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Achieving a mature mind is a formidable project

April 22, 2011|By ALLAN POWELL

It was a stroke of good fortune to have found “The Mature Mind,” by Dr. Harry Overstreet, on the shelf of a used book store. He has a wealth of practical knowledge and wisdom to offer those who have an interest in achieving a measure of maturity. Though published in 1949, the concerns in this book will never be out of date.

We are made aware of the scarcity of mature minds in the preface by a quotation of a Canadian psychiatrist, Dr. G. Brock Chisholm: “So far in the history of the world there have never been enough mature people in the right places.” The need for mature minds is even greater now than when Overstreet wrote his recommendations for personal growth toward psychological and intellectual adulthood.

The signs of widespread immaturity throughout our culture are alarming. Our habits display a gross coarseness and are so childish that we should be concerned. Yet, we seem to be comfortable with the decline in good taste.

The quest for personal maturity, according to Overstreet, begins only where conditions favorable to maturity exist. The individual must have a clue about his own power and capabilities as he contemplates growth. As Socrates said, “Know thy self.” This might be a real challenge for those who are persuaded that they are too old and that “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks.” Overstreet presents evidence to show that this idea is false.

For those who undertake a plan of growth toward maturity,  Overstreet suggests several criteria by which to measure success. Among these is the recognition that growth is continuous throughout life. A second consideration is the importance of a parallel growth physically and intellectually. Another crucial feature is to accept the responsibility to pursue work in the appropriate area of interest and ability.

Another criterion worthy of mention is the refinement of one’s speech, which is one of the first traits noticed by others. In a word, Overstreet asserts that we need to make a steady transition from egocentricity to sociocentricity. Simultaneously, we must work our way out of a sea of particularity into the open waters of seeing the larger whole. To bring together such a critical constellation of qualities makes it evident that the path to maturity is a hard one to travel.

At this point, Overstreet makes a linkage of the maturity/immaturity criteria to philosophical ideas. He lists several well-known philosophers of the 19th century as responsible for presenting ideas that have a troublesome career because they are immature. Hopefully, I will be permitted to humbly question the propriety of the use of these criteria and to suggest another way to approach the judgment of philosophical claims.

Overstreet lists Friedrich Nietzsche as immature because of his creation of the “superman” having the “will to power” over others. These ideas were adopted by the Nazis and used to hurt untold numbers of people. Adam Smith was cited for his ideas that led to the popularity of unfettered markets and the economic freedom of the “economic man.” Karl Marx was included because of his view of history, proposing the theory that class warfare was a major determinant of historical change. This is just a few of those charged with immaturity.

The point I wish to make is that we have a more powerful means to more accurately judge the product put on the marketplace of ideas by philosophers. This method calls for all readers to classify sentences into three kinds to measure their truth value. Thus, there are statements of fact, statements of logic and statements of emotion. Each type of sentence must be examined properly to be judged appropriately.

Statements of fact might be eventually verified or falsified by observation, experimentation and verification. This is the method used by scientists. “The world is round” is a claim that can be shown to be true or false.

A sentence of logic cannot violate any of the rules of logic such as the principle of noncontradiction. If one declares that “all unmarried males are bachelors,” they may rest assured that this claim is logically valid. All statements of logic require internal consistency.

Finally there are statements of emotion. These statements register personal preferences, beliefs and values. They might not be factual or logical. If one declares that roses are the most beautiful flower, it only shows that the speaker likes roses. Clarification of sentences goes a long way toward determining the truth value of our sentences.

This critique in no way weakens the value and power of Overstreet’s plea for maturity. His insights to guide those who seek maturity are very useful. His suggestions are as appropriate now as they were when he published them in 1947. Personal maturity is a worthy goal in any age.


Allan Powell is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

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