Doing philosophy


The idea behind philosophy is that by scrutinising something apparent we can find some meaning, truth, or reason to it. The world we live in is puzzling both in the broader sense, of whether or not things are real and if they are what are they, and in the closer, more social sense, of how we should relate and act in respect of our own beliefs or in regard to others. As rational beings it is natural for us to wonder about our place in the world and the nature of the world in which we find ourselves. Sometimes we come up with answers and such answers form the basis of science and common belief. Sometimes the answers change over time, and sometimes they become the foundations of committed belief. Many elements of our world remain unanswered. For example, it is hard to know how to act when in different societies people believe themselves to be acting right even though these actions are different from the actions of other in different societies.

            Some things, although not undeniable, seem fairly solid ground: we are here, others are here, the world is complex. Philosophy is able to scrutinise any of these assumptions and put them into doubt, but in a common sense world we do well to accept them. My views here are based on the acceptance of such common assumptions. As such, they are a practical philosophy, a philosophy which is concerned with how we live. Practical philosophy like this means accepting, to a large extent, the environment in which we find ourselves. It is more important for the practical philosopher, to try and establish what is the best possible life within the context of what life is as it presents itself, than to try and establish what life is as a thing in itself even though that thing in itself is practically inaccessible. This means finding a way of being in the world we are in, not trying to escape to an ideal world in which we are not. The practical philosophy here is not a plan to escape or retreat from the world, it is a way of being informed about facing up to the world in the best possible way.

            Some idea of what it is to ‘be’ what we are—living, thinking things—is crucial for any meaningful reflection on life. This leads on naturally to some ideas about what philosophy is and what it means to think of ourselves as practical philosophers. Being reflective is the central ingredient to all this, and this cannot be separated from the idea of being with another. It is of great personal benefit to use philosophical principles to work reflectively with another in order to open up our lives to increased opportunities. There are certain fresh ways of looking at this process the most important of which is what I call ‘Connectionism’. The aim of any philosophically reflective activity is increased wisdom. I believe that wisdom is the main component of what we would consider our best possible life. Nothing is worth anything to us unless we can accommodate it as a truly held belief, and nothing will happen in our lives unless we can change. I believe an understanding of the process of change, and what it means to change our selves is crucial to a reflective and wise life. Meaning is at some time or another, a pressing concern for any reflective individual, and it is not that simple to deal with. I separate ultimate meaning from individual meaning and see this in the perspective of the mortal life we have to lead. No meaningful change can be made in our lives unless we are free to act, and nothing will happen in our lives if we do not change. An understanding of the nature of freedom and what it is to be free to choose is essential. Freedom means we can act, but the process of taking action is often a fundamental obstacle to moving towards change. We need therefore to understand what acting is and how we can be involved in it. There is, I believe, a way of tackling, and overcoming, most of the anxieties which beset us in life and based n this I think we can put in place a framework for a best possible philosophical life