World Philosophy Day #blogvember

November 21 is World Philosophy Day 2013. This year’s theme is “Inclusive Societies, Sustainable Planet”. Organised by UNESCO on the day after the General Conference, it is an international event.

Celebrated on 21 November 2013, the 11th edition of the World Philosophy Day will be an opportunity to organize, on all continents, various events under the general theme of the 2013 World Philosophy Day “Inclusive Societies, Sustainable Planet”. They will enable their participants to share a multitude of views and experiences, fully respecting cultural diversity.

Suggested activities that could be organised by people around the world include public meetings and debates, philosophy cafés or a concert. The ideas to be discussed concepts of social justice, solidarity, exclusion and inclusion in different societies, as well as issues related to the vulnerability of various groups – including women, children, young people, people with disabilities, minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees, people living in poverty – and the interfaces between these issues and sustainable development. Ideas that could not be more pressing for the world, for Australia and for thinking people everywhere. What saddens me the most is that we are not having this debate. We are not talking about toleration. About peaceful coexistence, about compassion, about acceptance.

© UNESCO / Sandro Chia

© UNESCO / Sandro Chia

We are talking about stopping boats, about putting children in detention and about reducing funding for services to people who need them. In few places is there room to talk about innovation and big ideas to help us solve the issues we face as a nation and as a world. Only a few conversations are being had in a noisy, angry debate, are about what can be done, rather than what we cannot do.

One of the most interesting sessions on the program for the World Philosophy Day this year, is a masterclass on teaching philosophy to children. It is to be a demonstration. It will present techniques in teaching children to reason, to argue, to work through significant issues themselves and to listen to other points of view. I wish I could go. Children are invited, I wish Benedict could go. I wish philosophy was taught in every school, to every kid, for the good of the world. In the words of the organisers of this event

The introduction of children to logical and rational thought not only develops their philosophical spontaneity but helps them become enlightened citizens, capable of formulating their own critical judgment and clear and reflective views about life from a very early age.

Enlightened citizens are who we need. They will be the ones to make sense of all the mess we are creating right now. They are the ones who will have to clean up.

Everything you know about me is wrong

I shared an office once with an extremely clever and truly good person. One day while I was acting rashly and threatening retaliation against a perceived academic slight, she turned her face to mine and said: ‘Don’t lose your credibility. Without that you have nothing.’

What I couldn’t see so close to the moment was that the retaliation I wanted to wreak was going to do me significant damage. Its intended recipient was going to brush it off like a leaf fallen from a tree and it would have has as much impact. To me though, it was going to cruel my chances altogether. Read More

Blogvember post 21… about a philosopher

@ Tell me about your favourite lecturer/tutor at University and why were they so memorable?

For today’s post I am mining suggestions from my pals on Twitter. Today @eatshootblog has been in my thoughts. She was featured in a story about cycling today in her role as editor of Canberra Cycle Chic in The Canberra Times, as was @damonayoung for laughter. Damon is one of my favourite Australian working philosophers, and I wish I could write about weighty topics as he does, with proper time and care. He loves fountain pens too and often posts lovely photos of them on Twitter.

I am not going to write about either laughter nor cycles. That is actually quite enough about bikes for this blog – even if @eatshootblog takes fantastically gorgeous photos of bikes and describes riding her own bike as like drinking a gin and tonic, I don’t actually like them at all. The hat hair alone is enough to put me off. Apparently, you only need to write about bikes and caffeine to attract more negative commentary than you do if you write about cars and Canberra.

Today, I am going to tell you about my favourite lecturer at university.

When I first went to university, I went to Macquarie University. After about the first two minutes of first year, I realised that everything other than the philosophy I had enrolled in, was a total waste of time. Finally, in philosophy, I had a name and a canon for everything I had been thinking about for, well, for my whole life. I loved every single minute of every single lecture and tutorial. It was sheer unadulterated bliss. Not only the first year course taught by the professor, he was the foundation professor. He had been at Macquarie since the beginning.

At the end of second year our thoughts turned to how best to make the most of our final year. There was a course on the books called ‘Seminar Unit B’. What was this course? Cath, my friend and fellow traveller in philosophy, went to ask.

Max told us. ‘It’s whatever you like. We don’t always offer it, but if you’re interested we will. Just tell me what you’d like to read and we will read it. Then at the end of the semester you can write an essay.’ What? This was a course? We couldn’t believe our luck!

We immediately enrolled. What a gift! Then each week we would turn up, our class of two for a session with the Professor. Sometimes he would forget to turn up. We would slink down the wall outside his office, sitting on the floor talking about what we had read. Sometimes he would just be late and in a flurry of apologies let us in. Every time was a magical tour. His office was stacked with books, with papers and with paintings, two and three deep in places. We often dreamed of liberating them all and hanging them all over the department. He is the archetypal professor, down to the monkish hair and the eccentric clothes. He always wore amazing shoes, and bought clothes in Europe. The sort of clothes I had never imagined. When he laughed his whole body would shake and he would throw his head back and guffaw. Those tutorials were the most liberating and important intellectual discussions of my whole life. There was nothing we couldn’t discuss. No theory too outlandish, no connection too tenuous. The rigour and the depth to those talks, I have never experienced again.

