I am not alone in my belief that philosophy can infuse popularized forms of thinking and living with questions to prod and challenge these. I am also not alone in disputing the understanding that philosophers are best tucked away in the Ivory towers of educational institutions never to engage anyone uninterested in or underprivileged to pursue a university education.
There are numerous philosophers that speak to the ancient Greek tradition of philosophizing to acquire an understanding of the world (whether that be scientific knowledge, biology, cosmology, ethics, politics and so on) and thereby also become adept to navigating human activities for the pursuit of happy, fruitful and meaningful individual and collective lives.
There are also those who have made philosophical practice a fruitful business providing corporate and other professional industries with focused workshops addressing best practices, humane and productive work environments, motivational skills, and character development.
Then there are those who have not veered from the academic environment but still embody a conscientious concern for the malaise of the modern person. Martha Nussbaum quotes Tagore in a lecture addressing the need for the humanities, for philosophy, and her rejection of narrow-minded economic models used to measure national growth. Her concern also addresses the underlying assumptions and ramifications this model has had for human flourishing. She quotes Tagore:
“This history has come to a stage when the moral man, the complete man, is more and more giving way, almost without knowing it, to make room for the political and the commercial man, the man of the limited purpose. This, aided by the wonderful progress in science, is assuming gigantic proportion and power, causing the upset of man’s moral balance, obscuring his human side under the shadow of soul-less organization. Its iron grip we have felt at the root of our life, and for the sake of humanity we must stand up and give warning to all, that this nationalism is a cruel epidemic of evil that is sweeping over the human world of the present age, eating into its moral vitality.” (See “Nationalism in the West”)
What can philosophy do? Philosophy nurtures our humanity. We are, as Nussbaum argues, each of us, possessors of an inalienable human dignity. This is part of her Human Development Paradigm or Model which does not concern me here. The point rather is: what can philosophy do? Philosophy is here to challenge the economic model, to demonstrate the shortsightedness of reductive scientific approaches to defining human life and experience and to advance educational practices – in our of schools – and a community life that can cultivate all those “capabilities” that are integral to living a humanely happy meaningful life.
The development of critical thinking, hammering out old paradigms and igniting concern for claiming moral responsibility and advocating for human autonomy is what philosophy can and does do!