Husserl, Edmund: Philosophy and the Crisis of European Man

There is a sharp cleavage, then, between the universal but mythico-practical attitude and the “theoretical”, which by every previous standard is unpractical, the attitude of thaumazein [Gr. = to wonder], to which the great men of Greek philosophy’s first culminating period, Plato and Aristotle, trace the origin of philosophy. Men are gripped by a passion for observing and knowing the world, a passion that turns from all practical interests and in the closed circle of its own knowing activities, in the time devoted to this sort of investigation, accomplishes and wants to accomplish only pure theoria36. In other words, man becomes the disinterested spectator, overseer of the world, he becomes a philosopher. More than that, from this point forward his life gains a sensitivity for motives which are possible only to this attitude, for novel goals and methods of thought, in the framework of which philosophy finally comes into being and man becomes philosopher.

Like everything that occurs in history, of course, the introduction of the theoretical attitude has its factual motivation in the concrete circumstances of historical events. Therefore it is worth-while to explain in this connection how, considering the manner of life and the horizon of Greek man in the seventh century B.C., in his intercourse with the great and already highly cultivated nations surrounding him, that thaumazein could introduce itself and at first become established in individuals. Regarding this we shall not enter into greater detail; it is more important for us to understand the path of motivation, with its sense-giving and sense-creating, which leads from mere conversion (or from mere thaumazein), to theoria – a historical fact, that nevertheless must have in it something essential. It is important to explain the change from original theoria, from the completely “disinterested” (consequent upon the epoche from all practical interests) world view (knowledge of the world based only on universal contemplation) to the theoria proper to science – both stages exemplifying the contrast between doxa [Gr. = opinion] and episteme [Gr. = knowledge]. The theoretical interest that comes on the scene as that thaumazein, is clearly a modification of curiosity that has its original place in natural life as an interruption in the course of “earnest living”, as a working out of originally effected vital interests, or as a playful looking about when the specific needs of actual life have been satisfied or working hours are past. Curiosity, too (not in the sense of an habitual “vice”), is a modification, an interest raised above merely vital interests and prescinding from them.

With an attitude such as this, man observes first of all the variety of nations, his own and others, each with its own environing world, which with its traditions, its gods and demigods, with its mythical powers, constitutes for each nation the self-evident, real world. In the face of this extraordinary contrast there arises the distinction between the represented and the real world, and a new question is raised concerning the truth – not everyday truth bound as it is to tradition but a truth that for all those who are not blinded by attachment to tradition is identical and universally valid, a truth in itself. Thus it is proper to the theoretical attitude of the philosopher that he is more and more predetermined to devote his whole future life, in the sense of a universal life, to the task of theoria, to build theoretical knowledge upon theoretical knowledge in infinitum.37

In isolated personalities, like Thales, et al., there thus grows up a new humanity – men whose profession it is to create a philosophical life, philosophy as a novel form of culture. Understandably there grows up at the same time a correspondingly novel form of community living. These ideal forms are, as others understand them and make them their own, simply taken up and made part of life. In like manner they lead to cooperative endeavor and to mutual help through criticism. Even the outsiders, the non-philosophers, have their attention drawn to the unusual activity that is going on. As they come to understand, they either become philosophers themselves, or if they are too much taken up with their own work, they become pupils. Thus philosophy spreads in a twofold manner, as a widening community of professional philosophers and as a common educational movement growing along with the former. Here also, however, lies the origin of the subsequent, so unfortunate internal split in the unity of the people into educated and uneducated. Still, it is clear that this tendency to spread is not confined to the limits of the originating nation. Unlike all other cultural products, this is not a movement of interests bound to the soil of national traditions. Even foreigners learn in their turn to understand and in general to share in the gigantic cultural change which streams forth from philosophy. Now precisely this must be further characterized.

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