”If philosophy did not exist, we cannot guess the level of stupidity [there would be]. Philosophy prevents stupidity from being as enormous as it would be were there no philosophy. That’s philosophy’s splendor, we have no idea what things would be like … So when we say ”to create is to resist,” it’s effective, positive, I mean.” – Deleuze, L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze.
What does it means to think philosophically?
I don’t think that only philosophers think or reflect. Rather, philosophers do so in a distinctive way by creating concepts that can help us see things we weren’t aware of before. It can be the way Simone de Beauvoir made many readers aware of the problematic assumption that men were the first sex and women were merely a diversion. It reminds me of how Deleuze and Guattari, years later, said that for far too long, the hegemonic ideal has been a white, 33 year old heterosexual man called Jesus, which not only discriminates, but also hinders our thinking. In a broader sense, be open toward other ways of living. This is also why solely giving advice, potentially, takes away the responsibility from each of us to be accountable for our actions.
So while we all – or most of us – think daily about what to eat, wear, do, etc. (especially if you have children who need healthy lunches and clean clothes), thinking philosophically requires that we pay attention to the present moment — that we critically reflect on what is happening, including evaluating our own behavior. It emphasizes that philosophy can’t teach you what to think or give you clear steps to attaining peace of mind. However, it can nurture critical thinking that can help us evaluate various forms of thinking. Instead of telling us what to think, philosophers can help us clarify how thinking is possible and perhaps even show us what philosophical thinking looks like.
For example, today it seems rather convenient to say that people who voted for Brexit or Trump can’t think, but here we might just be showing our own arrogant tendency for moralizing, i.e., judging. Instead, differences in opinions are an invitation to confront our own possible lack of understanding. Why do they believe that this is right? Once we get a better grab of their life-situation and moral reasoning, then we might show how the arguments behind these votes exhibit incoherent thinking. Thus, empathy for difference is not a blind acceptance but an ongoing process of questioning.
Similar, Trump voters, for example, seem to fear women, blacks, Mexicans, homosexuals, etc. He discriminates and represses what scares him, but more importantly, he does so based on irrational feelings of fear. He acts stupid. Yet, we should still ask whether Trump is the main problem, or whether it’s the ideology created him and later put him in power. There is, of course, no evidence that shows that men, in general, are better than women at anything, no evidence that Caucasians are better than blacks, etc. His value judgments, therefore, are not based on facts, but ignorance. But how can ignorance seduce so many?
So, although philosophy should not be about giving advice, it can still be taught. People can learn to become more aware about their own unreasonable beliefs and recognize their blind spots, such as whether they unintentionally discriminate by how they use language, etc. Such teaching is not taking away personal responsibility, but instead giving responsibility back to the people so they can become informed citizens and think for themselves.
Another example may illustrate this. Today, the media talk a lot about “fake news.” (I wonder whether all this talk is true or an example of how the concept of fake news can be used strategically.) People seem to ask: Who is responsible? Who should control it? However, instead of blaming Facebook or any other medium, I think it is troubling that so few people apparently are capable of critically questioning the news they receive — the sources, motives, agendas, and how the news is framed. Also, it seems as if many believe that objective journalists exist, even though everything is subjective. The truth is not out there, but created through our engagement with the world. Even journalists who strive to deliver well-researched news are still colored by their career objectives, personal beliefs and ideas, editors’ input, etc.
Therefore, if people really can’t think for themselves, then teaching them how to think becomes a social responsibility for all of us — mostly through schools.
Luckily, I have seen a growing trend, which I embrace, in which philosophy is being taught to children. I think that going forward, teaching philosophy is the best way to combat future sexism, racism, and other discrimination, the sad consequences of not being able to think philosophically. I stress best way because teaching people how to think won’t necessarily guarantee that they don’t repress, discriminate or violate other human beings, still self-knowledge tend to minimize self-deception in most sane people.
Plato’s Academy, Athens: Philosophy was from the beginning open to the world, in direct relation with the world – in the streets, parks, etc. Philosophy for all!