From the art of thinking to the art of living
By Nicole Decostre
In this conference, I want to refer mainly to Matthew Lipman. I am the translator in French of several of his books : Thinking in Education, De Boeck, 1995-2006-2011 ; Mark, Social Inquiry, Peter Lang, 2009 ; Lisa, Ethical Inquiry, Peter Lang, 2011 ; What Happens in Art, to be published in Paris, Vrin, in 2016 ; and finally his Autobiography, moving and very enlightening for which I have to find a publisher.
If I wanted to begin with that, it is not to talk about me but because I want to show that those books are still current, that they have to do with my subject and that they are more necessary than ever.
It seems to me that even if people speak more and more of P4C (it is in the air…), they often go apart from the spirit of the program as conceived in Montclair by Matthew Lipman and Ann Margaret Sharp in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
Of course, the world has changed much and very interesting texts, better adapted, written nowadays, give the opportunity to improve the thinking, keeping the original spirit. The authors are frequently followers of Lipman, some trained by him.
The great interest of Lipman for me is that he has really built a program, made of novels about everyday life, accompanied by manuals permitting to go deeper in the concepts through the philosophical dialogue in the philosophical community of inquiry. Those novels bring to life young people in their everyday life and with their relationships with others (parents, teachers, friends…). The philosophical problems belong to every person, everywhere in the world and of all time (truth, justice, friendship, tolerance, good or evil, knowledge, and so on). And their discussions aim to improve their way of living.
Among the fundamental questions that Lipman asks himself – and wants us to ask ourselves – are : What sort of person do I want to become ? In what world do I want to live ? What is a life worth of living ?
In this conference, we are invited to try, not to give ready solutions, but to be able to recommend means permitting to the youth to live by themselves, as autonomous as possible, so that they become able to bring their contribution to promote peace, justice and freedom, hoping that they will be able to collect the conditions of happiness.
What is important to do today for a peaceful world is to try to understand others and to respect them. Appreciate diversity has to be learned.
On the other hand, it has become a common word to say that democracy is in great danger – if democracy ever has existed… Nor are the human rights respected. Democracy begins within the family. The child usually sees the adults, his parents in particular, as gods, behaving like a believer, unable to disobey or to question their authority. It is often the reign of the absolute, which is inherent to totalitarianism.
What about the autonomy of the person, of that of the child who has become an adult ?
A large number of parents give themselves the right to impose their beliefs, their convictions, their prejudices, their customs and their traditions. They instill, they inculcate their own values.
Let us think to the problems of integrity of the body, of the choice of marriage. (You might not know that Holland has recently recognized the wedding of young girls married in their country of origin…). Let us think of the choice of way of living. Let us think of the choice of religion, which is a real problem nowadays.
And once more, what about the most elementary rights ?
May we speak of « culture » in front of a ghetto of prejudices, of intangible customs and of intellectual simplism ?
Let us not forget the modern technique, the invasion of robots, so called intelligent and sensible.
Young people have a tendency to take virtual for real and to believe that the actors they see on a screen live their own reality.
And now things go even further : in Belgium, for instance, the pharmacy of the University of Liège (Lüttich) is about to use robots for the medical prescriptions. These robots will prepare 6000 prescriptions daily ; by the way, the use of robots is not new in the medical field : a small humanlike French-Belgian robot, called Zora, has already been used for more than two years in hospitals, residences, specialized school, in Belgium, in Holland, in France, in Switzerland ; if you arrive at the Mariott hotel in Gent, you will be welcomed by Mario, a humanoid robot who can speak 19 languages and can order a taxi for you !
As real as natural ! Why should we be astonished that isolated elderly people tend to humanize their mechanical servant ? Women have been seen knitting to keep their companion warm. Moreover, some bomb techs consider their robots like animals or human beings and are ready to die to save their lives. That is what we call « artificial empathy ».
If all that progress can be considered as a gift, it is a poisoned gift. If robots can be really useful and if a lot of hope is placed in them, as it was the case with Internet, they will create unexpected problems with disastrous consequences. Only developing another way of thinking through education will reduce those problems.
If robots can be our intimate confessors, they also can be informers.
What about private life then ?
