The Creation of the Book Series “Philosophy for Heroes”
An adapted excerpt from Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge.
How the book series started, that’s a long story! Here’s how I explained it in Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge:
“The people who came to see Socrates usually thought that they knew what they were talking about, but after half an hour of his relentless questioning, they discovered that they knew nothing at all about such basic issues as justice or courage. They felt deeply perplexed, like bewildered children; the intellectual and moral foundations of their lives had been radically undermined, and they experienced a frightening, vertiginous doubt (aporia). For Socrates, that was the moment when a person became a philosopher, a ‘lover of wisdom,’ because he had become aware that he longed for greater insight, knew he did not have it, but would henceforth seek it as ardently as a lover pursues his beloved. Thus dialogue led participants not to certainty but to a shocking realization of the profundity of human ignorance. However carefully, logically, and rationally Socrates and his friends analyzed it, something always eluded them. Yet many found that the initial shock of aporia led toekstatsis because they had ‘stepped outside’ their former selves.”
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life
The fear I felt when the Gulf War began is still in my memory. But I was only a child, and did not consciously perceive world events as such and I did not feel connected to the world as a whole before the (second) Iraq War. Not because I was directly affected or had a political opinion about it, but because I was unable to comprehend its context and the reasons for it. This was not the first event in my life that caused me to think beyond my horizons, but it certainly marked the point at which I began to question my viewpoints and to see myself as part of a larger community. Maybe this “shock” (aporia) was what people felt when encountering and discussing with Socrates in ancient Greece the concept that life no longer revolved around the here and now, but instead, revolved around history, the future, and one’s own role in it.
In the following months and years, I began studying history, law, economics, and politics with renewed interest. I reflected on my historical self, i.e., the “mask” we are each made to wear by school, culture, history, and the media. I learned about crime and corruption; but despite all my research, unanswered questions remained.
Is it only the greed and the lust for power that run the world? Are there a few secret powers turning the wheel of history? Which side can be trusted? I grappled with these questions during many sleepless nights. Certainly, there are company mergers, various interest groups, and organizations. There are the mafia and the international drug trade. There are corruption and political intrigue. But do these systems operate independently from human action, and are we powerless against them? Is it sufficient to identify them in order to defeat them? Is it enough to know the names of people in key positions? How could such an extensive or powerful network operate on the basis of violence?
Eventually, it was Ayn Rand who, for me, provided an answer in The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Politics is the product of the philosophy of a society. No matter what sort of evil intentions an individual might have, he cannot easily make others do his bidding. We each have free will. We have values and imagination. Only if these are corrupted, a human becomes a slave to a manipulator.
From this starting point, I was able to distance myself from superficial political debates and actually name real causes. It became clear to me that many misunderstandings and conflicts of opinion have their origins at a far deeper level than it would appear. Apart from being influenced by peer pressure, no one is automatically part of a particular political party; only a complete series of opinions, including those involving very abstract themes, leads to such convictions. With my new insights into philosophy, I was able to see connections between different disciplines of thought. From hard logic and fundamental philosophy, to questions about cognition, to questions about one’s way of life, politics, and esthetics, I could finally consider the world in a unified vision.
And I thought back to a book I read in my childhood—Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, which was very much like what Joseph Campbell described in The Hero with a Thousand Faces: a hero’s journey, the development of a human being toward the realization of what is truly important to him. We are not always what we appear to be; we wear “masks” while we are on a search for our values, our true nature.
Having acquired this knowledge, not only did I begin to understand the world, but also to understand myself. I was finally able to access my true self. Now, the next step is to teach others. Because, like joy, knowledge only becomes truly valuable when shared with others. My driving force is seeing the unrealized potential in myself as well as in the people of the world. I feel that each of us can become a better person and that we are only missing the impulse and the knowledge to do so. With books like this one, I want to convey a small portion of this impulse and knowledge.
Thank you for reading my story!