Not Very “Hakuna Matata” – A Problem with Philosophy

Apologies for the large gap in between postings. Abroad life has picked up quickly, to put that as simply as I can. A quick brief on the past days: classes, visitors (family in particular), a weekend exploring the wonderful wacky language of Danish and the captivating city of Copenhagen, and more classes.

With a weekend at home (I believe I can call London that now; it’s been long enough) to think and to work on assignments, I think I’ve become a master of coffee shop exploration. It’s quite the way to explore a city and see some different neighborhood culture while staying caffeinated. Apologies to my stunted growth – cultural immersion is going to take the upper hand for this semester. Here’s hoping I’ll make it to six foot someday!

In one of my classes – Medicine in Western Civilization, something I am both intrigued with and surprised by every time I attend my class – we’ve been discussing the views of philosophers and physicians on medical issues such as dissection, gynecology, the brain and the heart. We’ve looked into their medical “preferences,” or more simply whether or not they believe in prayer/the supernatural in order to heal the natural illness. Text upon text of Hippocrates, Aristolte and Galen have come up in discussion to be looked at from a physical perspective, with surprising accuracies and expected inaccuracies, considering the time period.

Yes, while these philosophers are well-known medical thinkers, I was a bit surprised to have Aristotle in my course readings. My first encounters with this Greek philosopher occurred in high school math classes, learning about logic and reasoning as more than the conditionals, converses and inverses, and delving into the philosopher’s ideas of the field. It was way too complex for ninth grade. I focused more on the p’s and q’s (pun intended).

Aristotle looked into many fields of thinking. He used his methods on good reasoning as a basis to make his claims in scientific fields; he made connections between politics and ethics (does this happen anymore?); he discussed the truth in art – there was so much more to this philosopher than a decided study in a certain field.

So if well-rounded, perceivably ridiculously overthinking men in ancient times made for ideal philosophers, what makes a philosopher in today’s age? What are the standards or guidelines to define someone as a philosopher in our era? I don’t want to discredit the field of philosophy or those studying it – I do enjoy learning new philosophy from arguments with my peers who happen to love the field – but in today’s world, to understand philosophy doesn’t make you a philosopher. What these philosophers of old did that made them known as such was their ability to think deeply about the different aspects of the world around them. To just understand their philosophies, in my mind, does not suffice for this title today.

Can it be said that if you think deeply, you are a philosopher? Nowadays, thinking deeply seems to be the norm. In a competitive college environment, let alone a competitive job market, professors and employers are empowering students and applicants to think deeply and consider different facets of the fields they are interested in. We’re encouraged to explore, question and debate what our reality may be, but we aren’t philosophers for doing so.

What about drawing connections between the deeply thought-out aspects of our lives? Our current world relies so heavily on many different types of connections, whether social, scientific, political, what have you. If we consider these in depth, are we philosophers? If we make new connections between life aspects, have we done our philosophical duties?

A philosopher, by Merriam-Webster definition, is “a person who studies ideas about knowledge, truth, the nature and meaning of life, etc.” I couldn’t give you a list of current-day philosophers, and I believe that’s because this list is forever growing. Academics and professionals everywhere are consistently making new discoveries and connections between various aspects of life that make our world easier to understand.

Does a passion for study drive a modern-day philosopher then, by these guidelines? I guess so. But I think what can make a professional or academic stand out from the growing philosophical bunch is the aspect of teaching that past philosophers – especially Aristotle – emphasized while coming to their own conclusions. It’s one thing to make a connection between a behavior or lifestyle and the world around you; it’s another to bring this to light in the minds of others and have them consider the possibility of an idea to be true in their own lives.

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