The Stoic and Epicurean philosophers welcomed everyone to learn philosophy and they offered free education to anyone interested. If people wanted to learn philosophy, they knew where to go. I want that to exist again. I not only want people to have to opportunity for free philosophical education, but I also want philosophy to offer people a community. I want a place for those who value rationality and knowledge to gather for education and friendship – a place for people to organize and figure out how we can make the world a better place.
Non-philosophers would often go to the Stoic and Epicurean schools and watch the philosophers speak just for the spectacle – great philosophers were considered to be eccentric tourist attractions. Many people still see philosophers as eccentric rather than wise, but even more Americans know nothing of philosophy at all. People can’t ridicule philosophy when they haven’t even heard anything about it. Philosophers are now hidden away at the universities and most people are not welcome to listen to the lectures. Even if someone did manage to audit philosophy classes without paying, they might not find themselves as a welcome member of a philosophical community.
Not only have philosophers become alienated from American culture, but there is a great deal of resentment towards intellectuals. Religions offer many of the strongest communities, but educating people about the greatest science and philosophy is not something religions tend to offer. Instead, many religions teach their community that scientists and philosophers are our enemies. Scientists are said to be twisting the data to spread Godless atheism.1
American culture not only needs to have a more positive image of philosophy, but Americans need to know that philosophy exists, to be able to find out what philosophy is, have opportunities to learn philosophy, find ways to embody philosophy, and form communities centered around philosophy.
Some people have suggested an atheist church or community, but I want everyone to be invited to a philosophical community – both theists and atheists.2 (Actually, there are some atheist churches now.)
Why have a philosophical community?
- To help philosophers connect with the rest of society.
- To help other people connect to philosophers.
- To form friendships.
- To help educate people. To help them understand philosophy, ethics, and logic.
- To help voters understand how their votes could affect the world.
- To organize. We can work together to decide how we can help solve the world’s problems through charity, volunteer work, lobbying, and political pressure.
- To give a location to philosophy where everyone is welcome. People need to know that they can go somewhere to connect with philosophers, learn about philosophy, and find people who value rationality and knowledge.
What kind of free education will be provided?
Right now education is not only expensive, but it has questionable value. We no longer educate people to learn how to live better lives, become rational, become moral, or become something better than they currently are. Most education is valued as job training, to attain arbitrary qualifications through high grades, or as a gateway to a higher paycheck. There is little to no opportunity to find help in attaining true enlightenment in the form of theoretical and moral virtue.
Imagine that someone has become a better sort of human being and other people would also like to learn from her how they can also become better. If they know where she is and she is willing to help, then they can come to her to learn. This is what philosophy should be. We need philosophers who have attained positive qualities worthy of emulation to be out in the open and willing to help others.
How exactly a person can attain the best education possible is not easy to determine, but we can figure out how to greatly improve education. It wasn’t long after Plato created his Academy that Aristotle and many other great philosophers started to exist. The progress seen within the intellectual community was incredible. I think that the progress seen within philosophy, science, and morality was much greater than the world has ever seen again, but it might be possible to educate people even better now.
Although some philosophers are willing to do this on the Internet, I doubt it is very common, and the Internet will never provide the strong healthy bonds that personal interaction can provide. I do encourage philosophy education that exists on the Internet, but I would like a stronger and more organized philosophical community to exist that has an actual location.
How can this happen?
- We need philosophers to be out in the open. The Internet is one opportunity for philosophers to make themselves known and share their ideas with others.
- We need to spread the idea of having a philosophical community.
- We need people to be willing to connect with others who are different. Respectful dialogue needs to exist between philosophers and non-philosophers.
- We can find others in our area who are interested in philosophy and have occasional gatherings. A website could be created to help us fulfill this need.
- Philosophers can volunteer. Many libraries let people volunteer to give free lectures, for example.
- If enough people contribute, then it might be possible to get community centers where people know they can go to connect with a philosophical community. This will make philosophy much more visible and make it clear that it is welcoming – perhaps even more so than many churches.
Philosophers are imperfect, but they have a lot to offer the world. Philosophers want to become better kinds of human beings by improving their thinking and applying that to their lives. People who have spent several years seriously learning how to improve themselves in this way are true “philosophers” and they know a lot more about rationality and morality than the average person. Many academic philosophy professors fit this definition, and true philosophers have a lot they can learn from science and academic philosophy literature. A philosophical community is my idea for how philosophers can better share their wisdom with the world.
Update (9/16/2010): I changed #4 under “How can this happen?” by adding a new idea.
1 For thousands of years the greatest intellectuals were religious and religion seemed compatible with our knowledge. In fact, it was the greatest minds who often decided what the religions should believe. That is no longer the case. Religion really is threatened by scientific knowledge. That isn’t to say that religion couldn’t possibly be reconciled with human knowledge, but we have a good reason to doubt religions when many of the greatest scientists and philosophers find them to be untenable.