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Grey Havens YA Members Talk About Life & Meaning During a Pandemic

Grey Havens YA (Young Adult) is our Saturday philosophy group for 6th-12th graders. In this discussion, members discuss their experiences and thoughts while staying at home because of COVID-19.

Recorded for Longmont Public Media.

 

A Letter From our Executive Director

Kelly Cowling

Hello, everyone!

I’m writing to touch base with all of you about what GHP will be doing in the immediate future. We are committed to continuing to be here for you! We are moving as many of our discussions into online formats as we can, and we’ll be sharing daily philosophy questions on social media because we know that philosophy is even more important in difficult times than when life seems routine. 

Philosophy helps us to think calmly and collaboratively, reminding us of what is important, helping us adjust to change, and suggesting new possibilities. Our discussion participants have come to count on our organization as an antidote to intellectual loneliness, regular-old-loneliness, a world that can be unwelcoming, and the feeling that our lives are too small to matter.

It might seem that COVID-19 is the only important thing in the world right now, but that is not true. Even if the only thing anyone could think about was this virus and making sure the world as we know it endures through our efforts to contain and vaccinate against it, there would still be the matter of what it all means. Together, we are trying to figure out what matters most. That is almost as vital as keeping ourselves safe.

At Grey Havens Philosophy we are extremely reluctant on principle to tell you what to think instead of thinking with you, but I will tell you now from the depths of my mind and the bottom of my heart that, no, this crisis is not the only important thing there is. There are always questions to ask and ideas to wonder at, and that is a very big deal. Please take good care of yourselves and everyone else because you all matter. Meaning also matters very, very much and meaning is what we approach together in our philosophy discussions. 

Keep an eye on our website and social media. We will be announcing lots of ways to think together online. I look forward to talking with you soon!

 

Sincerely,

Kelly Cowling

 

The Philosophy of Power and the Power of Philosophy

Kelly Cowling

“I don’t want to talk about politics” is something we hear from time to time at the beginning of discussions from people who are fatigued by the news or afraid of being the odd-one-out in their ideas. Not talking about politics in philosophy is not an easy thing to do, however, because politics seem to be everywhere and in everything.

In literature, we call novels that are concerned with power and how it’s used political novels. In philosophy, theories of power are political theory. When we step back from the news of elected officials and contentious elections to look at politics as the play of power in the world, our ideas about what is political can start to broaden.

Before and after the 2020 US election, we tried out an exercise with some of our high school students and again with a group of adults. We looked at the branches of philosophy to see how power might have a role in even our deepest thinking.

Political philosophy aside, the branches of philosophy concern themselves with right and wrong (ethics), beauty (aesthetics), knowledge (epistemology), being (ontology), and ultimate reality (metaphysics). The closer we looked during our exercise, the more we could see that the wielding of power can play a role in what we find to be good, beautiful, right, what we believe is real and even why we think anything exists in the first place.

This is not to say that there are no universal truths immune from temporal power (though that question was an interesting one to leave open). It is to say that it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish what we think for ourselves now from what has been thought by others before; and that how it is those thoughts came to be thunk in the first place has a lot to do with who has historically had any kind of power over people’s thinking.

To give just one example, when we took a close look at aesthetics, we found it was hard to separate our ideas about what is a beautiful person, plant, or work of art from our conditioning and that if we’re at all intellectually humble, we might even realize that anything we say about the nature of what beauty is and how it works may have also been influenced by our social and, yes, political inheritance.

We can always look closely at what we think about anything to ask ourselves why we think it. Another interesting question we asked ourselves in our exercise was who benefits from us thinking the way we do. Therein, the power players are often revealed.

The branches of philosophy are all about, to borrow a phrase from theologian Paul Tillich, that which is of ultimate concern to human beings. It can be understandably scary to question matters of ultimate concern, but it’s ultimately a lot scarier not to.

It’s scary to imagine a world in which no one ever examines their own thinking to determine if there is more to the world than they previously considered. The power of philosophy is that it takes nothing for granted and you can do it anywhere at any time no matter who you are and no matter what anyone else wants you to think.

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