Below is a post that originally appeared on my MySpace blog on July 22, 2007. I have made some minor changes to the text and have adapted it to WordPress formatting. Enjoy.
The following quote is from pages 268-69 of William Barrett’s Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy (New York: Anchor, 1990):
As a teacher of philosophy, a very dubious profession in this country, I am in a position to observe how precarious a hold the intellect has upon American life; and it is not true merely of the great majority of students but of cultured people, of intellectuals, to whom here in America a philosophical idea is an alien and embarrassing thing. In their actual life Americans are not only a non-intellectual but an anti-intellectual people. The charm of the American as a new human type, his rough-and-ready pragmatism, his spontaneity and openness to experience are true of him only because he is unreflective by nature.
In this passage, Barrett evokes Socrates’ famous mantra: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Of course, most Americans either have not encountered this line or have failed to let it sink into their overtaxed Twenty-First Century brains.
Americans, with our flashy technological gadgets and presumed world dominance, truly are a dull lot. Most of us cringe at philosophical inquiries, labeling them “idealist” in nature. Our thoughts, after all, must be aimed at getting as much wealth, status and power as possible; philosophy bogs us down with too much abstract thinking.
I wonder, though, if pondering “life’s great questions” has actually hurt me. Do I flee from the everyday struggles of my existence by engaging in philosophical quests about the nature of life in general?
Can a person think so hard about his thinking that he loses his mind?