Thinkers

For Posidonius, ouranos, heaven, offers the paradigm for man. The stars teach ethics. The individual who pursues his duties without emotional involvement in them and without the correlative expectation of results, who recognizes honesty as the good and the hallmark of the wise man, and who seeks to honour the higher daimon in himself discovers a fidelity within the soul which is both its overarching oikeiosis and its link to the World-Soul. He sees that the principles of physics can be translated into the laws of psychology from which are derived ethics and the rules of right conduct. Without wavering in his loyalty to the deepest insights of the Stoic tradition, Posidonius exemplified in his own life and thought the ability of the philosopher to penetrate afresh and more precisely the mystery of the kosmos and the less ordered realm in which human beings dwell. His fearlessness of method and the marriage of observation and abstract thought influenced the generations which came immediately after him, and inspired a number of thinkers in the dawn of the European Enlightenment. [paraphrased]

This is the way things go in philosophy. There are traditions and winds of doctrine and many seem shut into the tradition in which they have been brought up. There is vital need of communication. I may remark here, incidentally, that I have found European philosophers more shut into their traditions than Americans. This is not a matter of virtue of American thinkers but of historical circumstances. They have had to learn and assimilate until it came about that they could strike out on the paths which appealed to them. Such independence was not always welcomed abroad when it occurred. This, I think, happened in the case of pragmatism and, in some measure, with realism. And, then, curiously enough, when what was regarded as a stalemate in the realistic movement occurred—how justifiable remains to be seen—a new kind of colonialism manifested itself in the United States. One soon heard only of analysis a la Moore, of Wittgenstein, and of logical positivism. This to be followed by existentialism. I do not say this attitude was universal. There remained many Deweyites and the study of Peirce increased. But I had to work rather alone. I continued to circle around perceiving, evolutionary levels, double knowledge of the mind-brain functioning and humanism. That is the way things go and one must have what has been called intestinal fortitude. I think the situation is somewhat altering and more of an international equilibrium is getting established. But what I call journalistic philosophy still echoes the period of neo-colonialism. Literary critics, whose philosophy is second-hand, mouth the accepted terms. And I find that many young philosophers in the United States seem to have little knowledge of past developments. In their eyes, one must be analytic, or a logical positivist or a defender of ordinary language.

Darwinism is a remarkably simple theory, childlishly so, in comparison with almost all of physics and mathematics. But we have good reason for believing that this simplicity is deceptive. Simple as the theory may seem, nobody thought of it until Darwin and Wallace in the mid-19th century. How could such a simple idea go so long undiscovered by thinkers of the calibre of Newton, Galileo, Descartes, Hume and Aristotle? What was wrong with philosophers and mathematicians that they overlooked it?

I distinctly remember when a little more than a dozen years ago the immigration question was first finding occasional expression in the labor organizations that I heard a member, who had left the Emerald Isle scarcely three years, denounce the evils the toilers suffer from immigration. From that time the thought occurred to me that there is something more in this world than philosophy and philanthropy which prompts the people to advocate measures of reformatory character.

Guessing right for the wrong reason does not merit scientific immortality.

The legends of fieldwork locate all important sites deep in inaccessible jungles inhabited by fierce beasts and restless natives, and surrounded by miasmas of putrefaction and swarms of tsetse flies. (Alternative models include the hundredth dune after the death of all camels, or the thousandth crevasse following the demise of all sled dogs.)

We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.

Man the individual is a deeper being than man in the mass.

By making charity one can attain a very respectable and adorable position in the society.

In the common sense of the word, Judaism is not a religion, it is not a system of dogmas, of sacramental grace; it is not a bundle of rites and ceremonies; it is not a road to happiness in the hereafter; it is not a scheme of salvation from original sin; it does neither stand nor fall with our views as to the character of those books we call sacred, and as to their authorship. But it is a message to the world that righteousness must be its own reward, and is of that force which builds the world and shapes the courses of men.

Philosophy: Impersonal anxiety ; refuge among anemic ideas.

Technologies that are "bad smart," by contrast, make certain choices and behaviors impossible. Smart gadgets in the latest generation of cars—breathalyzers that can check if we are sober, steering sensors that verify if we are drowsy, facial recognition technologies that confirm we are who we say we are—seek to limit, not to expand, what we can do. This may be an acceptable price to pay in situations where lives are at stake, such as driving, but we must resist any attempt to universalize this logic. The "smart bench"—an art project by designers JooYoun Paek and David Jimison that aims to illustrate the dangers of living in a city that is too smart—cleverly makes this point. Equipped with a timer and sensors, the bench starts tilting after a set time, creating an incline that eventually dumps its occupant. This might appeal to some American mayors, but it is the kind of smart technology that degrades the culture of urbanism—and our dignity.

The great boon of repression is that it makes it possible to live decisively in an overwhelmingly miraculous and incomprehensible world, a world so full of beauty, majesty, and terror that if animals perceived it all they would be paralyzed to act. ... What would the average man (sic) do with a full consciousness of absurdity? He has fashioned his character for the precise purpose of putting it between himself and the facts of life; it is his special tour-de-force that allows him to ignore incongruities, to nourish himself on impossibilities, to thrive on blindness. He accomplishes thereby a peculiarly human victory: the ability to be smug about terror.

The peace that passeth understanding is that which comes when the pain is not relieved, which subsists in the midst of the painful situation, suffusing it, which springs out of the pain itself, which shimmers on the crest of the wave of pain, which is the spear of frustration transfigured into the shaft of light. It is upon those we love that we must anchor ourselves spiritually in the last moments. The sense of interconnectedness with them stands out vividly by way of contrast at the very moment when our mortal connection with them is about to be dissolved. And the intertwining of our life with theirs, the living in the life that is in them, is but a part of our living in the infinite manifold of the spiritual life. The thought of this, as apprehended, not in terms of knowledge, but in immediate experience, begets the peace that passeth understanding. And it is upon the bosom of that peace that we can pass safely out of the realm of time and space.

There is a city to be built, the plan of which we carry in our heads, in our hearts. Countless generations have already toiled at the building of it. The effort to aid in completing it, with us, takes the place of prayer. In this sense we say, "Laborare est orare."