Philosophy, trivial and sublime

I feel like Peter Falk’s Lieutenant Columbo, trying to move beyond our opening “What is Philosophy?” query in CoPhi. “One more thing…” Or two.

The one thing I awoke this morning wanting to be sure to have said to my philosophy neophytes, especially all those who told me during this first week that they don’t think they have a personal philosophy or even a rudimentary grasp of what it would mean to have one, is: Yes, you have. You just haven’t tried to say it yet. Or think it. So you’ve come to the right place, we’re all about throwing new seeds into the discussion in my classes.

We’re also all about acknowledging that not every seed will sprout. Not every word is helpful. Frequently we “solve” our problems in philosophy by moving beyond them and framing others.

That said, here are some helpful words from James’s first seminal lecture introducing his philosophy of Pragmatism – A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1906):

I know that you, ladies and gentlemen, have a philosophy, each and all of you, and that the most interesting and important thing about you is the way in which it determines the perspective in your several worlds. You know the same of me. And yet I confess to a certain tremor at the audacity of the enterprise which I am about to begin. For the philosophy which is so important in each of us is not a technical matter; it is our more or less dumb sense of what life honestly and deeply means. It is only partly got from books; it is our individual way of just seeing and feeling the total push and pressure of the cosmos…

Believing in philosophy myself devoutly, and believing also that a kind of new dawn is breaking upon us philosophers…

Philosophy is at once the most sublime and the most trivial of human pursuits. It works in the minutest crannies and it opens out the widest vistas. It ‘bakes no bread,’ as has been said, but it can inspire our souls with courage; and repugnant as its manners, its doubting and challenging, its quibbling and dialectics, often are to common people, no one of us can get along without the far-flashing beams of light it sends over the world’s perspectives…

The history of philosophy is to a great extent that of a certain clash of human temperaments…

So one thing we can anticipate on our CoPhi expedition is temperamental weather, the unpredictable play of personality and preference in setting and sharing our respective agendas of interest and advocacy. Won’t always be easy, but should often be illuminating. Some of us will be surprised to learn that we’d already begun the journey before we ever arrived at school. Others will echo Mr. Twain: “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

And so a new dawn breaks upon us CoPhilosophers.

“One more word”… no, never mind. It’ll keep. Happy Labor Day.


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2 Responses to “Philosophy, trivial and sublime”

  1. Edrell(13) Says:

    Too bad these thoughts about temperament weren’t around when Socrates was alive. His “gadfly” intentions were meant to strike a nerve to provoke action. I guess with time comes understanding. I wonder how philosophy will be defined 100 years from now?

  2. osopher Says:

    I find that with time comes understanding, and then forgetting. A lot of forgetting.

    100 years from now? It’ll surely still be the love of wisdom. Big question’s whether there’ll be more or fewer lovers of wisdom around to ask the questions.

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