Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Title page


Reading - Writing - Thinking


Robert L. Fielding


In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.’
— Eric Hoffer

In order to learn one must change one’s mind.’
— Orson Scott Card


‘WRITING - THE PATH TO SELF-DISCOVERY’ will help you think through some of the most important issues of our day; it will help you to form your own opinions and use them to express yourself, in discussions and in your writing.

The ideas covered here are not new ones, but they are important ones, and deal with current issues. Each idea is discussed with a well-known person – a writer, philosopher, statesman, scientist or economist. Understanding the issues that are discussed in this book will help you to understand the world.

Having good reasons for your opinions will help you to avoid being prejudiced, and ensure that your opinions and ideas are considered ones.

As well as several links to sites dealing with the life and works of each writer, I have constructed simple conversations between other interested people and each writer. This should make their ideas easier to understand. Here, I am following in a long tradition of using dialogues to explain ideas; Plato (428-348BCE) used them in his works; in ‘The last days of Socrates’, Socrates and Crito discuss their obligation to obey the laws of the land in which they lived.

In such dialogues between Socrates and his friends, they usually reached an idea that contradicted another point of view, showing it to be logically faulty. The dialogues presented in this book do not necessarily always reach such a point, but instead, explore each idea until the reader is able to contribute to the discussions.

The dialogues present ways of discovering the implications of an idea or opinion. Again, it is important to realize that our opinions are important and can change the world we live in. Consequently, they must be carefully considered ones.

This form of question and answer - challenge and response, is ‘the external communicative representation of a process of learning, discovering, and thinking based on speculating, criticisizing, and reconstructing ideas’.

You can agree or disagree with any of the points of view expressed in each dialogue, and this should help you understand each writer’s position more completely, providing your point of view has been reached by logical and considered means.

The issues raised in each dialogue should be discussed with other people. You might often disagree with the points made, but you should have good reasons for disagreeing with them. Alternatively, you may agree with the points made, again, as long as you know why you think the point of view is preferable to others. You may, however, have a completely different idea of your own, with good reasoning to support it: writing can help with this. It is not my intention to tell you what to think, but rather, as Plato did, to provide you with something to think about and discuss, and write about.

Several quotations by each writer have been provided to make their opinions clearer. These quotations may provide alternative or additional subjects for discussion and should assist your understanding and appreciation of the ideas expressed in each.

All the quotations have been taken from the following website.

Links have been provided to sites presenting biographical data, as well as to actual texts, and looking at these websites is a way of preparing you for reading the dialogues in each section of this book. I think you should decide what is important to you, and then choose what to read, although I have provided pre-reading texts, and questions to answer whilst reading. Learning what is worth knowing is a valuable exercise and these dialogues will help you to discover that for yourself.


1. Government
i) Thomas Hobbes
ii) Niccolo Machiavelli
iii) Jean-Jacques Rousseau
iv) Thomas Jefferson
v) Hannah Arendt

2. Justice
i) Aristotle
ii) Frederick Douglass
iii) Henry David Thoreau
iv) Elizabeth Cady Stanton
v) Martin Luther King Jr.

3. Wealth and Poverty
i) Adam Smith
ii) Karl Marx
iii) John Kenneth Galbraith
iv) Milton & Rose Friedman
v) Robert B. Reich
vi) Andrew Carnegie

4. The Mind
i) Plato
ii) Sigmund Freud
iii) Carl Jung
iv) Karen Horney
v) Howard Gardner
vi) Francis Crick

5. Nature
i) Francis Bacon
ii) Charles Darwin
iii) Stephen Jay Gould

6. Law and Order
i) Socrates
ii) Robert Peel

7. Rights
i) Mary Wollstonecraft
ii) G.K. Chesterton

8. Averting catastrophe
i) Aldo Leopold
ii) Donnella Meadows
iii) Rachel Carson
iv) William Wordsworth
v) D. H. Lawrence


What is the use of understanding? How can increasing my understanding of issues help me?Increasing your understanding of anything will help you: if you are an engineer, you will need to understand how metals behave under stress; if you are a doctor, you need to understand what causes illness; if you are a teacher, you need to understand how students learn.

Understanding is basic to human existence. It is through developing our understanding that we have moved on from being cave dwellers to landing on the Moon.

The world in which we live is replete with issues: life is an issue; the Earth’s survival is an issue – perhaps the biggest issue we have ever had to try to understand.

To live is to understand; those that do not understand do not live life to the full. Of course, nobody can understand everything; in many ways, specialists do our thinking and our understanding for us, particularly in the world of the physical sciences, technology and medicine.

