I have a word mug. You’ve definitely seen the kind before -mugs with a word and its definition or etymology on it? Yeah, one of those. Or the ones that say ‘dad of the year’, that kind of thing. It was a present and I someday plan to use it for my coffee (when I go back to drinking hot coffee as opposed to the cold frappé I’m not supposed to be drinking), so I’m not really complaining. However, it’s just…. I see it and the box it came from (on my desk) every day, and I think the same thing about it every day, so it’s probably about time I say something about it and move on with my life.
The mug in question is white, with black writing. It has, as many other mugs do, a definition of philosophy.
“#philosophy is the study of fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and language. Philosophy is distinguished from the other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument. The word itself comes from the Ancient Greek ‘φιλοσοφία’ [philosophia] which literally means ‘love of wisdom’. The introduction of these terms has been attributed to the Greek thinker Pythagoras.”
Kudos to this mug for trying to be precise. It is a very good definition of philosophy (unless you don’t know what any of these words mean in the philosophical sense:’reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind’). Let’s give it a ‘good effort’ for the definition.
Of course, being a mug from a Greek island, it refers to the etymology (philo from the verb φιλώ “to love” or “be fond of” and σοφία, sophia – “wisdom” ). How can we possibly forget that? Ain’t it great to be in a country that basically believes it invented thinking? I’m not saying that the classical Greek philosophers aren’t important, but it has become a wee bit of a stereotype. Anyway, that’s not why I am mildly irritated with this mug.
My problem with this mainly arises from that line about ‘love of wisdom’. I mean… when was the last time anyone claimed to love wisdom or even be searching for wisdom when engaging in philosophy? Some kinds of philosophy sometimes make you feel like that ‘love for wisdom’ was buried so deep it may never see the light of day again.
Also ‘reliance on rational argument’: What kind of Philosophy have you been reading lately? Maybe classical Greece did attempt a rational approach, but since Aristotle and Plato scarred philosophers for life, there have been monumental changes in philosophy and its ‘reliance on rational argument’! Of course, it’s taken humanity a good few centuries to recover from Aristotle and Plato (and I daresay the world may not have really recovered from their effects!) but they are not the begin-all and end-all of philosophy.
What troubles me even more is that this mug is part of a design series called ‘Sophia: Enjoy thinking’. The design is great, but I’m not sure about the title. Am I the only one who sees the oxymoron in that sentence?
If the sentence had been ‘Enjoy thinking about icecream’ or ‘Enjoy thinking about sex’ or ‘Enjoy thinking about ____ ‘(fill the blank with something you find extremely pleasurable), I wouldn’t be complaining. But seriously? ‘Enjoy thinking’? Most of the time, thinking is hard. It’s often painful, and very rarely pleasurable, so it’s not something people choose to do often. Even people who do it on a regular basis sometimes wish they didn’t.
And yes, I’m going to stick a quote here because it fits. Back in the last century, in his book Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus) Albert Camus wrote:
“Commencer à penser c’est commencer d’être miné.”
[Starting to think means starting to be undermined.]
Like Camus says in that same part of the book, people get into the habit of living much before they get into the habit of thinking. In other words, it’s not something that comes naturally, and it most certainly isn’t easy.
I suppose what this all comes down to is that I’m not happy with this mug. The fact remains that a definition for something as broad as philosophy shouldn’t be something you plaster on a mug. I’m glad that the definition itself wasn’t reduced to a slogan (e.g. the famous “I think therefore I am”) but it feels wrong to stick it on a mug and sell it. More people should be doing it though [philosophy, not selling stuff]. It shouldn’t be something that is regarded as difficult and inaccessible – like ‘high art’ – officially practiced by an elite few locked up in an ivory tower somewhere.
Also – to get back to the mug – isn’t Pythagoras an unconfirmed historical person? That is, a lot of information about him was written down centuries after his death, so most of his activity is unconfirmed speculation?
Anyway, what do I know?
I’m just a writer with heart problem and too much time on my hands.