This I Believe

Steven - Lawrenceville, Georgia
Entered on October 3, 2006

Talking About The Examined Life

I believe in philosophic conversation, and I believe you should believe in it too.

You’re listening to this program, so I know you’re interested in living the examined life – the philosophic life. It’s nothing you do deliberately; you just seemed to have been born with this sense of wonder, or a “deep” thinking or reflective personality. Rather than just going through life, you hold life up for examination along the way. Like a sponge, you try to soak up as much wisdom as you can. You probably have a sense that in doing so you come closer to living the “good life” than those who seem to shuffle through life without such reflection. You’re probably right.

Now, let me ask you this. When was the last time you had a philosophic conversation? If you’re like most people, it’s been a long, long time, if ever. Maybe you have to reach back to your college days to remember talking about “life, the universe and everything” with someone other than the voice in your head. If so, then you’re missing out, getting cheated, shortchanged, and gypped, because I believe that the full benefits of philosophy can not be delivered in isolation. You can’t get the most out of philosophy all by your lonesome.

To be clear, by philosophic conversation I don’t mean a political conversation, or a sports chat, or comments on the weather. I’m not talking about exchanging domestic notes with the spouse on the kid’s chauffeuring needs, or the things that need doing around the house. Also by philosophic conversation I don’t mean the neighborhood gossip or family updates from your aunt Marge. Neither is a debate the same thing as a philosophic conversation. A debate is never philosophic.

By philosophic conversation I mean an open and honest exchange of thoughts on a philosophic topic. This for example is NOT a conversation. This is me expounding, elucidating, and exhorting and you hearing me. There is no conversing. A conversation would entail me saying something, and you responding with either statements or questions, and then me responding with statements or questions and then you responding… all very dynamic and very real time and very dynamic… did I say dynamic twice? Yes, and for a reason, this is what makes a conversation different than anything else… conversations can be dynamic.

For over seven years while I have moderated Atlanta’s Philosophy Café, I have learned that inherent in the philosophic conversation are these unique capacities:

Access to other’s points of view and reservoirs of information.

Multiplied brain power for the process of synthesis.

Sanity checking of one’s own ideas – its amazing how different an idea can sound when it is spoken out loud.

The opportunity to be provoked – it’s oh so hard to provoke oneself.

Likewise is the opportunity to be tickled. You know it’s impossible to tickle ones self.

And finally an unfailing source of inspiration. A few days after a Philosophy Café I can be guaranteed to experience flashes of insight.

Philosophic conversation is needed to give completeness to the philosophic process. Thinking about things philosophically is only half the philosophic exercise. You need to talk about those thoughts with others… to dialog with others to really examine life. It’s the difference between being a spectator and being a participant; the difference between watching Cousteau, and strapping on a SCUBA tank and jumping off the side of boat.

Philosophic conversation doesn’t come to us as naturally as philosophic living does. You’ll have to get proactive, either by joining a philosophic group, or maybe even starting one yourself. You’ll have to surmount your inhibitions. This is going to take effort on your part, but I encourage you to try it. I believe it will make a vast improvement in your life.