Monday, December 09, 2013

Stuff vs Understanding

One of the very interesting things that is met with in the biographies of the pioneers of psycho-analysis is the extensive philosophical background that they had. Strictly speaking, that was not necessary. Freud, Reich, Jung, were trained as medical doctors. A knowledge of Kant isn't required to treat people, but the educational authorities at the time felt that it, along with familiarity with other thinkers and concepts, was something that any well educated person should possess. The knowledge, the study of that knowledge, would produce an understanding that transcended the base aspects of the profession, and would be by definition good.

How different are we today, where when people are presented with philosophy, or sociology, or anthropology, as courses of study the first question is often "What good will that do me?", meaning "How will that help me make money?". Implicit is the idea that money and what money can buy are substitutes for understanding.

With a lot of money you can buy a lot of things, use them, have them around you, possess them, consume them. They surely depended on skill to manufacture, but you did not manufacture them. They stand outside, always outside, of the person, alienated from them. Even if you eat something, it's gone in a second.  Understanding, on the other hand, is possessed intimately. What you know, what you understand about the world, about society, about your fellow human beings, is part of you. It does not stand outside, always inaccessible in itself, but is instead completely known in itself. It is non-alienated. A constellation of objects will always be a menagerie located outside the individual, a constellation of ideas that are part of the understanding will always be inside.

We look on material possessions as being substitutes for this understanding, or, if not substitutes, as markers that indicate that the person in question possesses something of equal worth to the objects possessed, without any proof. The measure of competence is competence, not what a person is able to accumulate around themselves.


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