“There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands. ” (Plato)

 

 Since November of 2009, a group of Squamish residents, business people and educators have been meeting at Quest University once a month to talk about local and global issues. This group is the Squamish Philosophers’ Café and is an off-shoot of the world renowned SFU Philosophers’ Café which represents groups who meet at locations around the world.

So what is “philosophy”, what relevance does it have for laypeople and what does this group actual talk about? Let’s start with defining what philosophy is, and what it means to engage in philosophical discussions. But first we should make the distinction between the “practice” of philosophy and “having” or possessing a philosophy.

Wikipedia defines the practice of philosophy as: “…the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. It is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument. The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek, which literally means “love of wisdom . (Wikipedia)

Another way of thinking about philosophy is when you hold a particular belief or world-view on a topic. So we can define a philosophy as “a theory or attitude held by a person or organization that acts as a guiding principle for behavior” (oxforddictionaries.com). Overall, philosophy is simply the study of core ideas, the sources and methods which form our knowledge or understanding, and what we think we “know” about ourselves and the world around us – the “practice” of philosophy. Philosophy (or philosophies) also form the basis of our personal, spiritual and religious beliefs – holding or possessing a particular “philosophy”. Certainly there is more to the formal study of philosophy than personal beliefs and many areas of the formal study of philosophy are deep and complex. Many who spend their entire lives in the field can have trouble understanding some of the more esoteric philosophical topics. Some specialized categories of philosophy include:

Metaphysics – the study of the nature of reality.

Epistemology – the study of the nature of knowledge.

Ethics – the study of how to live, what is “right” and “wrong”, how and where do our “values” come from?

Aesthetics – the study of beauty, art, enjoyment, matters of taste or sentiment.

Logic – the study of how to argue, the structure of a valid or sound argument.

Now that we have a basic understanding of philosophy, we can move to the second question: Why would anyone want to talk philosophically about a topic and what relevance does it have for the average person? Let’s begin by considering a few common questions which have strong philosophical roots:

  • Why are we here?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Which rights are afforded all human beings?
  • Are there any universal rights?
  • Is there a God?
  • When does life begin?
  • Should we protect the environment?
  • Should we assist those who cannot help themselves?

These questions may be personally meaningful, or form the basis of our morality, legal system, politics, social service efforts and choices in life. Imagine that you ask someone‘s belief about abortion and they respond with “all life is sacred from the point of conception and we should abolish all abortions”. That person has now expressed to you their personal philosophy on the subject. However, just because someone holds a particular view on a topic, their “philosophy” on abortion for instance, it does not necessarily mean they arrived at their belief/position/philosophy through a process of critical reasoning. This is where the “practice” of philosophical debate can help by discussing, critically evaluating, and attempting to understand the underlying evidence or support for a given philosophy. Since many people are affected by the answers to these big questions, it would seem there is an obligation, or at least a benefit, to examining the facts or evidence behind how we answer these questions. Engaging in a critical and philosophical discussion can help.

One of the greatest benefits to learning about philosophy and how to engage in a philosophical argument or debate is the development of critical thinking skills. “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action”(criticalthinking.org). That definition is certainly a mouthful but it can be simplified as a “systematic process for evaluating and debating the accuracy and reliability of the information that serves as the basis for our decisions, opinions, ideas and beliefs”. If you want to argue for the suitability of a proposal or a political, personal or philosophical belief, then critical thinking is an extremely useful, even necessary skill to have. Other practical benefits to the practice and study of philosophy and engaging in philosophical debate would be:

  • Development of Critical Thinking Skills
  • Development of Communication Skills
  • Clarification of Beliefs and Values
  • Awareness of Global Issues
  • Tolerance and Understanding

So what does the Squamish Philosopher’s Café talk about? Simply put, anything and everything and our topics are completely driven by the interests of the group. There are almost no limitations to what we can discuss and so if there is a topic which is of interest to you personally, or maybe there is a local issue which has a philosophical component (and most do), all you need to do is express an interest in the topic and we will try to fit it in at an upcoming meeting. However, each year, in order to be listed in the SFU brochure on the Philosophers Café, we need to come up with a list of tentative topics but these are constantly being revised based on the group’s interest and/or the topics of interest for our guest moderators. We have had moderators from UBC, Langara College, Quest University and the Squamish community. Everyone is welcomed to moderate or suggest topics of interest which can be of a local or global nature, or even personal interest. Previous topics include:

  • Is there a meaning to life: Should there be?
  • Environmental Risk: How do we define it and what is an acceptable level?
  • What is creativity and can it be taught?
  • Social Networking: Good or Bad for Society?
  • Spiritual Intelligence: What is it and can it be taught?

The Squamish Philosophers’ Café meets the second Sunday of each month. The first meeting of the upcoming season will be Sunday, October 2 2011 between 3-5 pm in the Quest University cafeteria. The topic will be “Universal/Global Ethics: Is there such a thing? What would they look like”. We welcome all members of the Squamish community to RSVP through our Facebook Group and to check out our web site and schedule at  www.philosopherscafe.ca. If you are not on Facebook, you can also just show up. We have lots of room and everyone is welcomed. All you need to bring is your opinion and a passion for discussion.

Johnny Stork

An Old Hippie and Jolly Mystic Dude with a background (or interests) in psychology, sexuality, philosophy, spirituality, consciousness, contemplative practices and technology. In a few different previous lives/careers I have been a youth-care worker and program developer; statistician; database developer; web developer; WordPress developer; Linux administrator and open-source consultant; network/website security administrator; social-media and web marketing specialist; male waiter on Ladies Nights and a pourer of molten steel.

I currently hang out in Gibson’s BC while attending Alef Trust (Middlesex University) as a Master’s student in Consciousness, Spirituality & Transpersonal Psychology. When I am not reading, studying, writing, blogging, listening to music or contemplating my navel, I like to spend time taking photos, hiking, 4x4ing, camping, kayaking or challenging social, sexual, gender and intellectual stereotypes.

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