Wildy the Journeyman (into_the_wild) wrote,
Wildy the Journeyman

The Promise of Philosophy

:: The Promise of Philosophy Part I ::

(quoted from the Landmark Forum)

"Once upon a time, philosophy promised more than simply contents of thought,” writes Robert Nozick in his Introduction to The Examined Life1. What beyond contents of thought could philosophy possibly promise?

We know from personal experience that over time our knowledge, which can be considered “contents of thought,” grows. Yet we realize that many of our problems and sufferings can be traced to inadequate knowledge. Moreover, at times we are aware that we are not open to new knowledge, knowledge that would make a difference in the quality of our lives. This awareness of how closed or open we are to knowledge may be our most important knowledge. Access to new knowledge, and not simply the contents of thought, is one of the more important promises of philosophy.

Not surprisingly this leads us to Socrates who extols the virtues of self-knowledge. Self-knowledge changes how we act and think, and leads us to wisdom. Socrates urges Charmides “to examine both what he knows and what he does not.” (167a3-4).2 Examining what we do not know entails not only discovering what we know we do not know--e.g. How to caramelize onions or steer a submarine--it also, and more enticingly, entails discovering what we do not know that we do not know. Exploring and confronting this doubled unknown are basic to the original promise and practice of philosophy.

Such inquiry requires dialogue, because alone we cannot see what we cannot see. It takes another person--as coach, teacher, mentor, therapist, or philosopher-- to guide us to recognize and acknowledge the limitations of our own multi-layered ignorance. Knowledge of self, Socrates shows, requires guidance.

Today philosophy resides primarily in the university and on the printed page, where academic approaches focus on "contents of thought," to reuse Nozick's phrase, rather than on self-knowledge. This is not to suggest that Socratic dialogue is not practiced at all in university settings, but to say that academic philosophy seldom makes self-knowledge its over-riding concern. The purpose of this paper is to reexamine, through a contemporary approach, the promise of philosophy as the practical art of uncovering and expanding self-knowledge and thereby generating unforeseen ways of being in everyday life.


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