What comes to your mind when you think of Philosophy? Is it an old man with impressive head and facial hair asking you questions that drive you insane, or giving a droning lecture that you use as an extra nap? That one guy you dated your senior year of high school who kept quoting some guy named… What was it? Neecha? (Protip: it’s spelled Nietzsche and I do have to check every time.) Maybe the image of a marble bust with a crazy greek name pops into your head and you remember that one field trip you took to a museum years ago…
Or, do you think of an engaging conversation with yourself or others, debating and refining your thought process to discover what you truly think and feel?
Before I got into Philosophy, I had the same misconceptions as the ones I first put down. I considered reflecting on existential questions a possible waste of time- maybe even dangerous. (Existential questions can send you to some dark places before you find an answer. But this is important.)
What I failed to realize is that Philosophy isn’t just thinking. It’ s a very specific type of thinking. It’s learning and knowing and practicing thinking.
Philosophy literally translates to “love of wisdom”, and originally contained multiple disciplines. Anciently it was divided into three categories; the natural, or physical world, ethics, and metaphysics and logic. These categories have grown into areas of study we are more familiar in our modern world. Natural Philosophy has grown into sciences like astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and cosmology. Moral or Ethical Philosophy has transformed into social sciences and Metaphysical Philosophy has birthed logic and mathematics, and epistemology (the study of Knowlege). The School of Life has an excellent video introduction to Philosophy.
Being incredibly practical, I have to ask, what use is this to us? And what business does this have on a blog about mental health?
To answer, let’s go back to that bit about practicing thinking. Often in our quest for relief from our minds, we get the advice to challenge our thoughts to fix faulty thought patterns. More often than not, my negative thoughts overwhelm any challenge I’ve presented them. This is where the study of proper Logic comes in. (which is another show) Maladaptive thought patterns, in my opinion, spawn from faulty logic, or fallacies, which seem true, and are therefore very difficult to challenge. Proper logic gives you the tools to look your fallacies in their deceptively alluring face and tell them that they’re not only wrong but how they’re wrong. This is what will give you the effective and long-lasting change.
With Proper Logic comes skills in arguing, or rhetoric. Not the shouting back and forth and telling your friend they’re acting like their worser parent arguing. But an intellectual debate. A philosophical argument has a specific structure and technique to allow you to convey your ideas in the best possible way. One thing Depressed and Anxious people do very well is think negative, poisonous thoughts. Thoughts that seem so strong, you can’t possibly see any other form of being. The best one can hope to do is drown out your thoughts with drugs or tv or music- any sort of distraction, right? Wrong. Your best tool- most healthy tool, is arguing. Learn how to tear those negative thoughts apart to see where they aren’t quite so true, or, even learn why those negative thoughts are true, and how that can help you.
Studying philosophy also introduces you to ideas that you might never have come up with otherwise, or teach you a more refined and clarified version of an idea you’ve always had, but never quite understood. New or better-developed ideas are also very useful weapons to have in your arsenal to challenge your depressing or anxious thoughts. I’ve had mind-boggling revelations that have completely flipped and invalidated some of my most pervasive toxic thoughts through study and arguing. (Proper arguing, with a properly educated partner. That’s important.)
Thinking is often a process we allow to simply run, with little observation or conscious action or analysis. Practicing philosophical thinking teaches you how to slow that process down. Anyone who has spent days and nights with your mind racing and darting all over the universe can appreciate the moments where your thinking is slow and clear. Over time, I’ve found that I can go from practicing this detailed form of thinking on my own time, to on the fly in conversations. (Though, I have yet to perfect the art.) The impact it has on your daily interactions, internal and external is difficult to describe, and I feel excited at the idea of more people getting to experience it.
In my own life, I have found various philosophical ideas to be incredibly soothing in the face of my low moments. A few months ago I found myself in an incredibly dark place. Every morning I would wake up to the CrashCourse on Philosophy, or The School of Life (youtube links!), get through work reading The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, then falling asleep at night to lectures given by Alan Watts. I have absolute confidence that that period of study kept me alive through it.
Coming out of that has given me a deep appreciation of the ideas I learned and developed, and I can’t wait to share them with you. I can’t claim to be the most advanced thinker, but I don’t think anyone has to be to consider themselves a philosopher. I have the optimistic view that anyone who applies themselves to thinking and is striving for knowledge is a philosopher.
We will be focusing on the philosophies of Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, Stoicism, Existentialism, and we’ll sprinkle in other philosophies along the way.
“Digger, why do you ask these questions? They’re impossible to answer.”
“Maybe that’s why I ask them- because they are impossible to answer. It’s kind of exciting. It means that there can be unexpected truths and meanings to why we are what we are.”
Guardians of Ga’Hoole, Kathryn Lasky
Please note that some of the links provided may lead to websites that want to sell you products. I am not affiliated with any of these websites and am not attempting to push you towards certain brands or products. I have simply used those links for the information they contain.
Again, this blog is for informational purposes. I am not a professional. It should not be an exclusive source to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.