The Philosophy of Allan Kurzberg: A Brief Summary, Part 1.

Before summarizing some of Allan Kurzberg’s fundamental philosophical ideas it is well to note what Allan’s concept of philosophy was.  Kurzberg  used to take issue with philosophies, which he called those that “stopped the car”.  He meant philosophies that never got beyond a defined point A to a defined point B.  The problem with such philosophies, he asserted, was that they are based on undefinable terms.  Consequently, advocates of these philosophies have unlimited opportunities of interpreting these terms freely, since no precise definition impedes the pathways of their thoughts.  Certainly, to think about what constitutes the beautiful, for instance, does add to our perception and appreciation of the aesthetic.  However, aesthetics as a philosophy can never state that as a consequence of a conceived definition of beauty, the following must occur, because “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”.  In other words, aesthetics is a philosophy that “stops the car”.  Kurzberg was not opposed to the study of aesthetics or other “immovable” philosophies, but he maintained that the study of philosophy should include philosophies that provide movement from one defined point to another.  And that is what Allan tried to do through his four postulates and two corollaries in The Theory of Us.  He tried to reassert the universal power of mathematical reasoning into a theory of human interactions.

Personal Note:  When I was a student at USC, I was quite interested in the ideas of historian and literary scholar, Erich Kahler.(I still have a stack of typed notes from his work, Man the Measure, which covers man’s early history to 1943.  He didn’t know how WWII would turn out!).  Kahler had written an intriguing essay based on an Ohio State lecture, “The True, the Good, and the Beautiful”.  His ideas focused on some of the more important points of Greek philosophy.  Impressed with his concepts, I decided to give this pamphlet to a Taiwanese girl that I knew from the comparative literature program.  After a few days she returned it, and I asked her what she thought of it, expecting effusive praise.  However, she looked at me critically and said,”Robert!  This is not the only way of defining these concepts!  In China, we have entirely different ways of understanding these ideas, and, in my opinion, they are just as valid!  So I learned that my reliance on Greek thought had blinded me to philosophical schools in other parts of the world!

The Radical Philosophy Of Allan Kurzberg And His Fundamental Postulates, Part 1.

I first became acquainted with Allan Kurzberg when I was a freshman at USC.  It was a time of immense turmoil and change, but also a time of great excitement and discovery.  Many college students were seeking alternative lifestyles other than those propounded by “The Establishment.”  The reason for this was simple:  the lifestyle emanating from “The Establishment” was producing a plethora of lies, bodies of prejudice, and the Vietnam War, resulting in countless injuries and deaths.  Many students thought of alternative lifestyles that encompassed communes, the Hippies of San Francisco, philosophies from the Far East, especially meditation as practiced by famous Maharishis.  Youths were also reading about the links between science and psychology, mathematics and computers.  To cope with the rigid mindset of “The Establishment”, young people smoked marijuana, took PCP and LSD to reach other mental states than were condoned by the AMA.  Families were not only torn by war, but by “the generation gap”, which led to a total breakdown in the family structure, the shock waves of which are still affecting the present.  It was a time when one person could change the world and each was encouraged to  “do your own thing”.  People used profanity as a rebellion against the norm and as a strike for human freedom.  Sex became far more casual and explicit.  The notion of premarital sex as a taboo was tossed out the window.  The Living Theater performed on streets and in parks.  And there were “sit-downs” and riots across college campuses as the emotions of anger engulfed the U.S.  The authoritarian approach that had for so long defined the hierarchy of professor and student broke apart, and closer, more meaningful relationships were developed and encouraged.  Especially, there was much talk of peace, while paradoxically, different factions were building.  It was during this epochal time that my then girlfriend, Janet, suggested that I look at Allan Kurzberg’s essays on the Theory of Us.  I told her that I already had a full course load and had numerous books I wanted to read.  Why should I read Kurzberg?  She told me that in her opinion he was the only true radical, because he opposed both “The Establishment” and the youth.  She thus led me into a hitherto unknown world:  the mind of Allan Kurzberg.

His first essay was entitled:  The Fundamental Postulates.  I started reading and found myself absorbed by a writer that was a curious mixture of strict reason and digressions.  “In this essay I have attempted to establish the cornerstone to the Theory of Us.  In my writing I use some principles of mathematical reasoning when applicable…  Different branches of psychology remind me of lonely subsets in search of a universal set.  Each is merely a limited, restricted set of elements…    The Main Postulate, 1. reads:  There is no species on earth that lies, prevaricates or dissembles more than the human species.  Since to lie is to speak falsely and no other species can “speak” in the way that we define it;  as an assemblage of sounds so sequenced  and intoned as to give expression so broad it allows not only for denotation, but connotation as well, our case is proved.  We might also accept the postulate, since no counter example can be proffered.  We do know that camouflage is widespread in the animal and insect kingdom, but this is only for survival.  Humans can use camouflage on, say, Halloween, and the object is sheer play, not survival…”

I must say that I found Kurzberg’s essays the most difficult of any essays I had ever read.  It was not on account of their intelligibility, but rather that I found myself being challenged, so I retaliated by writing NOs on many of the pages, and, in some cases, actually writing rebuttals.  Now, after almost fifty years have passed, I’m not sure I was altogether correct in my objections…