Philosophy is one of the oldest academic disciplines in the world, dating back to the earliest human civilisations. As such, it’s understandable to think it’s somewhat outdated. Perhaps when you think of philosophy you picture old bearded white men in togas, or old bearded white men smoking pipes in an Oxford library, or old bearded white men… you get the point. But, these dreary images are far from what makes philosophy so important to the modern thinker.
Philosophy teaches us to engage critically with the world (something which, I would argue, is in drastic decline). In doing so, we are encouraged to challenge everything we see, to analyse arguments and notice details. It is the philosophical method that withstands the test of time; a method which I will demonstrate is the very reason we need philosophy more than ever.
From its onset, Philosophy prioritised theories of self-inquiry, government and morality. Sure, people also wondered about the origins of the universe and God (or rather, if there is one), but these questions found their value in how they relate to us. What does it mean to believe in a God? Does it matter if we’re alone in the universe? All this to say that the important part of philosophy is the journey, not the destination.
Let me get one thing straight: no one is brazenly charging head-first into the void and claiming to understand it. Rather, think of it as a conscious meditation. In a modern setting, philosophy would ask us to question the veracity of a headline; to criticise those who govern us and to argue with our opposition rationally rather than emotionally. So much of our online discourse and miscommunication may be solved by the implementing of a more philosophical strategy. In fact, perhaps the most philosophical doctrine is simply to think before you speak. I’m sure many people would benefit from doing so.
If we recontextualise philosophy in this way, it’s really not so different from the current mindfulness movement. Next time you get angry and count to ten, you’re behaving like a stoic. When you do something simply for the sake of it, perhaps you’re an absurdist. These words are big and old but conceptually the same as much of what you do every day. The reality is that society relies on us not thinking too much about things, and in doing the opposite, you are performing a radical act. You are reclaiming your intellectual autonomy.
I’m not trying to be dramatic, but philosophy is, really, rather dramatic itself. That’s part of the fun. Any little thing you’ve thought and brushed off as ‘silly’ probably has its own school of thought because these things aren’t silly. They are a very genuine part of the human experience and you have the right to pursue them. At the risk of sounding too enthusiastic, I encourage you to sit with those uncomfortable thoughts. They may be the key to your philosophical enlightenment.
By Rebecca Lindsay
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