What is philosophy? Is it when a three-year-old child declares: ‘We must be thankful for having cream in our coffee?’ Or is this the wisdom of an old soul?
What are philosophers? Are they some esoteric group beyond the imagination of most people? Are they born or made?
In ancient Greece, philosophers such as Socrates spoke directly to the populace. The term philosophy and philosopher are said to originated from the great thinker, Pythagoras. Philo loving + sophia Knowledge
In French schools, philosophy is taught to young people as a matter of course. Philosophy is a theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behaviour. It uses a critical rational and systematic approach to address the problems of humankind.
Questions in philosophy are often to do with existence, reality, reason, knowledge, values, principles, metaphysics, mind and language. Contemporary physics lends credence to the process of philosophy: apparently stable objects are buzzing with electrons and other subatomic particles.
Socrates, in 400 BC, said an unexamined life is not worth living. At the gymnasium in Athens he spoke of freedom. Later, citizens exercising their freedom, insisted he drink poison – hemlock.
Plato spoke of the human psyche as being three-pronged:
- Reason and the desire for truth
- That which longs for honour and success
- The survival instincts for food, sex and money
He declared Reason must be the driver , limiting needs, to live a fruitful, liberated life, free from evil forces. Without our rational guide, he said, without knowledge and wisdom, our lives are but shadows.
In ancient times, philosophy was not divided into the categories we have today. Yet it posed fundamental questions: What is man’s place in the Universe?
What id the ideal life and how can I achieve it?
How can humans live together in harmony?
Why was money invented and what desires does it fulfil?
How much wealth is too much?
Are science and religion at odds or is the mathematics which govern the Universe evidence of the Divine in action?
All these sorts of questions were hotly debated, in public, with ordinary people.
Friedreich Nietzsche’s statement: God is dead is said to be a metaphorical allusion to his belief that the Christian God is no longer the centre of life, or the source of human values.
Albert Camus(1930-1960) thought aspects of life were absurd. His metaphor for all humans, forced to discover meaning in a hostile world, was Sisyphus, the Greek hero from mythology, condemned to roll a stone up a hill for eternity, only to watch it roll down again.
Henry Bergson (1859-1941) declared time is a process being experienced. An hour waiting in line is different to an hour at play.
Being a philosopher, some say, is the key to accepting life. Philosophy is about consciousness, how our thoughts and ideas have changed through time. Humans are the only animals to seek eternal truths, craving a purpose or point in life. Each of us chooses a different goal, pursuit, passion – that is the point for us, our gift to time.
People used to think that Divine Will encouraged folk to act with integrity. Some philosophers believe it’s simple facts about the world which enables us to decide whether an action is right or wrong. Humans don’t necessarily need belief in a Creator to transcend base instincts of greed, lust and revenge, to choose ethical decisions, living a life that is fully human.
Khalil Gibran says: Keep me away from the wisdom which doesn’t cry, the philosophy which doesn’t laugh, and the greatness which doesn’t bow before children.
A positive philosophy, simple ideas or creeds, may help us survive vicissitudes.
To live life fully, allow yourself to be tender and compassionate, sympathetic and tolerant.
Our greatest weakness is giving up too soon. Our greatest strength, knowing when to quit.
Optimism, hope and confidence lead to success.
Being happy despite dire circumstances is a great gift.
Use failure as a stepping-stone to success.
Australia has a number of philosophy cafés where like-minded people meet to discuss topics like technological advancement – positive or negative, on humans? Free will, the limits of human knowledge, what is conscience, individual rights, metaphysics…
In Sydney, NSW, we have the Sydney Socrates Club, bringing philosophy to the general public. The group includes youth, age, professional and amateur. They meet to put questions, find answers, and have a friendly dispute over tea or coffee.
To find a Café Philo near you, visit: