"Look at the situation of the world; if your Philosophy has all the answers, why have we reached this point?" I was confronted with this question by a friend last week. I didn't have an answer. Despite the claims of searching the "truth" through years of contemplation and practice, our world is facing an existential threat from climate change, greed for unlimited growth, and an increase in mental health issues and suicides. Where have we gone wrong?
The word "Philosophy" literally means love for wisdom (philo - love, sophia – wisdom). A meaning-making study to answer the profound questions on the universe and human role in it. Throughout the history of the development of the idea, philosophy has played a vital role in challenging and defining society's structures.
However, the study with the noble aim of connecting us with the deeper meaning of the universe itself became "boring" and "useless" after centuries of intellectually complex debates. Rather than focusing on life's cultivation, it became an intellectually satisfying in-between game between the philosophers.
James Dewey said, "Philosophy recovers itself when it ceases to be a device for dealing with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method dealing with the problems of humanity." We need to re-enchant philosophy to activate the individual quest for the truth and provide a method to find meaning in our lives, society, and the wider world? This can be done by redefining philosophy to activate subjective individual experiences and situating it in the current time.
Activating subjective experiences
The inscription at Delphi's temples, "Know Thyself," reminds us to find all the answers in ourselves. Philosophy as a field has intellectualized and generalized the thoughts and created a pearl of wisdom ready to be consumed by the sharp minds. However, this also vandalized the primary purpose of philosophy: connecting with oneself and finding individual answers.
In the 5th century BCE, Socrates roamed the streets of Athens, questioning the people on seemingly simple issues at hand. Widely known as an "ugly looking annoying man," he poked people with more profound questions. Rather than giving answers, his focus was to cultivate the modality of self-inquiry where one question everything and find the answers within.
Philosophy has activated the subjective experiences but that of the philosophers. Immanuel Kant said, "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me." When a person connects with the inner psyche, the outer cosmos, and the nature around us in an intimate sense, new experiences and ideas get activated. One challenges the deeper questions of one's existence, who are we? what are we doing here? What do we believe in?
Everyone is a philosopher, and it should be the task of philosophy to activate that intimate connection where the mind, emotions, and purpose work together in everyone. Just like a child, we are the wisdom we need. Our work is to deactivate the constraints like societal expectations which stop us from being ourselves. It is not about reading or writing books, but about taking a walk in school of life where we can connect to our deeper self and act from there.
Eastern traditions like Taoism, with its focus of balance between inside being (yin) and outer action (yang), Buddhism with the practice of achieving mindfulness through meditation, and Hinduism with the method of yoga to cultivate integral life, has long served provided tools to find personal meaning. On the other hand, the philosopher's search for truth has become an intellectual endeavor to generalize the findings and find the right answer.
The philosophy needs to reach people so that it triggers and supports each individual's personal search. It should activate our capacity to ask questions without the need to find instant answers. It should train us how to love, how to let-go, and how to die. It should tell us, "What is to be a human?" This way, the deep wisdom of philosophy can reenter our lives and train us to live more meaningfully.
Situating in the current period