Camouflaged !

Originally uploaded by Kamala L

See the picture? Can you help her pick out the handful of items that she really needs to keep?

What are the key ideas in the field you are teaching? If you are teaching American history or culture or literature, what are the key ideas that you think the students need to get over the next 15 weeks?

If you have to choose, which will it be: the Declaration of Independence or the latest Lady Gaga/Beyonce music video?

I’ve been listing certain key concepts that seem important for people learning English in Japan to know. Overarching these is the notion of the importance of ideas.

Most people don’t know where their ideas came from

Nobel-prize-winning economist and student of Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek wrote in Constitution of Liberty about how ideas trickle down from a handful of people to the masses, usually over many generations, with the result that people are rarely aware of where the ideas and beliefs and values that they hold actually originated, or even that they originated somewhere!

Lord Keynes wrote,

“ideas of economists and political philosophers, whether right or wrong, are more powerful than is commonly under-stood. In reality, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men (and women), who believe themselves quite untouched by any such intellectual influence, are usually slaves of some dead economist.”

Ayn Rand said,

You might claim — as most people do — that you have never been influenced by philosophy. I will ask you to check that claim. Have you ever thought or said the following? “Don’t be so sure — nobody can be certain of anything.” You got that notion from David Hume (and many, many others), even though you might never have heard of him. Or: “This may be good in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice.” You got that from Plato. Or: “That was a rotten thing to do, but it’s only human, nobody is perfect in this world.” You got that from Augustine. Or: “It may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.” You got it from William James. Or: “I couldn’t help it! Nobody can help anything he does.” You got it from Hegel. Or: “I can’t prove it, but I feel that it’s true.” You got it from Kant. Or: “It’s logical, but logic has nothing to do with reality.” You got it from Kant. Or: “It’s evil, because it’s selfish.” You got it from Kant. Have you heard the modern activists say: “Act first, think afterward”? They got it from John Dewey.

You might disagree with Rand about the original sources of those ideas, but the underlying principle she lays out is, I believe, true: that ideas – philosophy – shape and form people’s thinking and eventually their choices and actions to a much greater degree than most people realize.

So what?

So what? one might think. Well, the “so what” is that it then matters a great deal where they get their ideas and values. Ayn Rand again:

The men who are not interested in philosophy absorb its principles from the cultural atmosphere around them — from schools, colleges, books, magazines, newspapers, movies, television, etc. Who sets the tone of a culture? A small handful of men: the philosophers. Others follow their lead, either by conviction or by default…

If you feel nothing but boredom when reading the virtually unintelligible theories of some philosophers, you have my deepest sympathy. But if you brush them aside, saying: “Why should I study that stuff when I know it’s nonsense?” — you are mistaken. It is nonsense, but you don’t know it — not so long as you go on accepting all their conclusions, all the vicious catch phrases generated by those philosophers. And not so long as you are unable to refute them.

That nonsense deals with the most crucial, the life-or-death issues of man’s existence. At the root of every significant philosophic theory, there is a legitimate issue — in the sense that there is an authentic need of man’s consciousness, which some theories struggle to clarify and others struggle to obfuscate, to corrupt, to prevent man from ever discovering. The battle of philosophers is a battle for man’s mind. If you do not understand their theories, you are vulnerable to the worst among them.

Originally uploaded by todderick42


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