Practical Philosophy

Admiral Ben Moreell, Chairman of the Board of Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation, was war. time Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and Chief of Civil Engineers of the Navy. During World War 11 he organized the Navy’s famed SeaBees. He recently served as Chairman of the Second Hoover Commission Task Force on Water Resources and Power.

The busy man demands that a book be more than a mildly diverting exploration into the higher reaches of so-called “pure intellectualism.” He is always on the lookout for books which supply him with practical working guides to more purposeful living. Such a book is The Human Venture by Gerald Heard (Harper and Bros., New York, 1955. 310 pp. $4.00). In his searching analysis of the history and meaning of man’s sojourn on earth, Mr. Heard brings into sharp focus the applicability of his findings to the solutions of current problems. Here is a work which can be used to advantage by all who have an interest in and/or a responsibility for the conduct of important affairs in today’s troubled world.

Mr. Heard introduces his work by asking these two challenging questions: “What is the meaning of the present world situation?” and “How can we make sense of what is happening to us these last years?” He goes on to state: “The First World War ‘to make the world safe for democracy’ led to communism and the Nazis. The Second World War, fought in the name of the Four Freedoms, made us for a time an ally of communism and left us with the atom bomb. We have never achieved such victories, such power, and so little security. Now we are seriously planning to annex the moon, while ‘iron curtains’ keep coming down all over our own world . . . . Our civilization is not collapsing . . . it is exploding . . . . We may be blown to pieces if we do not learn to handle the explosives . . . . In short, the history of man is twofold. There is the outward story of economics and physical inventions, of science, technology, and manufacturing. But parallel with it is the inward story of man’s understanding and ordering of his own life, and this is essentially the history of religion in the deepest sense of the word.”

Mr. Heard then conducts the reader on a tour which might well be called a personal exploration of human history, in the course of which he unfolds the “inward story of man’s understanding and ordering of his own life.” And from this story, he undertakes to deduce the answers to those two vital questions propounded in the preface, and to a third one, which is implied in his statement, “Man needs power over himself and understanding of his own nature, far more than he needs power over his environment. He needs to know how to hold himself together.” The implied question is this: How can man achieve that power and understanding without which he will surely blow himself to bits?

Mr. Heard defines the problem by asking three questions which must be answered before man can progress along the path of the human venture:

1.       Where am I? What is the character of the natural setting in which I must live?

2.       What am I? How am I related to other men with whom I must learn to live?

3.       Who am I? What is the nature of my consciousness and what is its final destiny?

Mr. Heard shows that the third question can be answered by means of what he calls the “psychological revolution, the realization that the basic problem is the riddle of consciousness . . . . By discovering that . . . . they have discovered, also, that the answer to Who am I? involves the answer to What am I? as well as Where am I? Hence today,” Heard states, “human coherence must be built up from that innermost circuit; otherwise, it will remain skeptical of all its other findings.” But (he implies), with this firm foundation, man can meet the problems of the Where am I? and the What am I?, the challenges of science and of social relations. “Once man resolves to construct such a frame, he shall have for the first time the capacity to sustain the dynamic richness of human experience and the expansive power of the human mind. Then only will it be possible to have a peace that is not coercion but consent, and a civilization which is the great community and not the giant state . . . .

“Such is the hope for mankind. Its very greatness makes the wary side of man’s mind fear that he may never achieve it. On the other hand, its promise is so truly attractive to the human heart that it may be an inherent part of human nature.”

Enough has been written here to indicate that this book holds promise of a rich store of knowledge which could point the way to the solution of many contemporary problems. But this deposit cannot be mined easily, from the surface. The important values lie well below and will have to be dug out by diligent study and contemplation.

My interest in Gerald Heard was first aroused when I was told that in two little books which he wrote I might find the answers to some questions on religion which were puzzling me. These were entitled The Creed of Christ, a unique study of the Lord’s Prayer, and The Code of Christ, a study of the Beatitudes. These two books whetted my appetite for more information about Heard. I learned that he was born and educated in England, took honors in history at Cambridge University, and did postgraduate work in philosophy and the philosophy of religion. He came to the United States in 1937 and since then has been lecturing and writing.

One of my friends who has spent much time in the study of Heard’s works has written: “There are thirty-three books to Heard’s credit in the fields of history, anthropology, philosophy, and religion, including six novels, an allegory, and two collections of short stories. His mind has ranged through all branches of ancient and modern knowledge, including the sciences. He is at home in the religions and philosophies of both West and East. In his books he has integrated this vast accumulation of knowledge and brought it to bear upon the personal and social problems of man in the modern world.”

The American businessman prides himself on being a “practical” fellow. I suppose this is intended to mean that the things he does are directed toward the fulfillment of immediate human needs, for which service he expects to be paid a reasonable fee. I have no quarrel with that thesis. But the question arises: By what standards does he appraise “immediate human needs”? Unless he has a highly developed sense of perception of true values, his appraisal is likely to be faulty, especially when he attempts to arrange human needs in order of importance. Without perceptive capacity, he cannot be truly “practical.” Proper perception requires that he be able to synthesize facts and meanings; to understand and integrate the lessons of science (i.e., the finding of facts) with the lessons of religion (i.e., the finding of the meanings of those facts).

In short, here is a “practical” book which can and should be used as a working tool to serve the best interests of our civilization and to further the progress of the human venture. I commend this and other works of Gerald Heard to my many friends, in government, in the professions, and in business, who may wish to make a contribution of value to these important objectives.

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