its integration into our intellectual and practical orientation to the world is the question of the day. On the other hand, the segregation of book learning, or any other sort of abstract theoretical engagement, from wisdom, leads to an ideological and mystified conception of understanding, wisdom, and practical engagement that serves as an instrument of the censorship of thought and dampens our ability to understand the modern world and the knowledge and the ideologies embedded and embodied within it. We are imprisoned in an implicit dualism when we must choose between: (1) the fusion of theoretical knowledge and wisdom as expressed by a recognized tradition, or (2) the complete separation of theoretical knowledge from wisdom, which then gets passed on to traditional or homegrown mysticisms, hieratic esoterism, unaccountable intuition, folk wisdom, or commonsense.

OIZERMAN ON WISDOM & PHILOSOPHY

Now what did I see in Oizerman's essay? The essence of his position is that wisdom is neither identical with theoretical knowledge nor separate from it.

Wisdom will not become a science, just as science will not become wisdom. Philosophy, no matter how high a value it places on wisdom, should not identify itself with it. Philosophy can and should be a system of scientifically grounded knowledge. This conclusion has nothing in common, however, with the positivist ridicule of the quest for wisdom as a metaphysical pretension.

On the one hand Oizerman criticizes the positivist restriction on philosophical questions:

We know that neo-positivism's struggle against "metaphysics" quite unexpectedly brought the neo­positivists to the realisation that the problems of philosophy were unavoidable. This notable fact should be regarded as evidence that the problem of wisdom retains its significance in philosophy, just as the question of the rational ordering of human life is still being discussed in society.

On the other, he is not about to let wisdom fall into the hands of the theologians and irrationalists:

The philosophers were mistaken when they counterposed wisdom to science. This mistake is being repeated today by many contemporary idealist philosophers of the irrational school. One cannot agree with Walter Ehrlich, for example, who maintains that philosophy 'should in fact, signify wisdom and hence a special kind of knowledge, that does not at all coincide with scientific knowledge, which is available to everyone (if one has the necessary time and education)'. No knowledge should be counterposed to science. There is no such thing as knowledge that is above science. What does exist is pre-scientific and unscientific knowledge, and this is what wisdom becomes if it is juxtaposed to science. Does this mean that wisdom should become a science or is becoming one? By no means! Science is a system of concepts, whose meaning is organically linked with the subject of the given science. Wisdom is not a system of concepts; the specific nature of wisdom cannot be defined by pointing to the subject of inquiry. Wisdom has no such subject merely because it is not an inquiry, although it is, of course, understanding.

This understanding is based on the data of science, but not only on them. Of no less importance to wisdom are everyday and historical experience.

Wisdom is not an ideal of knowledge, since not all knowledge, ideally conceived, becomes wisdom. The ideally exact and complete cognition of any physical structure has nothing to do with wisdom, which does not, of course, belittle the value of such knowledge.

Again, wisdom is seen as distinct but not separate from knowledge and systems of concepts. The distinction means that the task of philosophy is to be rational and systematic, which ultimately serves wisdom, but should not be defined by or held hostage to the notion of wisdom. Conversely, wisdom is a senseless notion if it is divorced from rational knowledge, though it is itself not rational knowledge per se.

Philosophy begins with reflections on the nature of wisdom. Today the problem of wisdom retains its significance as a philosophical problem. But it would obviously be incorrect to assume that philosophy boils down to the study or attainment of wisdom . . . . Wisdom may be regarded as a specific form of knowledge, but the 'reasoned synthesis of beliefs' may surely be called wisdom only with reference to the distant past, before the dawn of science.

One of the specific features of philosophy is that the universal and necessary significance of its propositions is constantly in the process of becoming and development. Is this characteristic of wisdom? Apparently not. Nevertheless the original meaning of the word 'philosophy' retains its significance even today. It speaks of the possibility of human wisdom, but also of the fact that we shall never be replete with it.

Does this seem paradoxical to you? Yet I find it a fruitful approach.

