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A Guide for the Perplexed Schumacher

Dec 13, 2015




Another book by the author of Small is Beautiful

  • Before the publ icat ion o f Small is Beautiful, h is bestsel l ing re-appraisal o f Western e c o n o m i c attitudes, D r E . F . Schumacher was already well k n o w n as a n economis t , journalist and pro-gressive entrepreneur. H e w a s E c o n o m i c Adviser t o the N a t i o n a l Coal Board from 1950 to 1970, and was also the originator o f the concept o f Intermediate Techno logy for deve loping countries a n d F o u n d e r and Chairman of the Intermediate T e c h n o l o g y D e v e l o p -ment G r o u p Ltd . H e a lso served as President o f the Soil Assoc i -at ion (Britain's largest organic farming organisat ion, founded thirty years ago) and as Director o f the Scott-Bader C o m p a n y (pathfinders in polymer chemistry and c o m m o n ownership) .

    Born in Germany , he first c a m e t o England in 1930 as a R h o d e s Scholar t o study economics at N e w Col lege , Oxford. Later, at the age o f twenty- two, h e taught e c o n o m i c s at C o l u m b i a University, N e w York . A s h e found theorising wi thout practical experience unsatisfying, h e then went into business , farming and journal ism. H e resumed the academic life for a period at Oxford during the war, afterwards serving as E c o n o m i c Adviser t o the British Control C o m m i s s i o n in Germany from 1946 t o 1950. In later years, his advice o n problems o f rural deve lopment w a s sought by many overseas governments .

    D r Schumacher was awarded the C B E in 1974. H e died in 1977.

  • Also by E. F . Schumacher in Abacus

    S M A L L IS B E A U T I F U L G O O D W O R K

  • E. F. Schumacher


  • First published in Great Britain by Jonathan Cape Ltd 1977

    Copyright E. F. Schumacher 1977 A B A C U S edition published in 1978

    by Sphere Books Ltd 30-32 Gray 's Inn Road , London W C 1 X 8JL

    Repr inted 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1986

    This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of t rade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher 's prior consent in any form of binding or cover o ther than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

    Set in Monotype Times

    Set, printed and bound in Great Britain by Cox & Wyman Ltd, Reading

  • N u l l a est h o m i n i causa ph i losophandi , nisi ut beatus sit

    (St August ine)

    M a n has n o reason t o phi losophise except wi th a v iew t o happiness

  • Acknowledgments

    T h e author and publisher wish t o acknowledge permiss ion t o quote from E . Gi l son , The Unity of Philosophical Experience (Sheed and W a r d ) ; from t w o b o o k s by Maurice Nico l l , Living Time and the Integration of the Life and Psychological Com-mentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjiejf and Ouspensky, vo l . I , b o t h published by Watkins Publishing H o u s e ; W . T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy (Macmil lan , L o n d o n and Bas ingstoke) ; G. N . M . Tyrrell, Grades of Significance (Hutch inson) ; and from Whital l N . Perry, A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom, published by G e o r g e Al len and U n w i n .

  • Contents

    1 2 3 4

    O n Philosophical M a p s Levels o f Being Progressions Adaequatio I

    9 24 36 50 62 5 Adaequatio II 6 2

    6 T h e F o u r Fie lds o f K n o w l e d g e - FIELD ONE 7 4

    7 T h e F o u r Fields o f K n o w l e d g e - FIELD TWO 95

    8 T h e F o u r Fields o f K n o w l e d g e - FIELD THREE 111

    9 T h e F o u r Fields o f K n o w l e d g e - FIELD FOUR 117

    10 T w o Types o f Problem 139 Epi logue 157 N o t e s 161 Index 169

  • I


    On a visit to Leningrad some years ago 1 I consulted a map to find out where I was, but I could not make it out. I could see several enormous churches, yet there was no trace of them on my map. When finally an interpreter came to help me, he said: 'We don't show churches on our maps.' Contradicting him, I pointed to one that was very clearly marked. 'This is a museum,' he said, 'not what we call a "living church". It is only the "living churches" we don't show.'

