Roman Epicurean and/or hedonistic philosophers would quickly define the greatest pleasures as “eating, drinking, merry making.” Emperors cleverly built coliseums in every major city from Rome to European colonies. Their sadistic games were held in “Circus Maximus” (the great circus) by which the masses were narcotized and immunized to the fact Rome’s empire was collapsing before their eyes.
Frederick the Great (1712-1786), of Prussia, was of a different mindset in declaring: “The greatest pleasure known to us is discovery of a new thought; the second is riddance of an old prejudice.” Very few can claim to have had an original thought. Socrates and Greek proponents of philosophy (“love of wisdom.”) delighted in the pursuit of new thought.
Bernard of Chartres in the 12th century was first to acknowledge our thoughts and ideas flow from those who preceded us.
Isaac Newton in 1676 made Bernard’s idea famous by saying “If I have seen further, it is by standing on shoulders of giants.”
Fast forward to the 20th century when Mortimer Adler (1902-2001) concluded: “If at the end of our formal education we do not have a desire to read and study for the rest of our lives, time in classrooms has been a complete failure.”
In this century, it is demeaning to ask someone – “Can you read?” However, in our digital age of materialism, frenetic activities and pursuit of wealth, it is perfectly logical to ask: “Do you read!?”
Human attention span in 2000 was judged by neuroscientists to be twelve seconds. Presently, we begin to fade from attention after eight seconds, about the span of a goldfish.
Mortimer Adler and Robert Hutchins (1899-1977) at the University of Chicago, formed the Great Books education program. Any student who perused 100 of the greatest books was granted a degree.
Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a spiritual giant, paleontologist and poet who is considered as one of the greatest original thinkers in modern times. Teilhard believed “We are Earth coming into consciousness.” His protégé Thomas Berry (1914 – 2009) was my friend and inspiration for 20 years.
Children born in the digital age will learn there is more information on their cell phones than in the Library of Congress. Are they being reminded “The greatest computers in history are born”?
In addition to studying hundreds of books from many centuries, it is possible that we as “Earth growing into consciousness” might savor the greatest pleasure of a completely new and original thought. Not least, we all might remember the Chinese proverb – “Knowledge is not wisdom.”
Philosophy is search for wisdom devoid of monetary rewards. When did we have an original thought?