1. What is philosophy?
Philosophy is Useful
Most people may believe that philosophy is the thinking of difficult and meaningless things which is useless for everyday life.
Admittedly, the typical ‘philosophical’ questions such as, “What is myself?”, “What is time?”, “What is love?”, “What is language?”, and “What is the meaning of life?” do not seem to be useful.
Those who are called ‘philosophers’ are the people who cannot help but think about said ‘fundamental’ questions, so they are such drags if you have conversations with them.
Socrates, the father of western philosophy, asked the passersby in Athens “Hey you, what do you think the Eros (fancy) is?” which made people sick and tired of him.
If one answered “It is the pounding in my heart” or “A lump in my throat”, he would say “That is not the essence of Eros, but just the symptom.” It is no wonder that most people said “All right Socrates, that’s enough” and left.
One day, Charicles, an Athenian politician, said to Socrates, “Look Socrates, it is ridiculous that you always think about what justice is or what virtue is at your age. Why not think about something useful such as social politics, money making, and so forth?” Indeed, there were many people who thought that philosophy was useless during Socrates’ time, too.
However, I strongly believe that philosophy is extremely useful in a unique way in our lives.
Isn’t the possibility of comprehending the essence of, for instance, myself, love, Eros, and the meaning of life great?
No, it’s more than great. It is the most important thing when we think about anything.
Let’s think about education for example. If we don’t have a common understanding about its essence whatsoever, we just bounce off our own ‘educational outlook’ onto each other, and discussing it would become a mess. In effect, the educational debates are always full of conflicts.
In this sense, it is very important that philosophy asks individuals “What is the essence of education?”
Of course, not only philosophers think about the essence of education. Those involved in education may sometimes ponder it as well. However, it is exactly philosophy that has thoroughly polished the ‘way of thinking” for these fundamental questions for more than 2,500 years, so there’s a wide gap between mastering the ‘way of thinking’ and not in terms of the depth and the strength of our thoughts.
Grasp the ‘Essence’
Therefore, we can say that philosophy tries to grasp the ‘essence’ of various things if we can answer the question ‘What is philosophy?’ in one word.
Is that really possible? There might be a lot of people who think it is impossible, especially in our age of ‘relativism.’ Many people think that there is no absolute truth but only each person’s view of the world.
Of course, there is no absolute truth in this world. However, that does not mean that we cannot reach a ‘common understanding’ about various things.
There are many things that we can agree upon like “Oh yes, this way of thinking is essential” in conversation, so there is always a possibility that we can reach a common understanding about the essence of say, Eros or education through dialogues. Once again, it is not the ‘absolute truth’. It is just the essential way of thinking which can be fully understood by everybody. Gaining an insight in such ‘essences’ is the greatest significance of philosophy.
In this age of relativism, people――even philosophers――have the tendency to say that “Nothing is absolutely right,” and stop thinking at that point. We tend to give up on the difficult problems such as “What is good society?” or “What is good education?” by saying that “Well, whatever, it just depends on each person.”
And yet, philosophy tries to think thoroughly, saying “This way of thinking must be agreed upon thus far,” and the great philosophers have pondered many themes to great depth and thrown them to the consensus of many people.
Democracy was Invented by Philosophers
Let’s think about the democratic society in which we are now living. The origin of its idea stems from the ‘essence’ of ‘good society’ which was created by the philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and G.W.F. Hegel more than 200 years ago.
In the earlier times, people had relentlessly fought each other. Warfare tentatively stops only when the winner of the battles rules the region most of the time. That is to say, human beings have been living in either the age of the war of all against all or the age of the domination by the rulers for more than 10,000 years.
How can we put an end to such fierce warfare? This was the question which philosophers had thought for thousands of years.
However, Hobbes’ philosophy had a big problem after all.
Indeed, warfare could be stopped if a strong ruler governs the society, but then the vast majority of people would be the ones who are just ruled and have no freedom. That was when J-J. Rousseau had made his presence known. He said that though Hobbes insisted that people should obey the ruler, we need to make this idea up side down. “Let’s make the society,” he said, “not by the ruler’s will, but through the common consensus.” This way of thinking had become the basis of contemporary democracy.
Mutual Recognition of Freedom
Hegel succeeded Rousseau’s idea and delved into this problem much more thoroughly.
Why do only humans engage in warfare with each other? Hegel thought that it is because only we humans have the desire to ‘live the life we want to live’, namely, the desire of freedom. That is why human kind has continued to kill one another ceaselessly insisting our own ‘freedom’.
The war never ends even if one becomes the winner and the other becomes the loser. Human beings who want to live ‘free’ can never put up with being robbed of their ‘freedom’. Therefore, those who are dominated inevitably challenge the winner in a fight to the death eventually. Human beings thus have kept engaging in warfare for over 10,000 years.
The greatness of philosophy lies in the fact that it opens the way of thinking of overcoming these problems by elucidating their ‘essence’.
Hegel’s answer is as follows; if we really want to be ‘free’, we need to cease insisting our own freedom naively and stop killing each other. On the other hand, the great majority of people could not become ‘free’ if we have the super power govern the country.
What should we do then? We have only one solution. That is to mutually recognize that we are all equally ‘free’ in existence, and to build the society based on that rule. There is probably no other way than this way of thinking in order for us to live freely and peacefully.
This is called the principle of ‘mutual recognition of freedom’. I must say that this is the most fundamental principle of contemporary democracy.
Rousseau’s and Hegel’s thought was an idea which amazed people in that age, because the existence of the super power and inequality was extremely ‘natural’ back then.
However, we consider the democracy as ‘natural’ now.
Isn’t it amazing, when you think about it? We finally grasped the idea which enables us to live freely as much as possible only 200 years ago, by learning from the 10,000 year rulers’ and subjects’ history.
It is hard to say, of course, that the idea is spread out fully all over the country or the world. The world is filled with severe problems such as terrorism and disparities.
However, I assume that most people think that if we want to live freely and peacefully, we need to develop democracy all over the world.
That is exactly the essence of ‘good society’, which philosophers have been thinking about and nurturing with each other like a relay.
Esoteric Technique of Philosophy
It is sometimes said that philosophy just wanders about in search of the unsolvable problems. I must say, however, that that is completely false. The great philosophers have been succeeding their predecessors’ ideas and pressing them forward for certainty.
It is also said that philosophy thinks just about the problems without answers. It is also false in my opinion, or at least, it makes up only half of philosophy.
There is an essence of the other half of philosophy.
That is, thinking all the way through and ‘answering thoroughly’ the problems.
As I said many times, the answers of them are not absolutely right answers. And yet, philosophy has been questing for a ‘common understanding’ which can be agreed upon by everybody as much as possible.
In this book, I would like to offer you the ‘esoteric techniques’ of philosophy so to speak.
How can we have an insight of the essence of various things? How can we find ‘answers’ to the questions without absolutely right answers, which can satisfy everybody as much as possible?
I am going to talk about the ‘esoteric techniques’ of such philosophical thinking from now on.