Philosophy Reloaded: Why the (Modern) World Should Take a Cue from (Ancient) Greece

artwallpapers19201080

Truth. Beauty. Justice. Free Will. The Self. Knowledge. The Universe. Death.

These are just some of the light topics that I tend to focus a great deal of my attention on (perhaps too much).  These topics are expansive, but there is a common thread that runs through them: Philosophy.

Though many of the ideas within philosophy may be old as thought itself, I actually find it to be new and refreshing, even intoxicating. It’s difficult to articulate exactly what it is that I find so appealing, but there’s a certain visceral satisfaction I get from diving into philosophy, even if I don’t I fully absorb (or comprehend) all the specifics.

What I find to be the most exhilarating aspect of philosophy is the way that much of its wisdom can be integrated now, in very practical ways, into everyday modern life. It needn’t just be a form of abstract navel-gazing reserved for the armchair.

This utility of philosophy was best described by the author Jules Evans, who captures and distills the project of ‘practical philosophy’ thus:

“The best way to think of philosophy is not as a noun, but as a present participle: philosophizing. There is no such thing as philosophy, there is only philosophizing.

Philosophizing, in the Hellenic concept, means an active wrestling with one’s conventional opinions and perceptions. It is something we can practice everywhere and at all times – on the bus, in a restaurant, having breakfast, going to bed. It is something we should try to weave into the fabric of our daily life.

We need to bring philosophy out of the lecture hall and show its practical benefits to ordinary people.”

Evans goes on to explain that while Western civilization has been fed by a deep wellspring of wisdom, it’s gone largely unnoticed by most people most of the time.

I happen to think that this largely due to our culture’s ingrained bias that assumes that religion (particularly the religion of our parents) is the only source of wisdom available. Our culture seems to be blind to the fact that Abrahamic theology is just one form of philosophy amongst many others (and not a very convincing one, I must add). Its popularity in the modern world is nothing more than an accident of history.

Since philosophy is rarely, if ever, taught in middle school or high school, many people simply just don’t realize that there exists sources of practical philosophy outside organized religion. This largely leaves only the philosophy majors at university with the opportunity to reap its rewards. This is simply unacceptable!

Evans then goes on to suggest:

“What our own society has to offer is philosophy – not just Stoic philosophy, but Epicurean, Aristotelian, Platonic. Greek philosophy is like a rich well at the centre of our culture, which has become grown over and lost from sight, but the water in the well is just as clear and life-sustaining as ever.

If European culture is a forest, then Greek philosophy is the secret well that has enabled that forest to grow over the last two thousand years.”

Furthermore, Greek philosophy has the ability to grow beyond its perceived Eurocentrism and establish itself in a more comprehensive and humanistic role:

“And it is our inheritance too, not just as Europeans, but as human beings. The object of inquiry in Greek philosophy is not the European mind, but the human mind. Greek philosophy gives us a way of understanding the mind, learning how to become attentive to it, and how to free it of emotional suffering and bring it into harmony with reality.

And those lessons are just as applicable for people living outside Europe. Indeed, other great cultures, such as Buddhism or Taoism, came to very similar conclusions and cognitive techniques about a hundred years before Greek philosophy.”

How, then, can Greek philosophy assume its more universal status? According to Evans, it’s by taking it out of the ivory tower of academia:

“But a lot of work still needs to be done to improve the reputation of philosophy, which has grown dusty and unkempt from being shut up in libraries and lecture halls.”

So, like Socrates in the Ancient Agora of Athens, philosophy needs to be taken directly to the people! This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to become a social gadfly; it means that philosophy needs to be made easily accessible to all. Philosophy should permeate everyday life.

As luck would have it (or is it Fate? Fortune?), philosophy appears to be experiencing somewhat of a renaissance within pop culture — and it’s not limited to just Greek philosophy: there are top-rated podcasts; all-night public events; slick magazines; documentary videos on YouTube; an entire Harvard lecture series; online discussion groups; even a blog on the New York Times dedicated to contemporary issues in the subject. The quantity and quality of these (mostly free) resources continues to grow.

These kinds of resources are invaluable for people, who, like me, do not have any credentials or academic background in the subject whatsoever, but for whom suspect that just beyond the uninviting facade that philosophy is perceived to have, there exists a landscape of freedom waiting to be discovered.

Advertisements