It has been said that if an ancient Greek engineer were to be shown a computer, he would be totally perplexed – both in what it was capable of doing and how it did it. If, on the other hand, a philosopher from the same period of time were to listen to our discussion on a subject such as, let us say, justice, or democracy, freedom or coercion, he would be able to freely and intelligently converse with us and make us think.

Why is this so? Is it because the physical sciences – maths, physics, chemistry, biology etc have moved on whilst the humanities – philosophy, psychology, sociology and the like have not? Well, it is partly because the sciences have moved on so much as they obviously have, but it is also because the issues that beset the philosopher, the psychologist, or the sociologist are sufficiently intractable – impervious to a full understanding in ways that physics is not, that the humanities have changed but little over the millennia.

So why bother understanding issues in the humanities? If they resist our full and absolute comprehension, why even try to understand them?

The answer is in the question; it is precisely because these issues – such as justice, free will, democracy, and freedom are so complex that they we find them so fascinating. Perhaps it is because there are few absolutely right answers and few absolutely wrong ones either; there are only answers that are considered ones, and those that are ill-considered, or not even based upon any consideration at all.

Examination results can bear this out; in a physics exam at university, it is possible, though improbable, for a student to get 100%, and for another to get 0%, whilst in an examination of a philosophical subject, it is extremely unlikely that students will get scores at either extreme of the marking scale. Rather, they will get moderately high marks, if they have written a considered answer, or a relatively low one if their answer takes little or no account of the contributions of various thinkers and writers, or else if they have misunderstood the question completely and turned in a paper that is largely irrelevant.

It has been said that learning is facilitated, not by the provision of answers, but by the ability to ask questions. Questions move us on to other questions. To ask a valid question in a debate on freedom, or justice, or democracy, is to have understood the nature of the debate and its progression, as well as to have a working knowledge of terms in the discipline.

Universities teach students to think – to formulate questions, as much, if not more than they do in providing students with answers. An answer – a fact, invites a full stop, whereas a question invariably invites another question.

The point is that it is in the formulating of questions as well as in their answers that knowledge of a particular issue becomes apparent; the questioner must frame his question in such a way that it cannot be dismissed as a triviality, or answered in a second with Yes or No.

The question; its wording, and the point it seeks to tease out of the interlocutor will indicate that the asker has knowledge of his topic – a particular piece of legislation and its effects and implications, its shortfalls and its inadequacies, for example. It is in the forming of questions that a person illustrates the depth of understanding of a topic.

The answer may be an ill-considered one; it may contain untruths, a lack of logic or an ignorance of the issues, or all of these. If it does so, we would be right in calling it an incorrect answer. If, however, the points made are good ones – considered, taking others’ opinions into account, we may say that this answer is a fuller, more complete one and hence a more valid argument.

Understanding such issues from the worlds of philosophy, psychology, sociology, politics, political economy and the like has invaluable lessons to teach all of us.

In particular, for the student at university, as well as the layman, the ability to reason one’s way through issues in such areas provides practice in the following areas.

General problem-solving
Whenever you want to solve a problem, it is essential to think clearly: to define the problem, analyze concepts and arguments, and then decide, rationally, what you think. Understanding arguments and debates will help you to think more clearly. Listening and understanding to what is being said is an important skill, but you need to practice. Reading is another skill that gets better the more you do it. Understanding is enhanced and increased by reading to different arguments about them, and then synthesizing your own point of view.

Communication skills
In order to communicate effectively and clearly, you need to be able to martial your thoughts. This means being able to think before you speak, which may sound simple, as we do it every day of our lives. However, there is a great deal of difference between engaging in general conversation and debating. In the latter, clarity of expression and meaning is of paramount importance; arguments can be lost because of a lack of clarity or a subtle difference in the meanings of words used. Reading well constructed arguments and thinking about them will help you to think more clearly and communicate your thoughts more effectively.

Persuasive powers
The so called ‘art of persuasion’ can be learned. Again clear thinking and rational argument help you persuade others of the truth or credibility of your arguments and points of view. Working through complex arguments in a systematic and thorough manner will provide you with the verbal dexterity to express yourself clearly and purposefully and hence persuade others that your point of view is nearer the truth.

Writing skills
The ability to think clearly and precisely is at the heart of writing well, whether you are undertaking comparative writing; in which you are asked to evaluate alternative positions, writing argumentative essays; persuading your reader that a particular point of view is valid, or descriptive writing; in which you provide concrete examples to reinforce your argument. Clarity of thinking, developed here will assist you in writing concisely, which is vital in any written communication.

