When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

LES ECHOS

Learning To Philosophize Is Like Learning To Swim

In the best case, take Socrates as your instructor.

One stroke at a time
One stroke at a time
Jerome Lecoq

-Essay-

PARIS —It has apparently become fashionable to learn how to philosophize, to think about the world differently and develop our critical mindset. This no doubt is good news. We're offered the guidance of the great thinkers, we're encouraged to dive into the history of ideas, to take a step back and view the world —and ourselves —critically. In itself, this is all a noble and commendable undertaking.

And yet, it appears we have gotten just slightly ahead of ourselves with this newfound intellectual enthusiasm. To sum up the zeitgeist, we're pretending that all you need to do to think better is read the great thinkers. It's a little bit as if we were told to learn to swim by watching the Olympics freestyle final. Better to go to a swimming instructor for lessons.

Why on Earth are we expecting to do with our thoughts something we'd never be asked to do with our bodies? We know full well that in order to learn, we need to practice, to train, to face the real world. Want to learn judo? Put on your kimono, step on the tatami and start by falling on your back without putting your arms out. Do that a thousand times and you'll begin to grasp the need for the rigor and learning this martial art requires.

The same goes for philosophy. When facing a real person, you first need to learn to question, to experience what your questioning provokes in that person and then to take his answer into account, with all the imprecisions, hesitations and confusion it may contain.

Treat this material as a sculptor would a crude stone: Smooth it down, carve it, polish it until you turn it into clear and consistent speech. You will then have a first perspective on what your subject just told you, with his own words, and a first level of truth.

Then, pick your "question chisel" back up and start over, this time working with the answer. And so on until you reach the heart of the problem, the heart of the subject, the heart of the living being. This is what we call Socratic questioning. It's no wonder that Socrates never wrote anything: He knew that you learn by doing, not by reading books that are made to kill dialogue. Socrates was philosophy's equivalent of the swimming instructor.

Socrates can show you the way —Photo: C Messier

That hardly means we should just toss away 2,500 years of history of ideas. The ideas, concepts, propositions and issues posed by the world's great authors are important landmarks for the universal thought we all reproduce as individuals.

But we must take a questioning approach to these works instead of using them as out-of-the-box products of knowledge. The great thinkers provide precious help in that they've already identified a certain number of questions that we humans have always asked ourselves. The problem is that people are quick to realize that thinking is hard, demanding and sometimes unrewarding.

Kid questions

Children ask questions not after they've read Descartes, but out of a genuine surprise at their observation of the world. When a little girl asks "Why do I have to go to school?" her father can either give her the conventional answer and explain the benefits of France's Republican school system, or he can throw the question back to her in a Socratic way —"Why do you think you have to?" —and watch as her thought develops.

"I think it's to learn things about the world, but I'd rather watch cartoons," she might say. And just like that, without conceptualizing, she would have raised the issue of constraint in education.

The philosopher father will then be able to attempt an analogy with Plato, who teaches us that "to grow up is to learn frustration," while pursuing the Socratic questioning with his daughter. Then, and only then, could we say that together, they're learning to philosophize.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Geopolitics

Utter Pessimism, What Israelis And Palestinians Share In Common

Right now, according to a joint survey of Israelis and Palestinians, hopes for a peaceful solution of coexistence simply don't exist. The recent spate of violence is confirmation of the deepest kind of pessimism on both sides for any solution other than domination of the other.

An old Palestinian protester waves Palestinian flag while he confronts the Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the village of Beit Dajan near the West Bank city of Nablus.

A Palestinian protester confronts Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the West Bank village of Beit Dajan on Jan. 6.

Pierre Haski

-Analysis-

PARIS — Just before the latest outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, a survey of public opinion among the two peoples provided a key to understanding the current situation unfolding before our eyes.

It was a joint study, entitled "Palestinian-Israeli Pulse", carried out by two research centers, one Israeli, the other Palestinian, which for years have been regularly asking the same questions to both sides.

The result is disastrous: not only is the support for the two-state solution — Israel and Palestine side by side — at its lowest point in two decades, but there is now a significant share of opinion on both sides that favors a "non-democratic" solution, i.e., a single state controlled by either the Israelis or Palestinians.

This captures the absolute sense of pessimism commonly felt regarding the chances of the two-state option ever being realized, which currently appears to be our grim reality today. But the results are also an expression of the growing acceptance on both sides that it is inconceivable for either state to live without dominating the other — and therefore impossible to live in peace.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest