The Wonder of It All
“Philosophy begins in wonder.” Plato’s words may not seem like a very good definition of philosophy but they actually are the core of what philosophy is. The science of philosophy began the first time someone asked “Why?”
In 1628 Rembrandt painted “The Two Philosophers”. It is a rather simple painting with two men sitting and conversing. One is holding a book while the others is pointing to something on a page of the book. It is a visual definition of philosophy. Discourse, questioning, and debating are the core of philosophy. Unlike other sciences which need a consensus to arrive at an answer, philosophy thrives on the difference of opinion.
When someone asks “What is justice?” or “What is freedom?”, they are not just wanting someone to read words in a dictionary. They are seeking an in-depth understanding. The most important aspects of our lives need not only definition but context. How do these concepts function in our being and living? How can they be used? Are there any dangers associated with them? What other concepts are they related to and what are the implications of those connections?
The sculptor Auguste Rodin carved a man without clothing in 1880. The man is seated on a rock and appears to be thinking. Rodin’s sculpture, known as “The Thinker” is also a visual definition of philosophy. IN the search to know what we know and to be able to verify what we know, we must first strip away all preconceived thoughts. We must start our search for knowledge bare. Philosophy demands that we have good reason for believing.
The artist uses basic facts and then intuition to present his/her vision in a new and novel presentation. The theologian also uses known facts but then combines them with faith which cannot be proven; hence, the name. The philosopher seeks perhaps through intuition and certainly using faith to not only discover and believe but to know why we believe. “The business of philosophy is not to give rules but to analyze the private judgements of common reason,” stated philosopher Immanuel Kant.
Aristotle believed “All men by nature desire to know.” In our hurried, busy world, that may not still be the case. It would seem that many are content to follow and to do so without knowing, without thinking. Once thought to be a hallmark of adolescence, peer pressure has now extended to the masses of adults as well. Anything trending is considered to be good. This is why young people join terrorist groups. They are seeking community but also acceptance. It is also why people shy away from their own personal preferences and instead “go with the flow” in fashion trends, popular car models, etc.
What if the world of advertising suddenly took on a new client? What if every advertisement had to include something humanitarian, something of benefit to all mankind? Nepal was the victim of another earthquake within the past twenty-four hours. What if all advertisements for fast food restaurants today included ways to help these victims? What if every magazine advertisement for make-up included a self-affirmation to be happy in one’s unique image?
As we reach the final few days of this study of philosophy, I urge you to reread what we’ve discussed so far and ask yourself these three questions. How do I know what it is I think I know? How do I live that knowledge and how is it evident in my every action? Am I open to new knowledge?
Philosopher Thomas Hobbes might very well have been the man to whom we can place the blame on materialism. “The value or worth of a man is, as of all things, his price.” Hobbes believed that physical matter is all there is and explained everything using matter in motion. “Words are wise men’s counters, but they are the money of fools.” Hobbes mechanistic philosophy was not completely accurate but it served great purpose in future developments. He saw mental processes as movements of matter inside a person’s skull. Though incorrect, this set the stage for new ways of thinking. Hobbes introduced the theory of a physical basis for mental thought which is accurate. Thinking is not just an abstract; physical connections occur.
Considered a genius, the writer, art critic, and editor Denis Diderot once said: “The first step towards philosophy is incredulity.” I would add the first step towards living a full life is incredulity as well. Philosophy on paper is interesting but, as Hobbes said, they count for little until they become action. Today, as you go through your busy life, take a moment to recognize the incredulity in your steps. I promise you it is there. Enjoy the philosophy of being alive, of living, of knowing you are present in the moment. Even a small pebble can hold a world of mysteries is we but look and wonder.