What is philosophy? An expression of care for life

I was invited by Rev. John Queripel to speak on philosophy at the Bondi Chapel by the Sea. Rather than prepare a talk, I spoke off-the-cuff and from the heart about my own experience of philosophy, which I understand as an expression of care for life. Peter Dowson from Bondi Storytellers was there and captured the moment on film. Thanks Pete! I owe you hugs and beers.

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Excerpts:

‘The basic idea that I want to share with you tonight is that the philosophical disposition, the philosophical state of mind, is an expression of care for life, care for existence’.

‘We are creatures that have the capacity to create value. And the fact that we have the capacity to create value … is attested by the fact that our sense of the value of things grows and decreases, waxes and wanes, depending on how we are feeling. You know how it is, you wake up in the morning and you are feeling a bit blue and nothing seems to have any value, nothing seems to have any importance. But then on another day, you’ve had a few triumphs and all of sudden those things in the world that really seem important just come into relief for you, and you are reminded about what it is in life that you find so valuable… I think that what we are experiencing in these moments when value comes into relief for us is … our own power to care about life. And this ability to care is very very important. Without it we are sociopaths, essentially. We need to care … in order to be good human beings’.

‘So where does philosophy fit in here. Well, my feeling is that the desire to understand, the desire to appreciate and fathom the deeper truths of the world, [is] part of our care for life itself’.

‘People tend to assume that where there is a question, there ought to be an answer. But I think that when you’ve got a real philosophical question, a question like “What is the meaning of life?” or “What is the nature of goodness?” it is vital to try to keep the question open, so that people can think about it from this direction, think about it from that direction, share their points of view, explore different potential answers, and just think, and experience the process of reflection that is part and parcel of philosophy itself. … [U]ltimately, philosophy is not the pursuit of answers to questions, it is the pursuit of a certain experience, the experience of being a living thing in the middle of a mysterious universe and opening one’s mind to that universe in all its mystery and all its complexity and just appreciating that through the process of asking questions and reflecting on questions… Ultimately what we are doing in this process is caring for our existence, caring for the fact of being alive.

‘I believe that … the philosophical instinct is something innate to our nature. And we only need to take that philosophical step back to appreciate the beauty, the glory, the richness of life to rekindle that philosophical instinct’.

Comments

  1. An interesting take on things. I’m going to check out the movie you mention – “cave of forgotten dreams”

    Some people would probably ask how you define being a ‘good’ human being, though. Of course many people will interpret that differently.

    We have “the capacity to create value” as you say, but we do not always do so. Does that have consequences? Should we always create this ‘value’?

    Yes, I think what you are getting at when you speak of :
    “You know how it is, you wake up in the morning and you are feeling a bit blue and nothing seems to have any value, nothing seems to have any importance. But then on another day, you’ve had a few triumphs and all of sudden those things in the world that really seem important just come into relief for you, and you are reminded about what it is in life that you find so valuable”

    …is the importance of positivity. I think positivity is central to maintaining a lifestyle whereby one feels satisfied and empowered. I find that negativity often encroaches on my thought patterns – one day I may be thinking, life doesn’t appear to have much meaning, the next I am so distracted by my boyfriend that I forget about such thoughts and enjoy life.

    I also agree that not every question does and should have an answer. Ethics actually drives me crazy because everyone has so many different opinions and I think: okay, this debate could go on FOREVER, let’s just stop now as obviously there is unlikely to be a conclusion/answer!

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