A friend of mine went to the tenth reunion of his high school class, and in response to the standard question, “What have you been doing since high school?” the good-looking gymnast answered, “I’ve created a philosophy of living.” People were impressed.
When you think of the effort many organizations go through to form their statements of vision and values, or wonder how many person-hours have been invested in committee meetings to create this or that program, you might imagine a time when a raging forest fire of people will be looking for a philosophy of living. It will become a fad. Everyone will be expected to have one. They will put it in abbreviated form on their Facebook pages, tweet summaries to their friends, and symbolize it in things they wear.
In a materialistic age, the tendency is to use reflective thinking mostly to figure out how to get what we want on that plane. But ours is by no means a totally materialistic age. Selfishness and materialism are inherently destructive to self and others, and people tend to learn such lessons the hard way; we see the destruction going on around us. After an age dominated by those errors emerges a climate that is far more open to thinking about a wider variety of things.
I discovered depth of thinking in Dostoevsky. When I was in high school, an English teacher introduced me to philosophy, and week after week, Henry Cheetham, the minister at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Unitarian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, put a lovely array of world religions and arts in a moral and idealistic context. Then in college I discovered Plato, then the power of analytic philosophy, then Husserl and Hegel, and I was launched on my career. It was a passion, an all-consuming interest, which few people can be expected to share. In college my big question was ethical: What ought I to do? Later the big question was spiritual. Then the philosophical and spiritual inquiries played leap-frog: one would leap over the other, and then allow the other to take a new leap forward.
As my book approaches completion, I ask how I will promote it. I’m even more interested in promoting the very quest for a philosophy of living and the quest to develop the kind of truth-beauty-and-goodness thing that I’ve been fascinated with since grad school.
Given my passion for this, it’s hard for me to step outside and think how to interest others in it. So this time I’m asking you for help with more explicitness and urgency than ever in this blogpost.
I’ll kick off what I hope becomes more than a monologue (smile) with a summary of an article reporting on 31 responses to an American Philosophical Association survey on the benefits of their philosophical education they found useful once they were working—outside the academy. (The categories under which I report these results are my own.)
Skills of reason: understand what others mean, master difficult material, identify difficulties, formulate questions, think of analogies, carry out research, analyze issues, make distinctions, discern what information is important, analyze arguments, recognize fallacies and fuzzy thinking, recognize the often rigorous “logic of the consumer,” detect and display the logical structure of a passage, exercise argumentative skepticism, evaluate reasons, recognize and evaluate alternatives, analyze abstract concepts and their relationships, speculate, edit, formulate strategic purpose, formulate policy, organize ideas for concise, clear, and persuasive writing and speaking; explain difficult material to those who are not philosophically oriented.
Appreciations of value: become sensitive to ethical issues in the workplace and in daily life in a more aware society; develop compassion for others; be sympathetically aware of human limitations; learn to respect diverse viewpoints, especially regarding justice, equity, and human rights; learn to detect and confront non-relevant discriminatory practices; learn to work well with academics; be open to criticism and evaluation.
Development of perspective: desire to enlarge one’s personal perspective; develop a philosophy of living; balance the analytic and synthetic functions of thinking; form commitment, e.g., to truth/inquiry, peace, love/caring; developing one’s own voice as an author.
What are the benefits of having a philosophy of living?
What dangers of philosophy should we enthusiasts remember?
What benefits of philosophy do you observe in yourself or others?
(The research was presented in Careers for Philosophers, authored principally by Robert Aude and Donald Scherer, and printed originally in Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association (vol 58.2, November 1984).