Posted in Of Psyche

Of Doing Philosophy

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My desire and wish is that the things I start with should be so obvious that you wonder why I spend my time stating them. This is what I aim at because the point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it. – Bertrand Russell

I have an enormous amount of unrealized guilt over this. I have not said it plainly before, skirted around the issue in standard self-deprecation, because it will make this whole blogging thing, even writing thing for me quite fraudulent. I don’t really do Philosophy here, do I?

Two years and 300 essays approx. later, it must be pertinent to ask this question. In fact, I should have probably asked myself before I even started. There is hardly a blog post here that is not tagged #philosophy. I’m sure I’ve even tagged random posts, like the time I posted The Cure’s “Friday, I’m in Love” video for no reason except it being Friday. And it is a niche tag, so it’s not like I am capitalizing on it by casting my net far and wide. But, there must come a day when I put this aside and ask myself, is it really Philosophy?

Perhaps, asking whether is it Philosophy makes it a philosophical question, which solves the question in the affirmative, without even being a rhetorical question. And it is not anything clever because, I believe, all long-terms explorations of Philosophy start with the questions – What is Philosophy? And, How does one do Philosophy?

Even I did it. Well, I did a MOOC (a free, short-term, online course) on Philosophy from Edinburgh University. Partially, because I was interested, and mainly, because I thought I should do something about the fraudulence I felt was going on here. I don’t remember what conclusion was reached (or if there was a conclusion; it is a rare occurrence in doing Philosophy), but I do remember it was amenable, allowing me to go for it without doubt, and asking me to ask sans fear of intellectual intimidation. In the end, I didn’t feel as guilty, and continued with my essaying…

It was further consolation to find the Bertrand Russell quote above. Because, that is what I’ve been doing so long in my career as an essayist. I inquire after simple, everyday things. I don’t research them, but inform myself with my experiences. I keep them light and frivolous, because it would be presumptuous to try to make them deep. And I make them short. And then I leave them, and move on to another as and where and when The Wind of Ideas blows, to be followed by The Cementing of Putting Ideas Down.

Is it Philosophy? I don’t know. Am I doing Philosophy? I don’t know. I haven’t read any of the greats or contemporaries in any depth or width to comment on them. I discuss Great Big Ideas like Love, but with a James McAvoy quote. I’ve lately come to believe I’ve adopted some of the bad habits of the stereotypical social media person – bad grammar (oh, the horror of the first time I wrote ‘their’ instead of ‘there’), confessional narcissism (the essays have slowly gotten to be very “I, Me, Myself”) and most of all, the overwhelming presumption that not only are my life and thoughts interesting, but those who are privileged enough to come by them actually care. I don’t feel I’ve been doing much Philosophy, or anything writerly for that matter, as much as I’ve been confidently going about making a web log of this person’s personality.

The problem isn’t the personality itself, but rather, dwelling too much on one single idea, trying to complicate it, albeit unconsciously. There isn’t anything more that can be figured out. In fact, you’d be disappointed if you didn’t descend into further paradoxes, which means your self-absorption/self-loathing will only get worse.

There was a The Daily Post prompt recently called ‘Blank’. And I thought, what a great idea. Except, I really was blank when trying to come up with something. Now, however, I think it comprehensively solves the question:

How do you do Philosophy?

Blank.

In doing Philosophy, you deal in blanks. Not try to fill them up with something, for that is literature or life. But, try to find out why blanks exist. What’s the point of them? Why get blanked? Is Life itself a Blank? And on it goes…

How do you do Philosophy?

Author:

Writer, Blogger, Kate Bush Fanatic

16 thoughts on “Of Doing Philosophy

  1. Aha! here it is. I do love the way Philosophy people, like lawyers, gently glide through their points until they reach a conclusion. In fact, having acted as a Lay Advocate, I’d say the similarities are amazingly …similar. A case is posited. A narrative explored. Previous cases are read and quoted to get a sense of verity. Possible variants are discussed before a conclusion is reached.Are all lawyers closet Philosophers? Or vice versa. Discuss.

    1. Since I know even less about lawyering than I do about Philosophy (unless law shows from the 90s count), I’ll guess and say Philosophy does seem to play a part. A case is like a thesis, isn’t it? A conclusion has to be reached, because it has real-life consequences, but philosophizing, in the lovely way you describe it, does seem to take place, and is even necessary. A good TV show that merged philosophy and law was one called Eli Stone, where the titular lawyer was having a “crisis” of the existential sort.

      The reverse, i.e., philosophers being closet lawyers is a very interesting question! I’d be hopeless in any situation that requires powers of persuasion. My philosophizing goes only as far as thinking a lot and talking a lot. But, there are many philosophers who could very well have been lawyers, in how convincingly they can convert you to a point of view, even if you do your best to resist it.

