Can philosophy – as an abstract form of knowledge – solve concrete problems?

schopenhauer 2

The word ‘ philosophy ‘ can be hardly defined. Almost every philosopher has his or her own definition of philosophy. But people commonly often consider philosophy as pure abstraction, as a particular and hard way of thinking our lives. It seems too difficult or too elitist to talk and share some philosophical thoughts with common people. According to the french philosopher Gilles Deleuze, philosophy has mainly become the history of philosophy since the end of the World War II, especially in France. Philosophy is much closer to medieval catholicism than to the art of creating concepts. During medieval times monks were authorised only to copy and diffuse the thoughts of the famous greek philosophers (Aristotle for example), not to discuss or to challenge them. In other words, philosophy nowadays is only the business of the ‘professional philosophers ‘. There are a lot of holy ‘gods’ of philosophy like Plato, Kant, and Hegel, and we are only allowed to respect and study them. That is mostly why philosophy has been seen since its beginning as an abstract thing, or at least something very difficult to understand for those who are not professors of philosophy. Most people in the philosophical sphere seem to have forgotten that philosophy is above all (as Nietzsche claimed it throughout most of his books) the art of creating our own thought or philosophical concepts. Philosophy cannot be shrunk down into history books. It is something both useful and real which has its roots in our everyday lives. It does not have to be reserved only for historians of philosophy. Philosophy is something which makes our lives easier instead of making it harder, and it becomes understandable if we take time to read books about it. Here I will choose two examples amongst the most famous philosophers in order to make philosophy more appealing: the greek philosopher Epicurus (see the photo at the bottom of this article) and the german philosopher Schopenhauer (see the photo above).

Firstly there is one important thing which is sometimes forgotten by most of the main thinkers: style. A good, artistic, pedagogic style leads unmistakably to success.  Epicurus (341 BC – 270 BC) perfectly understood that. He had a limpid way of writing. There were neither technical term nor long and boring scientific explanations about how the world works. What is epicurean philosophy useful for? He was one of the first philosophers to build up a hierarchy of our desires by having distinguished three types: desires, which are natural and necessary (eating, drinking), those that are necessary but not natural (making friends, having our own families), finally those which are completely superficial (spending a considerable amount of money in order to make oneself more visible, or noticeable in society). This kind of classification stops us from committing stupid acts in certain situations: for example, if I decide to go to a night club because I want to get drunk, epicurean philosophy can help me think about which type of desire I have in mind at that moment. In this case it is obvious and undoubtedly to go to a night club just to sit and drink alone, and nothing else.

Although Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was not epicurean and despised most of the human beings who lived around him, he found that philosophy can be accessible to ordinary people. In his so-called masterpiece, The World as Will and Representation, he explained what aesthetic contemplation is. Schopenhauer was deeply influenced by Kant who explains the specificity of a human being by three items: space, time, and causality. For Kant, a human being is a rational one, who constantly uses these categories to understand the way the world works. But Schopenhauer disagreed with Kant. He thought that there were other things than Reason which constitutes our way of thinking and living in this world (a certain austrian psychoanalyst will remember this…). Let us take a pure artistic example. When we stare at a painting in an aesthetic manner, two feelings or ideas can come up in our minds: pretty and beautiful. Something is pretty when it makes us something useful. For example, after having looked at a fruit bowl painted by an artist, one wants to eat these fruits. On the contrary, a thing is beautiful when it makes time, space, and every reasonable part of our being, and our everyday life. It is beautiful when it dazes us. Beyond paintings, these two feelings can be used in concrete situations. For example, every day a man walks to work, and cannot help looking at a gorgeous woman. He obviously fancies her, but in which way? Does he find her pretty or beautiful? If his only desire is to sleep with her, she is just pretty, and not beautiful, because he wants to satisfy his animal instinct. Perhaps she is a woman with whom he could have a serious relationship. Here the philosophy of Schopenhauer turns out ot be useful, because it does help us not to get the right answers but to ask ourselves the right questions, when we have troubles making choices.

To conclude, as briefly demonstrated above, philosophy can be concrete (and that is why this blog has been mostly created, to prove that philosophy must not be forgotten, because it is really concrete!), useful, and easy to understand if we strive to connect any philosophical system to our own lives. However it is right to say that philosophy can be complicated, scientific, and that it has its own technical terms. But which discipline has not its own technical terms? For example, are finance and medicine easier to understand than philosophy? Philosophy only requires two things: an unstoppable capacity of asking ourselves about how the world works, how do I work, how do I think and so forth, and patience – the patience to read books and exchange philosophical thoughts with our dearest friends.  The hitch is, we live in a world today where nobody seems to have time for open speculation. The common thought of the modern man is the following one: ‘ I do not have time to read after work, I come back home at 6 o’clock, I am too weary to read. I do not have time, I need to make some more purchases, I have to look after my children and so on. ‘ Philosophy can hardly exist in this kind of world, if we do not give it a chance to be used and practiced. ‘


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