Philosophy can be daunting. But it is not something that is specially reserved for a select group of experts and specialists.
If there is anything to be learnt from the study of philosophy, it is that anyone and everyone can be a philosopher in their own right.
That is because one does philosophy not because one seeks to become a professional philosopher. Nor is it a subject meant to intimidate or impress upon others the depths of one’s intellect. Indeed, philosophy is not about reading, memorizing and regurgitating the words and thoughts of dead old philosophers.
The goal of philosophy is not to understand philosophy, the goal is to use philosophy to change yourself in thinking about the world.
The goal of studying philosophy is, in my humble opinion, nothing more than critically understanding and seeing the people and world around us.
It is simply adding new and critical conceptual tools to our mental toolbox.
It should help us to think critically about the physical world; problems of human behaviours and relationships, problems of thinking about ideas, problems of how people can perceive, misunderstand and interpret events.
Philosophy is an activity that should strengthen and condition the mind to be able to think critically.
The job of philosophizing belongs to everyone.
To philosophize about something is not an activity that is best reserved for the self-anointed ones.
To think otherwise is to do a disservice to the purpose, function and character of philosophy. It is also a particular disservice to human agency.
To think that scholars only do philosophy is nonsense.
It is also vanity. It is vanity because the thought of something is only meant for someone is to demarcate and mark out a hierarchy of worthiness of human life.
Furthermore, to accept philosophy as somehow belonging to the experts is, in my opinion, a betrayal of freedom of thought and critical thinking.
It is not uncommon to hear non-specialists and non-experts struggling to understand the point/s of philosophical-speak and finding the patience to go through the long-winded and circular manner of speaking and writing in philosophy.
But this is not to discredit the efforts of philosophers in contributing to human thought. After all, one of the main goals of philosophy is to think critically about things.
But to think critically about something, the process requires a clear understanding or examination of all aspects of a particular issue, topic or problem.
There is philosophy that is abstract and metaphysical; which has merits on its own; and philosophy that tries to solve physical and human problems; in ethics, in critical thinking, in conceptualizing the world or understanding human relationships.
It is as much an exercise in logical speculation as it is about practical problem solving; as much as it involves a kind of thinking ‘out there’, it is as much as thinking about everyday bread and butter issues that affect all of all.
The late English philosopher Bertrand Russell – and of the best ones – describes philosophy as such: –
“Mankind, ever since there have been civilized communities have been confronted with problems of two different kinds. On the one hand, there has been the problem of mastering natural forces, of acquiring the knowledge and the skill required to produce tools and weapons and to encourage Nature in the production of useful animals and plants. This problem, in the modern world, is dealt with by science and scientific technique, and experience has shown that in order to deal with it adequately it is necessary to train a large number of rather narrow specialists.
He continues: –
But there is a second problem, less precise, and by some mistakenly regarded as unimportant – I mean the problem of how best to utilize our command over the forces of nature. This includes such burning issues as democracy versus dictatorship, capitalism versus socialism, international government versus international anarchy, free speculation versus authoritarian dogma. On such issues the laboratory can give no decisive guidance.
The kind of knowledge that gives most help in solving such problems is a wide survey of human life, in the past as well as in the present, and an appreciation of the sources of misery or contentment as they appear in history. It will be found that increase of skill has not, of itself, insured any increase of human happiness or wellbeing.
Philosophy for Laymen (1946)
Philosophical knowledge, if what has been said above is true, does not differ essentially from scientific knowledge; there is no special source of wisdom which is open to philosophy but not to science, and the results obtained by philosophy are not radically different from those obtained from science.
….The essential characteristic of philosophy, which makes it a study distinct from science, is criticism.”…
The above describes both the focus (the forces of nature) and method (criticism) that one should adopt in thinking and practicing philosophy. Indeed one should engage in philosophical “uncertainty” – in the sense that this “uncertainty” is determined by a sense of childlike curiosity and a fundamental breaking apart of ideas, behaviors and assumptions of everyday life in Singapore.
Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.