Max supported me through my honours year and assisted my first publication. He also rescued my PhD when I thought that I would never finish it. He nurtured a dissertation topic that few believed was worthy of such a substantial piece of scholarship and he gave me countless hours of his time freely to ensure that I passed. I owe Max Deutscher an enormous debt of gratitude.

He taught me how to think, and how to study philosophy. He gave me insight into how deeply you need to think about things to really get to their core. To the heart of the matter.

The last time I saw Max was at his house. I was walking away with the final pieces of my thesis intact and ready to be written up. I spoke to him afterward, when the result was in and I knew that I had passed. He is without a doubt the most significant figure in my intellectual life.

You can listen to his wonderful words here (vale Alan Saunders). And read about his latest book here.

Max Deutscher studied philosophy (University of Adelaide) and then Oxford (1960-63) with Gilbert Ryle. Appointed Foundation Professor at Macquarie University in 1966; published on themes of remembering, inferring, and physicalism. After involvement in Vietnam protests, wrote Subjecting and Objecting (1983), papers on Sartre, Ryle, and Husserl, and then a series of essays in conceptual analysis after deconstruction. A free-lance philosopher since 1998, he has published Michèle Le Dœuff: Operative Philosophy and Imaginary Practice (2000), Genre and Void: Looking Back at Sartre and Beauvoir (2003), and Judgment After Arendt (2007). His work (since the 1970s), in its concern with themes of European philosophy from Hegel to Derrida, continues to draws upon the varied traditions of analytical philosophy.

A hole is to dig

Sometimes you don’t know what you want, you don’t know what things are for and you certainly don’t know what you are actually doing. I have been in this place. I’d been working and writing, with some mothering on the side, but none of it was going well, except the mothering, that was pretty good. I wasn’t working at full capacity and I’d convinced myself that it was freeing me up to write. Except I wasn’t. I wasn’t writing at all. My heart wasn’t in it. I hadn’t felt like it. Such a cop-out. It is a disciple after all. It is a calling after all. It had called me, and I had turned my face into the wind, to drown the calling shout.

The philosophical view of this could be that my purpose wasn’t clear. There was a lack of clarity about what I was becoming. There are many philosophers for whom this is an entire life’s work and writing. There are many people for whom this never becomes clear. For me, I wasn’t sure it wasn’t clear. I thought I knew. I was entirely wrong. As a philosopher, and after a month’s reflection, I now know this isn’t good enough. I can’t halfheartedly do anything.

A hole is to dig

Buttons are to keep people warm

Children are to love

A book is to look at

Ruth Krauss’s work A hole is to dig with Maurice Sendak’s beautiful illustration has stayed deep inside my mind since childhood. It is sub-titled ‘A First Book of Definitions’. From a philosophical point of view, this beguiling children’s book provides a breathtakingly simple and elegant example of what are called ‘artifacts’ and their functions. ‘A hole is to dig’, ‘a face is for making faces’. What something is for, what it is good for, is sufficient to explain what it is. This is, a rather computational, rational and logic based sort of philosophy. However, this little book is the perfect example of the theory of ‘artifacts’, or things are defined by their function. I have been unable to shake the fragment ‘a hole is to dig’. It has been rising to the surface of my mind almost daily.

It has caused me to wonder over and over, what am I for? What is my purpose? What am I doing?

I had found myself boxed in. Unable to see how my own thinking was limiting me. This is the great value of philosophy, and of children’s books, whether written by philosophers or not, they show you what you are. They also show you that your own nature can be concealed from yourself, but only for a little while.

Hands are to hold

A hand is to hold up when you want your turn

I am in danger of dislocating my shoulder my arm is so far up.

All references in italics from,  A hole is to dig, Ruth Krauss – words and Maurice Sendak – pictures, 1952. You can buy a copy for the child within who needs reminding of what holes are for here: - Australia's #1 online bookstore

Friday – this week I am grateful for Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180. He wrote a series of Meditations, or thoughts addressed to himself, for his own self improvement.

Wisdom comes in many forms

One of the aphorisms contained within these writings is translated as:
‘if you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment’.

What I am grateful for this week is having imposed upon myself the mental discipline to remain silent. I have revoked the permission I had given to certain situations and recent injustices to cause me pain. I refused them access to me and to my family. In short, I controlled how I responded by not rising to met these challenges with anger or upset or distress. I met them with a cold, dignified silence. I did not respond.

What interests me is the reaction of others to this. When expecting a certain response from another, to not get it is far more unsettling than getting it. Consider how you feel when someone doesn’t laugh at one of your jokes. In a scenario involving heightened emotion, controlling your response tightly so that it is calm and non-reactive is immensely powerful.

In the face of some potentially uncomfortable and infuriating situations this week, I was cool. I was calm. I was courageously silent. It was powerful.

This week I am grateful to the Stoics. You can only control how you respond. Be calm.