LIVING PHILOSOPHY

I like to think that I’m quite the philosopher in my spare time. I like the idea of pondering the big questions regardless of whether or not I manage to come to any conclusions. I believe that philosophy is important and you are never really too young or old to get to grips with it.

Like art, the history of philosophy is full of men conjecturing on the source of all knowledge, the best way to live and the origin of everything; the women, until very recently, seem to have been whitewashed out of existence. If you look carefully at Raphael’s School of Athens, (the original fresco is in the Vatican but there’s a lovely reproduction in the V&A) you’ll be hard pushed to find a woman featured. Yet there have been, and still are, many great female philosophers whose work is as interesting and important as their male counterparts.

The whole point of philosophy is to ask questions and retain an open mind. Nothing should be off limits – Plato famously used his Socratic dialogues to question everything from sexuality to justice. And what may have been an acceptable answer once may not be so any more, so repeated questioning (and analysis) is always a good thing. I doubt anyone these days would countenance the routine killing of disabled infants, but it was perfectly acceptable in ancient Sparta. Plato rather liked the idea as well.

Times change and philosophy changes with it. Some issues disappear, new issues arise but the techniques remain the same.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that philosophy is easy. The lack of a definitive “right” answer can cause genuine frustration, and the realisation that firmly held beliefs may not hold up to scrutiny can cause real heartache. I will also admit that reading some classic philosophical works is only marginally less interesting than watching paint dry. But that’s okay. Unless you are undertaking philosophy as an academic study, you really don’t need to read them; there are some great introductions that are much easier to read if you want to know the differences between Nietzsche and Hegel.

Philosophy is an important tool that all young people should learn how to use. If nothing else, they’ll be able to have interesting conversations, but importantly they will learn to hold themselves, governments and beliefs to account – which is always valuable.

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