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’. [Read more…]

‘We are capable of incredible things’: Tim Rayner interviewed by Frederick Malouf on Bondi FM

I spoke with the indomitable Frederick Malouf on Bondi FM a few weeks back about philosophy, trust, collaboration and the meaning of life. I’ve transcribed some choice snippets below. You can listen to the whole interview here: Interview – Bondi Locals @ Bondi 88FM. [Read more…]

Ready for change? Your time starts now


Life Changing is a hands-on guide to harnessing the power of change. Using philosophical examples, it shows you how to cultivate the resilience, agility and vision to embrace change and make it an adventure.

The book includes practical exercises that enable you to apply the ideas in familiar contexts. By doing the exercises, you learn how to think philosophically about change and unleash its life-changing possibilities.

Be creative with change. Don’t just ride it out — use it.

Life Changing: A Philosophical Guide is available on Amazon, Kobo, and iTunes.

Check out the introduction to Life Changing on the P2P Foundation wiki.

Life Changing marks the end of a personal journey. For the past fifteen years, I have been studying, teaching, and applying transformative philosophy in my own life, first as a doctoral student at the University of Sydney, then as a lecturer at the Universities of Sydney and New South Wales, and recently in my Philosophy for Change course, which I’ve run at the Centre for Continuing Education, University of Sydney. My guiding intuition has been that it is possible to distil from philosophical ideas a kernel of practical wisdom, which can be communicated through simple exercises that students can apply to their lives.

This intuition is core to Life Changing. The book is structured about five practical exercises. Each incorporates a life-changing insight. The exercises show you how to muster the courage to change; how to control yourself like a Stoic philosopher; how to cultivate your Nietzschean will to power; and how to use Spinoza’s philosophy to supercharge your social life. They show you how to take adventure from the heart of crisis and fulfilment from the struggle with adversity. [Read more…]

What is philosophy and why should I care?

It happened again. This time in a public place. I was walking with the crowd into Central Station when I stopped to talk to one of the charity workers who hover like butterflies about the station entrance. These guys usually freak me out a bit – with their friendly handshake that holds you in place and their sales patter cloaked as bonhomie – but I was feeling playful on the day, and so I went along with it, waiting for my chance to explain how I was already donating to a handful of charities and would rather keep my credit card details to myself, thank you very much.

The spruiker must have picked me for a tough sell because he played the long game. Instead of diving straight into an account of his employer’s good works, he decided to inquire into mine.

‘That’s an interesting set of sideburns you’re sporting, mate’, he said. ‘I bet you have an interesting job. What do you do?’

Did I groan aloud? I’m pretty sure I swallowed it. But I knew what was coming.

‘Well, I write’, I said. My interlocutor beamed expectantly. ‘Philosophy’, I added, after a pause. ‘I am a philosopher’.

That killed it. It always does. I’ve never had a hostile reaction from anyone. But the response is rarely what I’d consider positive. Usually, you see a glazed look appear in the other’s eyes. I imagine cogs and wheels turning in their brain as they try to slot you into some recognizable social role. Philosophers don’t fit – that’s the problem. A philosophy academic passes muster because he or she has an office, working hours, a salary and tax bracket – all the things that go to comprise a recognizable social function. But philosophers per se have no function. It confuses people.

‘Philosophy’, the spuiker replied, recovering himself. ‘That’s great! So … what is your philosophy?’ [Read more…]

Socrates as entrepreneur: philosophy as a tool of war

CHAPTER FOUR: PHILOSOPHY AS A TOOL OF WAR

But why are we talking about Socrates? If you are reading this blog, you are probably interested in practical wisdom to help you deal with contemporary crises and challenges. What could possibly be relevant in the story of a philosopher who died 2400 years ago? Isn’t this perpetuating the bad habit of looking to the teachings of long-dead white men for answers in a young, multi-ethnic, post-feminist world? Worse, it seems to be celebrating that hoary old intellectual chestnut, ‘reason’ – and reason has earned itself a bad reputation in recent years, deservedly so. The twentieth century saw reason applied to abominable ends: the rational extermination of millions of people in death camps; the establishment of the technocratic state, which claimed the right to socially engineer its populace in the name of rational gain; the ascendency of neo-liberal economic management, which posits every individual as a rational, value-maximizing agent (and too bad for you if you don’t fit the paradigm); the invention of the atomic bomb, turning war into Mutually Assured Destruction and international relations into game theory.

Why should we think about Socrates in the middle of cleaning up the mess that has been made by his descendants? Sure, Socrates is interesting – as a relic. But here in the second decade of the twenty first century, we have more important things to do than reflect on things that happened in the long-distant past.

