WHY SHOULD HISTORY, INCLUDING THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY, MATTER TO AVERAGE PEOPLE TODAY?
If a society's people don't know their own history or that or other nations, how could that affect the decisions they make, such as in government (including voting) or business? What are the dangers of "cultural amnesia"? What values are we to choose? How should we think about choosing values? To learn about history and the humanities should help us to think more systematically about what the purpose of life should be. The purpose of philosophy is to consider how knowledge is gained and what the ultimate structure of reality is, including the basis of morality (ethics). Professional specialization has its dangers, as C.P. Snow warned in his book about the differences between scientists and historians/humanists, "The Two Cultures" 1959. Someone may be wise and intelligent in one area of life, such as at work, but unwise in others. He or she may be successful on job, yet still be a failure with family life, in dealing with the government, or others in the community. This is why general education exists for people wanting four-year degrees, since it helps to prevent students from casually falling into narrow specializations.
Consider and ponder these quotes when thinking about whether it's worth knowing about history, the humanities, and philosophy: "Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness . . . Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it," George Santayana (1863-1953) "The unexamined life is not worth living," Socrates (469-399 b.c.) "What experience and history teach is this--that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it," G.W.F. Hegel, (1770-1831). “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see," Winston Churchill (1874-1965).
When people are distracted by the daily grind and struggles of going to work, taking care of their kids, watching TV, playing games, rushing home, etc., could they missing out on what really matters in life? Consider the error that Albert Speer, Nazi armaments minister under Hitler, Inside the Third Reich, admitted concerning his own life: "Moreover, the intensity with which I went at my work repressed problems that I ought to have faced. A good many perplexities were smothered by the daily rush. In writing these memoirs I became increasingly astonished to realized that before 1944 I so rarely--in fact almost never--found the time to reflect about myself or my own activities, that I never gave my own existence a thought. Today, in retrospect, I often have the feeling that something swooped me up off the ground at the time, wrenched me from all my roots, and beamed a host of alien forces upon me." Could we be making the same mistakes on a smaller scale in our own lives? Shouldn't we sometimes slow down, take a break from the buzz and bumble of life, and think about what the purpose and meaning of our lives are? God reveals through the Bible what the ultimate answers are, but first we must admit let's admit there's a need to think about the big questions in life.
Specific controversies and documents:
Did Hitler want to conquer the world? Did he want to attack Russia to get land for the German People? Or would he have been content just getting back some areas where Germans already lived? Pat Buchanan, in his book “Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War”: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World" makes the general case that America and Britain should have stood aside, and then let Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia mutually destroy each other. He also has argued that Hitler had little interest in taking over whole countries with large numbers of non-Germans living in them. Buchanan's ideas are by no means novel, since the British historian A.J.P. Taylor interpreted Hitler's motives in regards to Poland similarly. But as I argue in this essay, William Shirer's book "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" refutes Buchanan's alternative hypothetical history. This American journalist who worked for the Chicago Tribune and later the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in Germany during the 1930's quoted extensively from secret documents that reveal Hitler's real goals and plans for war.
Who was better off on average in 1830? A black slave living in the American South or an English farmworker? Who had the higher standard of living? Who had the better quality of life? How did the sexual division of labor affect both groups? How did the respective ruling classes keep control of the slaves and farmworkers? How did the slaves and farmworkers resist their respective masters? While citing many primary and secondary historical sources, this document carefully compares and contrasts these two groups while describing the way they lived and worked on an everyday basis. Part of the original form of this document (roughly the first fourth) was accepted as an M.A. thesis in history at Michigan State University in 1997. This kind of history writing shows how falsely Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" portrays the slaves' conditions while it romanticizes nostalgically the antebellum South.
Why did the Southern states secede from the Union in 1860-61? Did they merely want a more decentralized form of government? Or were their arguments against the Federal government's powers merely a respectable fig leaf placed over their desires to keep the black man down? Read this essay to find out more about this subject:
GENERAL HISTORICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS AND REVIEWS
I wrote most of these essays and reviews while I was a grad student in history or a philosophy major at Michigan State University. They may help others doing research in a similar area (i.e., European labor history). Only a scanned pdf version for these documents is available.
Essays dealing with philosophy:
Essays dealing with history:
LECTURE NOTES AND OVERHEADS FOR WESTERN CIVILIZATION CLASSES:
Below is a set of lecture notes and overheads created for Western Civilization/Humanities classes that I used to teach at Detroit College of Business/Davenport University in the general period of 2000 to 2005. Some instructors and lecturers on this subject may still find them of value in organizing their presentations. The "lecture notes" would help me present the material shown to the class using an overhead projector, which are called "overhead(s)" below in the file names. Often in the overheads (i.e., outlines for note taking by the class) I used what the educational psychologist Ausubel would call "advance organizers" in order to help the class retain and remember the material for the lecture better. I then would often base the essay questions on the tests at least in part on these advanced organizers.
Overheads (note taking outlines) would be shown to the class being taught.
Lecture notes for the instructor (i.e., me) that correspond to the overheads (i.e., note taking outlines for the class) above are listed below:
The tests and corresponding study guides are listed below. The goal behind the tests was to balance the need for critical thinking while also requiring students to memorize specific facts that they may encounter again later on in life, such as on TV documentaries, movies, magazines, books, and/or newspapers. So the tests were relatively difficult (i.e., they did not use multiple choice questions, but instead fill-in the blank questions, essays), but by giving students study guides (including the essay questions) and by keying the lectures with asterisks (*) for terms that would show up on the tests, the material on the tests wasn't supposed to be a surprise.