Philosophy and Everyday Life

Sunday, July 31, 2011

What is it

Philosophy isn't just about cosmic issues.  Every day is full of events that raise philosophical questions: why do we eat the things we eat, work the way we work, go to the places we go?  What ideas underlie our most basic activities?  John and Ken look for depth in the daily grind with Robert Rowland Smith, author of Breakfast With Socrates: An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day.

Listening Notes

 

Socrates claimed that the examined life is the only one worth living.  Robert Rowland Smith, author of Breakfast with Socrates and Driving with Plato, joins Philosophy Talk to discuss what philosophy's take everyday life. This is unusual, because philosophers seem to examine more mysterious, or even esoteric, phenomena.  Some of these include the complexities of language, free will, and morality.  Yet, they also have a knack for taking an intuitive assumption and uncovering the mystery of its inner workings.  One can indeed discover provoking insights from analyzing daily activities. Now, not everybody will agree that the life worth living must be examined.  After all, self-reflection and examination can transform an enjoyable day into a frustrating one.  Yet, even in this scenario, one would at the very least have enriched their life with melodrama.  Another reason against the examined life derives from an appreciation of the artistic process. Great art seems to come from a place where experience has remained unexamined, where the rational mind merely observes, withholding its filtering capabilities, refraining from examination.     

Still, several reasons persist in support of the examined life.  Firstly, examination is a critical faculty; by applying it to everyday situations, we prevent the dogma of others from manipulating us.  Otherwise, we might quickly find ourselves giving away money, overeating, and falling victim to illegitimate investment schemes.  Thus, self-reflection adds a rich layer of experience. On this point, Ken ponders the contrary: that the rich layer of experience may actually distract the individual. That is, the Socratic method may conflict with a more Zen philosophy by detracting from the essence of the experience. In support of Socrates, Zen connotes a form of passivity, as if one should let their life happen.  The Socratic method, on the other hand, prepares for action.  While both observations bear truth, both methodologies actually share a central goal.  They seek to engage with experience and increase mindfulness.  Thus, one can, and should, smell the roses and philosophize about it in retrospect.  Through this process, the individual enriches their perception and experience of daily life.

The conversation continues to an examination of typical daily activities; one of these is the seemingly ordinary phenomena of waking up after sleeping.  In actually, it is quite mysterious.  Every day, humans slip out of consciousness while the the rest of the world continues on its way.  One might compare our understanding of the brain to our understanding of ecology.  Science knows a great deal about the ecosystems on dry land but comparatively little about those in the ocean, particularly those in the ocean's deep recesses.  Analogously, science has yet to uncover the precise reasons for, and mechanisms behind, sleep.  Amazingly, an activity that the average human spends a third of their life doing currently remains beyond our understanding.  Funnily enough, waking up also bears uncanny resemblance to the aim of philosophy, which, in a sense, aims to awaken the mind. Thus, the concept has come full circle!

The tendency to day dream is another daily occurrence.  Robert commonly observes this phenomena on the subway, noting that its passengers think about anything other than the experience of riding.  This is inferred by their preoccupation with another activity, such as reading, or listening to music.  Perhaps, the commuters would rather be doing something other than going to work.  It is likely possible, for imagining the multitude of ways to improve one's professional lives comes quite easily to most of us. Ultimately, Robert's observation relates to the importance of the examined life by reminding us to be aware of our habits of fantasizing.  That is, the examined life offers the question, “Why am I doing what I am doing at this very moment?” Mindfulness in this regard encourages ownership of the kind that Nietzsche challenges us to take: to make one's fantasy the reality.  

  • Roving Philosophical Report: (seek to 4:30) Caitlin Esch proves that the examined life truly helps people. She interviews Mariam Sefinia, a teacher at the School of Practical Philosophy in Pleasanton, CA. The institution's curriculum mixes eastern and western practices for developing calmness of mind and a broad perspective. Students describe feelings of stability when approaching situations beyond their control. Additionally, many students find that annoying daily activities become not only bearable but enjoyable. In Mariam's words, “brushing one's teeth becomes a delight, and the smell of toothpaste is magical!”
     
  • The winner of the Conundrum Contest (seek to is 44:16) is Sherri, a professor of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma. She asks whether business can justifiably have a blanket prohibition against hiring felons, and, should the situation arise, whether felons should lie in order to secure a legitimate employment.  The answer is complex and situational because the term can carry an undeserved negative connotation. Consequently, they may have disadvantaged opportunity.  The bottom line is: be a courageous employer by seeking to understand which felonies pose serious liability.
 
 

Robert Rowland Smith, writer and consultant

 
 
 

Bonus Content

 

Research By

Judee Burr and Adrian Jewell
 

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