Those robots are able to change the relationships between human beings. Mobile phones have already made us intolerant to waiting. Domestic robots might make us intolerant to contradiction.
Of course, I cannot explore the entire problem we are confronted with as educators. I just wanted to propose you some examples. Let us not be astonished to assist to fundamentalism, fanaticism, social or familial atrocities. How could we be astonished of the difficulty to think and to live a real citizenship ? I don’t speak of a citizenship of the right to vote, but a chosen and reflected citizenship of a true dialogue, of a circumstantial reality of the values, of possibility of evolution.
In consequence, it is important to become conscious of all those problems for it is high time to learn and to teach to think better, and to have a better judgment.
We understand now that if the problem of education has always existed, it has become crucial.
Let us go back to my title, « From the Art of Thinking to the Art of Living ». What is the relationship between the two, between philosophy and a good way of life ?
Strong with its techno scientific power and its economic supremacy, the West has a tendency to consider as universal its ideas and values. Globalization makes that pretention stronger, while the multiplication of the cultural exchanges should make us more careful. For instance, our tendency to abstraction is far from being shared by all civilizations and by all cultures.
Western theology is far from the religious conceptions of Far East. Is monotheism not a sort of abstraction of the divine ?
Let us remember that, in the sixteenth century, missionaries trying to christianize China and Japan encountered huge difficulties because the Japanese language was not good for theological discussions : the adequate terms were missing.
In China, the concept of a personal god was unknown and not possible to be translated. Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit who was a mathematician, forerunner of the cultural exchanges between China and West, could overwhelm the cultural obstacles, and assimilated the Chinese culture. He understood that China has no religion and that Confucius never mentioned the almighty god, nor the life after death, and he concludes that there is there no religion nor faith.
In A Philosophy of Living, the French philosopher and sinologist François Jullien opposes to that tendency to abstraction a concrete thinking, oriented to a better life. He finds that orientation not only in the Chinese tradition, but also at the origins of our own philosophy. He refers mainly to the philosopher Pierre Hadot who reminds us of the somehow forgotten importance of the Greek-Roman wisdom. At that time, as we know, philosophy was an art of living, a way of life.
In the beginning, the Greek philosophy had two tendencies : a philosophy of the concept and a philosophy of a better way of living. But the Platonic idealism, relayed by Plotin and by Christianity, won. For Hadot, that art of living was confiscated by the theology in the thirteenth century. He reminds us the great importance of the ways of life cultivated by Epicureanism and by Stoicism with what he calls their « spiritual exercises ».
In Philosophy as a Way of Life, Hadot denounces the deviance of our philosophical system trying to take the text or the word in an absolute sense. He finds in Meditations of Marcus-Aurelius a living thinking, which is near the human and the complexities and nuances of life. For the stoic philosopher Marcus-Aurelius, the man has the duty not to embarrass himself with what doesn’t depend on him (material goods, honors, opinions of the others, and so on), but that he has to, on the contrary, become perfectly master of his emotions, ideas, opinions and judgments, all things he is able to master. His philosophy is strongly centered on the notion of duty and of responsibility.
Hadot insists on the importance of the « spiritual exercises » included in ancient wisdom (food, dialogue, meditation, contemplation), aiming to modify the behavior of practitioners. He even discovers a therapeutic value in philosophy, through dialogue that is a vivid relationship between persons rather than abstract discourse about ideas.
The philosophical works of those times were not written to expose a system, but rather to produce an effect of formation : the aim of the philosopher was to exhort the minds of his readers or of his hearers so that they would adopt a certain disposition of mind. If the Western philosophy doesn’t totally ignore that way of acting, it remains dropout from Montaigne to Wittgenstein, including some authors of aphorisms, like Schopenhauer or Nietzsche.
All those essays were of course judged confused or incoherent by the dominant system of mind. For example, Epictetus often seems in his Discourses to defend contradictory attitudes. In fact, Epictetus takes in account the realities of the life his disciples are going to live. Similarly, Plutarch considers that practicing the everyday life of Socrates is his real philosophy.
Through formation, dialogue, and talks about everyday life, are we not near the practice of Matthew Lipman ? Is that not the substance of his novels and the reason of the philosophical community of inquiry ?
