This is a guest post by Praxis Fall 2015 participant Mary Kate Crockett. You can view her blog here, where this originally appeared.
I like to focus on practical, tangible, measurable things. To be honest, I don’t care about abstract questions like “Do I exist?”, “Is truth objective?”, “What is the key to happiness?”, or “Is there a god?”.
It’s not that I do not think about these things; it’s that I have already accepted certain answers to these types of questions and I normally do not come back to them once I arrive at a conclusion.
I would rather focus on my to-do list and getting things done than sit around philosophizing about questions humans have been asking themselves for centuries and will always be asking each other.
So this past month, while working through the Praxis philosophy module, I struggled. My first week in the module was especially trying. For those first seven days, my thoughts kind of went something like this: Ugh. Philosophy. Why do we have to start with philosophy? This is so silly and irrelevant. Why will this make me a better entrepreneur? Do I really have to remember all of these names? Oh wow this is boring. Now I remember why I dislike philosophy — because it’s stupid.
Yeah, my attitude may have needed some improvement.
As I forced myself through the History of Philosophy section that first week, I must admit that my second week looked gloomy. I still had a lot of content about philosophy to cover. Better just get it over with, I thought.
As the module progressed, we began learning about and discussing philosophy as a way to study government, happiness, science, religion, ethics, and art. We covered topics like social justice, rule of law, and consciousness of the brain. We asked difficult questions like “Do we have free will?” and “Can God create a rock so heavy he can’t pick it up?” and “What makes a society just?”.
As a concrete thinker, I stand firm in my position. Often times in a discussion, even if I realize that I could be wrong, I will stand my ground. That’s just the kind of person I am.
But as I searched for answers to these difficult questions and discussed them with my group, I realized that the answers that I have accepted for years were not always sufficient. I needed more. I needed to dig deeper. I needed to avoid accepting something as true just because a person of authority told me it was so.
For example, I believe I have free will. But why do I believe this? Because the things I do have always seemed to be my choice. But what if whatever is controlling me is simply allowing me to believe I’m making my own choice when in fact I am just a puppet? Just because it appears I have free will does not necessarily ensure my freedom.
In the weeks that followed my initial irritation with philosophy, I began to experience the value of philosophizing questions we may never be able to answer: it creates a better thinker.
Previously, I lazily accepted ideas just because they made sense to me or someone I trusted told me it was so. This way of living, I realized, is passive and ignorant.
The purpose of philosophy is not to come to conclusions. The purpose of philosophy is to question the conclusions society has already made. The purpose of philosophy is to broaden our horizons of thought, expand our concept of what is real, and diminish the security of our notions which closes our minds against speculation and discovery.
Note: this does not mean I changed my view on everything I previously believed before beginning this module. It simply made me aware that I should not accept “truth” out of habit or *gulp* laziness.
Studying philosophy upset my fruit basket. By the third week of study, I admitted to my group (in much less ladylike terms) that this module annoyed and even infuriated me “so many times”. It began to agitate me not because it was boring or impractical, but because I realized I was a lazy thinker. And looking at things philosophically was forcing me to think harder, longer, and deeper than I had previously realized was possible or necessary. This past month I have literally gotten headaches from thinking this hard and forcing my brain to stretch to places beyond where I had previously allowed it to go.
I found out that philosophy is for professors, nurses, kindergarten teachers, preachers, police officers, doctors, secretaries, and stay-at-home moms. Philosophy is for elderly, adults, teens, children, and the family dog. Philosophy is for smart, dumb, artsy, happy, depressed, introverted, extroverted, practical, stubborn, free-spirited, religious, non-religious, scientific, business-minded, and (especially) lazy people.
Whatever type of person you are, consider using philosophy as a means to expand your way of thinking, to question your beliefs, and to come up with creative and different answers and solutions. It’s okay to keep believing the things you believe — just realize that there are two (or three, or four…) sides to every coin. Explore all of them before you accept things at face value or simply because “that’s the way it has always been”.
Philosophy isn’t just for the elite thinkers — philosophy is for everybody, including you. It’s time to tear down your walls and start thinking critically. It will be painful at first, but keep trying. Eventually your brain will become strong enough to handle the intense mental exercise that is philosophical thinking.