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Philosophy Has A PR Problem

The vast majority of us don't spend nearly enough time thinking, and it's really starting to catch up to us.

08/15/2017 15:06 EDT | Updated 08/15/2017 15:08 EDT

I'm a philosopher. I studied it at school, I've taught it to others, I write about it, and I do my best to live it. I can't stop you from cracking jokes or mulling over comic stereotypes, so go ahead and get them out of your system. I'll wait.

Now that we've got that over with, I should tell you that I make my living using what I learned in philosophy class. In fact, a big part of what I do for a living involves demonstrating to people that philosophy is useful, applicable, and yes, even necessary. And that's what I'm about to do in this post. Watch in amazement as I attempt to give a long-suffering, often overlooked discipline some decent PR.

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Here's what you need to know about philosophy:

It's not navel gazing

Questions asked in philosophy do matter, and they have real-world applications like you wouldn't believe. Wondering whether to eat less meat? Boom! Philosophy. Trying to figure out what kind of person to vote for? Blam! Philosophy. Flustered that girls' toys are all pukey pink? Again, philosophy. It's about everyday questions and problems, even if we don't recognize them as philosophical issues.

Philosophy is for everyone

No, not everyone is going to want to major in it at university, but the good news is you don't need certification to do it. You can start it early, you can do it anywhere, anytime, and you can keep doing it as long as you have electricity in your brain. There are initiatives to bring philosophy to kindergarten classes, prison inmates, intellectually challenged individuals, homeless shelters, and seniors' homes. If you're human and you think, you can do it. And you should.

It doesn't need to happen in book form

Philosophy works as a dinner party discussion, in great novels, movies, magazines, video games, comic books and your favourite tunes. New media (especially of the social variety) can also serve as philosophical forums. True, there is a learning curve involved in new ventures like this, but it's still doable.

Doing philosophy is more than just having a fleeting opinion

Philosophy is about arguments, not the yelling and stomping around kind, but the kind where you make a statement, and back it up with explanation and proof. Then you listen to what others have to say about your argument, reflect on it, and change it if you need to. Lather, rinse, repeat.

What they say about there not being a right or wrong answer in philosophy is only sort of true

There may not be one answer, but there are some that are better (i.e. more reasonable) than others. The better ones happen when you explain yourself, when you listen to a variety of viewpoints, and when you avoid pitfalls like wishful thinking. It's cool if you don't get it on the first try, or the fiftieth. Philosophy is one of those things where the journey is more important than the destination. That is, learning to be a better thinker is more important than "winning" an argument.

The vast majority of us don't spend nearly enough time thinking, and it's really starting to catch up to us.

Why (philosophers dearly love this word) am I up on my soapbox, extolling the virtues of an ancient practice like philosophy? To be honest, I'm a little scared. No, I'm a lot scared. The vast majority of us don't spend nearly enough time thinking, and it's really starting to catch up to us (i.e. post-truth society, alternative facts, fake news). We're not only eyebrow-deep in logical fallacies, but they're impacting our quality of life, our future and the rest of the planet. We have more information at our fingertips than at any other point in our history, and most the time, we haven't the foggiest idea what to do with it. Philosophy was made to handle stuff like this, and I really think it can help. We need to stop seeing philosophers as dead guys in togas, and start seeing ourselves as part of this amazing practice.

Have I dispelled any myths? Have I made philosophy seem even a little bit more appealing or accessible? If not, here's one final piece of information: philosophy is free. It costs nothing except your time, attention and open-mindedness. What's more, it will save you. It'll save you being taken advantage of, misinformed and manipulated. It'll save you fumbling your way through at least a few bad relationships, crummy jobs, and temper tantrums. It'll save you from feeling powerless, left out, and generally stuck.

Ready to try? Stand up straight, take a deep breath and repeat after me:

"Why?"

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