Thursday, 19 May 2016

Disciplined way of thinking

Philosophy is an activity. Utterly useless at worse, according to some, mystifying at best, and in any case needless. This might be true in some cases but arguably not in all. For philosophy asks the hard questions and, though it might be obsessively cautious in asserting definitive conclusions, it surely unmasks much of our foolishness and pulls to pieces many of our presumed certitudes.

Taken from this perspective it is priceless. For many make an art of their foolery and a monument of their absurdity. Philosophy, at least, cuts them to size.

But it does more. It rams the frontiers of thought, it reaches beyond the immediate imagery of belief, and it sails the uncharted waters of imagination. ‘Why should this and that be so?’ it asks; ‘What if ...?’ And off it goes. Knocking delusions, razing illusions, and envisaging new forms of language by which to interpret the world.

Philosophy’s main working tool is dialogue. Dialogue with oneself, with the world, with others: provoking, challenging, arguing. Never content with the facile answer, ever wary of the snare of self-justification, forever mindful of the need to defy ingrained attitudes, mores and habits of thought, philosophy paves the way for our mind’s outreach towards new alternatives with which to fathom ourselves and the realities we arbitrarily create.

The Philosophy Sharing Foundation, founded four years ago on the outlines provided by Peter Serracino Inglott, represents this spirit. It brings together philosophy enthusiasts; inspires, strengthens and promotes philosophical activity in the Maltese Islands; and contributes towards society through philosophy.

The foundation now has area sections in both Malta and Gozo. Each with their own volunteers, the sections organise monthly public discussions, five-session courses delivered by professional academics, and other activities related to philosophical topics.

In the Maltese Islands philosophers are rarely considered relevant partners in governmental or private enterprises. Abroad, especially in Europe and the United States, philosophers are regularly engaged, as philosophers, to form part of research teams and operational boards. Their expertise is taken to be a valuable asset in exploring and planning initiatives of an industrial, social or political nature, and also in contributing to public debate.

Here in Maltese Islands philosophers still have not acquired such a status. Not that competent specialists in the field are not to be found but probably more for the limited and untrustworthy standing philosophy itself has in the minds of private and public operators.

This is a pity. For it is amazing how many, both local people and foreign residents, are well-read in philosophy even if they do not hold official academic titles in the field.

The Philosophy Sharing Foundation is mostly tailor-made for such people. It offers them the opportunity to share their ideas and discuss those of others while learning to discipline their mind and organise their thoughts. For philosophy is perhaps first and foremost this: a disciplined way of thinking.

All of us think, of course. And many of us do read very interesting and serious books. Nonetheless, most people (maybe including a good number of public personalities) let their thoughts run riot, forgoing order altogether, throwing logic to the dogs, and allowing their mind to make bizarre associations with their ideas. It is unsurprising that many of their final inferences do not hold water. At least philosophically.

For this is what philosophy is certainly good at: analysing the rational soundness of whatever affirmations we make. Not everything passes as sensible with philosophy. It can be as ruthless when assessing our thought processes as liberal when unshackling our mind from unjustified restrictions.

This is not a question of being right or wrong in our assertions. It is more a matter of whether our conclusions are based on reasonable grounds, and are consistent with themselves. On examination, one will be astonished how illogical we can be, and how absurd are much of our deductions.

Philosophy helps. It is certainly not useless or needless in this respect, and might not be all that mystifying once one gets the hang of it.

Orderly thinking, after all, needs practice too. Some of us nedessitate it more than others.

(Times of Malta, 11 May, 2016)

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