A friendly invitation to philosophy, the art of loving and dying
Ashish Mehta | February 24, 2018
Most of us would recall how sorely we needed a guide, a mentor, when we were in our twenties and starting out in a career, or in the deeper study of a branch of knowledge. What we needed was more than what beginners’ guides and the Dummies series could provide. We needed someone who would share his or her lifelong experience, counsel us on how to navigate the uncertainties ahead.
Seeking that kind of help, a teenager wrote to a poet, and the poet replied at length, and the two built a correspondence. It was later put together as a book, Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ – and a genre was born. (Mr Rainer, by the way, is to whom the letters in this book under review are addressed.) Thus, we have Letters to a Young Scientist (biologist Edward O Wilson), a Young Mathematician (math popularizer Ian Stewart) a Young Novelist (Nobel laureate Maria Vargas Llosa), a Young Contrarian (polemicist Christopher Hitch) and so on, down to a young teacher, a young farmer, a young gymnast, and a young Muslim. Among the missing vocations in the list, not counting politics and journalism, was philosophy – and, to fill the gap, who better than Ramin Jahanbegloo, who has a series of works addressing biggest questions in philosophy in gentle, jargon-free language, inviting non-academic readers to participate in the ongoing discussion?
The elderly philosopher here confesses at the outset to have been inspired by Rilke, and assures the young reader that these letters “follow the same tone of friendship and the same quest for beauty and truth”.
Philosophia, a Greek word, translates as love of wisdom, and thus the philosopher should be someone who is striving for
wisdom. Over the centuries, the meaning of ‘wisdom’ seems to have changed – at least its role has certainly shifted. Thus, the philosopher of today is someone employed in a university, with specialisation in textual study of metaphysics or ontology or logic or something sufficiently removed from the wise stuff. The original definition is, however, making a comeback with the ‘Philosophy as a Way of Life’ movement, as an increasingly uncertain world is again looking for wisdom. Jahanbegloo, happily, is addressing both kinds of young philosophers here.
“Philosophy, as the love of wisdom, had become for me a way of life. When we say philosophy is a way of life, we mean a certain dwelling in the world and in one’s historical time,” Jahanbegloo writes in the preface. Further, “Far from being just a set of clever questions, the act of philosophizing is to ask the everlasting Socratic question: in which way should one live?”
With that agenda, we have before us 16 lucid letter-lessons. They begin with the definition of philosophy (“Being a philosopher means not conforming to the general attitude which often looks for the meaning of life in what is set before it”). They go on expound on themes equally relevant to a university-employed philosopher as well as those in non-formal quest of wisdom – be it the art of loving or the art of dying. They also include truth, excellence, responsibility, mediocrity and aesthetics. With a nod to our difficult times, there are letters on patriotism, democracy and herd mentality too.
While keeping the larger definition of a philosopher upfront, the author – an Iranian-Canadian who has researched in India for long and is now back in the country as professor and vice-dean of the OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat – frequently returns to the question of shrinking space for philosophy and humanities in today’s skill-and-job-oriented higher education.
“This is a fine book,” as Bhikhu Parekh notes in the foreword, “full of wisdom, insights and subtle distinctions”. At 152 pages, it can be read in one sitting, and yet the reader – aspiring to become a professional philosopher or an amateur one – will keep returning to it for long.
(The column appears in the February 28, 2018 issue)
Amid exceptional circumstances of COVID-19 outbreak and the 21-day nationwide lockdown, authorities are trying to discourage spread of rumours and misinformation through social media. Maharashtra Cyber Police came out with an advisory for WhatsApp users and admins during the COVID-19, even
Maharashtra has emerged the epicentre of the Novel Coronavirus outbreak in the country with Mumbai reporting the highest number of cases in the state. With more and more healthcare providers getting infected, hospitals are becoming the hotbeds of virus perpetuation. On Monday Wockhardt hosp
As Indians switched off lights in homes and lighted lamps and candles Sunday night following prime minister Narendra Modi’s appeal as a gesture of solidarity in the fight against COVID-19, the power grid held up well despite the sudden drop in demand. In a short video message on Friday
Contrary to the perception that the elderly are more at risk from Covid-19, in India as many as 41.88% of corona positive cases are between 21 to 40 years of age. Also, 32.82% positive cases are between 41 to 60 years, followed by 16.69% cases above the age of 60 years and 8.61% coronavirus positive cases
In view of the increasing number of COVID -19 cases in the country, the ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW) has now advised that everyone must voluntarily wear a mask and especially those living in densely populated areas. Not just as a matter of maintaining personal hygiene
In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, people of India have realized their collective strength, prime minister Narendra Modi said in a short video message Friday morning. He also urged people to light lamps Sunday night as a gesture of this collectivity. “Today marks nine days of the na