I went to a philosophy club the other evening. While I have read or engaged in philosophy discussions on the internet over the years, I’ve never physically gone to a group. The topic was on “After-birth abortion". I will not go into any detail regarding the various positions in this blog post. This is more of a descriptive account of my experience and a couple thoughts that have emerged from it.
I went in, thinking that I was sufficiently aware of both sides of the issue: the nebulous concept of personhood and the sanctity of life endorsed by the pro-life side, and the mother’s rights as well as the arbitrary, slippery-slope nature of when an abortion was permissible wielded by those in the pro-choice camp. This was my superficial thinking anyhow. I was pleasantly amused by the gaping holes in my knowledge as I listened, transfixed, by quite possibly some of the most scintillating minds I think I have ever been around.
The room seemed to be pulsing with thought and ideas. Concepts and thought experiments volleyed back and fourth between participants with undue ease. I didn’t know that discussions like these were almost akin to watching a sports event. There was this kind of intense competition between ideas going on.
For once in my life I felt “at home with my mind”. I really felt comfortable in this group even though their brightness of mind was orders of magnitude beyond my own. No one was disparaging or condescending but very interested in making the points clear and resolving misunderstandings. The discussion went on smoothly enough for me to follow. There was always a response that clarified a previous point or teased it out further or one that examined a hidden assumption in an argument that an individual didn’t know they had.
Over the years I’ve heard plenty of people say, “Discussing abstract ideas does nothing to help or change society”—but I think this is where the battle is being fought. What is going on right now is a war of ideas. People who choose to simply follow ideas that they haven’t examined—or worse, people who are apathetic of them—haven’t participated in one of life’s most valuable experiences—the application of one’s mind. Cue in the famous Socrates quote: “The unexamined life is not worth living”
The universe is intelligible and that is remarkable quality. We should make extraordinary use of this. Furthermore, your time to examine the world that surrounds you is very short.
Sure, most of us are pathetically ignorant as we consider all the knowledge that currently exists, but no one person can tackle all ideas or download all knowledge. It is going to take a lot of us who are interested in learning or who want to devote our time to some area of research that might be fundamental to society’s progression.
Couldn’t we suggest that sitting around talking about our comical drinking binges or the events on a reality television show are LESS valuable than pursuing a deeper, more nuanced understanding of concepts? I can’t wait to attend more philosophy discussions.