A Guide For The Perplexed by Ernst F. Schumacher


Ernst F.Schumacher was at the forefront of the German Economic revival post the ruins and devastation wreaked by the catastrophic World War II. Schumacher in addition to being a formidable economist was also a pioneer in a movement to better understand and preserve the ecological system within which mankind existed. This endeavour culminated in his 1973 Environmental Economics bestseller “Small Is Beautiful”. Schumacher advocated a unique blend of Economics which he himself termed “meta Economics” or “Buddha Economics” where Economic progress was measured in incremental and small but measurable units.

However Schumacher himself considered the publication of “A Guide For the Perplexed” to be the pinnacle of his professional and personal achievement. Basing his title on an earlier work by Maimonides, Schumacher intended “A Guide For the Perplexed” to be a cornerstone for humans to live on Planet Earth. He also wrote this book as a metaphysical and philosophical treatise on the nature and organisation of knowledge. The book is a direct and frontal assault against the values and tenets forming the heart and soul of “Scientific Materialism”.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book stems from Schumacher’s view of the Universe as assimilating a hierarchy of being. Schumacher explains the differences between life, consciousness and self consciousness in the following unique set of equations:

‘Mineral’ = m
‘Plant’ = m + x
‘Animal’ = m + x + y
‘Human’ = m + x + y + z

The factors x, y and z are representative of ontological discontinuities and are demonstrative of life, consciousness and self consciousness – factors which accord human beings the highest privilege in the continuum of life when compared with plants and animals. While some of the aspects dealt with by Schumacher in his book are complex, abstruse and complicated, there is no doubt about the invigorating element of provocation that is confined within the pages of this small work, which is all of 192 pages.

Schumacher’s daughter wrote that her father handed her the book on his deathbed, five days before he died and he told her “this is what my life has been leading to”. As the Chicago Tribune wrote, “A Guide for the Perplexed is really a statement of the philosophical underpinnings that inform Small is Beautiful”.

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