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Word Gems 

exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity






"It cannot be too often repeated that philosophy is everybody's business. To be a human being is to be endowed with the proclivity to philosophize. To some degree we all engage in philosophical thought in the course of our daily lives. Acknowledging this is not enough. It is also necessary to understand why this is so and what philosophy's business is. The answer, in a word, is IDEAS. In two words, it is GREAT IDEAS - the IDEAS basic and indispensable to understanding ourselves, our society, and the world in which we live." Dr. Mortimer J. Adler


Mortimer Adler's Syntopicon Essay: Philosophy

Editor's 1-Minute Essay: Philosophy

Editor's Essay: How did the ancient Greeks, a religious people, manage, almost single-handedly, to create what we call philosophy? Why is it that the beginnings of so many important modern fields of enquiry find their roots in the ancient Hellenic culture?

Dr. Mortimer J. Adler's Six Great Ideas: truth, goodness, beauty: ideas we judge by; freedom, equality, justice: ideas we act on



Alfred North Whitehead, On Mathematical Method: "According to one account given by Plutarch ... [Archimedes] was found by a Roman soldier absorbed in the study of a geometrical diagram which he had traced on the sandy floor of his room. He did not immediately obey the orders of his captor, and so was killed... The death of Archimedes by the hands of a Roman soldier is symbolical of a world change of the first magnitude: the theoretical Greeks, with their love of abstract science, were superseded in the leadership of the European world by the practical Romans. Lord Beaconsfield, in one of his novels, has defined a practical man as a man who practises the errors of his forefathers. The Romans were a great race, but they were cursed with the sterility which waits upon practicality. They did not improve upon the knowledge of their forefathers, and all their advances were confined to the minor technical details of engineering. They were not dreamers enough to arrive at new points of view, which could give a more fundamental control over the forces of nature. No Roman [ever] lost his life because he was absorbed in the contemplation of a mathematical diagram."



Michael Faraday: Discoverer of the laws of electromagnetism (1831), Michael Faraday was asked, "What is the use of this discovery." He answered, "What is the use of a child - it grows to be a man." Faraday's "grown man" now rules the world as the basis of all applications of electricity.

Benjamin Franklin: He was fascinated to see the first free balloon flight of humans, which took place in November 1783. When someone who was also watching the event questioned the usefulness of this new invention, Franklin replied with a question, "Of what use is a newborn baby?"

Osho: “With me, illusions are bound to be shattered. I am here to shatter all illusions. Yes, it will irritate you, it will annoy you - that's my way of functioning and working. I will sabotage you from your very roots! Unless you are totally destroyed as a mind, there is no hope for you.” Editor's note: This reminds me of a purported saying of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas, to the effect, "Blessed are those who allow themselves to be disturbed."



notes from Will & Ariel Durant on the meaning of philosophy:

Something momentous happens when a society turns from priestcraft as the source of all wisdom, which devolves into interpreting, not the facts of nature but, sacred texts and the words of the oracle.

"For what is philosophy but an art? - one more attempt to give form to the chaos of experience… Art is the creation of beauty; the expression of thought or feeling in a form, beautiful or sublime."

Confucius: "I seek unity, all-pervading"; the search for unity in all phenomena! i.e. a theory of everything. Is this not the work of philosophy?

"Philosophy itself, which had once summoned all sciences to its aid in making a coherent image of the world … found its task of coordination too stupendous for its courage … and hid itself in recondite and narrow lanes, timidly secure from the issues and responsibilities of life. Human knowledge had become too great for the human mind. All that remained was the scientific specialist, who knew 'more and more about
less and less,' and the [philosopher] who knew less and less about more and more… The gap between life and knowledge grew wider and wider."

"scholastic philosophy … a disguised theology"

Hermann Graf Keyserling (1880 – 1946), a German philosopher. (Believed that German militarism was dead and that Germany's only hope lay in the adoption of international, democratic principles.) "Philosophy is the completion of science in the synthesis of wisdom. The parts of philosophy are important branches of science. But it was an unmitigated evil that [as a result of this fractionalization] the sense for the living synthesis should have disappeared."

"wisdom is not wise if it scares away merriment [because] a sense of humor, born of perspective, bears a near kinship to philosophy; each is the soul of the other."

"Epistemology … the study of the knowledge-process [better viewed as a] science of psychology [rather than] philosophy [which is] the synthetic interpretation of all experience rather than the analytic description of the mode and process of experience itself. Analysis belongs to science and gives us knowledge; philosophy must provide a synthesis for wisdom."