Understanding other disciplines
Studying any discipline requires that you ask questions of the subject, to yourself and to your tutors, in order to understand the subject more fully. Developing this important attribute is made possible by reading and reacting to complex arguments in texts. Facts can be remembered, but questioning must be learnt and developed, and consequently does not come immediately. Reading texts such as the ones here will help you formulate questions to ask yourself and others, and will greatly assist in your understanding of any disciplines you turn to.

Development of sound methods of research and analysis
When thinking about the issues set out here, you will be forced to form questions – to begin your thoughts by asking, ‘What if…?’ and then attempting to provide experimental answers that we call hypotheses, to be tried and tested. Formulating such hypotheses – experimental answers to delve deeper into a problem is the basis of research in all disciplines.

Robert L. Fielding

Reading into Writing

Reading into Writing
To improve your reading and writing, and your thinking, I suggest an order in your use of this book.

First, do some background reading before you start each dialogue.
o Read everything that appears before the dialogue, as well as the dialogue itself.
o Links to websites have been provided to help you find some information about each writer.

After that, read the short ‘Pre-reading text’ and write down your thoughts on what you have just read.

Next answer the ten questions that precede each dialogue. Remember your answers – write them down if it helps.

Next, read the dialogue once without stopping.
o Try to get the gist of what is being discussed.
o Do not use a dictionary.

Then, free-write on what you have just read.
o Write down what you think the discussion is about, and your reaction to it.
o Say what you agree with, and why, and what you disagree with and why you disagree.
o Write between 200 and 300 words.
o Afterwards, reread the dialogue.
o This time, read more slowly, and more carefully.
o Try to get a fuller understanding of the ideas in the discussion.
o Use a dictionary if you need to.

Again, reread your free-writing

o Answer the essay question.
o Refer to the dialogue and your own free-writing.
o Reread your essay.
o Reread the dialogue and your essay.
o If you have changed your mind on any of the opinions you wrote, edit the essay and change them.
o Answer the questions that follow each dialogue.
o Send your drafts to your teacher for her comments.

Robert L. Fielding

Sample chapter

Jean-Jacques Rousseau – The Origin of Civil Society

Background reading
Encyclopedia of Philosophy — http://www.iep.utm.edu/r/rousseau.htm
Themes, Arguments and Ideas: http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/rousseau/themes.html

Quotations by Jean Jacques Rousseau
1. The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he
transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty.
2. Never exceed your rights, and they will soon become unlimited.
3. Free people, remember this maxim: We may acquire liberty, but it is never recovered if it is once lost.
4. Falsehood has an infinity of combinations, but truth has only one mode of being.
5. Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.
Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, 1762
French political philosopher (1712 — 1778)

Pre-reading text
In the following discussion, Jean Jacques Rousseau, author of ‘The Social Contract’, talks to a young friend of his, Racine, about freedom and the forms it takes in civil society.
Writing Task 1
Freewrite, write without stopping. Read the Pre-reading text above and write what you can about the thoughts that come into your head after you have read it.

What to think about before you read

Before you read the dialogue below, think about your responsibility to yourself and to others, and think about other people’s responsibilities to each other.

Think about the answers to the ten questions below.

1. Why would we agree not to upset each other or do anything that someone else might not like?
2. Do we agree, or not?
3. Does everybody behave in this way – does everybody live their life without hurting those who live close to them?
4. If not, what is it that makes some people act in ways that hurt other people, and what can we do if they act in ways that we do not approve of?
5. Have we got the right to disapprove?
6. If we have, how can we use that right properly and sensibly so that everyone benefits?
7. Is it ever right to take someone else’s property without their consent?
8. In what circumstances?
9. Which is more important: negative freedom or positive freedom?
10. Why?
Dialogue 4

Racine: Why do you think we need a Social Contract, monsieur?

Jean Jacques Rousseau: I take it you value your freedom?

R: Certainly. Who does not value freedom?

JJR: But what about the freedom of other people – do you value that?

R: I think so, probably not as much as my own, but what does that matter, as long as I am free?

JJR: It matters a great deal, for your freedom depends on other people, does it not?

R: How?

JJR: You are not thinking, or else if you are, you are thinking only of yourself. We call that being selfish, don’t we? Are you a selfish person?

R: I hope that I am not, but you seem to be saying that I am. If I value my own freedom over the freedom other people enjoy, how am I being selfish? You might as easily say that everyone is selfish.

JJR: You are getting to the position I would like to arrive at.

R: Which is?

JJR: Which is realizing that my freedom depends upon you, and your freedom depends on me.

R: Tell me how that can be.

JJR: Well, before I do that, we must get a few things straight in our minds. Tell me, what is freedom, in your opinion?

R: Freedom is being able to do anything you want.

