Re: Books for Youth WAS Re: dr suess on the loose...

Elizabeth Childs (
Fri, 04 Jun 1999 22:21:04 -0700

I would add to this list a good book about the philosophy of language; I read "The Tyranny of Words" at 17, and I've thought more clearly ever since. It's surely long out of print, but it was just some rehashed Korzybcsci and a few other thinkers; I'm sure there are a number of equivalent books. The core principles are pretty simple, but it can be very helpful to see them explicitly stated.

Reading Reason magazine has radically altered my views on dozens of issues, and introduced a number of paradigms into my daily thinking.

"Raymond G. Van De Walker" wrote:
> The big question is "How then should we live?" This can profitably
> follow any conclusion, fact, or plan, and automatically leads to action.
> When I was 7..10 my older sister gave me a set of books that were
> synoptic histories of ideas. These books went from before recorded
> history to my life, in chronological order. If you opened one of these
> books, on the left side there was text about some innovation of the
> 1400's (or whenever), while on the right side,there was a big
> illustration of the text. The books were titled something like "Science
> and Knowledge Through the Ages," "Art Through the Ages," "Empires Through
> the Ages," "Health and Life Through the Ages" A chronological index on
> a CD-ROM encyclopedia could accompish the same function.
> These first liberated me from the limited world around me. I _loved_
> those books. I read them cover-to-cover many times. I was _devastated_
> when they were lost in a family move.
> The book that hit me next and hardest was "Starship Troopers" by Robert
> Heinlein.
> I first read it when I was a very impressionable 14-year-old, toddling
> into the age of reason.
> The idea that hit me hard was that morals could be understood as
> prudence. So, for me, moral reasoning became a radically cool
> very-interactive counter-cultural activity, more like designing one's
> life than like mindless submission to authority.
> My schools had _no_ moral instruction at all ! The "preachiness" and
> "worthless didactic fluff that does not advance the plot" and
> "hard-headed militarism" were _exactly_ what I found most valuable in
> "Starship Troopers". (Those are paraphrases of critics- see any Heinlein
> site on the web)
> After that, it took me years to find out where the rest of the good
> stuff was hiding out. I made a lot of life mistakes because everybody I
> knew, including librarians, was too ignorant of the classics of Western
> Civ to tell me to read them.
> I read Proverbs. This is just as thought provoking as Heinlein, and
> maybe even more subversive, if one examines the rules as prudence.
> Likewise Deuteronomy. Try reading these in concert with Dawkins' "The
> Selfish Gene" and "Sociobiology" for a real treat.
> I've read all of Plato and most of Aristotle, and I think the Republic
> and Laws are also pretty cool, again for the same reasons. Western law's
> theory of justice came from Plato's Laws, which were proposed as a model
> of practical law. The Republic describes a very smart man's
> carefully-considered perfect government. The obly problem I found is
> that it doesn't cope with population growth.
> Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics" sets the terms of the debate: "How then
> Should we live?" and then eliminates the obvious, foolish answers.
> Montesquieue's "Spirit of the Law" ("L'Esprit de Loi")is an attempt to
> explain, generalize and repair Plato's Republic. The writers of the U.S.
> Constitution read it most carefully. Most of it is nonsense, but he
> invented the answer to whom should guard the guardians. Read it in the
> french version if you can: the author answers his clerical critics from
> the security of the grave. However, the English version was corrected by
> him while he was still alive.
> The next big jump forward is probably Jeremy Bentham's "Principles of
> Morals and Legislation" which is as dry as dust, but tries to fix the
> subjectivity of Plato's "The Laws," and which inspired Mill to write
> about "Utilitarianism" which is not dull at all
> After that, probably Kant's "Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals"
> was a glimpse of the promised land, because it gives one faith that
> somehow everything ties together. This was a less-flawed attempt to
> side-step Aristotle's problems.
> G.E. Moore's "Principia Ethica" was a bitter dose of skepticism with a
> fairy story at the end. It sets the current state of the art in
> skepticism about Ethics.
> I think everyone should read Das Kapital, by Marx, not for the fallacious
> theory of value, but for the deadly-accurate analysis of classical
> capitalism, and the clear exposition of dialectical theory. His theory
> of history, incidentally, is right on. and accurately described the
> pressures on the system. The revolution came and went, unnoticed because
> it was accomplished by incremental reforms through democratic
> institutions. Evaluated by the Communist Manifesto, the U.S. is a
> practical socialist state: Every socialist reform in the Manifesto is
> implemented in the U.S
> I think everyone should read Toynbee's "The Rise and Fall of the Roman
> Empire," and Plutarch's "Lives" These are the alphabet of history and
> biography.
> Kipling's stuff, and the Lays of Ancient Rome are incredibly cool, once
> one knows enough history to make sense of them. They got me to read
> history.
> Everyone should read an encyclopedia article about accounting.
> Especially notice the date when double-entry accounting was invented, and
> how it immediately preceded (enabled) both the industrial revolution, and
> the internecine wars of the 15th .. 20th century in Europe.
> David Friedman's "The Machineries of Freedom" liberated me from mindless
> advocacy of government. It should be read with "The Enterprise of Law"
> an economic analysis of law that explains why radical libertarian systems
> failed historically.
> The federal reserve published a book to explain to laymen about why it
> exists, and what purposes it serves. It should be read in tandem with
> Bastiat's book (Called "The Law" I think) about the historic failures of
> central banks.
> The Federalist papers are the design notebook of the U.S. constitution.
> They should be read with a rational criticism of the U.S., such as "The
> Frozen Republic".
> After that, probably Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" and E.O. Wilson's
> "Sociobiology" helped me to think more carefully about how we should
> live.
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