"There is a pleasure in philosophy - [felt against the backdrop of] the coarse necessities of physical existence [which] drag [one] from the heights of thought into the mart economic strife and gain. Most of us have known some golden days in the June of life when philosophy was in fact what Plato calls it, 'that dear delight'; when the love of a modestly elusive Truth seemed more glorious, incomparibly, than the lust for the ways of the flesh and the dross of the world… 'Life has meaning,' we feel with Browning - 'to find its meaning is my meat and drink.' So much of our lives is meaningless, a self-cancelling vacillation and futility; we
strive with the chaos about us and within; but we would believe all the while that there is something vital and significant in us, could we but decipher our own souls. We want to understand; 'life means for us
constantly to transform into light and flame all that we are or meet with (Nietzsche)'; … we want to sieze the value and perspective of passing things, and so to pull ourselves up out of the maelstom of daily
circumstance… we want to see things now as they will seem forever - 'in the light of eternity.' … we want to be whole [not fearing death] … 'To be a philosopher,' said Thoreau, 'is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live, according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.' We can be sure that if we can but find wisdom all things will [yet] be added unto us. 'Seek ye first the good things of the mind,' Bacon admonishes us, 'and the rest will either be supplied or its loss will not be felt.' Truth [may] not make us rich, but it will make us free."

"Is philosophy stagnant? Science seems always to advance, while philosophy seems always to lose ground… Yet this is only because philosophy accepts the hard and hazardous task of dealing with problems not yet open to the methods of science… Every science begins as philosophy and ends as art; it arises as hypothesis and flows into achievement... philosophy is a hypothetical interpretation of the unknown… it is the front trench of the seige of truth. Science is the captured territory; and behind it are those secure regions [of knowledge]… philosophy seems to stand still, perplexed; but only because she leaves the fruits of victory to her daughter the sciences, and herself passes on, divinely discontent, to the uncertain and unexplored… Science [does not] inquire into the values and ideal possibilities of things, nor into their total and final significance; it is content to show their present actuality and operation, it narrows its gaze resolutely to the nature and process of things as they are… But [philosophy] is not content to describe the fact [but] to ascertain its relation to experience in general, and thereby to get at its meaning and its worth… to combine things in interpretive synthesis … to put together, better than before, that great universe-watch which the inquisitive scientist has taken apart… Science without philosophy, facts without perspective and valuation, cannot save us from havoc and despair."

(a) logic: the study of ideal method in thought and research
(b) esthetics: the study of ideal form or beauty; it is the ph of art
(c) ethics: the study of ideal conduct
(d) politics: the study of ideal social organization
(e) metaphysics: unlike the other forms of
philosophy, it does not seek to coordinate the real in light of the ideal; it is the study of ultimate reality: 1) ontology and 2) epistemology

These are the parts of philosophy, but so dismembered it loses its beauty and joy. "Great men speak to us only so far as we have ears and souls to hear them; only so far as we have in us the roots of that which
flowers in them.
We too have had the experiences they had, but we did not suck those experiences dry of their secret and subtle meanings; we were not sensitive to the overtones of the reality that hummed about us.
Genius hears the overtones, and the music of the spheres; genius knows what Pythagoras meant when he said that philosophy is the highest music."

David Hume: "philosophy is common sense, methodized and corrected"

Kant and Hume: earlier philosophers had tried to understand the world outside of human behavior, that, it made sense on its own; only by understanding human beings can we understand the world; what we
think of as an 'objective' world is merely that seen through human eyes; humanity is condemed to see the world from its own perspective, there is no other viewpoint to guide it; after Hume and Kant, it was seen that the structure of knowledge comes from within mankind and not an external ideal or source; we are part of what we know and detached spectators of what is known;

on Seneca: "
philosophy is the science of wisdom and wisdom is the art of living. Happiness is the goal but virtue, not pleasure, is the road."




Alfred North Whitehead, On Mathematical Method: "From the earliest epoch (2634 B.C.) the Chinese had utilized the characteristic property of the compass needle, but do not seem to have connected it with any theoretical ideas. The really profound changes in human life all have their ultimate origin in knowledge pursued for its own sake. The use of the compass was not introduced into Europe till the end of the twelfth century A.D., more than 3,000 years after its first use in China. The importance which the science of electromagnetism has since assumed in every department of human life is not due to the superior practical bias of Europeans, but to the fact that in the West electrical and magnetic phenomena were studied by men who were dominated by abstract theoretic interests."

Nietzsche: "Even a thought, even a possibility, can shatter us and transform us."

Will Durant: "Philosophy is harmonized knowledge making a harmonious life; it is the self-discipline which lifts us to serenity and freedom. Knowledge is power, but only wisdom is liberty."

