When I was a student with loads of time on my hands, I used to stay up into the small hours with my housemates philosophising on the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Now I have little time to think beyond what we’re having for tea, it all seems rather pretentious. One of the students a Philosophy undergraduate explained that one of their first lectures had involved looking at an orange on the table, handing it round and having a lengthy debate on whether it existed or not (the point is that though everyone can see it and feel it our senses often deceive us so it can only really exist if everyone agrees it exists). It does make you wonder if the definition of Philosophy in the Urban Dictionary may be right, “The major for people who value education and intelligent thought over silly matters such as getting a job.”
But as is probably obvious from many of my blog posts, I still have an interest in philosophy. There is a point to trying to understand fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values and I think it gives one ideas about ways to live our lives. Too often we are thrown onto a conveyor belt designed by others who think they know how we should be living and it takes intelligent thought to work out there are other ways in which we can organise our lives. Perhaps, as my friend pointed out, philosophy is exclusively for those who are far too comfortable; in some countries in Africa where people live on the edge of survival there isn’t much thought going on about the meaning of life but just anxiety about the next meal. There may be some truth in that but I think philosophers could also be poor and hungry like the poet starving in the garret; perhaps discomfort brings a new dimension to their thinking. And I don’t think you even need to be educated to indulge in philosophy; there were plenty of philosophers manqué at the bar of the pub where I used to work.
I think it is because I am fairly irrational and illogical and don’t think in straight lines that I like philosophy and I think that is why it irritates others. One can be proven right or wrong with factual information but in philosophy, everyone is right. What people think about life and the universe dictates what they do. Studying philosophy, and being able to put into words why you do what you do leads you to a greater awareness about it.
Philosophers may be bullshitters. But they become famous and important by reflecting major trends in the way people think. Look at all the philosophical and artistic movements that followed World War One. A good many artists abandoned the attempt to deny the mechanical nature of the era, and instead tried to reconcile the two styles, combining traditional craft motifs with Machine Age imagery, thus Art Deco was born. Some, ironically saw conscious reasoning as the problem, and so abandoned it. From this came the Dadaists. So there is a point to Philosophy , it is not all bullshit but remember, “there is nothing so foolish,” said Cicero,”that some philosopher has not said it.”