I hear these kinds of views from people all the time. I agree with the criticisms to a large extent. Still, I think that, in this particular case, there is good reason for us to delve into the story of a dead white philosopher. The story of Socrates has immense value today, especially for those people concerned to address the challenges of the present and our transition into a sustainable future. [Read more…]

Socrates as social entrepreneur: what is poetic truth?

CHAPTER THREE: WHAT IS POETIC TRUTH?

The story of Socrates is a kind of fiction. This is not to say it is untrue. The story represents one of the great half-truths of Western civilization. It is a story that is recounted time and time again in undergraduate classrooms and introductory texts – the self-congratulatory tale of a simple man with a sharp mind and an aversion to nonsense, made all the more poignant for the fact that Socrates was condemned to die for his activities. Socrates is the Christ of philosophers. As with Jesus Christ, there is a tendency among the faithful to see Socrates in an apolitical light as a humble teacher and sage. Yet Socrates, like Christ, was a revolutionary of his time. Through his way of living and speaking to his fellow citizens, and through his constant quest to test the truth of the oracle’s statement and to settle the matter for himself, Socrates dealt hammer-blows to the cultural cement that had grounded Greek society for centuries.

This is the story that I want to unearth. My aim is to bring Socrates down to earth, so to understand him, as he was, as an innovative thinker at war with his society and time. [Read more…]

Vision and empowerment: the Spiderman moment

What goes through Peter Parker’s mind when he first realizes he has superpowers? This scene in the original Spiderman movie sent chills up my spine. What goes through your head in a moment of vision? ‘I am alive, I am empowered, I have the capacity to think, feel, act, and experience life in some way’. In a moment of vision, we understand our sources of power and our powers themselves. We realize that we are empowered through having the capacity to think, feel, do, and be.

Thinking, feeling, doing and being are the building blocks of human experience. Together they encompass an incredible range of capacities and abilities. If we located all the different species in the world on a graph showing their relative powers, with insects and reptiles with basic sensory and motor functions at the one end of the graph, and the higher primates with rudimentary cognitive and affective powers at the other end, human powers would be off the scale. Of all living creatures, only humans have the power to seize on an issue and think it through; to attune themselves empathetically to the needs and desires of other human and non-human creatures; to respond to a situation with a complex and deliberate set of actions; and to assume a social role and become a certain sort of person in a social context.

We call our species homo sapiens, the wise man. We might just as well call ourselves homo potens, the powerful man. Wisdom is only one of our powers. It is all too rarely applied. [Read more…]

From vision to action: how to beat a lack of self-belief

My friend has a failure to follow through. He is full of ideas. Catch him on the right day and you’ll be blown away by what a happy, vibrant, and creative person he is – always leading the conversation, always ready with an idea for taking things forward. Every now and again, he’ll astound me with a new idea for a book, a project, or a business initiative. The next week I’ll ask him how things are going. He’ll be cagey. ‘Oh, ok’. Time drags on and the great idea drops from view. It is a continuing cycle: ideas proliferate but plans go nowhere.

My friend is a visionary thinker. But he continually fails to follow through on his ideas.

I was talking to another friend about Philosophy for Change. This person is empowered individual, the CEO of a successful tech company. He brought into focus what the problem is: a question of self-belief. The gist of his insight was as follows:

‘What if someone doesn’t believe in themselves? What if they’ve been told from day one: ‘You’re no good’. They may be brimming over with ideas. But when it comes to applying these ideas and realizing them, they don’t have the courage for it. It is not that they don’t believe in their ideas. They don’t believe in themselves, and thus they don’t believe they can achieve these ideas’.

It is a genuine problem. Plenty of people have the capacity to think and dream. Without a robust sense of self-worth, however, these dreams tend to remain dreams. We know where we want to go. We just don’t believe that we have the resources to get us there. [Read more…]

How many is a multitude? seventeenth century reflections on the social contract

Early modern philosophers used the term ‘multitude’ to describe the unruly masses, a populace that needed to be governed by the monarchy or state, or some combination of the two. In an England wracked by civil war and religious strife, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), a conservative philosopher, decided that the problem with the multitude was its disunity, the fact that it was divided against itself. For Hobbes and a continuing tradition of political philosophers, the question is how to transform the multitude into a cohesive political unit. In Hobbes’ vision of the social contract, the multitude becomes a unified people. [Read more…]

What is philosophy for change?

People often confuse philosophy with metaphysics and epistemology, the branches of philosophy that study reality and what we can know of it. They thereby assume that philosophy is an austere discipline requiring years of study, full of obscure questions that only throw up more questions, leaving us dizzy and confused.

Philosophy is a broader field of study than metaphysics and epistemology. It includes moral and political philosophy, two very practical forms of inquiry. Anyone can do practical philosophy. You don’t need a degree. Most of us know a little practical philosophy that we’ve picked up here and there, often without realizing it. [Read more…]