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 monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

How South American Oceans Can Sway The U.S.-China Showdown

As global rivalries and over-fishing impact the seas around South America, countries there must find a common strategy to protect their maritime backyards.

RIMPAC 2022

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — As the U.S.-China rivalry gathers pace, oceans matter more than ever. This is evident just looking at the declarations and initiatives enacted concerning the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Yet there is very little debate in South America on the Sino-American confrontation and its impact on seas around South America, specifically the South-Eastern Pacific (SEP) and South-Western Atlantic (SWA). These have long ceased to be empty spaces — and their importance to the world's superpowers can only grow.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