  2. What an interesting post. I was required to take several philosophy courses in college. At the time I really did not get much out of them. We read a lot of the Greek philosophers and other courses touched on people like Locke and Hobbes. It all went over my head though mostly at the time. I just didn’t understand the concepts. Did not get why I should be questioning things, or what benefit it would have to do so. Now I wish I could take them all over again because though my own writing is not based on philosophy (that I can determine) I do think along those lines. Or maybe everything is philosophy. How often do you hear someone going on and on about a subject matter-anything from computer games to literature and a remark is made that said person is ‘philosophizing? It just seems to be a component of any well rationalized argument. So maybe you are a philosopher? Maybe I am? Maybe none of us are? Maybe writing a post thinking about all of this is philosophy. I remain confused by the definition, but I enjoy the arguments! Great post 🙂

    1. Thank you, Robert! I think it all depends on who is introducing you to the concepts, when we speak of Philosophy as a discipline, a subject. We were exposed to all the major thinkers in uni, some directly and some peripherally, as the texts, say Plato’s Symposium, qualify as literature, but we didn’t debate over them. Some instructors were dry, and uninterested in the texts themselves, at least for argument. But there was one prof (who we used to think would be good with sermons!) who used to speak soothingly yet argumentatively, and make the ancient Greek concepts come alive to us. The Edinburgh MOOC also had a few profs who just made the thing thought-provoking and accessible, instead of an impenetrable fortress of knowledge.

      Philosophy simply means “love of knowledge” and being the first subject, of any kind, it includes any and everything that requires thinking/cognition. Sure, it has a history of thought, and its own systems, but asking whether when we think and write about something is Philosophy or not, is like asking whether a degree in literature is required to read (or write) novels!

      If you really are interested, I recommend this BBC series Alain de Botton did on some of the great philosophers. Really accessible and pleasant to watch. I don’t remember the name, but it is on youtube.

      1. You are quite right about who is introducing you to the subject. Which is why I think I would fair much better with it these days as I myself have a bit more interest in exploring the concept. I was being a little silly in my comment which is why I asked that question, but as usual, you are right! I’ll give that program a try perhaps, thanks!

      2. Which part was silly? And if I was usually right, I don’t think I’d be this miserable in life! Intellectually, I think I was sharper when I was younger. These things are best for when you are in your late teens early twenties, because you have the faculty to absorb and question things, passionately. You can process information much faster, and much more easily. I think, for me at least, getting older has made me much more mellow, and accepting of contraries and mysteries, instead of trying to work something out. Which way do you philosophize?

      3. Oh just towards the end of my original comment when I was asking my own ‘questions’. Its funny but I feel like overall I’m sharper now, albeit real life distracts from some of that sharpness. I can’t stand coming across people I knew from back then who no longer read, who no longer go to concerts, or plays, or anything. I guess in my case a light bulb went off and I started questioning things more later in life than when I was at school. I almost feel, in answer to your question that the way I philosophize now is based on all the experiences and enlightenment I have now, approaching 50 rather than trying to process it all at 25.

      4. Ah, like a second coming even? I feel it’s on the horizon for me too, just not right now. Though, isn’t that the real living stuff, instead of ticking things off on the ‘Elements of A Socially Acceptable Life’ list? I think it’s just me personally, something I read about being overemotional and the hippocampus in your brain shrinking, but I feel I’ve become stupider!

  3. Ha, this little letter box for the comment is cool.

    Sorry, important matters, right. I casually obsess over them in the back of my mind, piece by piece, over the course of days, months, years, while going about my business. It’s far messier than I’d like, but it works. In the end, I have a ugly mass of data that, if I wrote down without thinking it through, would be 3-5 times larger than it needs to be.

    Writing it down for a final product, I intensively parse it down to a minimum word count. I try to use simple terms, but override that goal when a single word can eliminate a few sentences. I.. ashamedly omit the expletives that fit my preferred tone, for the sake of avoiding rejection based on emotionality.

    And then I get no recognition. Like any other philosopher.

    1. Ha ha! Thank you for sharing. I keep a lot of it in my head too, let it ‘simmer’ in my brain until it takes some sort of shape. Writing everything down, at every stage would be disorganised and impractical. You just have to trust your brain to remember all that is important. There are many thinkers/writers who can get away with expletives, as it is part of their style and some do it almost lyrically well (like the writing in the show The Thick of It) but generally, most readers are likely to consider things, especially from a writer they haven’t read before, if they are expletive-free or censored.

      As for recognition though…not many in the history of Philosophy have been able to effectively philosophize on that! My two cents on it is to not offer it as ‘Philosophy’ like, say, writing a ton of academic jargon, but offer it more simply, like in fiction or personality-driven essays, which is what I do.

  4. Aye, thus my simple word usage, in combination with concision. But, no matter how simply you present an idea, most people are unwilling to acknowledge ugly truths – and thus refuse the solutions to them.

    And, given that I prefer dealing with ugly truths, I’m forced to be as delicate as possible. How I wish I could tell bitches they’re being bitches by bitching at them.

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