“All men naturally desire knowledge. An indication of this is our esteem for the senses; for apart from their use we esteem them for their own sake, and most of all the sense of sight. Not only with a view to action, but even when no action is contemplated, we prefer sight, generally speaking, to all the other senses. The reason of this is that of all the senses sight best helps us to know things, and reveals many distinctions.”
These words from Aristotle over 2,000 years ago speak volumes about the natural human curiosity about ourselves and the world we inhabit. Aristotle was very big on the concept that knowledge was good for the sake of having it, even if it was not to be applied, and I cannot help but argue with old Aristotle, that knowledge had will become knowledge applied somehow.
I’m going to start this off by saying, if you’ve been thinking about getting into philosophy, but have been worried about it being worth your time and energy investment, do it. It has absolutely been worth my time.
Many consider philosophy to be a waste of time in today’s highly competitive, capitalist world. The majority of those in our culture have taken the view that if it doesn’t earn a buck, it isn’t worth doing — or knowing. I’ve always tended to take the opposite approach, and it’s helped me in literally every facet of life to live happier and even surpass my peers in most measurable categories.
“Most people don’t have the ability to take themselves out of a given situation and analyze it from the outside like you do,” said my girlfriend candidly, recently, and not in a way that worked out in my favor — it wasn’t a compliment — it was a statement of fact about a situation where I had a misunderstanding with another, and it was an important thing for me to understand at the time.
“I don’t think you realize it,” she continued — and she was right.
In many instances, we all tend to forget that in our interactions with others, they aren’t entering into the situation with the same previous knowledge and thought styles that we have. And that’s ultimately what philosophy is actually all about: different ways of thinking.
Since the Upinshads of ancient India, the philosophical texts which served as the foundation of Hinduism, and since the Athenians of Greece, and the great philosophers of ancient Rome, various men and women have all done basically the same thing: told the story of the same world that we all share through radically different lenses. They’ve come up with new and innovative ways to see the same old world, the same old life, and the same old experience, and understanding the various facets of life through different lenses makes it a much easier experience.
Currently, I’m staring at a few flowers in a vase on my desktop. What do they mean? Seems like an interesting question to some, a total useless bore to others.
Now you might be thinking, “What do you mean, what do they mean? They’re flowers in a vase on a table, they sit there and look nice, pretty simple concept.”
But are they sentient? If so, to what degree? If not, what makes something sentient? More importantly, should I value them? If so, how? As a form of life that gives off the oxygen that I breathe, or perhaps as an aesthetic experience of pleasure, an experiencing of beauty which removes the dull monotony of a life of goal-oriented behavior, as things that simply exist and look nice to me? And if they do look nice to me, how? Do I actually ever see the flowers themselves, or is there a hidden world within them that I’m incapable of sensing?
This kind of thinking, in my view, is what makes life both interesting and fruitful. It makes us more curious about the present moment we inhabit, relieving us of our anxieties about the future and our regrets of the past, it helps us to take a simpler approach to existence itself; it is by the very nature of time, that a more complex present, with all of its beautiful its immediacy, alleviates from us the labyrinthine and maze-like contemplation of the past and the future. By thinking about what’s right in front of us in more complex ways, we counter-intuitively obtain a simplicity that comes with living just in the now.
The point is, that philosophy has taught me to see everything from multiple angles, from multiple perspectives, and through this, I’ve found a richer appreciation for these things. I’m also armed with a variety of ways of thinking about all things, at all times, and capable of discerning which is the most appropriate view to take in any given situation.
Philosophy and Writing
For my Medium readers, I think it’s important to note how helpful it can be to develop these different styles of perception and how much it can impact our creative work, especially in writing.
One of the fundamental skills of a good writer is to be able to see the world through a unique lens, in unique ways, to put new spins on the same old boring stuff that the rest of the world doesn’t see; much like Aristotle said we have a thirst for knowledge which can be evidenced by our use of the senses, namely our reliance on our use of sight, in a very real way, we are the eyes of our readers through which they can see the world differently.
We serve them as their senses do, only we take upon the task of taking in the world around us through our senses, then framing it in new and novel ways for the reader, providing insights and lines of thought. It reasons, then, if we can provide a more nuanced and well-strategized stream of consciousness for our readers, we can more finely perfect our craft, like a sculptor carving a statue who knows all of the ways to slowly chisel away at the barren stone and create something magnificent. We are painters, though we paint with words, and ideas are the stroke techniques through which we imbue our canvasses with a rich vibrancy and bring them to life.
Philosophy has taught me many things, but most of all, to appreciate the most fundamental unit of the human existence: experience. Raw, naked, organic experience, the experiencing-of-right-now in all of its magnificent form and grand splendor, what a beautiful experiencing it is.
So yes, if you have been considering studying philosophy, academically or just in your free time, I say do it, the rewards are immeasurable.