Is Philosophy Really So Distant From Our Life?

Knowledge, reason, mind, freedom, destiny, identity, God, goodness, justice, politics are all issues which are dealt with in Philosophy, but they are also questions that people generally approach in a more spontaneous way, since these issues are precisely those which shape the way we think about the world and how we define our place in it, as well as being major issues examined by many great thinkers.

The word ‘philosophy’ brings with itself some rather unfortunate connotations; you often hear that it is abstract, it does not have much to do with the real world, that it is stuff for some quite strange characters. Simon Blackburn offers a description of Philosophy which he sums up with the expression ‘conceptual engineering’; in fact, just as engineers study the structure of material things, so philosophers study the structure of thought; the understanding of a structure implies that one is able to highlight the functioning of its parts and their interconnections. This also means that one is able to know what would happen for better or worse, if you implement changes to those parts or relationships. This, according to Blackburn, constitutes also the intention that the philosopher has in mind when investigating the structures that shape our worldview. Our concepts, our ideas, therefore form the mental house in which we live and that or we end up to be proud of having built, or we believe that we must dismantle it and rebuild it from scratch. However, before one can do it, one needs to get a good understanding of precisely those mental structures.

The question creeps slowly at first and then, with force, declaims: but what good would do to us such an interrogation about ourselves, about the world and relationships that exist or may exist between the two terms? In the end, what does matter is that this reflection dosn’t give us anything to eat! And the answer could not be more direct: philosophical reflection is important because it is in a relationship of continuity with practice: theory and practice form a continuum. It is a fact that the way you think about what you do affects the way in which you do it or even if you will do it or not.

To show this connection between thought and practice, take for example the belief that humans are basically selfish, seek only their own advantage and, in fact, do not care about anyone else but themselves, even when it seems that they take care of others, at their heart, they hope that in the future they will gain a personal benefit. In economics, we would speak of the homo economicus. With this belief in mind how do the individuals behave towards others? They have a tendency to not trust others, they are less cooperative and more suspicious with others. And this reminds us of the Hobbesian condition of a state of nature of “all against all”. On the contrary, if we believe that there is a ground of goodness in Man’s nature or a minimum of honesty, and he manages to keep at least part of his promises, then, with this new way of seeing things, we would act differently from before, maybe we would even live a little ‘better’.
The above example helps us to understand that the clarification of the categories of thought about human nature has several practical consequences depending on what we consider to be true. The previous reflection is therefore not purely abstract, but strays into practice.

I could go on with other examples from science, politics, or even from psychology and medicine, or from the everyday life: I think I have made clear the point that in Philosophy there is a connection between theory and practice as they are part of a continuum in which our behaviour can go in one direction or the another, depending on the content of our belief system.

To conclude this short article, we could say that Philosophy, by making possible the exam of our lives, it extracts also its value and by guiding the rational thinking helps us to eliminate harmful and evil practices. Furthermore, Philosophy makes us understand how the self-reflection is also the road to individual freedom, it leads us toward the understanding in order to transform, because the right action is based on comprehension and knowledge of the self and the world.

Is Philosophy Really So Distant From Our Life?
© By Maurizio Bisogno 2014
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