Interview: Professor Frithjof Bergmann, Applies Philosophy to Social Questions
By Afua Serwah Osei-Bonsu
A gruff sounding Philosophy Professor Emeritus from the University of Michigan, born in Saxony Germany on December 24, 1930, on Christmas Eve, was called upon for interview, Frithjof Bergmann. Bergmann holds his PHD from Princeton University and taught formerly at the University of California Berkeley, University of California Santa Cruz and Stanford University.
Bergmann said in regards to students coming into his class, “that above all what I want from a student is curiosity.” Bergmann described Philosophy as, “the most unbound way of thinking, you can discuss anything, no limits, no fences.”
When I searched “Frithjof Bergmann” online a range a philosophers popped up including: Karl Marx, Arthur Schopenhauer, Immanuel Kant, Meister Eckhart, Theodor Adorno, Martin Heidegger and Georg Wilhem Freidrich Hegel. Bergmann studied under Walter Kaufman at Princeton, who he recommended reading. Bergmann wrote his dissertation on “Harmony and Reason, An Introduction to The Philosophy of Hegel.”
Bergmann also recommended reading “Nietzsche” of whom he is a scholar. Nietzsche is a German Philosopher, Cultural Critic, Poet and Composer. About Nietzsche, Bergmann wrote, “Nietzsche’s Critique of Morality,” on Oxford University Press in 1988.
Bergmann, in about 2003, in Ann Arbor Michigan, lectured on his organization “New Work.” Bergmann spoke as often did Gandhi about doing “what you really, really want to do” and also about the world being at that time in about 80% poverty. Bergmann had decided to turn his focus to poverty and still now in 2015, he was guided in this interview by that early “big topic” of poverty.
Bergmann said, “Many jobs will be eliminated and how to solve the problem of division between rich and poor was one of my main topics.”
Bergmann’s publications include “On Being Free,” and “New Work, New Culture.” His book “New Work, New Culture,” deals with his research on “how to solve huge problems with resources, climate, poverty and reorganizing work in drastic fundamental ways.”
New Work got legs in about 1983 or 1984 and has grown since then. Many places and countries have realized ideas from New Work. This year Bergmann is preparing for trips to India, Russia, Europe, and Africa to see how ideas from New Work can be put into practice. Bergmann is concerned with: “new roles in manufacturing, the role of working and the role of culture.”
Back in 2003, Bergmann was in South Africa building these incredible architectural “dome” structures. He described spraying concrete on huge balloons to get these gigantic domes that when dried could serve communities and modern architecture. The images of the domes Bergmann was building, were in harmony with this wild architecture, from the Austrian Artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who built right into the sides of hills, where as Bergmann’s architecture appeared to be hills.
When Bergmann lands in Michigan, he teaches at The University of Michigan courses on Existentialism and Continental Philosophy. Bergmann answered, when asked about what is a good application of philosophy, “social questions.”
Bergmann said, “Teaching is wonderful, if your students love you and teaching is horrible if your students hate you.”
Bergmann described, The University of Michigan Philosophy for teaching as “serious teaching” and that philosophy teaches how to “…get to the bottom of things, unmask and be good at critical thinking.”
Bergmann, a professor and political activist is also credited as one of the creators of the teach-in.
“One of the first teach-in’s was held at the University of Michigan Campus in March 1965.”