Stillman Drake, Galileo at Work: His Scientific Biography: "Philosophy itself cannot but benefit from our disputes, for if our conceptions prove true, new achievements will be made; if false, their refutation will further confirm the original doctrines... I truly believe the book of philosophy to be that which stands perpetually open before our eyes, though since it is written in characters different from those of our alphabet it cannot be read by everyone."

George Smith on Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations: "Adam Smith was not the first to write on economics, but his work was the most thorough. His influence has been rivaled by only one other economist, Karl Marx. Why were these two writers so successful? One reason is that both men did not confine themselves to economics but combined it with philosophy, social theory, history, and psychology. Both were inter-disciplinary thinkers and this allowed them to produce books with distinct world views. Their theories stand on opposite sides of the fence but both Smith and Marx appeal to audiences outside the field of economics."

Francis Bacon: "A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion."


Why doesn't God relieve suffering for mankind? 

The following is channeled information from the other side, received during WWII, via the mediumship of Winifred Willard, reported in “From The Seventh Plane, Inter-World Messages” (1946):

If God can [relieve suffering] for mankind, why doesn’t He do it? Why doesn’t He take control of man’s life at all times, regardless of anything else? Why doesn’t He tell the human how to go and what to do from day to day? Why doesn’t He thus avert so many tragedies and prevent so much wreckage?

It would seem on first thought that the argument is right. Countless men have asked the questions and resented what they called the indifference of God to human suffering. They ask by the millions, why God did not prevent this terrible holocaust. Why did God permit this nation or that, to go wrong; these people to mire themselves in the mud of beastliness? Why does God permit epidemics to go rampant through communities? Why does He take ones so dearly loved? Why does He not sit at the helm and guide all peoples everywhere to safe port on the other side of life?

Do you really think you'd like being treated like an animal in a cage, or a robot without sentience?

The answer is simple in its fundamentals. In His Infinite wisdom and power, God could do all these things. But instead He has given man the right of free will, to make his own choices, to be good and do right, or to be evil and go wrong. He has given nations the same right to their choices. If a nation determines to lower the moral standards and luxuriate in crime and sensuality, that nation is free to do just that. If it prefers to have government of the people, it may. If it elects autocracy and concentration of power, it may follow that path to the logical end. If it becomes a warring nation, lusting on human blood and reaching out in aggrandizement toward ever more power, that nation may go as far as its resources permit.

class is in session

God never takes the reins and makes the human follow where He drives. Infinitely higher is His gift to mankind, the gift of free will. With the gift, He places upon nations and individuals the responsibility of exercising this freedom of will and of choice and then taking the consequences of choice. It could not be otherwise. If nations or local governments permit conditions which breed disease, those nations must pay the price of the working of the law.

suffering is not a required course for graduation, it's just that most people will learn the hard way or not at all

If nations or men forget their highest selves and live on lower levels than are clean and pure and God-like, they may. For they are free agents. But they reap what they sow. The law thus laid down, is never abrogated. The nation which wars for selfish ends and through greed of selfish power, will perish by the sword and be its own undoing.

When things go well, we smugly take full credit; when things go wrong, we egocentrically blame God. It's a "heads I win, tails you lose" proposition.

God does not send war; nor pestilence; nor tragedy; nor sickness; nor any other hard thing. But He has put into the hands of the children of men the freedom of will that enables them to direct their choices and thus to reap their own harvests of goodness and righteousness and peace and joy—or the reverse.

God’s law … knows no difference between high estate and low. It is an impersonal law which is one of God’s greatest gifts to humankind. It makes it possible for the human to hold himself in pride and with conscious greatness as he makes his way through the world, knowing that he is not slave or servant of any, not even of God; but that he is permitted the glorious right to choose for himself

'Why has this happened to me?' 'Are you not part of the human race which has luxuriated in the short-term benefits of selfishness?'

Does this mean, people will ask, that the individual upon whom trouble descends like a blighting cloud, has done some wrong and is being punished by an angry God? Could it mean that? No! It does not mean that. But the law does not operate with each individual as an isolated case, independent of the group with which he lives and works. It meshes into the community, the nation, the world in which each one finds himself… This law of the universe could not isolate each individual and deal with him through the years as a separate entity…

laissez-faire management style

... it is the out-working of man’s choosing and not of God’s will that the earth has turned red with shed blood because there are those who know no limits of greed for wicked power.



David Hume, Treatise Concerning Human Understanding: "If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, 'Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?' No. 'Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?' No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion."

