Ideas can do many things. Some ideas transmit information from one person to another. Other ideas analyze – they dissect a situation into elements. Others express feelings. And others can be funny, or nasty, or provocative.
But as a philosophical practitioner, I am especially interested in one special kind of ideas – in ideas that awaken in me new fountains of wisdom and life. Of course, other kinds of ideas can be important too, for example ideas that analyze or clarify. But the big potential, the big fire, belongs to ideas that awaken, that inspire, that open us to new horizons and new depths. These are LIVING ideas. And these, for me, are at the heart philosophical practice.
Because ideas have an immense power to transform us. Think of a person who gains an existential awareness of death – and then suddenly leaves his successful career and chooses a quiet life in nature. Think of a person who witnesses cruel oppression, and the new awareness fills her with energy to fight for justice. Think of somebody who is touched by a spiritual idea, and this idea gives her new powers and love.
Somebody might object here: "But these are not pure ideas! They are emotional experiences!"
Well, the old distinction between ideas and emotions is not very helpful. There is no such thing as experiences without ideas. Ideas can be dry, but they can also be experiential. They can live within us, they can touch us and move us, and they can grow and develop within us. Call them whatever you want – "a living idea" or "an emotional understanding" or "an experiential awareness" – the name does not matter. The point is that a new understanding can change us deeply.
Of course, ideas can also change us in destructive ways. An ultra-nationalistic idea, for example, can make us hateful. Our task, as philosophical practitioners, is to cultivate the power of ideas in a deep, wise, constructive direction, just as the gardener cultivates flowers, but not weeds.
Philosophy is about ideas, and philosophical practice is about cultivating LIVING ideas. As philosophical practitioners, let's not preoccupy ourselves with logical analysis, with dry opinions, with smart problem-solving. Ideas can do much more than that – they can give life.