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The Ultimate Philosophy

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by Jon Will


ISBN 1 59129 818 0
Published by Publish America, 2003
108pp, paperback
Retail price $13.95

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

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I imagine that the opening pages of Jon Will's book are going to be off-putting to some people. If you begin with an aphorism such as "Every human dreams of a better life", and follow up with a contents page including chapter headings such as "Religion is a Myth", you're in danger of losing a lot of your potential readership before you even start writing. Happily for me, I've not yet arrived at the level of cynicism that closes the mind to other people's opinions just because they are naively expressed. Unless there's an obvious reason for not doing so, I'm ready to give any new idea a chance.

I can't honestly say that Mr Will's ideas are new, but some of them may be unfamiliar to the majority, and there is no reason why they shouldn't be taken seriously. There is, however, a slight problem with the form of the work, and this becomes apparent from the very first page. Chapter 1 plunges straight into an explanation of the various theories of creation, without any introductory comments that might give the lay reader more time to assimilate the message or to understand what the book is meant to be about. The old adage, "Tell them what you're going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you've told them," is not practised here, and I don't know why. It isn't that the author lacks the makings of a good communicator. His style is simple and lucid, if suffering from the occasional over-long sentence and the odd ambiguity ("Humanities [sic] common destination should be Utopia"). In general, I had no difficulty in following his arguments.

This is a short book too, with individual chapters that are extremely brief -- bite-sized ideas, easily comprehensible, albeit short on originality. As the book progresses, we are presented with some delightful similes that help to add vigour and meaning to the theoretical debate. On the other hand, I doubt that the decision to divide it into three sub-sections achieves anything other than to add a few more pages, and there is really enough white space without that.

Perhaps the nub of the problem is that Jon Will himself isn't entirely sure what the purpose of his book is. On the surface, it is a study of Utopianism. Its title, The Ultimate Philosophy, sounds like a cure-all for life's numerous problems; of course, it turns out not to be. It would have to be far more profound than it is to achieve that end.

The author begins by attempting to demonstrate the inadequacy of religious belief as a philosophy of life, by reference to rationalism. Clearly, this is not a realistic goal, since religion depends for its existence on the suspension of "normal" rational thought and recourse to that mysterious quality that we usually call "faith". No confirmed Christian -- or any other religious person -- is going to be convinced by the arguments put forward here, however many times the Infinity Theory has been "scientifically proven".  A little less vehement assertion and a little more conciliatory explanation would have prevented Mr Will from making self-evidently incorrect statements, such as "the only universal agreement among all religions is that they do not believe in each other". Jews, Christians and Moslems -- the "People of the Book" -- are only three of the groups who might reasonably take issue with this. Nor does it seem likely that everyone would agree on his five specified ingredients for a Utopian existence. Undaunted, he goes on to explain how we might achieve this Utopia, and only in Book Three does he acknowledge that there might be alternative views on what form it should take.

Whatever its underlying motivation, Jon Will's message, insofar as it is defined, is a creditable one. He wants, quite simply, to put together the recipe for mankind's future happiness (and perhaps its very survival). Where he goes wrong is in failing to recognise that, even where there is widespread acceptance of this desire, there is far from being universal agreement on what constitutes "right" and "wrong", "good" and "bad", terms he uses without any attempt at definition. Let me illustrate this with a single sentence from Chapter 5:

"Infliction of physical harm on another human is always wrong except when done to stop physical evil."

I believe there is a large proportion of people who would seriously question the last clause in that sentence, even if they accept the first part. Mr Will also focuses on damage to others' property as something particularly reprehensible; in this he is at odds with a sizeable number of religious and non-religious people who believe that "all property is theft".

I don't feel altogether comfortable with my negative response to The Ultimate Philosophy, partly because I sense that the author is a genuinely good person (whatever "good" means), trying his best to influence others to take the same straight and narrow path. He wants to do this, not because he is a control freak, but because he believes his ideas to be helpful, constructive, and necessary to the improvement of humanity's lot. Old-fashioned as these views may seem, I agree with much, perhaps most, of what he writes here. However, I wonder that, in recognising the imperfection of the human condition, he does not also recognise the practical limitations it places on his vision of the future. For example, the statement that "Humanity can, and should, do better, such as finding cures for all disease" is neither useful nor informative. To express the belief that this will happen, some day in the future, by virtue of mankind's natural intellectual development, is nothing more than a leap of faith of the kind Jon Will professes to despise.

For all that, his optimism is infectious. I hope it may turn out to be justified.

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