Philosophy is a grand sounding word. It conjures up images of the great thinkers of Ancient Greece. It has become a subject in its own right to be studied at university. Yet each and every one of us is a philosopher in their own way. Philosophy is the struggle to understand the world we live in and our own place in that world. As I write, the newest philosopher in our family is Samuel. Although only 10½ months old, all his developing mental powers are concentrated on understanding the world around him and discovering himself.
Modern man has evolved as a social creature and most of our time is spent interacting with other people. For that to work, each of us has to acquire a set of personal rules which govern that interaction. Together with our understanding of the world and of ourselves these form our personal philosophy of life. Even Samuel who cannot yet speak or express his thoughts in words has a philosophy of life. It is developing and will in one way or another continue to grow and change throughout his life.
Some of us think a lot more than others. Thinking is an expensive business and a brain working at full capacity can consume as many calories as the muscles of a manual labourer. As a teacher, I have given much thought to this matter of intelligence and come to the conclusion that the brain is programmed to make a strategic decision as to how much energy it will burn up thinking. Thinking is also expensive in terms of time. Samuel's brain has made the strategic decision to be a thinker. He has an abundant supply of breast milk and all the morsels he fancies of whatever his mother is eating . His mother has time for him and is always talking to him and giving the right signals of reassurance and encouragement.
Thinking is also dangerous. I am reminded of the school report comment: "He has a lively and intelligent mind which must be curbed at all cost", but cannot remember which famous person in the 60s quoted it. Western society devotes much effort into stopping the masses from thinking dangerous thoughts by filling peoples minds with trivia. Education used to mean "to draw out" and was aimed at teaching people to think. In this age of rising standards, we in Britain no longer educate: we train and impart skills.
I like to think a lot. I used to think that I was very intelligent. I am not sure how old I was when I came to that conclusion, but my observations of small children suggests that some children come to this conclusion at 3 or 4 years of age. If that was so in my case, then it only took just over 50 years to discover how thick I am.
Thinking is difficult. I used to think it was easy, but when I turned in earnest to sorting out the mess of modern physics, I discovered just how slowly progress comes and just how many mistakes are made and incorporated into the doctrine and dogma of a subject. When I came to the realization of just how thick I am, it was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. Realising that I am not that good at thinking releases me to re-examine previous lines of thought, find them to be in error and enables me to sort out those errors. Realising that I am not that good at thinking allows me to realise that others are equally disadvantaged.
If, dear reader, you have turned to these pages hoping to learn something of philosophy, then I am afraid you will be disappointed for I have come to the conclusion that much of that which is contained in the library books of a university philosophy department is a load of old twaddle. But as twaddle mongers go, philosophers are just amateurs. For real twaddle, we must turn to the theologians.
How can we recognise twaddle for the nonsense that it is. We cannot, but what we can do is recognise that when a vast body of writings contains many contrary views, at least half of it has to be twaddle.
Survival in an urban society or a village community is all about finding a means of livelihood. Some develop skills, some provide simple labour, others beg or steal. Some have discovered a novel alternative; they have become priests. Now we usually reserve the word priest for religious leaders, but this method of obtaining a livelihood by inventing a body of knowledge and setting oneself up as a purveyor of that knowledge has diversified into numerous fields. Philosophers are the oldest of these pseudo priesthoods.
Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is wasted effort. Knowledge has to be of use to be of value. My mind is cluttered with knowledge. That which helps me understand the physical world, human society and other people is useful. Hidden in the masses of philosophical and theological twaddle are some some very useful ideas.
One of these ideas which I came across sometime in my youth was the teaching attributed to Jesus of Nazareth "love thy neighbour as thyself". Or to give its more popular rendition, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This became central to my philosophy of life long before I became a Christian.