    It then occurred to me that this was not the first time I had been given a map that failed to show many of the things I could see right in front of my eyes. All through school and university I had been given maps of life and knowledge on which there was hardly a trace of many of the things that I most cared about and that seemed to me to be of the greatest possible importance for the con-duct of my life. I remembered that for many years my perplexity was complete; and no interpreter came along to help me. It remained complete until I ceased to sus-pect the sanity of my perceptions and began, instead, to suspect the soundness of the maps.

    The maps I was given advised me that virtually all my ancestors, until a quite recent generation, had been rather pathetic illusionists who conducted their lives on the basis of irrational beliefs and absurd superstitions. Even illustrious scientists like Johann Kepler or Isaac Newton apparently had spent most of their time and energy on nonsensical studies of non-existing things. Throughout history, enormous amounts of hard-earned wealth were squandered to the honour and glory of


    On Philosophical Maps

  • imaginary deities - not only by my European forebears, but by all peoples, in all parts of the world, at all times. Everywhere thousands of seemingly healthy men and women subjected themselves to utterly meaningless re-strictions, like voluntary fasting; tormented themselves by celibacy; wasted their time on pilgrimages, fantastic rituals, repetitive prayers, and so forth; turning their backs on reality - and some actually still do it even in this enlightened age! - all for nothing, all out of ignor-ance and stupidity; none of it to be taken seriously today, except of course as museum pieces. What a history of error from which we had emerged! What a history of taking for real what every modern child knew to be totally unreal and imaginary! Our entire past, except the most recent, was today fit only for museums where people could satisfy their curiosity about the oddity and incompetence of earlier gener-ations. What our ancestors had written was also in the main fit only for storage in libraries where historians and other specialists could study these relics and write books about them. Knowledge of the past was considered in-teresting and occasionally thrilling but of no particular value for learning to cope with the problems of the present.

    All this and many other things of a similar kind I was taught at school and university, although not in so many words, not plainly and frankly. It would not do to call a spade a spade ~ ancestors had to be treated with respect; they could not help their backwardness; they tried hard and sometimes even got quite near the truth in a haphazard sort of way. Their preoccupation with religion was just one of their many signs of under-development, not surprising with people who had not yet come of age. There was, of course, some interest in religion even today which legitimised that of earlier times. It was still permissible, on suitable occasions, to refer to God the Creator, although every educated per-son knew that there was not really a God, certainly not


  • one capable of creating anything, and that the things around us had come into existence by a process of mindless evolution, that is by chance and natural selection. Our ancestors, unfortunately, did not know about evolution, and so they invented all these fanciful myths.

    The maps of real knowledge, designed for real life, did not show anything except things that allegedly could be proved to exist. The first principle of the philosophical map-makers seemed to be 'If in doubt, leave it out,' or put it into a museum. It occurred to me, however, that the question of what constitutes proof was a very subtle and difficult one. Would it not be wiser to turn the prin-ciple into its opposite and say 'If in doubt, show it prominently' ? After all, matters that are beyond doubt are, in a sense, dead; they do not constitute a challenge to the living.

    To accept anything as true means to incur the risk of error. If I limit myself to knowledge that I consider true beyond doubt, I minimise the risk of error but I maxi-mise, at the same time, the risk of missing out on what may be the subtlest, most important and most rewarding things in life. St Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, taught that 'the slenderest knowledge that may be ob-tained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things'. 2 'Slender' knowledge is here put in opposition to 'certain' knowledge, and indicates uncertainty. Maybe it is necessarily so that the higher things cannot be known with the same degree of certainty as the lesser things can be known, in which case it would be a very great loss indeed if knowledge were limited to things beyond the possibility of doubt.

    The philosophical maps with which I was supplied at school and university did not merely fail to show 'living churches', like the map of Leningrad to which I have referred; they also failed to show large 'unorthodox' sections of both theory and practice in medicine, agri-


  • culture, psychology and the social and political sciences, not to mention art and so-called occult or paranormal phenomena, the mere mention of which was considered to be a sign of mental deficiency. In particular, all the most prominent doctrines shown on the 'map' accepted the possibility of art only as self-expression or escape from reality. Even in nature there was nothing artistic except by chance; that is to