A Guide For The Perplexed Paperback – 19 Oct 1995
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"A condensation of a vast and refreshingly unorthodox system of ideas" (Arthur Koestler Observer)
"Schumacher's arguments are invigorating, provoking, and often dramatic" (New Statesman)
"The most exciting philosophical book for ages" (Daily Mail)
"There is a rich store of wisdom and understanding, embedded in the religions of East and West, which our dangerous preoccupation with science has scanted and ignored... This book is about the different ways in which people may see and the blindness of only seeing in one particular way." (Sunday Telegraph)
A reissue of EF Schumacher's classic work on the fundamental place and purpose of philosophy to celebrate the centenary of his birth.See all Product description
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His confusion was resolved only when a guide explained, that the map featured only inactive church buildings, whilst active churches were simply omitted.
This story introduces the idea of `Adaequatio'; that we can only see that which we have the means to see, an ancient and powerful idea.
For example, whilst all able bodied can hear sound, not everyone can appreciate music, some simply hearing a progression of notes. For them, music simply does not exist.
Schumacher explores what it is to be human. Building a simple 4-level scale of lifeless minerals, plants, conscious animals and self-aware humanity He describes how each level has no awareness of their being levels above.
At the heart of the book, is the Western desire to see the world as problems to be solved. Science has developed with a belief that it's role is to solve problems and its `adaequatio' has honed its skills at seeing the solvable and rendered it blind to everything else.
In Schumacher's words science is able to see problems with convergent solutions, but fails even to recognise as valid, those with divergent solutions.
As an example, consider the divergent problem of whether discipline or freedom is the best way to teach? There's no one correct answer.
Real life is the navigation of divergent problems, not the solving of convergent ones.
In a balanced world, this science bias would pose no problem, sitting alongside tools better suited to divergent problems.
The fundamental issue for the West is this loss of balance.
Science's pernicious influence has turned us all into seekers of answers and divergent problem tools such as faith and religion are dismissed as failing the scientific test.
The catch-22 is that for balance, we need tools that fail the scientific test!
Since Schumacher wrote his book, things have grown worse. Science is at the heart of healthcare and education in the UK for example, not only in its rightful place solving convergent problems of practice, but quite inappropriately to address the divergent problems of the purpose of care.
The book is a lesson in communicating challenging ideas in ways that engage and illuminate.
The "guide" is a criticism of the modern materialist and atheist worldview, written from a kind of generally religious or generally spiritual perspective. Schumacher's purpose is to explain the spiritual worldview to budding seekers of a mostly materialist persuasion. To that end, he never explicitly defends any specific religious tradition or spiritual path. Rather, the author strikes an eclectic pose. The Catholic philosophers Etienne Gilson and Thomas Aquinas, the Fourth Way teachers Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Nicolls, and Traditionalist René Guénon are all referenced, together with some Hindu and Buddhist scriptures.
Schumacher himself was a Catholic, and "A guide for the perplexed" is sometimes recommended by Catholics. However, the work hardly ever mentions the Bible, Jesus or Church tradition. It has a more "Eastern" feel. The strongest influence comes from Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.
Is it working? Well, at least it worked for me. This is one of the books that made me re-think my materialist convictions. And no, I'm not saying I agree with all of its contents. "A guide for the perplexed" is not an easy read. You have to be ready for this book. However, if you are a seeker who wants to get some of his boats rocked, you might find it useful or interesting.
Schumacher found that traditional wisdom handed down to us through the centuries distinguished between "higher" and "lower" things and levels of being but that this had been rejected because they were not subject to quantitative measurement. Thus the traditional map did not address the question "What am I to do with my life?" Without the qualitative concepts of higher and lower it was impossible to even think of guidelines for living that lead beyond individual or collective utilitarianism and selfishness. Without these qualitative concepts it is not possible to find out where everything has its proper legitimate place because nothing can be understood unless its level of being is fully taken into account. Many things are true at a low level of being but become absurd at a higher level and vice versa.
The author then moved on to reflect on levels of being and that his task was to look at the world and see it whole - what our ancestors referred to as the great "Chain of Being", beginning with the Divine. The great majority of mankind, throughout its known history, until very recently, has been convinced that the Chain of Being extends upwards beyond man. What is more, they considered this belief to be the most profound of all truths. A person fixed in the philosophy of materialistic scientism, denying the reality of the "invisibles" and confining his attention solely to what can be counted, measured and weighed lives in a very poor world - so poor in fact that he will experience it as a meaningless wasteland unfit for human habitation. It is self-awareness, constituting the difference between animal and man, that is a power of unlimited potential, a power that not only makes man human but gives him the possibility, even the need, to become superhuman. To be properly human you must go beyond the merely human. It is as though a book of great wisdom is given to a dog and to different people. To the dog, the book is nothing more than a colored object. To an illiterate it may be no more than pretty pictures; to a young and undeveloped mind it may be no more than words and sentences; to the superficial reader the book may be just a good story; but to the wise the book may unlock the secrets of the universe. This is what Schumacher meant by self-awareness, of higher and lower. Man is capable of bringing the whole of the universe into his experience but what he will actually grasp depends on each persons Level of Being. The "higher" the person, the greater and richer is his or her world. Life is a magnificent symphony that only the higher can appreciate.
The author goes on to imagine a perfect being who is always and invariably exercising his power of self-awareness - his power of freedom - to the fullest degree, unmoved by any necessity. This would be a Divine Being, an almighty sovereign power, a perfect unity, where "higher" also means and implies "more inner", "more interior", "deeper", "more intimate" and where "lower" means and implies "more outer", "more external", "shallower", "less intimate".
If you have concluded that the philosophical map given to you when young did not equip you well for living in this world; if you have a gut feeling that moving beyond the "lower" and seeking the "higher" is what we are here in this world to do; if you feel that you have been concerned only with the measurable and have been missing out on the invisibles; if you feel that you have settled for an impoverished view of reality; if you have been struggling to make your own philosophical map because you were given a map that was inadequate or misleading; then this book by one of the wise men of the last century is a very good place to start.
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