I don't think Oizerman contradicts himself here, but he ends on a confusing note before he drops the topic:

Without claiming to give a definition, I would advocate regarding wisdom as a fact and not a figment, as a fact that can be understood and theoretically defined in conceptual form. In this case wisdom may be understood as the generalisation of the multifarious knowledge and experience of the human race, a generalisation formulated as the principles of cognition, evaluation, behaviour and action.

The suggestion that one can construct a theory of wisdom though wisdom itself is not theoretical, confuses me. Perhaps the problem is mine, as this statement also appears to be a second order generalization that coordinates the components of wisdom without rendering it directly propositional. This conclusion also seems to pick up the thread from Oizerman's second paragraph, in which he attempts a characterization of wisdom as a combination of knowledge and conduct:

But here we are faced with the question of the character of knowledge, the extent to which it implies understanding, and not just any understanding but understanding of something that matters in human life. It is obvious that knowledge which is merely a statement of facts, even if the gathering of these facts has entailed considerable research, is still far from wisdom, which manifests itself rather as a conclusion or generalisation. But even generalisation implies wisdom only when it contains an evaluation that can guide the solution of complex questions of theory and practical life.

This is as far as he gets.

On a related note, Adorno has an unusually shrewd analysis of the relation of theory and practice in Problems of Moral Philosophy that is also founded on a seeming paradox. [8] In my view, this also has something to do with wisdom and the problem we have in pinning it down.

CLASSIFICATION OF THE OBJECTS OF KNOWLEDGE REQUIRING WISDOM, IN RELATION TO ABSTRACT THOUGHT

In popular parlance, wisdom is associated most closely with human behavior and immediate, practical life situations. It is also conceived from various standpoints ranging from commonsense, shrewdness, to insight, depth, and morally enlightened judgment and decision-making. But is important to note that this is also the primary and most common realm in which independent, unconventional, critical thought is exercised by exceptional though totally uneducated individuals, who in some cases, may even be able to articulate abstract principles derived from their thinking and experience.

It is of course also the case that modern scientific, medical, social and psychological knowledge has filtered down from the specialists who generated it and become incorporated into the resources drawn upon by the average person.

(In fact, the public engages philosophical issues whenever it confronts fundamental controversies in science and particularly in medicine. Too often the public is prone to retrograde or crackpot views, but in some circumstances the public is far more sophisticated than the specialists. For example, even though this is an overmedicated, pill-popping society, there is a considerable and I would say sophisticated if not scientifically grounded public skepticism, going to the very root of the mind-body problem, over the question of psychiatric treatment and the current tendency to reduce all of mental illness to chemical imbalance and prescribe medication as the cure-all. It is true that one may be superstitious either for or against medication, but the public senses that the medication-oriented technocrats for all their understanding of brain chemistry are vastly oversimplifying the issues, and the pharmaceutical industry is not to be trusted. This unease is no substitute for scientific knowledge, but it naturally invites an abstract consideration of the problem.)

I am going to bypass questions of wisdom involving specialized, professional judgments, whether they be those of physicists, doctors, detectives, or bricklayers, all of which involve some exercise of determinate knowledge and training regardless of the intellectual content or level. I want to continue in the vein of the informal and unstructured situations in which exercise of intelligence is undertaken. The next level above daily life involves larger judgments of one's social and cultural life. Here, too, even uneducated people with a bent toward critical thinking may exercise considerable acumen in challenging prevailing religious, political, social, and cultural beliefs and institutions of their societies.

The question in all these cases is, how far can this process be taken without the mastery of disciplined, abstract thinking? And in which cases is the abstract, systematic formulation of ideas a luxury, a gloss on concrete phenomena and situations requiring judgment, which may be of interest as an exercise for professional philosophers but inessential to understanding the matter at hand, and in which cases does the lack of a theoretical framework render understanding impossible?

