I want to make a confession.
I have become an addict to philosophy. No, I am not trying to sound brainy, I’ve been around and really do not care about looking smart. And anyway, I already lost many of my old friends by shifting from a process-aware polished corporate woman to an opinionated and chaotic PhD student in my forties. If anything, I’d like to look (and be) happy. In fact, smart people these days may be doing anything else but a PhD. In Finland at least, this acronym has suffered a huge inflation in recent years and non-medical doctors of all sorts are considered as suspects by many. So why should there be academics?
We teach, we conduct research, we (hopefully) publish studies, revise other people’s work, conduct a mind-blowing amount of administrative work, spend days (and nights) fine-tuning applications for funds or reporting on our work and contribute to our communities. Many people from my non-academic entourage at least are surprised by the wide range of work we do. And contrary to urban legends, I do not know anyone taking three month vacations, calculating their true hourly salary (it might tend close to low single digits for many), and ‘taking a sabbatical’ means going to some other university to do more work, just in a different poorly ventilated cubicle. Most of us have made this choice for passion.
Other than becoming better at doing what we do and communicating what our work is all about (hopefully avoiding some of that terrible gibberish many scientific articles are written in), I suggest we also become better at philosophy, take philosophy to the streets, so to speak. Here is why.
Cursory reading of popular business publications reveal that qualities such as a curious mind, critical thinking, courage, suspending judgement, capability to follow instincts, articulate speaking, effective writing, capability to work in chaos, situational understanding, sometimes be able to follow and sometimes lead, etc., are some of essential skills needed in many today’s work environments. So knowledge such as making your books balance, the concepts of ROI and cash flow, ten-steps-to-close-a-sale or knowing what it means to show the soles of your shoes in some Arab countries are things you learn in a business school or elsewhere, and might even remember, but they do not quite cut it once out in the wild.
Philosophy is an effective way to cultivate a curious mind and train critical thinking skills. Do you see life as a constant flow, a river in constant movement like in an impressionist painting with flickering light beams and blurry shapes – or as a sharp picture where you can observe light and shades, fixed objects in a given context that opens in front of you, ready to be dissected? I used to see a picture, then a river, now I can use both lenses and examine ‘the world’ from different angles. And with that slowly increasing knowledge, I’ve started to find timid, budding answers to such questions I used to have in business as, ‘Why is teamwork in multicultural and geographically distributed contexts to difficult?’ I also now smile when reading gloomy articles in places like Financial Times anticipating some global bust just because China’s economic growth rate has dropped below two digits. Whose story is this and are there alternative narratives?
It is important we develop an intimate understanding of our place in the world and of the world itself so we can make more informed choices for our own action, teaching, writing and involvement in our communities. I suggest we make philosophy a living practice, not a department across the street or an isolated course with an identification number too complicated to remember. And, there is that ‘Ph’ in the PhD… ‘Plato’s cave’, ‘Sartre’s condemned to be free’ and ‘Aristotle’s rhetorics’ is where I started to, (yes!), google.