Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The French, Philosophically Speaking. . .

René Descartes
As promised, I thought I would share another reason why I love France: The nation's love affair with philosophy.

How could one expect less from the country which gave us René Descartes who famously said: "I think therefore I am."

Even the contemporary pompous types who take the most convoluted routes to explain the simple and  unintelligible verbal journeys to add complexity to the already complex, are fascinating to me. And, probably like no other country in the world, philosophers are often proffering their opinions on prime time. We really like philosophers over here.
Rodin's "The Thinker"

As we know, the French fancy themselves as intellectuals and they like to prove their assumption where and whenever possible. Respect for their intellectual acrobatics seems to be universal. Personally, I'm fascinated by their agility with "the verb" as they say and their creative thought process. I suppose that would be more or less the definition of philosophy through the ages.
All of this is to say, who can not be in love with a land whose educational system requires a high school course in philosophy?

From the College Humor collection
I'm enchanted by the notion that in our high-tech, must learn everything there is to know about computers and cyberspace, be on Facebook, Tweet day and night, possess all the bells and whistles that facilitate staying up to the nanosecond in our world, there is a little corner of the universe where a young mind is required to think abstractly, search for perhaps unresolvable hypothesis, pose esoteric questions. . .

Philosophy is on my mind because the "Philo" exams were this week and, as always, the television and radio channels were talking about this year's subjects and interviewing philosophers while students were diligently writing their theories in response to the questions.

Answer: Move to France.
These are some of this year's brain teasers:

1.) What do you gain by working?

2.) Do all beliefs contradict reason?

3.) Would we be more free without the State?

4.) Do we have the obligation to search [for] truth?

5. Is the sole reason for work to be useful?

You can see at a glance all the directions these questions can take. The students must form their arguments and then support them with the thinking of the philosophers they have studied throughout the year.

Finally, I shall leave you with a few of my favorite pronouncements from some of the world's most famous and revered philosophers:

"Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not: remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for." Epicurus

Bertrand Russell
"To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness." Betrand Russell

"There is much pleasure to be gained by useless knowledge." Bertrand Russell

"Republics end through luxury; monarchies through poverty." Charles de Secondat

"History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren't there." George Santayana

"The Difficult is that which can be done immediately: the Impossible is that which takes a little longer." George Santayana

Friedrich Nietzsche
And this one, which I find unspeakably sad: "I'm not upset that you lied to me; I'm upset that from now on I cannot believe you." Friedrich Nietzsche


California Girl said...

Thoughtful post. I like it!

Many of these reasons probably answer my oft repeated question to myself,

"Why was I an English Lit major again?"

Beth'sMomToo said...

Much has changed in American culture during my long lifetime. I find it sad that reasoning & discernment are valued so little now. Emotion & individual desire often form the foundation of decisions. Illogic abounds ... just listen to American "talk radio" for abundant examples! Everyone is an expert & often closed to careful reasoning. The ability to think logically is a great gift!

déjà pseu said...

Fabulous post, Tish! I love the quotes, and twisting my brain in knots pondering questions like those. More than anything, I believe studying philosophy helps us learn to *think* and reason, and it's a shame it's not required here as there seems to be precious little of either going on in public discourse over here these days!

kathy peck said...

I think that the French love of philosophy is one of the most important qualities that makes French films so superior. Always something left to think about, even in wacky comedies. Love Bertrand Russell, and the Nietzsche quote slays me.

Anonymous said...

I love this, Tish. For years, I have collected great quotes in a Moleskine notebook, and you've just given me two to add. Very thoughtful post, and somewhat disturbing because critical thinking is not really valued in the U.S. anymore, it seems. And where will that leave us, I shudder to wonder.

You were lucky to get out while the gettin' was good.

xoxo --

Beth25 said...

Everything will turn out all right in the end and if it is not alright; it is not the end." The Last Exotic Marigold Hotel

mette said...

I read Bertrand Russell in my youth.
The quotes you chose by him, hit the nail!
If only I could follow them..

BigLittleWolf said...

There was a piece in the New York Times last weekend about Rousseau (I believe), and I was bemoaning my American education to a French friend, and our notable lack of philosophy as part of the standard fare.

At this point, I'd be happy to start with an Idiot's Guide to Philosophical Thought (it probably exists), and I'm grateful that my sons have contact with their more philosophically inclined European aunts, uncles, cousins, etc... The mind needs to be challenged and constant questioning keeps us sharp.

Lisa Wines said...

I'm so glad I found your blog. I'm an American who's been living in Paris for 5 years (with a little side trip to Mexico this summer) and love to read what other "women of a certain age" say about life in France. I followed you on Facebook so I can look forward to reading you again.

Carol said...

Tish, great subject to talk about, and something sadly lacking in so many parts of the world.
The Nietzsche quote made my heart ache..

ellen kirkendall said...

It says a great deal that when studying French in college I ended up with a minor in philosophy because without a grasp of existentialism one cannot understand 20th century French lit.

I wish we had a philosophy requirement here - at least the political far right would have something to use when arguing besides "God says so, and besides unions are bad".

Tish Jett said...

Ellen, I love your dog he/she looks just like one of mine.

I tried to tell you "in person" but couldn't find a way to do so.

Thank you Lisa.

Beth, love that quote. I once had a boss who said to me, "Every time you think a situation is 'the end of your world' decide how you would handle it if that were true. You'll see there is always a solution and 99.9% of the time nothing is ever that dramatic."

Tish Jett said...


Will you e-mail me please:

Merci par avance.

Anonymous said...

I must share this with my baby girl, who 2 years ago got her Bac S (specialty maths), mention très bien -- while barely passing the philo portion.
Karen in Paris

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