What is the threshold at which the spontaneously generated critical acumen of the uneducated individual ceases to be able to cope adequately with certain stimuli? I will return momentarily to the properties of theoretical thought that could be of use in the apprehension of any set of phenomena, but I want to focus on this threshold. I would say that systematicity is most needed when confronting the systematic. That is, the average person living in a complex modern society is immersed in and constantly bombarded by an ideological environment imbued with dimly understood but systematically related cultural, political, social, scientific, religious and other ideational contents. There has to be a limit to being able to make sense out of this without rising to the discipline of systematicity necessary to grasp the deep structures and dynamics of systems. Theoretical thinking is not only systematic but it enables deep pattern recognition that spontaneous cognition may not be able to accomplish. Hence it may be useful in addressing the observed behavior of daily life, but may prove to be indispensable for understanding the workings of one's society as a whole. How can one succeed in deciphering the ideological and propaganda environment without being able to rise above it in abstraction?

LIMITS OF THE UNTUTORED vs PITFALLS OF FORMAL EDUCATION

I was actually able to participate in an intelligent though short-lived discussion on the Philosophy Now discussion list, in the midst of a discussion of popularization which I myself had instigated. Someone raised the question of whether the philosophical temperament is inborn, not learned. I could write reams on these issues. I have also had decades of experience with uneducated though highly exceptional and critical individuals. Here is what I wrote on October 12:

Sometimes I think the philosophical mind is born, not made, yet several qualifications are needed. I have found over the decades a number of uneducated people with acute instincts for philosophical reflection and/or critical thought. However, the exercise of such propensities and abilities is a highly uneven affair. Whatever is behind these propensities, it does not reduce down to logical thinking or even abstract thinking. And, one could say, it doesn't always reach up to them either. As with any ability, this one is developed with practice. But how does an uneducated person get to practice and refine one's capacity for philosophical reflection? Well, usually, it only gets developed in specific areas, such as critical reflection on everyday life and human behavior, rebellion against religious belief, anticlericalism, criticism of politics and social institutions. Within delimited areas of contention uneducated people are capable of articulating not only arguments but the principles behind their arguments. They tend to be brilliant at coining aphorisms, proverbs, and turns of phrase, thinking metaphorically; but rarely are they capable of sustaining consistent abstract reflection across the spectrum of thought. And without some kind of abstract terminology—having words like "epistemology" for example—their ability to systematize is limited. The question of practice involves a number of ways of interacting with others. People tend to think in inner speech, abbreviating rather than explicitly elaborating logical constructs, relying on intuitive pattern recognition to fill in the gaps in their explicit logical reasoning. Improving one's skills at articulating one's concepts could involve talking to oneself, but actually demands interaction with others through speaking or writing. One also needs input from others whether through written texts or intelligent conversation. This may seem obvious enough, but we should be philosophical about it and interrogate the obvious, as that is where all the profound questions are to be found.

We also need to examine the formal educational process more closely. I have suggested that learning how to think philosophically is not just regurgitating descriptions of other people's ideas, but thinking through them and struggling with them. This struggle itself needs to be theorized. The bureaucratic context in which academic subjects are taught does not foster such analysis. Have you ever sat in an introductory philosophy class feeling depressed? Something is missing in the transmission of the philosophical canon. The art of mediating between the abstract and the concrete is not taught. The poor student is at a terrible disadvantage in confronting intricately developed abstract systems, starting out with only his/her own comparatively vague sense of reality as a guide. While self-transformation is also a desirable outcome, the struggle is to maintain control of the process of digestion, to learn how to swallow other people's ideas and keep them from swallowing you. Hence, as I argued [previously], there are at least two levels to think about in formulating a conception of the philosophical mind. One is the dimension of philosophy (or any other discipline) that can be formally taught, the other is that X-factor in the individual that motivates thinking beyond what is given; the fount of creativity, originality, or thinking organically from within.

