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Philosophy as a personal journey.

By Anthony O’Hear

‘Philosophy begins in wonder. And at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains. There have been added, however, some grasp of the immensity of things, some purification of emotion by understanding. Yet there is a danger in such reflections. An immediate good is apt to be thought of in a degenerate form of a passive enjoyment. Existence (life) is activity ever merging into the future. The aim of philosophical understanding is the aim of piercing the blindness of activity in respect to its transcendent functions.’
– A. N. Whitehead, Modes of Thought.

Kathleen Raine.

THERE ARE, IT SEEMS, two senses of ‘philosophy’. There is first the sort of thing you read in the ‘mind and spirit’ section of bookstores, where distinguished and not–so-distinguished writers hold forth on what inspires them, what their beliefs are, what happens after death, etc. These people are normally lay-folk, philosophically speaking, in the sense that they do not have academic credentials in philosophy. In their own often homespun way they are touching on the so-called ‘big’ questions – the questions and speculations which initially spark an interest in ‘philosophy’ when one is young, but which then, by the vast majority, never get taken any further. The exceptions here are people (like me) who work and study in university ‘Philosophy’ departments, whose main aim, I sometimes unkindly think, is to convince the young that the ‘big’ questions are not the province of proper (that is, academic) philosophy at all. Philosophy in this ‘official’ view is a quasi-science, full of its own arcane language and symbolism, aping the methods of mathematics and physics. Unlike ‘mind and spirit’, this discipline is of interest to no-one but its aficionados.

[Single-page version, with annotation.]

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