In response to:
The Threat of History from the February 20, 1964 issue
To the Editors:
I think the very excellent Mr. Lichtheim, in his review of Marcuse, compounds the “Teutonic” naiveté of Marcuse’s discussion of philosophy and tries to commit his socialism to something of which it has no need. Surely one does not have to refute or ignore Wittgenstein in order to keep philosophy-in-the-grand-manner alive. As a propaedeutic exercise it is still very much alive, and nobody can estimate its usefulness as an intellectual gymnasium outside of school. But in a technological age, do we really need a new definition of the Good? any more than we need a National Purpose? Isn’t it fairly obvious where the good lies, in the diffusion and civilizing of technology and its fringe benefits in education, recreation, conservation, etc.? The distance from our animal limits that technology has given us has become an habitual philosophy, the materialized form of centuries of introspection. We owe it a second nature, as early man owed to primitive technology the second nature that allowed him to develop into historical man.
Even while Western nations agonize over their Purposes, they act, so far as economic realities permit, on the above assumption; that the diffusion and humanization, the qualifying and quantifying, of technology must be simultaneous processes. To opt out of this development for reasons of temperament, fatigue, incapacity or boredom, one would certainly need the consolation of some traditional philosophy—Stoicism, Platonism or whatever. And they will always be at hand. They will always have a dialectical life within the larger intellectual undertaking of the West.
But it seems naive to suppose we require a more urgent or coherent statement of the Good than our technology and humanity together supply in their very existence. There is surely enough for the “pure” humanist (granted that such exists) to do in combatting the imperialism of science; and enough for science in fighting the imperialism of the humanities in their self-protective forms.
R. W. Flint
March 19, 1964