JJR: Anything? Are you sure?

R: Certainly. If I can do whatever I want, then I am free.

JJR: But you don’t live alone on an island. Other people live all around you. Let me help you a little. I would like you to think of two varieties of freedom: positive freedom, and negative freedom, and after that, a third, which I will call relative freedom.

R: What is negative freedom? It doesn’t sound like freedom at all.

JJR: Negative freedom, as it is called, is freedom from something: freedom from hunger is one of the most basic of all freedoms, is it not?

R: But if I have food, I am free from hunger.

JJR: You are, yes, but where do you get food from?

R: From a shopkeeper – a grocer or a baker, a butcher or from a farm.

JJR: But what if such food was not for sale, or you did not have enough money to buy it – what would you do then?

R: If I was hungry, I would take it.

JJR: And in taking it from someone without paying for it, would you not be taking something that was not yours to take? If you forced a shopkeeper to give you bread at the point of a gun, would that not be taking away some of his freedom?

R: Yes, I suppose it would. Where does that leave us, and what is the other kind of freedom – what is positive freedom?

JJR: You could say it is your freedom to go into a shop and take something without paying for it.

R: So what you are saying is that I must give up some of my positive freedom in order to allow the shopkeeper his freedom.

JJR: Yes, that is what I am saying.

R: What about the third type of freedom: relative freedom? What is that?

JJR: It is the type of freedom in which your freedom to do something you want to do is balanced with someone else’s freedom not to allow you to do it.

R: I can see that would be better than absolute freedom. But if we take wild animals in their natural state, are they not free?

JJR: They are free, yes, but they are free to kill and free to be killed. What sort of freedom is that - the type of freedom you want?

R: No, of course not.

JJR: Then you must surrender some part of your freedom so that you can have more freedom, if you see what I mean.

R: Then someone must decide who gives up what.

JJR: Now we have relative freedom but what we are now unsure about is how to decide what to give up and how much.

R: Who can decide that for us?

JJR: There are many different opinions as to how to decide that. The great writer Thomas Hobbes, in his book, ‘Leviathan’, says we must surrender some of our freedom, some of our power in effect, or else we must live in what he calls ‘a state of nature’, which he says would be “nasty, brutish and short.”

R: Who would we surrender our freedom to — who would decide?

JJR: Again, there are various opinions on that point too; an Italian man called Machiavelli thinks we should be ruled by a Prince with extraordinary powers to punish us if we do wrong

R: What do you think, monsieur?

JJR: I think we should have what I have called a social contract in which we all willingly give up some portion of our power.

R: But surely some would stand to lose a lot by such a contract. The man with power and wealth, for example, would lose much by being made to relinquish his power or give up some of the privileges wealth brings.

JJR: That is undoubtedly true, but he would also be gaining something too, wouldn’t he?

R: What could he gain?

JJR: Freedom from the theft of his property. For if he could not freely exercise his power and his wealth as he pleased, he would have to be compensated by having his property more secure from those who would wish to take it without his permission.

R: As would be the case in a state of Nature – yes, I see what you mean. He would, in fact, be acting rationally by entering into this contract with others – this Social Contract, wouldn’t he?

JJR: You are learning fast, monsieur, and you are absolutely right. If we
were all prepared to let go of a little of our freedom, life would be far more pleasant, we would be more secure – feel safer in our beds at night, and we would undoubtedly find that instead of fighting and quarreling with our neighbours, as we surely would living in Hobbes’ state of Nature; we would come to love our neighbours, begin to co-operate with them and we would prosper too.

R: So, finally, I am prepared to sacrifice some part of my freedom to gain some.
Robert L. Fielding

Things to think about and discuss after reading the dialogue
Think about your answers to the ten questions asked earlier.
Are your answers the same?
If they have changed, why do you think they have changed?
Have your opinions regarding everyone’s responsibilities to each other changed?
In what way have they changed?
Writing Task 2
Write down your thoughts on what you have read, what you think after reading, if your opinions have changed and why they have changed, or why they have not changed.

Use headings to keep you focused on your topic. Begin with a sentence that shapes the rest of what you write.
My original position
Example of a beginning that encapsulates your former opinion on the topic.
I always thought that…... What this meant was ………

My new position
Example of a beginning that encapsulates the changes in your way of thinking about the topic in question.
Since reading about how one person’s freedom can encroach upon another’s, I now feel that …..

Outline of an exploratory essay

Exploratory essay outlineIntroduction
· Focus on explaining the question

· Give a detailed process of the essay

· Examine all aspects of the question

· Explore differing opinions of the question

· Review key points

· Present a possible answer to the question