Pierre Hadot expresses a profoundly pedagogical wish: the philosophical discourse should renounce to take itself as an end or, worse, as a way to show the eloquence of the philosopher, but should become a way to go beyond oneself and have access to universal reasoning and to opening to the others. With Lipman, we skip from discourse to teaching, but the aim is similar. The political aim of Lipman is fundamentally democratic, caring of human rights and of common good. He meets the care for discussion so precious for Jorgen Habermas. He conceives pedagogy as a public service and his major interest is the quality of the judgment. All this trigged in Lipman his courageous initiative that was a total break with a paralyzing tradition.
Pierre Hadot cites a sentence by Merleau-Ponty : « Philosophy consists to re-learn to see the world. » This can lead, like in Kio et Gus « to wonder at the world», expression also used by Wittgenstein or by a poet like Rilke.
The obsession of the clear, univocal definition, believing to seize the real, and where it will be possible to construct a reasoning, out of reality and with the simplifications that it implies, allows to question whether if the Chinese, who didn’t think in terms of be but in terms of process hadn’t thought in a better way the phenomenon of life. Similarly, the famous way, the Way, is far of being a right and horizontal method, aiming the goal a priori determined. Can we find in Lipman’s writings a unique definition ?
Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil, suggests to go beyond those moral roots in a genealogy much more subtle and vivid than our stereotyped and well fixed categories.
As to Gaston Bachelard, in The inductive Value of relativity, he follows the same way in epistemology : the theoreticians would probably have more action if they showed their thinking in its hesitations, in its defeats, in its errors, in its hopes, rather than in the brilliant shine of a logical construction, closed on itself and wearing the mark of its end.
Merleau-Ponty, whose influence on Lipman is well known, wonders to which point philosophy is the mastery of the sense. He asks himself the question to know if the term « philosophy » belongs only to doctrines which can be translated into concepts or if it can be extended to experiences, to wisdoms, to disciplines which don’t reach that degree or that sort of conscience : here is the real problem of the nature of the philosophical concept. The same with Montaigne’s famous « What Do I Know? ». For the latter, live fully is what is important. Lipman’s effort to reach the judgment best adapted to a problem comes from a similar fumbling in the philosophical community of inquiry.
A German sinologist, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, who lived in Germany of the Enlightment, criticizes the rationalist tradition which, to him, is an obstacle to our understanding of life.
Many people don’t think to their ethical life or to their way of living.
In which way can Lipman’s program of Philosophy for children can help us to reach a better way of living » ?
The core of his pedagogy, the philosophical community of inquiry, exploits systematically the search for an adequate solution to a problem, carefully avoiding the spirit of system and the a priori, as well as a conclusion which would make a rule dogmatically.
To take an example, Lisa, Ethical Inquiry (as well as others of his novels) leads to social construction of values and to the way to adapt to complex display of situations.
In the same way, the philosophical community of inquiry helps to build a citizen mind through taking different contexts in examination thanks to Mark, Social Inquiry.
In the esthetic field, Lipman doesn’t defend a particular school or conception, doesn’t take himself for an apostle of a particular theory of a system of evaluation. In What Happens in Art, Lipman shows us the balance between several factors interfering into the artistic process. The more, the esthetical appreciation mixes with our pleasure and happiness of living. The research for esthetic appreciation can develop the critical thinking.
Matthew Lipman can be considered as a rehabilitator of wisdom. He is in a way a teacher of an art of living where ethics plays a role so important in the building of the “good judgment”, within a higher order of thinking whose applications flourish in our daily life.
Matthew Lipman can be considered as a practical way to link universes as different as the Chinese thinking or the Greek and Roman philosophy to the complex contemporary life.
It is well known that students practicing P4C have better results in the academic curriculum. And accustomed to communities of inquiry, they learn to respect the other and to appreciate diversity; they acquire a critical, creative and caring thinking as well as more empathy. And I am persuaded that people – adults as well a young children – who have participated to philosophical communities of inquiry have changed in their way of listening, of seeing, of discussing, of relating with others. To practice philosophy has changed their behavior as well as their way of living. The community of inquiry is the place to live democracy instead of to be taught about it. It is also the place where you are pushed to think of things you would never think of.