Doing philosophy


If philosophy is to be useful then it needs to be practical—if it is to benefit our lives, then it needs to play a day to day part in them. Philosophy, unfortunately, is marred by its abstract nature and the way it is viewed—as a refined pursuit of some inward looking intelligencia insulated and much removed form the everyday. There is some truth in this. Philosophers tend to spend a lot of time arguing with each other over matters that appear to have no practical importance whatever. The techniques of philosophy, though, underpin much of what we do. We regulate all our behaviour by logic or rationality in some way. If we are not logical or if we act irrationally, we are looked on with suspicion. The technique of philosophy, the tools it has to analyse and look critically, are of great use for practical life. And what philosophers have said over the years add up to an enormous wealth of penetrating reflective thoughts on any subject imaginable. The main root of philosophy is its natural instinct to question. Its questioning has led to all the discoveries which now form part of bodies of knowledge such as physics, or mathematics. Philosophy stands at the ‘entrance’ to knowledge, it opens up doors, creates pathways, as such it is eminently suitable as a method for living which is, by its nature, always ‘on the brink’.


Philosophy itself

Philosophy is about thinking, and it is about asking questions. Whereas a computer helps us to manipulate information, philosophy helps us to understand its content—it helps us to reason. As human beings, we have a unique facility to reason, it stems from our self conscious ability to know that we exist. Philosophy is special sort of thinking. It does not so much help us with the everyday questions like, where should I go this afternoon, but more with the abstract. With thinking about ideas. This helps us ask questions that concern our existence, or to the place we inhabit in what is often a very puzzling world. First, it helps us work out whether or not the question is meaningful and worth pursuing. It helps us work through the problem, obtain a conclusion and then decide whether or not that conclusion is valid. Whether or not the conclusion is true will depend on the truth contained in the argument. Philosophical method, as a way of thinking, is used in all fields of human enquiry: scientific, ethical, religious, political, or any other matter of psychological importance to us as individuals or members of society.

            We could say that philosophy is asking questions which are important to us and to which, at the moment, an answer is unavailable.


Practical and Academic philosophy

Academic philosophy is about being clever. It concentrates on the arguments put forward by others and attempts to either show them to be wrong or consolidate on them with some advances. It can have applications in the world but most of it, as an enterprise, resides in university departments, the output of which is teaching and essay and book writing with appeal to those others who are doing the same.

            Being practical with philosophy is, however, not about being clever, it is about being insightful regarding one’s own life. Practical philosophy is about enquiring of oneself or of another about whether or not our life: has meaning, feels right, is right, is rightly directed, or is rightly enacted. Practical philosophy is about finding this rightness in life.


The nature of the enquiry of practical philosophy

Finding what is right in life means searching for knowledge, either of life itself, the world in which it exists, or both. Our enquiry must be in the world of the rational if we are to move towards any knowledge. The overarching presence must remain philosophical rationality. Without this there is nothing to be gained by attaching thinning in any sense to philosophy. However, it will draw more from what we are as individuals than from a structured body of knowledge, and will in no way attempt to further any existing body of knowledge, merely to open up directions of meaning.


Being reflective

In order to explore the philosophical life, we must explore ourselves. Looking at what we are, what that means and can mean are the first steps in our philosophical journey. The only way of doing philosophy is to actually do it as part of life. Philosophy is not something to be studied in itself, it is something which can be undertaken and undertaken t the benefit of the individual. Philosophising is about helping us construct a life worth living. I want to test out my believable good faith—to balance my honesty with my conduct. Of course, I want to reflect on what has meaning, but mostly I want to act and know that in acting freely I am acting honestly, and that my action always allows me to believe that it is in keeping with my conscious examination. This cannot be done alone; no amount of solitary meditation will do this for me. I must recognise myself in the face of the 'other'—the world which contains all things.


Philosophising with another

Philosophising with another taps into our urge as individuals to communicate and satisfies the resonance we obtain from the ideas and perspectives of another.


Practical philosophy