And the point of philosophy is?

Personally, I think a lot of people study it so they can sound smart when they drop quotes from the Philosopher of the Day into general conversation. I don’t have the memory for that. I turn quotes into thoughts, ruminate a little, turn the thoughts into words by me and sound all wise and knowing. Well, I like to think so anyway.

Actually, I couldn’t remember a quote to save my life. Failed miserably at recitation way back in the dim dark history of my school days.

I do enjoy learning new thoughts, concepts and ideas. I don’t enjoy reading boring, dusty books on philosophy. Add a spin to it and I’m yours. French philosophy for the modern woman? I consumed “What French Women Know” and “Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire“. The thought of adding a little Frenchness to my otherwise very Australian suburbinism was tantalising to say the least.

Need a crutch for motherhood through the teenage years? “Buddhism for Mothers” by Sarah Napthali (triple dose there of parenting, philosophy and religion). I read with dismay that some of what I had done or the way I reacted to things, well if not wrong was definitely not the best way. Screeching at tantruming 2-year olds is apparently not that good for their general psyche. I’m not sure it was that good for me either. I always had such a sore throat afterward and felt like I’d been through an emotional wringer.

While I do wish I’d had this book in my arsenal way back when my children were tiny (maybe even before they were born), I can’t reconcile the methods and suggestions put forward with living through hormonal hell. It’s not so easy to meditate when you have no control of the rage inside.

Reaching mid-life and wondering what’s next? “Under the Tuscan Sun” or one of Mary Moody’s books (Australian 50-something nicks off to France for a bit of self-discovery). Now, here’s my dream. Living in a restored villa or cottage somewhere romantic with lots of sunshine, no humidity, and plenty of time to eat, drink wine and write. I’m  not overly fussed about the dark and handsomes that filter through the pages of such books as I’m perfectly happy to take my husband with me wherever I go.

In the effort to learn a little more about traditional philosophy, I picked up a book called “The Consolations of Philosophy” by Alain de Botton, which I have to say puts the basic teachings of several dusty philosophers in almost plain English; alongside a quick biography of each. I’m more interested in philosophy that comes out of life experience as then I can see possibly how these people came to their opinions and conclusions.

It concerns me a little that each seems only to connect their philosophy or the general human experience with the trials and tribulations of men, which are quite different to those of women. I’m quite confused with Arthur Schopenhauer, who I will admit to not having heard of before. He sounds like an arrogant, bore of a man who thought little of women and yet (apparently) became an expert on why people fall in love… where is the experience that made him so knowledgable? Yes, I disagree (at least in part) with the whole “biological condition in order to perpetuate the human race” theory. Putting love in a nice tidy box like that, just doesn’t sit right. However, I’m prepared to admit that a couple of brief chapters about the man also doesn’t encapsulate his whole life and I certainly haven’t read any of his books or essays.

Moving away from that book and I’m curious that books or discussions on philosophy (as far as I’m aware) rarely include the great women thinkers. Who are they and where can I read about them?

I’m part way through reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography (A Habit of Stories by Jenny Uglow). It’s a bit hard going as it includes lots of info about her male relatives (who I don’t really care about, sorry. I want to know about the person I’m reading about not the life story of all the men in her family). I started reading “Queens Consort”by Lisa Hilton, which is supposed to be about historical Queens but is (again) more about the men in their lives. What I want is a book similar to “Consolations” but about women. I know that there is plenty to choose from as I’ve a stack of biographies on my bookshelf. Please someone point me in the right direction.

Going full circle back to the title of this article, what is the point of philosphy? Why do we want to know all the ins and outs of the human psyche? Does such knowledge improve lives or give happiness? Is it a way to confirm our inner beliefs and know that we’re not the only ones who think a certain way? Can an understanding of general philosophy help us toward growth or bring us one step further along the evolutionary path?

I think that understanding different points of view (which is what philosophy is after all) can help us make better decisions, can build self-belief, and help us to experience our lives more fully and completely (instead of living in a reactionary manner or in survival-mode, we can be pro-active and involved in what is happening around us).

Ultimately, it helps us intelligently and, hopefully, with some wisdom to help others.


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