The only reason I would want to help with philosophy is that here we are asking what it is to help, not rushing to help in one way or the other. I have told friends and acquaintances throughout my days that I wish to create a philosophy program that would approach those who feel shut away by the circumstances of the age, particularly youth in inner city schools and incarcerated men and women. Let these men, these women, these children become acquainted with something besides a chaplain, or some power asking them to believe, to hope, to pray. Not in order to turn off the light of particular religions, but to let them get closer to questioning and see for themselves whether in questioning there is any power or moving quality.
Part of my discovery of the power of questioning, the power of philosophizing as it comes to engage in a life, is that it puts you in a position to see the extent to which you may learn. We recognize here that philosophy is not restricted to the carrying on of a particular tradition’s works. Although a tradition, for instance the Socratic tradition, might be ever decisive, taking a step back from specific works and teachers and asking questions, and questions about those questions is a remarkable way to witness a human being’s limits of expansion and contraction. It is crucial that such limits in each person be experienced, especially when a scenario of life has them expecting, desiring, despairing, hoping, believing in a certain way.
With Epicurus, the ancient Hellene, I feel that there is not a time too early to dwell within the vicinity of philosophy. Even before the child learns to explicitly ask questions, an atmosphere of questioning, nurtured curiosity, shared creation of new paths can imbue in the youngest a grand inquisitiveness. Nor is there a time too late; whether through aging, sickness, or social outcasting as in the case of those imprisoned, the care in questioning shown in philosophy will always have its impact, however subtle. Nietzsche spoke of the danger of that impact, i.e. the danger of reading his own boundary stone-destroying work, but he also spoke of the importance of taking risks. I would join him in living dangerously, in taking a form of philosophy into places where it is otherwise ignored or misleadingly exalted or mocked as an enterprise taking place in a tower, now no longer of ivory, but of metal and brick, that is, somewhere on the campus of a university. Regarding the place of philosophy in the life of those losing their lives, in the dying: the history of philosophy has amply shown examples of those who have philosophized while dying, not to speak of philosophy’s perennial concern with death.
It is not my wish to do away with, or even deride, philosophizing at an academic level; the learning here can be real and astonishing. My wish is to stop reinforcing the sense that philosophy is only there, only happens there. Like poetry as it bleeds out into song and dance, sculpture as it peppers the city’s streets, music as it resonates through nearly every room, painting as it is playfully splattered by children and adults as beautiful graffiti, philosophy, in its own graffiti form, will be a great force, a force, more than any other, careful and concerned.