Above is a fragment of an open seminar at European University of Viadrina, in Polish, on practical philosophy (pol. filozofia praktyczna). I talk to the about happiness, the beautiful, and freedom as some of the basic philosophical ideas that we practically deal with in our ordinary and daily lives. You do not have to be a university philosopher to practice these things; a modicum of reflection is enough to start ‘doing’ philosophy, and this was the main message of my seminar at Viadrina University.
I claim, that we deal with the political (and politics: a stricter division of these terms seems to me merely academic) when some people, in the name of a given worldview, (try to) impose, dictate, promote, and/or persuade—with different scale of intensification—values, norms, and ways of thinking upon other people. Most effectively, this imposition (and dictation, promotion, and/or persuasion) takes place by means of the institutionalized forms of socio-political life: the cultural policy, the education system, the mass media, religion, moralities, the policies practiced by particular governments, and many others, and this does not take place exclusively in democratic countries. Most probably any socio-political system, be it democratic or theocratic, old or modern, Western or Eastern must philosophically justify—by its most vocal institutions, authority figures, and specific agendas—its basic axiological assumptions about what is good, true, and beautiful, if we want to use the vocabulary of classic thought in this case. In this way, we deal with different types of impositions, the dictation, the promotion, and/or the persuasion of a given way, or ways, of thinking upon others, as regards ethics, public affairs, the role of the individual in social life, liberties, and a great variety of other problems. [Read more…]
Santayana on The History of Philosophy. Santayana is a good example for us to see at least four different approaches to the history of philosophy: 1) studying the past authors to see what they really claimed and why, 2) using past authors and their ideas as “a quarry or a touchstone for my own thoughts” (PGS 543), 3) contributing to (the history of) philosophy by originally developing selected problems, issues, and ideas that have been circulating through time, and 4) comparing ideas, texts, and worldviews that have been proposed by the great authors.
Santayana on Music. “Music is essentially useless, as life is: but both have an ideal extension which lends utility to its conditions” (LR 315) – these are perhaps the most famous words of Santayana’s philosophy of music. They somewhat remind us of the Stoic wisdom according to which things in life are indifferent, but the use we make of them is not indifferent (cf. Epictetus, 2.5.1). Santayana’s philosophy of music is a combination of naturalism (music is a part of the natural world) and ‘naturalized Platonism’ (music has ideal meanings). [Read more…]
Santayana on Travel. In “The Philosophy of Travel” (1964) Santayana takes a look at human existence as “a form of motion and a journey through a foreign world” (BR 5), and discusses different types of travelling (migration, exploration, wandering, pilgrimage, tourism) as metaphors for different forms of having a good life. Since for Santayana ‘a good life’ should include philosophizing, these metaphors also deal with the role of experiencing various intellectual traditions, dealing with incompatible ways of argumentation, coping with sundry modes of the articulation of human views as well as expanding your passion, hoping for surprises, awaiting novelties, fulfilling your curiosity, and approaching wisdom by differentiating illusion from reality. [Read more…]
Santayana on Education. Formal education at school and a highly specialized university education constitute just a part of a much wider educational life-long project, which is to activate and constantly develop such potentialities in each of us as: reasoning, understanding, imagination, critical thinking, creativity, harmonizing conflicting interests, self-expression, and enjoyment. An educated person, apart from being an expert in the society of technocrats, is able/should be able to self-develop and consciously realize ideas that are selected and pursued more or less independently of the current political pressures, cultural fashions, market demand, economic dependencies, and social conventions. This is usually problematic, since we, more often than not, are unable to resist the predominant influences of our time and of our milieu. Current stereotypes are so strongly imposed by sundry institutions upon each of us that their critical assessment is one of the biggest educational challenges, as is the ability to express one’s own worldview by means of a work (philosophical and literary works for example) as well as appreciation of the good and beautiful things around as to make us happier. At this point his philosophy assumes a humanistic and perfective character since a part of living a good life is understanding life — “to be happy you must be wise” (EGP 152) — and working on the constant development of one’s potentialities, which is most effectively realizable by studying the liberal arts. In opposition to those who understand the term ‘progress’ as the accumulation of goods, creation of new devices, and the development of social institutions, Santayana saw ‘progress’ as a process of “improvement or approach to perfection in some specific direction” (PGS 499), for example, the progress in better and better expressing one’s character and in having a fuller life in general. The accumulation of goods, the creation of new devices, and the development of social institutions, even accumulation of technical knowledge can, but do not have to contribute to having a better life; instead, they can become a burden and a misfortune for those who are not able to detect and use the opportunities that are available. Education, especially a liberal arts education, should be instrumental in understanding all this.