Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. Everything has been figured out, except how to live. One always dies too soon or too late. And yet, life is there, finished. The line is drawn, and it must all be added up. You are nothing other than your life. There is only one day left, always starting over. It is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk. We do not know what we want and yet we are responsible for what we are, that is the fact. When you live alone you no longer know what it is to tell a story: the plausible disappears at the same time as the friends. You let events flow by too.Suddenly you see people appear who speak and then go away; you plunge into stories of which you can't make head or tail. You'd make a terrible witness. It is true that people who live in society have learned how to see themselves in mirrors as they appear to their friends. Luckily, I only have a few...

Dr Shaw is a lecturer in Further Education at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk. She also offers philosophy courses at the School of Continuing Education, Lifelong learning, at the University of Liverpool. In 2015, she has completed her Doctorate in philosophy with a focus on existentialism, the equilibrium doctrine and narrative. She has worked as a teacher of English and Comparative literature and Philosophy at The American University in Cairo, Egypt where she also obtained her BA (Hons). Dr Shaw has an MA in Philosophy and Literature from the University of East Anglia where she also taught on a number of humanities subjects. Whilst working in North Wales in Further education, she gained a PGCE aimed at teaching in FE and HE sectors. Dr Shaw moved to Liverpool in 2010 where she now resides.

Interests: Existentialism, Narrative, Comparative Literature, Feminist Thought, Public Speaking, Arab Existentialism, Philosophy of Education, Art, Music, Film and Theatre, Greek Mythology, Existential counsellor and psychotherapist.


Monday, 28 March 2011

A Bliss or a Curse: Philosophy Today

Recently I picked up a book that I was attracted to its title, “Irrational man”. Little did I know that this book will open up various possibilities and trigger my deepest thoughts and emotions.

William Barrett’s, who was well-known for writing philosophical works for non-experts, is the author of ‘Irrational man’. His text spoke to me like no other book did before (apart from Sartre, Camus and other existentialists whose narratives convey my most secretive thoughts and desires). I found myself totally absorbed in the text unable to lift my eyes from the page not even to look at the girl on the bus beside me who just stepped on my foot. I didn’t want to disconnect myself and there seem to be a profound reason for that.
An excerpt from Barret’s opening chapter entitled “The Advent of Existentialism” reads:

If philosophers are really to deal with the problem of human existence- and no other professional group in society is likely to take over the job for them- the might very well begin by asking: How does philosophy exist at the present time? Or, more concretely: How do philosophers exist in the modern world? Philosophers today exist in the Academy, as members of departments of philosophy in universities, as professional teachers of a more or less theoretical subject known as philosophy. This simple observation, baldly factual and almost statistical, does not seem to take us very deeply into the abstruse problem of existence; but every effort at understanding must take off from our actual situation, the point at which we stand. “Know thyself” Socrates issues to philosophers at the beginning of all Western Philosophy (I actually know that it was the start of Islamic philosophy too and many others); and contemporary philosophers might start on the journey of self-knowledge by coming to terms with the somewhat grubby and uninspiring fact of the social status of philosophy as a profession.

Barret goes on to clarify that the term “to profess” in the dictionary means to confess, declare openly, publicly- to speak before the world. Funny enough I knew that but did not want to admit to it for some reason, that there is originally a religious connotation to it. Barret continues that in our present society, with its elaborate subdividing of human functions, a profession is the specialized social task- requiring expertness and know how that one performs to pay: it is a living, one’s livelihood. Professional people are lawyers, dentists and also professors of philosophy. In the modern world, being a professor of philosophy means nothing more than being a living individual who is no more recondite than a corner within the university. Not enough has been made of this academic existence…The price one pays for having a profession is a Déformation professionnelle, as the French puts it- a professional deformation. As a human being functioning professional within the Academy, the philosopher can hardly be expected to escape his own professional deformation, especially since it has become a law of modern society that man is assimilated more and more completely to his social function. And it is just here that a troublesome and profound ambiguity resides for the philosopher today.

The philosopher can hardly be expected to escape his own professional deformation
I believe that the above maps out clearly in Barret’s excellent narrative my dilemma with Western philosophy and my struggle to keep up with the studies as a post-graduate student of philosophy seeking a doctoral degree in today’s modern society. Barret notes that the profession of philosophy did not always have the narrow and specialized meaning it now has. In ancient Greece it had the very opposite: instead of specialized theoretical discipline philosophy there was a concrete way of life, a total vision of man and the cosmos in the light of which the individual’s whole life was to be lived. These early philosophers were artists, poets, scientists and thinkers. Philosophy for Plato for instance was a passionate way of life. Socrates died for a philosophic life. These were the guiding lines that should have been followed.

Looking forward to finishing this book and picking up another... Sometimes I wonder if knowledge is really a bliss of a curse... 

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