‘Anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it… We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate ones, brave by doing brave ones.’ (Aristotle, Niconachean Ethics, Book II, p.91).
Most of us switch off when we hear the word ‘philosophy’. We imagine some boring old git lecturing us about some concept that is impossible to understand and has no relevance to real life. But that isn’t how it all started.
The word philosophy comes from the Greek word “philosophia” which means love of wisdom (philos = love and sophia = wisdom). In the context of Ancient Greece, wisdom meant a few things. One of these was knowledge – a wise man was one who had a thorough knowledge of subjects such as astronomy, maths, music and literature. But gaining this knowledge was never thought to be an end in itself. The purpose of the acquisition of facts was to train the mind so that it could be used as a tool to help its owner to better navigate the world.
To some extent – and probably with the best intentions – philosophy has been hijacked by academics (and of course drunks).
Obviously philosophy means other things now, over 2,000 years later, but even so, perhaps we could forget about that and just go back to basics? After all having a trained mind might be handy. A trained mind would be better able not just to work and invent and plan and discover (though all of these things are important) but a trained mind would also be better able to manage the change that the arrow of time brings in its wake.
Big change, small change, medium change – unavoidable change. A philosophical approach might better give us the capacity to find our way around our constantly changing world. Like the best interactive guidebook or GPS ever invented, it might give us the skills necessary not to fall down too many holes – or at least when we do, it should help us to work out how to climb out.
Change is always going to make us nervous – that’s just the way we are – but there is no need for it to be terrifying, no need for us to pretend it isn’t happening, no need for it to eat us up because we have ignored it for too long. The good thing about proper philosophy is that it’s not a set of rules that need to be updated all the time – no need for 2.0 or more – it’s a skill. It’s an ability to look at things and to reflect on them and then act and then look again and reflect and consult and so on, ad infinitum (as some old school Roman philosopher might have put it).
In spite of the way it has been practiced, philosophy doesn’t need to belong to one school of thought or another.
Philosophy can be an approach to living not a patented method.
Philosophy can belong only to itself – the love of wisdom.
It can be full of life and love and ideas for living but most of all, it can be about action – that should be it’s ultimate purpose.
I want us ordinary folk to take back philosophy so that we have a term we can use when we speak with each other about thinking and reflecting on life, the universe and everything and about how we should act to make it a better place.
Maybe we’re already trying? Surely this video is philosophy?