Academia has made me no stranger to philosophy, it taught me how to put fancy terms on concepts I’d mulled over all my life. Epistemology, jurisprudence, ontology, metaphysics, logic… and I’m putting myself to sleep. Honestly though philosophy has a prominent history for humanity, from Socrates to Buffy The Vampire Slayer (yes there are philosophical underpinnings to the greatest television show of all time, and I promise to discuss that another day). The wonderful thing is philosophy is not out of your grip because you didn’t have the means to attend university. It cannot be capitalized on, because now more than ever we can create and discuss our own unique perspective on philosophy. How you ask? Through the wonderful (yet terrifying), world of the internet.
Now if you are inclined to read a book that describes philosophy 101 without paying €100 for a textbook, or a philosophy course, I suggest you read the wonderful book ‘Sophie’s World’ by Jostein Gaarder.[i] Or better yet, if you have internet access, visit and #philosophy on Twitter.[ii] Or any social media outlet of your choice.
I happen to love philosophy very dearly. I realised recently that I’ve been philosophizing all my life. When I was young and couldn’t sleep I was either, 1. Reading under the bedcovers with a torch until I heard my parents coming and scrambled to appear asleep or, 2. Lying staring at the ceiling while listening to the same tapes (then CDs) ad nauseam. Thinking about whether or not the universe was sitting in something or was it all there was, ever expanding?
Now I know this sounds like physics or astronomy, but that’s the beauty of philosophy, it is the foundation of every discipline you learn at school. From mathematics to art, philosophy is there to inspire wonder and ideas.
Ok so let’s get to the point of this encomium today, which is how we all view the world. There are many different schools of thought, but one I particularly subscribe to is Subjectivist. This has a history in, “Cogito ergo sum,”[iii] mixed with the unnerving realization that your mind and your mind alone is all you will ever experience. So what am I driving at? That sometimes we are all so in our own head that we forget that everyone’s reality is different. I’m not saying that the world is different, but because we are dynamic creatures, my experience of something will future shape my vision of the universe versus the same experience on you. There is nothing wrong with this, we all need to have our own opinions or we become mindless drones.
However, (and this is a big however), while we have every right to defend our opinions, it is imperative, and I mean IMPERATIVE, that we allow ourselves to see things from the point of view of others. Now I hear you say, surely that’s not subjective if we can only see inside our own mind, and I’ll have to stop you there. If you’ve ever read a book then you’ve been in someone else’s shoes. What did that feel like? Were you sad when they were sad? If the author did their job well, you felt empathy for the character.
I think we are often so ready to rush to anger and defensiveness that we forget to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. If we all did the world, in general, would be a better place. What does this have to do with philosophy? It has everything to do with philosophy. Philosophy helps us to be less ignorant of the ways of others. It helps us feel what our fellow humans are feeling, so we can change our actions accordingly. It also helps us to think critically. Honestly I feel that is missing from our society today.
I mentioned earlier that the internet was a powerful tool and now anyone can be a philosopher. Well as always there is an antithetical side to this. People spew hatred, alternative facts, and uninformed vitriol like it’s their life blood. We can’t stop people from doing that. What we can stop is our support of them. Critical thinking will help us do that. When you read a tweet that makes you angry, just make sure that person hasn’t made up something or retweeted someone else who also doesn’t know how to fact check. Just before you go to war over something that’s not even real.
We must start from the basic principle that, “the only thing I know, is that I know nothing.”[iv] (Shout out to Plato for documenting his much loved teacher and friend Socrates). Human’s come with a lot of informational baggage. We have predetermined ideas regarding things before we even give something new a chance. It’s like when you’re afraid to try a certain food because you know for sure you won’t like it. Funny thing is it’s, that’s your accumulated experience mixed with your reptile brain who is telling you that. Maybe a little dramatic, but you hopefully are following what I’m saying.
I don’t claim to be an expert on philosophy, but just like anyone who’s questioned the nature of reality, I am a philosopher. We all are philosophers (congratulations! 😊). We all have the ability and responsibility to think about things critically, and not rush to judgement. This will make your daily life better. Before you get antsy and honk your horn at a driver who isn’t moving just quick enough for your liking, pause a moment. Actually more like 10 seconds, and give them a chance. Before you jump to judge someone for having a different opinion from you, let’s say on religion, remember that while a lot of harm may have been caused by religion, a lot of good has come from it as well. It gives people solace in a world that is often cruel and cold. Who’s to say that your daily routine of buying certain products, burning fossil fuels, and wasting precious water isn’t doing the planet more harm than religion might. Prayer isn’t bad for the environment, but war is.
Listen, I buy red meat. I drive a diesel car often 100kms a day if I need to get to and from my office. Sometimes I stay in the shower a little longer than I need to. Nobody is perfect, but we are all accountable. If we are more empathic to each other, then we will start a revolution of the mind. A smile can make all the difference in the world. As a very wise woman once said, “The hardest thing in this world, is to live in it, be brave.”[v]
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[i] Gaarder, J. (2010). Sophie’s world. Hachette UK.
[iii] Descartes, René. (1641). Meditations on First Philosophy.
[iv]This happened in like the 5th century BC, how am I supposed to cite that correctly?
[v]Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The WB & UPN. Season 5, Episode 22. Joss Whedon.