While I wrote this post originally for the ERIC (Environmental Research and Innovation Center), it feels relevant on Beckying as well. It seems I am only getting more and more comfortable with calling myself a philosopher…beware. (Also, my philosopher boyfriend, Plato, is pictured on the left.)
One of the most common questions I get asked since I started working towards my Master’s in Philosophy is “So what will you do with that?” I used to say something self-deprecating such as “becoming a bum.” Then I went through the shrug-my-shoulders-and-change-the-subject phase. I am proud to report I have now entered a dangerous diatribe phase where I explain for several minutes the great importance of philosophy during the current environmental and political discussions. It is during this time of transformation when our most familiar ideologies seem to be changing rapidly and we begin asking questions (that are actually really old questions) about what really matters and what we really want. Heck, even our Facebook profiles have a place for philosophy. But is there a place for philosophy in our society besides online social networks and the ivory towers of academia? I think so and argue (with sound and sometimes not so sound reasoning) philosophy is important now more than ever.
I first became interested in philosophy when I was a rebellious, bratty atheist during my sophomore year of college. I took a philosophy of religion course and became as snobby as ever when I realized I could reason with the best of them about the non-existence of God. I had a crush on my philosophy professor who was 5 foot nothing and chewed on an unlit pipe as he taught. His words and wonder struck a chord with me my journalism classes couldn’t touch. They had depth and brilliance (as all philosophers do, of course) and I was astounded by how a simple inquiry could open up worlds of the unknown. Journalism allows me to seek the truth through story, but philosophy seeks the truth knowing it is still only one version of a story.
One story of philosophy involves a bunch of white, Greek guys in 600 BCE talking about the sky or attempting to disprove a lot of the mythological assumptions of their time. Philosophy today concerns itself with many topics including logic, science, language, meaning, ethics, aesthetics, free will, death, happiness, and of course, the environment. Everything is based upon a philosophy that can inspire or defeat us. The lives people lead are based upon their personal philosophies, and our planet dies or thrives by them. How we answer some of the basic questions of being alive such as how we should live or if life has meaning determines our relationship to the world and the entire cosmos. A tree could be a meaningless resource for making floors or a vast array of meaningful, beautiful molecules.
With my current philosophy (careful it could change soon, as is the danger with having one) the mere fact life even exists astounds me. In Sophie’s World, my favorite philosophy book, it says philosophers never get quite used to the world because it continues to be “unreasonable and bewildering.” Even now, working towards my Masters I still hesitate to call myself a “philosopher.” The truth, or at least a version of it, would be that we are all philosophers. For the most part we all question or wonder if life has meaning or how the world was created. These fundamental questions ask what it means to be human, especially now during this time of so much change and questioning of how we should be caring for our planet. Philosophy at its most basic form attempts to answer who we are and why we are here. We are a part of something deep and mysterious and want to know how it all works. Beyond food, basic survival, and love we all have a basic desire to orient — philosophy attempts to do just this. Not in the way science does, instead it has its own process of asking the difficult questions and through the asking gaining greater self-knowledge of who we believe ourselves to be.
Philosophy won’t allow its participants to become apathetic or bored because it requires a constant marveling and inquiring attitude towards life. Philosophy can’t be content with answers, it wants to know what’s behind those answers and dive ever more deeply into the considered to be “known” world. It’s always easier to ask the questions than to answer them, but philosophy encourages that they even be asked. Philosophy emphasizes the importance of looking at the basic assumptions running our worldview. Our current paradigm gives a corporation more rights than an ocean. I suggest it’s time to find a new philosophy — one that inspires us to care for our planet and encourages people to ask questions about how to exist on Earth. We may be asking the same questions for thousands of years, not because we haven’t found satisfactory answers, and instead because the answers we have found still don’t satisfy what we know to be true. My degree in philosophy may not offer me an entirely new range of career options, but it helps me see the assumptions behind the way I live my life and my relationship to the whole. So yes, I am a philosopher, and so are you. Welcome to the world of confusion and wonder, now let’s use it for good.