Oliver Wendell Holmes: "I was just going to say, when I was interrupted, that one of the many ways of classifying minds is under the heads of arithmetical and algebraical intellects. All economical and practical wisdom is an extension of the following arithmetical formula: 2 + 2 = 4. Every philosophical proposition has the more general character of the expression a + b = c. We are mere operatives, empirics, and egotists until we learn to think in letters instead of figures."

Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus III: “It is a mathematical fact that the casting of this pebble from my hand alters the centre of gravity of the universe."

George Bernard Shaw: "For every difficult question, there is an answer that is clear and simple and wrong."

Pablo Picasso: "Computers are useless. They can only give you answers."

Woody Allen: "I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the guy next to me."

Alfred North Whitehead: Philosophy is "the endeavor to formulate a system of general ideas which shall be consistent, coherent and complete, in terms of which every aspect of our experience can be interpreted."

Cicero: "The whole life of the philosopher is a preparation for death."

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea: "Animals learn death first at the moment of death... man approaches death with the knowledge it is closer every hour, and this creates a feeling of uncertainty over his life, even for him who forgets in the business of life that annihilation is awaiting him. It is for this reason chiefly that we have philosophy and religion."

William Wordsworth: "The human mind is capable of excitement without the application of gross and violent stimulants; and he must have a very faint perception of its beauty and dignity who does not know this."

Professor Daniel N. Robinson, Georgetown University: How did the ancient Greeks manage, almost single-handedly, it seems, to create what we call philosophy? Why is it that the beginnings of so many subjects find their roots in the Hellenic world? Various theories are advanced: there was an abundance of sunshine; a plentiful fish diet was most healthful; slave labor made possible ample leisure time - none of these explanations are at all satisfying: Pharaoh had no shortage of sunshine, but Egypt is rather lean on philosophical thought; other lands had managed to create reliable food sources, and slave labor was common in the ancient world. But the Greeks, it seems correct to assert, were different from all others in one area: The ancient Greek world never had a state religion, but the polis was never completely secular either; rather there is an "extraordinary integration of the secular and the devote." The ancient Greeks, it might be said, had a "religious attitude - but not a religion, as such." Prof. Robinson lays "great stress on the relationship, in any society, between the epistemological authority conferred on religious figures and the philosophical vitality of that age ... if you are fairly satisfied that the most burning questions are best answered by going to an authority [an oracle, a saint, a wise man] ... [then] I submit that the philosophical dimensions of that culture will be fairly thin and fragile, if present at all. There's something about philosophy that is at once humanizing and utterly human - when the oracles have failed us, when saints have grown silent, and when God has chosen not to reveal himself, then we must stand back in the dark shadows of confusion and fear and ask, What sort of being am I? What sort of life is right for me? ... The philosopher doesn't enter the arena of philosophy devoid of belief, purpose, plan, aspiration and values - all of that is in place; but there are those moments when we say no matter how much this means to me, no matter how centered my being is on this pattern of beliefs, no matter how close, emotionally, romantically, I am to those who hold these convictions, I'm going to be skeptical about those statements, I'm going to plumb the depths of those arguments to see finally what their true value is." To do otherwise, you are, as Plato said, a puppet on a string, a slave; but the truth will set you free. Editor's note: As I survey the great thoughts of history, I am impressed by many things; but one principle asserts itself continually: true progress, the advancement of humankind, takes place only when the dignity and sanctity of personhood is honored. Religious persons are so often threatened by philosophy, this wine of the Devil - but why it be so? Should it be so difficult to accept that God might have intended for men and women to actually use their high-powered faculties of reason? - to learn, to plan, to make mistakes, to reason, to fail, to try again? - and in this process become more godlike? Instead, errant true-believers often reduce "faith" to a mindless exercise of blindly obeying whatever self-styled authorities serve up as definitions of "the truth."

Professor Daniel N. Robinson, Georgetown University: "We always look back on the long shadow of Socrates, who wrote not a line, while we proceed to write volumes."

Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 1925: "Philosophy asks the simple question, What is it all about?"

Henry David Thoreau: "To be a philosopher [literally: "to love wisdom"] is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live, according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust."



Editor's last word:

I very much like Thoreau's simple definition of what it means to be a philosopher. It's what I'd like to do, how I'd like to live, for the unending future. 

We learn from the afterlife testimonies that in the next world we do not suddenly become omniscient with all mysteries unraveled. The citizens of Father Benson’s world employ both science and philosophy to advance Summerland-society in the struggle for knowledge. There as here, philosophy is the advance-guard offering its uncertain theories and hypotheses, with science as the captured territory of empirically-tested information. It’s a long and difficult road, this mapping of reality. It was meant to be – for in this process we evolve ourselves as human beings and claim more of that inner potential “without discernible upper limit.”