Backyard Philosophy

This is a blog about “backyard philosophy,” a name I made up one day in the shower. But I confess I stole it from Aristotle. Adrift in the boundless arguments and counter-arguments in his Metaphysics, I found a passage about philosophy’s humble birth. From its words, I’ve crafted my worldview and bound up my hopes. Although it’s a bit dense, I want to copy the complete passage here:

That it is not a productive science is clear from a consideration of the first philosophers. It is through wonder that men now begin and originally began to philosophize; wondering in the first place at obvious perplexities, and then by gradual progression raising questions about the greater matters too, e.g. about the changes of the moon and of the sun, or about the stars and about the origin of the universe. Now, he who wonders and is perplexed feels that he is ignorant (thus, the myth-lover is in a sense a philosopher, since myths are composed of wonders); therefore it was to escape ignorance that men studied philosophy, it is obvious that they pursued science for the sake of knowledge and not for any practical utility. (Metaphysics, Book I, part  2).

I read these words with a hushed sense of awe because they immediately brought me back to my early adolescence. Sitting beneath a broad canopy of stars in my backyard, my friends and I talked. And between the intervals about girls and school-wide politics, we hit deeper questions. They were still limited, but we stumbled through speculation on God or purpose in our lives, why we do things we do, our identity to ourselves and the world. Personal and simple, the issues nevertheless had the same philosophical underpinning that span Plato’s dialogues and Camus’ novels.

I term such activity “backyard philosophy.” It’s not academic by nature, although it can grow academic in certain hands, I’m sure. It’s the wonder hard-wired in our humanity. Those ambling questions that drift up from the road on long, lonely drives or settle down from the stars on summer nights–these questions are wholly human, spun by awe at our world. Curiosity is a beautiful thing. We see something, peel back the surface, observe, and organize. Like Aristotle says, we are “perplexed.” Rules and patterns hold deeper questions, a stronger call to wonder, than society normally answers. The physical universe and the universe  inside our imagination and intellects have no limits. They grope beyond our means.

Backyard philosophy is a manifesto to wonder and think for yourself. It’s a call to realize that a life condensed to the practical alone loses that wonder. It may be efficient, pleasurable, and productive, but it lacks depth. Such a life, I believe, is not worth living. Indeed, a life reduced to the practical alone loses the awe a child has for nature. It becomes the life of a machine.

Philosophy for me is more than an academic discipline, it’s a way of life. It exceeds questions of metaphysics and ethics and includes questions for everything, a true “love” for “wisdom” and knowledge. It’s a life of wonder and hope for a human race obsessed by a superficial view of progress and value, that one day they may realize the depth of knowledge and beauty within its speculation.

I hope to explain what I mean by these views as this blog continues. And, as philosophy and life remain in flux, they will change. They are open to challenge and alteration. My aim with this blog is to communicate this love. Some posts will be more philosophical, some more scientific, some more academic, some more personal, but in general, I hope to tie them together by this underlying love of wisdom: this human capacity to wonder.

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One thought on “Backyard Philosophy

  1. Pingback: So another year’s gone by… « Backyard Philosophy

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