|Soren Kierkegaard - born 5th May 1813|
My first exposure to philosophy was whilst sitting in the back row of the Gaumont Cinema, Bournemouth in 1976.
I know it's not the usual sort of thing you would expect to be exposed to in the back row with the lights down and your girlfriend sat next to you holding her Kia-Ora in one hand and your gently warming maltesers in the other, but up on the big screen Diane Keaton, as Sonja, was talking to a Russian gentleman in the early period Woody Allen classic 'Love and Death'. The exchange went as follows:
Russian gentleman: So who is to say what is moral?
Sonja: Morality is subjective.
Russian gentleman: Subjectivity is objective.
Sonja: Moral notions imply attributes to substances which exist only in relational duality.
Russian gentleman: Not as an essential extension of ontological existence.
Sonja: Can we not talk about sex so much?
Exposure to Woody Allen at that time in my life meant a gentle peppering of names or concepts straight from Philosophy's Dream Team. This was nearly twenty years before Jostein Gaarder introduced philosophy to the masses through the bestseller 'Sophie's World'. Incidentally in one of those bizarre coincidences that life throws up when I pulled 'Sophie's World' off the bookshelf the bookmark was in place at the point where Gaarder introduces the fourteen year old schoolgirl Sophie Amundsen to Kierkegaard's many conflicts that drove his belief's on. Kierkegaard, like Woody Allen's character in the film 'Love and Death', was driven on by constantly questioning religion and our relationship to it.
I'll be honest a lot of what Kierkegaard wrote goes over my head, that's because I find the religious starting point of many of his theories simply too difficult to approach with any subjectivity (no pun intended). That said, the theme of individuality (or selfhood as he called it) is something that I think most people can relate to in even a small way, not so much the old 'why am I here?' question but 'as I am here, what should I do with my life?' It is interesting that one of his key beliefs, and you have to bear in mind his ideas were written about in the mid 19th century, was that 'modern society' was responsible for the erosion of the individual, and how this erosion would actually lead to abstract ideas and fantasies consuming all of our time whilst we lost sight of what was important. If you look around us now you can see that the big Dane was ahead of the game here, predicting the existence of British middle management nearly two centuries early!
It seems to me that philosophy should be bigger now than ever before because we live in an age where we are all, through the use of a keyboard and mouse, able to articulate our opinions and thoughts on any subject we choose. The concept of thoughts and ideas is something that those who have the power are genuinely confused and concerned about, you only have to look at various attempts to 'regulate' the Internet. Three of the main questions of philosophy are:
What is there? [Metaphysics]
How do we know? [Epistemology]
What is its value? [Aesthetics, ethics and political philosophy]
They are basic questions that should be used on a regular basis to challenge those who hold our collective futures in their hands. Philosophy, even on the smallest scale, can lead people to ask awkward questions, they can lead to the digging up of the darkest, longest forgotten secrets or they can result in our view of the future becoming a little less obstructed by those in whose interest it is for that view to remain blocked. (Blimey, even I can sound philosophical at 12:48 in the morning!).
Philosophy is never a bad thing, it can only lead to a more inquisitive nature, a searching for an understanding of the times in which we live, after all as the great man himself once said, "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”