A Process Philosophy

Philosophy. Many people disparage philosophers and philosophy, characterizing it as a limited occupation. In my favourite local cafe, their wont is to play a certain series of songs regularly. I’ve noticed one of these songs, in particular, because the singer (Emma Bunton, backed by Tin Tin Out), in an affected teenage angst-ing tone, presents these propositions:

“Philosophy is the talk on a cereal box.” and “Philosophy is a walk on the slippery rocks.” (The writers are Edie Brickell and Kenny Withrow.)

Perhaps a more helpful way to think about philosophy, though not the whole matter, is given by Dave word, in his chapter in the book, Philosophy for Everyone: Philosophy “…is the activity of working out the right way to think about things.” I remember in my early days of studying English Literature at university, my tutor Fred Langman said that his job was to help us learn how to think. Thinking is a line of development? You can learn how to do it? It was one of those defining moments, like when I first discovered Socrates.

Aristophanes in fifth-century Athens saw philosophers as immoral, it would seem, and Socrates was one of his targets. (See Clouds) Yet, it struck me like a bolt of lightning, when studying Ancient History in school, that Socrates was engaged in conversations aimed at understanding how to approach life. It had hardly occurred to me, before reading about Socrates, that life was something to be approached with anything but a hunger for… (you name it). It was about getting something into me, from outside. Knowledge, food, friends, sex, a steady date. It hadn’t occurred to me at all to step outside of the tug-o’-war between conventional morality and the stance of rebellion (with which I was strongly identified), and to actually ask, “What is the way to think about life, such that the happiness of all is upheld?” Yet, Socrates was condemned to death for questioning conventional thinking, and this still happens in the twenty-first century. But his concern was for the whole of living, not just the little bit allowed into the conventional perception of life.

The Greeks had a word, which their philosophers used: eudaimonia. Superficially speaking, it means a state of being contented, of being healthy, happy and flourishing. However, the ‘daimon’ part of the word is important. My OED says that this is a direct transliteration of the Gr. δαίµων, divinity, one’s genius. And so the OED defines it as “belonging or pertaining to the spirit world.”A bit of searching gives us more clues. It comes from an Indo-European root which means to ‘divide, or cut.’ (Wiktionary) I find this very fruitful, because much of our suffering comes from not being able to integrate our natural functions of discernment into a workable relation with the whole. Indeed, so enamoured are we of the dividing that we lose our sense of the whole. Focusing returns us to the wholeness. (It’s interesting to note, for the Buddhists, that Vipassanā, i.e. Insight, is similar in that it has the prefix ‘Vi-‘ which means to divide).

The best way for me to think of this, then, is that the kind of happiness that Socrates was concerned with, is that which is in accord with, and ‘sniffed out’ by, one’s inner genius. By ‘genius’ I mean something that inheres in all life. It’s a capacity which is functioning at birth, and capable of development. It’s not the same as thinking, but if you think without it, woe to you. The next development of humankind is in how to get the right relationship of thought to experience. Hence, as I see it, the task of process philosophy is to articulate the ‘how’ of thinking. The ‘how we are’ has been taken over, in the West, with preoccupations – not only in science, but in science’s mother, philosophy; and in society’s general thought – with ‘what we are.’

Philosophy is actively loving knowledge or knowing.  The Greek word for philsophy (φιλοσοφία) brings us the phrase “loving knowledge”, from phílos, “love” + sophía, “wisdom”. It also has a connection to “wise/intelligent.” I take this way: Philosophy is the living, breathing activity of feeling into life, so that we can be informed by the much bigger going-on that this is, and finding the words to say it.

Hence my interest in process philosophy, and the particular process philosophy which which I study is that of Eugene T. Gendlin, as presented in his numerous papers, but also in three books: Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning: A Philosophical and Psychological Approach to the Subjective, A Process Model; and, Language Beyond Postmodernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin’s Philosophy.