My nephew, Tom, just turned 15 years old when he spent a day with me because his parents were visiting some people they met on holiday.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, he is very smart and he studies with kids two years older than him. So, it didn’t surprise me when he said:
“Hey Uncle Dave, guess what, my teacher started philosophizing about how beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This started me thinking wouldn’t it be great to be a philosopher.”
“Tom, philosophy might boggle your mind,” I said, smiling.
“No, I’m up for it, Uncle Dave.”
“Well, you will have to realize that ALMOST nothing is certain.”
“Okay, but how do I begin my philosophy education?”
“Oh, you want to play Master and Grasshopper again?”
“Yes Uncle Dave, but I would prefer it if you didn’t call me Grasshopper.”
“Okay Tom, to begin with you need to consider what is or appears to be directly in front of your eyes. You must begin to question and doubt what is supposed to be obvious.”
“Do you philosophize, Uncle Dave?’
“You and I, Tom, philosophize without even knowing we’ve been doing it!”
“No, Uncle Dave!”
“Yes Tom, it’s true. We’ve both wondered how the universe began, we’ve wondered if we know anything for certain or is life meaningless. All this wondering is tantamount to philosophizing.”
“Define philosophy for me, Uncle Dave.”
“Well Tom, the word philosophy is derived from “philos”, the Greek for “love” and “sophis”, the word for “wisdom”. So philosophy is the love of wisdom.”
Tom was pondering that for a moment.
“Well Tom, are you a lover of wisdom?”
“Oh yes, Uncle Dave.”
“Keeping on with the definition, philosophy is the rational investigation of Being, knowledge and right conduct.”
“Uncle Dave, what’s the nature of philosophy?”
“There are three things about philosophy’s nature:
It is an activity that exposes falsehoods and inconsistencies.
It uses REASON to do this.
It involves thinking about ALL sides of an argument.
When we talk philosophically to people, it makes all parties THINK!”
There was a minute’s silence, Tom was pondering again.
“The main thing in becoming a philosopher is that you must start doubting everything.”
“What should I start doubting, Uncle Dave?”
“Well, my boy, you can doubt something that is supposed to be obvious and beyond dispute about the world around you. You have to become a “Philosophical Sceptic.”
“Uncle Dave, are you telling me to doubt the EXTERNAL WORLD?”
“Yes, but lets start small with just one object. Lets say my eagle head cane here.”
Tom looked long and hard at the cane.
“Well, it could be a hallucination or an optical illusion.”
“Very good Tom, you’re getting the philosophical thinking technique. So lets analyze this. An hallucination is the false perception of an object when no object is present. When a person hallucinates his mind is disordered and it is playing tricks on him.
Now, an optical illusion is a trick of light and heat, etc. These two phenomena focus on a thing appearing but is not real. But, what if everything in this room is not actually here at all?”
Tom was thinking hard, I could see it in his eyes.
“Maybe, everything out there is just a DREAM!”
“Great thinking, Tom. Many philosophers believe that the world you think you’re in right now is a dream. And if you wake up from the dream, you can’t be sure if you’re not falling asleep, follow?”
“Any other ideas about the existence of the external world?”
“Maybe, the world is just in our imagination.”
“You’ve hit on a great point again, my brainy nephew. What you’re thinking of is akin to “Solipsism”. Your self alone is the external world. Some believe one’s own mind is the only thing that exists!”
“But, that’s kind of hard to believe, isn’t it, Uncle Dave?”
“You’re right, Tom. If your mind was all that exists, what would you do with yourself? If there were no other people, there would be no point in writing this blog.”
“Oh Uncle Dave, the more we talk about the existence of the outer world, the more I am haunted by my doubts. But, when I go out and about I’m too busy enjoying my interaction with the world that appears to be there to bother to think about whether or not it is REALLY there.”
“I told you it would boggle your mind. Lets wind up this discussion since we can’t prove or not prove the existence of the outer world.”
“Sounds good to me, Uncle Dave, but it was interesting.”
“Yes it was, but I think we should get on with analyzing and classifying our perceptions as they APPEAR to us. Forget about if there is or isn’t anything besides those appearances.”
To sum up, here are some thoughts on philosophy:
Philosophy is an orderly way of discussing subjects we know nothing about.
Philosophy is a study which enables men to be unhappy more intelligently.
Philosophy is nothing but COMMON SENSE dressed up in a suit.
Tom left scratching his head.
Also published on Medium.