Friday, November 05, 2010

Philosophy for Workers?

Today is the 125th anniversary of the birth of Will Durant author of The Story of Philosophy, a classic book aimed at presenting a popularly accessible account of the thought of great philosophers from Plato through John Dewey. It has been in print continuously now for 84 years and is still usable.

What may not be known is that it was not written as a book, but rather as a series of "Little Blue Books," that is cheap pamphlets that could be afforded and understood by workers in the 1920s, lower class people with little education who wanted to improve themselves and their lives. Education was the key, many including Durant thought, to helping lift people out of poverty.

We've given up on that project. Now popular philosophy is aimed at the already educated in hopes of creating a bulwark against other entertainment options which entrench thoughtless, sometimes harmful, but always commercially successful passivity.

But why not gear philosophical discussion at today's workers? Is it that education is not seen as the salvation we thought it was or are we still suffering from the picture we got from Ronald Reagan that the poor are that way because they are lazy and do not deserve our attention? We'd be wasting our time trying to better those who clearly cannot be. Is it that working and lower class people themselves do not want to be philosophically engaged? Or is it that it simply doesn't generate sufficient profit since they are not a primary book buying or philosophical media consuming demographic?