The Cover of "An Essay on Morals"

An Essay on Morals

My Grandmother taught me to read when I was five.

She brought me into her library and gave me, “An Essay on Morals,” by
Philip Wylie

The Front matter to the 1947 edition of "An Essay on Morals" by Philip Wylie
The front matter to the 1947 edition of “An Essay on Morals” by Philip WylieII

In th 1940’s Philip Wylie was a popular science fiction writer and political iconoclast.

To my delight, my Grandmother taught me to read from a grown up book.

My job was to keep the book safe from harm and to study hard.

I did both.

I found that book today while spelunking in an old storage chest.

I’m astonished to still have this artifact from my childhood

I opened the book and discovered I had marked certain paragraphs the way a school boy might highlight certain points in preparation for a quiz.

Pages 18 and 19 of "An Essay on Morals"
     Pages 18 and 19 of “An Essay on Morals”

…Only a brave man will dare to think with solemnity that he is an animal and there is in consequence no human God, and he will need still more courage to hold in his mind the speculations that will rise thereafter. His solitude will become his chief associate.” An Essay on Morals, page 19.

As I re-read sections of the “Essay” over the shoulder of my five-year old self I am surprised to discover that much of my world view was shaped by Philip Wylie

An “Essay on Morals” was published in 1947 and was most certainly an “old book” when my Grandmother gave it to me in the 1960’s.

These paragraphs are from Section Five:

“The fact is that Freud’s work, and the work of psychology which has grown out of it has suffered every belittlement, ignominy, argument, sophistry, avoidance, disdain and outlawry the species can invent.

To begin with, the concept of an unconscious mind is so diametrically opposed to common habit of thought and popular instruction that only an honest and somewhat open intelligence can profitably examine it.

Next, the language in which it is professionally discussed has been, almost exclusively, the language of medicine and of the academy. This in turn, was for a century modeled on German forms of pedantic expression; to read psychological literature is to take the full measure of the conceit, the insolence and the lugubrious inclarity of modern scholasticism.

Again, the discoveries and developments of psychology were the work of doctor’s of medicine—principally three: Freud, Adler, and Jung. Not only did they describe their findings in the pompous tone of their profession, they made their findings among patients. Ill people.

It was in an attempt to cure such persons that Freud saw the first inkling—and subsequent knowledge came from the clinic. Most of it was set forth as therapeutics.

So the world—even the world of other scientists–thought of modern psychology, if at all, in the same frame of reference as the doctors did; that is, as a branch of medicine.

Now, medicine itself is a mere branch of chemistry and physics and since psychiatry and psychoanalysis and psychology in the modern sense have come to be regarded as mere offshoots of that, they do not hold a very high position among the intellectual enterprises of man.

Actually, Freud and the rest were eliciting laws of consciousness of the same magnitude as Relativity, calculated to redefine and recast every aspect of the mind’s knowledge of the mind, including all science and including itself.

Their “psychology” was setting down, at last, a true science of philosophy, but since it was called a mere branch of that mere half-science and half-art known as medicine, the tiny type appointed to it by society gave it a comfortably miniscule aspect amidst the exciting work of Krupp, RCA and Du Pont.

One thinks of a similar specialized trifle in this connection (and it is still a small thing when compared to the possibilities of psychology), a short equation announced by a quiet voice in a most obscure and esoteric branch of investigation, unheard by the multitude, which has nevertheless lately demonstrated itself to be of some magnitude.

I refer, of course, to the statement: e=mc2

An Essay of Morals
Phillip Wylie, 1947

The first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945.

For a complete and well written critique of Phillip Wylie as philosopher and author I recommend David Seed: The Postwar Jeremiads of Philip Wylie.

The Cover of "An Essay on Morals"
The Cover of “An Essay on Morals”


First published by Rob Goldstein in 2015-Revised 2019


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