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14 years of Livejournalling, and hopefully, more to come.

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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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Knowledge is historically ‘top-down’ - grand narratives are being passed down from the head of power to us as knowledge. This is reinforced in the above passage where new self-knowledge is believed to be acquired through “guidance” from a source of authority.

However, such an acquisition of new self-knowledge is problematic cos we can never really know if it is true or false, right or wrong, if it is being passed down to us like that – the source of authority validates its truth and could imbue it with their own sets of believes and standards.

Philosophy is often being reinforced as such grand narratives without questioning its own objectivity and truth. New self-knowledge may just be someone else’s knowledge from someone else. And so it becomes a viscous cycle - there’s no ‘real knowledge’ after all. We are left oppressed and burdened with finding all the answers for ourselves.

And so the famous saying goes - “an unexamined life is not worth living”, but without considering the problematic construction of knowledge and philosophy which will distort the whole examination of life - then life is not really worth examining at all right?

i always love socrates' quotes...so...all-inspiring innit? HEH!

i always love socrates' quotes...so...all-inspiring innit? HEH!

it is during circumstances that one, after filtering knowledge, makes his best decisions on certain aspects of life.

religion is a good example.

It’s life’s illusions I recall ... I really don’t know life at all ...

Well, thanks for the intellectual stimulation nonetheless. Stay well, my friend and I'll look forward to being stimulated ( ooooo .... :P ) and inspired by more of your thoughts.

(off-topic) i never got to thank you how much i love your gift. i have to mail you something! when i received it i teared up. you made a tough guy cry!

Hey no worries, mate! Glad you love it. What’s important is that you’re happy and well :) I’m coming back really soon … in 8 weeks time to be precise and we will definitely catch up then. In the meantime, you’ll be in my thoughts … do take care and keep in touch!

I would like to think Awareness and Knowledge is a double edged sword.

I agree to the notion of 'access to new knowledge, and not simply the contents of thought, is one of the more important promises of philosophy.'

The Internet revolutionize this promise greatly.

paragraph 4 describes yourself: coach, teacher, mentor, counselor, philosopher. yet you're constantly on the lookout for someone who could do the same to you, but often in the context of a few liners, or that special line which is as good as gold for you.

can't wait for part 2.

some random thoughts:
-western philosophy is very different from eastern philosophy

-philosophy is a flexible religion too, in someways

-hmm, personally, i think when life starts being more of a disconnected mystery rather than a breath of joy and bittersweetness to a person, that person is probably thinking too much and needs to start living and being a bit more. (this is not a critcism, btw)

life can be a disconnected mystery and a breath of joy and also bittersweet all at the same time...


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