Sunday, 12 April 2015 20:00

15. The value of practicing

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What is philosophy about? And what exactly does "philosophical practice" mean? What purpose or sense does thinking philosophically have? Who is the expert and how do we know?

These questions are as old as philosophy itself, but what we know for sure is that all theoretical thinking and research about these fundamental questions started with "practicing": The practice of exploring, of wondering, the practice of questioning and finding explanations. Thinking itself was considered as a specific kind of "practice" - it was not its opposite.

But how do we practice thinking, and do we already act by the way we think? Where is the difference, and where do we draw the line – also between practicing and acting?

Philosophical practice is located exactly "in between" these lines. It is concerned with "how" and not "what" we do. It does not belong to a certain discipline, it cannot be reduced to some kind of method – although it refers to the tradition of philosophical thinking and scientific knowledge. But practicing means to transform this knowledge into something new which forms a relation to the subject and the situation involved. Therefore, philosophical practice has to be relative in the best possible way because it connects, builds bridges, tries to overcome dualisms, but never has the security of knowing.

The German philosopher Karl Jaspers wrote that philosophy is not the way to the truth but the way to one's self, a self which keeps being on its very own way. Therefore, philosophical practice is always an attitude which helps us on our way – but it won't show us the end of the journey, the solution, the one and only answer.

The idea of "practicing" means trying to understand a phenomenon in a very serious and knowing manner, without expecting it to be true. This may sound like a way of life in which we keep doubting without ever finding anything of value, but if we are able to see the value in the way we practice, instead of reaching for solutions, the vision of philosophical practice actually might be the only possibility of finding values – not at the end, but on the edges of the way we choose as our own.


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Ina Schmidt

I am a philosophical practitioner from north Germany. I studied cultural sciences at the Dniversity of Lüneburg and got my PhD there at the Institute for philosophy in 2004. In 2005 I founded the Denkraeume, where I offer workshops and seminars to "translate" philosophical thoughts and methods to everyday life. I also work as a book-author and write for a philosophical magazine. I live with my husband and our three children in Reinbek, close to Hamburg.