Most of the time philosophy is seen as a bunch of dead old white guys who sat around arguing about the way the world works. Whether it’s about our place in it, what it’s made out of, where it’s headed, or why it’s here. I think it would be rather naive to say we have come to the answers of any of these questions, but I will argue that is not why philosophy is valuable in the first place and that philosophy is important for everyone.
In my own introduction to academic philosophy a professor informed the class that we were already, all of us, philosophers. It took some time to understand what was meant by that but upon reflection even those we consider ignorant have a philosophy. Take Christianity for example. There are hundreds of people in a church but privately each member has their own relationship to what is said in The Bible. Whether or not gay marriage is acceptable is a personal belief to hold. Even if people believe what they are told, it is their philosophical authority to accept what they are told as truth. Philosophy however is not only about beliefs, or about having correct ones.
Philosophy goes quite deeper than belief, and it is beneficial to have a philosophy which gives a person a healthy relationship with existence. For example, if a person were to come to me and describe how the world is a terrible place, I could of course opt to see it in such a way. The point of a good philosophy however is more similar to having a good attitude towards what is. If something isn’t beneficial to you, why would you do it anyway? Even things we don’t necessarily enjoy doing, such as picking up after our dog, we do anyway because the outcome is better than not doing it at all. Such as the avoidance of a ticket.
This is what philosophy is for as far as I’m concerned. Sure, we can use logic and determine some logical proofs which lead to truths on one and and contradictions implying impossibility on the other. But say we found out everything that was true about anything, would that make us happy? Not necessarily so, and this is why philosophy is beneficial and why we do it. When the truth of something is entirely dreadful, philosophy gives us the ability to be content in the face of adversity.
Philosophy is more than a conceptual structure of surface mental phenomena, or relationships of thoughts to produce a matrix in the mind. Philosophy implies depth, and an orientation to the world around you. A generally good philosophy, if met with continuous challenge will strive to continue regardless of the correctness of belief. Another philosophy, such as a generally negative one, might give up because “it’s all for nothing anyway.”
I personally think philosophy can heal a lot of cognitive dysfunction if done correctly. Most personal problems are cognitive anyhow. This isn’t to say if you have a problem to pick up Aristotle or Socrates and philosophize your way out of it. It’s rather to say that if you find yourself with a problem, try to see things from another perspective. I’m guilty of typically being the “stay positive” character in groups, but I attribute that to my personal philosophy and not a cliché.
Some of you may have had the good fortune of coming across someone with an entirely different outlook than yourself and it can be refreshing. I remember the first philosopher I came across which at the time was radically different than my view, or anything I had ever heard before. He made it clear he wasn’t necessarily certain of anything he ever said, and not for once did he try to prove me wrong. HE simply offered another view that was genuinely playful as another way to see things. Like a new world to live in that also worked, and I could choose to live in but didn’t have to. It was this encounter that caused me to reconsider my way, and just entertain the possibility of others. It wasn’t before long I’d looked at enough philosophies which were entirely functional that I began to wonder if there even was a correct way to put the pieces together.
Curiosity is a great quality to have in philosophy. It may have killed the cat, but it absolutely gave birth to the philosopher. Curiosity is an ever-open ended question with everything we don’t know. Just the knowledge that we don’t know everything is the greatest curiosity. It is a positive affirmation of an acknowledged negative and it is enlivening and instills wonder in our lives. It is one thing to not know something, but it is quite another to be aware that you don’t know. Socrates himself is famous for knowing he didn’t know, and is pretty much the butt of every joke in philosophy. It is for the betterment of us all that humankind began to admit “Maybe, just maybe, that’s not the way it is. But then again maybe it is.” The rest is history.