Most people I meet and spend some time talking with are surprised when I tell them I run an investment portfolio and study philosophy. They understand the running-a-portfolio-part, and they probably have some idea of what a philosopher is and does – some guy that talks a hole into your head if you’re not careful, or someone with a hole in his head due to all the crazy ideas knocking around in there!
But the combination sounds odd to many people, especially my chartered accountant friends, who can’t see any use for this “philosophy business”. There is a well-known joke doing the rounds on many university campuses to the effect that the only difference between a loaf of bread and a Bachelor of Arts degree (BA) is that the loaf of bread is able to feed a family. I can assure you; I am well fed, perhaps too well.
To make a long story shorter, what makes philosophy exceptionally important, is that much of what happens in the world politically, economically, and socially, has some dead philosopher’s ideas right at its core. Philosophy is not airy-fairy, although some of it surely is. It doesn’t necessarily or even accidentally involve a joint, or special brownies, although I do think red wine is an excellent source of philosophical mental lubricant.
What many philosophers excel at, and what proper philosophy has to teach us, is the art of reasoning. Philosophers like nothing more than an argument, not of the screaming emotional sort, but of the evidence-based, logically-constructed variety. All of us believe all sorts of things, either explicitly, which we have hopefully critically reflected on, but also implicitly, which we will do well to expose to the light of reflection, evidence, and reason.
Perhaps one of the most important ideas of our world, which is being threatened, is that a well-functioning, multi-cultural society, one where people do not all look alike, where people speak differently, where people value different things, and where people have vastly different cultural practices can work, if we agree on a few core values and agree that one of the core values is to create living space for those unlike ourselves.
In a liberal constitutional democracy such as South Africa, the constitution is the physical representation of our agreement, as South African citizens, to do right by one another. To formalise this implicit agreement, we have created judicial, executive, and legislative institutions to uphold what a previous generation has so graciously made possible – a non-violent transition from an old way of living pre-1994, to a life filled with much promise but undoubtedly many challenges as well.
I was filled with so much pride this week as thousands of my fellow countrymen made their voices heard in defense of a very important idea – that South Africa belongs to all of us and that action on all of our part, informed by reflective reason, is sometimes essential to saving our institutions from those who have forgotten or ignore their promise to be the defenders of what makes SA possible, not only for us now, but for those still to come.
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