The UM Philosophy Society Blog

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Why Philosophia?

Just some initial thoughts on the wonder and beauty of Philosophy, the love of wisdom, by Justin Whitaker.

How big are you? How big is your world? Professor David Sherman begins his existentialism course by drawing a line all the way across a 40 foot marker-board. If this line represents the history of the planet, where are you? He points to the far end, "a speck." Not even a pinhead, smaller than that - a fraction of a pinhead. This is your life, this is how big you are.

But you know that you are bigger than that. You have freedom. You have power OVER history; you are not just a speck within it. The question you will hopefully ask is, "what does this power, this freedom, mean?" and "How do I best use it?" Those who do not are overcome by history, forgotten soon after or even before their death. Those who make this question the axis around which their life revolves never succumb to the will of history.

Of course Hegel and Marx, two of our greatest Philosophers, would disagree with this. They held that we are born in the throws of historical circumstances and can never truly break free. Maybe they are right. Even if they are though, this is no excuse for mediocrity; as each of these men themselves personify the power which one man may yield over historical circumstances. Even if they did not break free, surely they rose to the very crest of the historical wave, something I urge you to do as well.

The water is thick, I am heavy. How can I rise? Surely no great man or woman has been given a free pass to the top of the wave. Each must overcome great obstacles: material accumulation, flattery, jealousy, enemies, sensual pleasures, and more. Nietzsche said, "Socrates was ugly," noting that his (Socrates') philosophy represented the demise of the beautiful Athenian culture. Socrates didn't have to worry so much about the sensual pleasures (in his day that amounted to wooing young boys). While the handsomer men were off in the woods with the lads, Socrates was contemplating knowledge, politics, religion, and ultimately his own eventual death.

Perhaps he was lucky to be ugly. To die peacefully, to accept it, to welcome it; these are perhaps the ultimate goals of philosophy. Too often death seizes us, we fight, and with agony we lose. From the top of the wave, however, death is seen and understood for what it is, a moment in the process which began at our birth. No great man or woman fears death. To fear death is to deny life, and our life is too precious to be denied even for a second.

So rise up! Ask the questions, ask them every moment you can until they become central to your existence. In Buddhism there is the constant analogy of looking in vs. looking out. A big problem is that people spend their lives looking out while they have a big mess they need to look at within. New neuroscientific evidence (and the whole of phenomenological philosophy) shows that our perceptions (looking out) are always influenced by what is going on inside (our imagination). If we never get clear on the inside, we never see things correctly on the outside.

So you ask these simple questions and you think about them, as a way to look inside. Every time you look outside afterward, the world becomes a little clearer (you're moving up in the wave). Eventually, and this takes extraordinary concentration and practice, you see that what is inside is nothing other than history itself. You see that you are not a speck on the end of that long line, but the entirety of whole line! In Freudian terms, your ego-clinging is overcome; in Sartrian terms you have perfect freedom; in Buddhist terms you have seen your own emptiness; in Christian or Hindu terms you have realized your oneness with God; in Hegelian terms you have reached the crest of history's wave. It's all the same - now think about it.



At August 25, 2004 at 7:25 PM, Blogger Ali Tabibnejad said...

Language always seem inadequate to me in making change in other's lives. Let's call what it is to be conveyed by Justin Whitaker's mind his spirit. Now when this spirit becomes concrete in his speech or writing it will necessarily bear with it the environment that created his vocabulary--his speech and writing--which will always be different to different readers and listeners. When you and I can converse and adequately solve our philosophical problems, we benefit from three some years of philosophical training TOGETHER.

At August 31, 2004 at 11:00 PM, Blogger The UM Philosophy Society Blog said...

Ali, a brief reply to your comment. Yes, language is deficient for adequate conveyance of spirit. Some would say that our language cannot even adequately describe our spirit to ourselves, as our spirit is prenoetic, pre-linguistic. Yet through language we provide pointers, give rough indications of our intents, and make crude changes in others.

When we converse TOGETHER, we are capable of more, no doubt. In that situation there is two-directional expression - my own expressions depend on yours and yours on mine (Merleau-Ponty would say that the new intersubjectivity is Irreducible to either subject, and I agree). Through the Blog, however, my 'initial thoughts on the wonder and beauty of Philosophy' were meant to be directed at no one, and everyone... somehow vague enough to catch the interest of any intelligent observer, but also concrete enough to convey some message which would change the reader. Through the Blog, only such one-directional statements are worth the effort of posting. A blog mustn't become a replacement for the intersubjectivity of face to face conversation. The Blog is far too klunky, slow-moving, 2-dimensional, for any kind of 'conversation'. It is for thoughts to be put-out-onto the world - like an opera, performed for a faceless, nameless audience, seeking only the grandest of applause at the perfect instant.

So... let us not mistake the function of this blog. TOGETHER we speak and gain mutual benefit - here we project onto the faceless hoi poloi.


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