A Guide for the Perplexed

A Guide for the Perplexed 1977.png

A Guide for the Perplexed is a short book by E. F. Schumacher, published in 1977 (Here you find a pdf-version of Schumacher’s „A Guide for the Perplexed“ )

„Schumacher describes his book as being concerned with how humans live in the world. It is also a treatise on the nature and organisation of knowledge and is something of an attack on what Schumacher calls „materialistic scientism“. Schumacher argues that the current philosophical ‚maps‘ that dominate western thought and science are both overly narrow and based on some false premises.

Schumacher identifies four fields of knowledge for the individual:

„From these two pairs – ‚I‘ and ‚the World‘, ‚Outer Appearance‘ and ‚Inner Experience‘ – we obtain four ‚combinations‘ which we can indicatethus:

  1. I – inner,
  2. the world (you) – inner
  3. I – outer
  4. the world (you) outer

These are the four fields of knowledge, each of which is of great interest and importance to every one of us. The four questions that lead to these fields of knowledge may be put like this:

  • What is really going on in my own inner world?
  • What is going on in the inner world of other beings?
  • What do I look like in the eyes of other beings ?
  • What do I actually observe in the world around me?“

He notes that humans only have direct access to fields one and four.

Field one is being aware of your feelings and thoughts and most closely correlates to self awareness. He argues this is fundamentally the study of attention. He differentiates between when your attention is captured by the item it focuses upon, which is when a human being functions much like a machine; and when a person consciously directs their attention according to their choosing. This for him is the difference between being lived and living.

Field two is being aware of what other people are thinking and feeling.

Despite these problems we do experience a ‚meeting of minds‘ with other individuals at certain times. People are even able to ignore the words actually said, and say something like „I don’t agree with what you are saying; but I do agree with what you mean.“ Schumacher argues that one of the reasons we can understand other people is through bodily experience, because so many bodily expressions, gestures and postures are part of our common human heritage.

Schumacher observes that the traditional answer to the study of field two has been „You can understand others to the extent you understand yourself.“[7] Schumacher points out that this a logical development of the principle of adequateness, how can you understand someone’s pain unless you too have experienced pain?

Field three is understanding yourself as an objective phenomenon. Knowledge in field three requires you to be aware what other people think of you. Schumacher suggests that the most fruitful advice in this field can be gained by studying the Fourth Way concept of external considering.

Schumacher observes that relying on just field one knowledge makes you feel that you are the centre of the universe; while focusing on field three knowledge makes you feel that you are far more insignificant. Seeking self-knowledge via both fields provides more balanced and accurate self-knowledge.

Field four is the behaviourist study of the outside world. Science is highly active in this area of knowledge and many people believe it is the only field in which true knowledge can be gained. For Schumacher, applying the scientific approach is highly appropriate in this field.

Schumacher summarises his views about the four fields of knowledge as follows:

  • Only when all four fields of knowledge are cultivated can you have true unity of knowledge. Instruments and methodologies of study should be only applied to the appropriate field they are designed for.
  • Clarity of knowledge depends on relating the four fields of knowledge to the four levels of being.
  • The instructional sciences should confine their remit to field four, because it is only in the field of appearances that mathematical precision can be obtained. The descriptive sciences, however, are not behaving appropriately if they focus solely on appearances, and must delve in meaning and purpose or they will produce sterile results.
  • Self-knowledge can only be effectively pursued by balanced study of field one (self awareness) and field three (objective self-knowledge).
  • Study of field two (understanding other individuals) is dependent on first developing a powerful insight into field one (self awareness).

„Human beings are highly predictable as physico-chemical systems, less predictable as living bodies, much less so as conscious beings and hardly at all as self aware persons.“

The result of the prevailing materialistic scientism is that humanity has become rich in means and poor in ends. Lacking a sense of higher values Western societies are left with pluralism, moral relativism and utilitarianism, and for Schumacher the inevitable result is chaos.“

Source: Wikipedia article

“Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction,” Rebecca Solnit wrote in her sublime meditation on ‚how the art of getting lost helps us find ourselves‘, “and somewhere in the terra incognita in between lies a life of discovery.” But the maps we use to navigate that terra incognita — maps bequeathed to us by the dominant beliefs and standards of our culture — can often lead us further from ourselves rather than closer, leaving us discombobulated rather than oriented toward the true north of our true inner compass. A decade after his influential meditation on “Buddhist economics,” British economic theorist and philosopher E.F. Schumacher set out to explore how we can improve those maps and use them to better navigate the meaning of life in his magnificent 1977 essay collection A Guide for the Perplexed (public library).

For a short summary see also this  brainpickings-article


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