WISDOM AS INTUITION & CRITICAL THINKING & INTELLECTUAL DISCIPLINE vs IRRATIONALISM & MYSTICISM

I have suggested a relationship between systematization and profundity, as well as a complementary relationship between intuition and discipline, with a developmental rather than static, innatist conception of intuition. I have always regarded intuition as concentrated, tacit thinking rather than as a mystical faculty. You work things through step by step when you first learn to stand up and walk, or learn to drive, or play the piano, but all this becomes automatized so that you can perform higher-level operations. This is how intuition develops, in my view, whether it be everyday commonsense or uncommon insights. One learns to size up a situation at a glance before one even thinks it through logically step-by-step. The development of a discipline and a method, from within, that does not function as an arbitrary abstract imposition on the concrete, enables pattern recognition at a profound level not achievable via spontaneous cognition beyond some threshold, for at least some objects of knowledge, and ultimately, perhaps for all. Wisdom can draw no boundaries between itself and systematic or positive knowledge, for there is no limit to what must be known and at what depth. Wisdom, though, is also about proportion, and thus indulgence in abstraction as an optional ornament is not its first priority. Wisdom begins with an impulse, but sets no limits to its expansion.

Above all, the priority is critical thinking, prior even to the integration of understanding with action. Thought must defend a space for itself where it can live and breathe. This is opposed to the modern anti-intellectual religion of the gut, which itself is an empty abstraction. Monasteries and Zen and the art of archery got some people through feudalism, but the ideological adaptation of such thinking to a modern, industrial, scientific, and technological society is even more malicious and manipulative than it is ignorant and escapist. The regression to the cult of immediacy, to the perspective of narrow subcultures, to unaccountable, irresponsible mystery-mongering, esoterism, ahistorical Jungian archetypes (conceptualized by a Nazi collaborator and Franco sympathizer for the navel-gazing of rich heiresses), turning one's back on the conceptual tools needed to master the specificities of the modern world, is a monstrous dereliction. As usual, Adorno has the definitive word here:

The corny exoticism of such decorative world views as the astonishingly consumable Zen Buddhist one casts light upon today's restorative philosophies. Like Zen, they simulate a thinking posture which the history stored in the subjects makes impossible to assume. Restricting the mind to thoughts open and attainable at the historical stage of its experience is an element of freedom; nonconceptual vagary represents the opposite of freedom. Doctrines which heedlessly run off from the subject to the universe, along with the philosophy of Being, are more easily brought into accord with the world's hardened condition and with the chances of success within it than is the tiniest bit of self-reflection by a subject pondering upon itself and its real captivity. [9]

REFERENCES

[1] Ralph Dumain, How to Integrate Philosophy and Everyday Life: To Think Philosophically in Life, Or Reproduce the Fragmentation of Knowledge? 27 September 2002. [—> main text]

[2] Ralph Dumain, "Philosophy & Everyday Life: Prologue to Discussion". 14 October 2002. [—> main text]

[3] Theodore Oizerman, Problem of Wisdom as a Real Problem, in Problems of the History of Philosophy (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1973), chapter 1, section 4, pp. 52-64. [—> main text]

[4] William Blake, "The Everlasting Gospel" (variant). [—> main text]

[5] Jürgen Habermas, "Historical Remarks on the Question of Organization" in Theory and Practice (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973), from section "Introduction: Some Difficulties in the Attempt to Link Theory and Praxis" (1971) (pp. 1-40), pp. 32-37. [—> main text]

[6] Theodor W. Adorno Study Guide. [—> main text]

[7] Theodor W. Adorno, “Resignation” in Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), pp. 289-293. [—> main text]

[8] Theodor W. Adorno, Problems of Moral Philosophy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001), pp. 3-8. [—> main text]

[9] Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics (New York: The Seabury Press, 1973), p. 68. [—> main text]


"Fascism has awakened a sleeping world to the realities of the irrational, mystical character structure of the people of the world." — Wilhelm Reich

Completed 23 December 2003. Edited & uploaded 24 December 2003.

©2003 Ralph Dumain. All rights reserved.


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