Juicy philosophy: A way of life for ripening human organisms

For us to understand some ways  for philosophy to be juicy—more mouthwateringly fruitful for our lives—let’s consider  what juicy suggests and why human organisms have this cultural activity called philosophy. Then we can consider what philosophy is and how it may benefit us in more personal and practical ways.  Only then, can we have a sense of how philosophy happens, what we believe are the three limbs of a juicy philosophy, and how you can bring juicy philosophy into your life.

Once we consider these questions, it will probably make a lot more sense as to why philosophy should be understood as adult education, but something totally unlike what you probably understand adult education to be—llearning how to fully ripen and flourish as a human organism.

Juicy? 

If philosophy is supposedly good for you, maybe we can say at least that it is a cultural phenomenon that supports human wellbeing and flourishing. So then, what does the adjective juicy suggest? The New Oxford American Dictionary says “temptingly appealing,” and even “interestingly scandalous.” Juicy suggests ripe, generous, and succulent, according to The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. We would add that something juicy is appealing to our palate in ways that are both exciting and stimulating but also, importantly, nourishing and satisfying.

Why is there philosophy? 

Antonio Gramsci proposed that “it is essential to destroy the widespread prejudice that philosophy is a strange and difficult thing”. “Spontaneous philosophy,” he suggests, “is proper to everybody,” occurring in “language,” “common sense,” and “folklore.” Realizing “that everyone is a philosopher . . . one then moves to the second level,” with a “critical awareness” of “a conception of the world mechanically imposed by the external environment.” We can understand Gramsci to suggest that spontaneous philosophy is inherent to human organisms, as is walking and talking, but unlike breathing and digesting. In other words, it is a developed capacity. This is resonant with the famous comment by the artist Joseph Beuys, who said “all of you, you too are artists.” Yet I hope we can agree that artists develop their capacity to express, as do musicians, dancers, or chefs. So too concerning a ripening of spontaneous philosophy. This is why Gramsci suggests we must move to a second level, of developed capacity by means of a critical awareness.

A few years ago in the middle of my tenure in grad school, I received a fortune cookie that professed “the philosophy of one century is the common sense of the next.”  My fortune cookie resonates with this notion of a critical capacity that Gramsci proposes, because culture changes, and more quickly today than ever before, with the increasing role of communication technologies changing how we relate to others and how we come to know what we know, believe what we believe. What is also suggested by Gramsci and the fortune cookie is that one needs to develop and refine their critical awareness and sensibilities. It is an imperative predecessor to nurture the ways how human organisms flourish.To color outside the box, one must first be able to notice outside the box.

It seems that anything that rightfully earns the title philosophy that would benefit our everyday lives, often has a perspective from the fringes of the popular sentiments of a society. Otherwise the word, the idea, and the practices of philosophy would not exist. In effect, philosophy worthy of the title considers what we don’t normally notice, it serves as a corrective to ideas, values, and practices that have drawn an individual, group or a society too far off on a tangent from values and sensibilities that nurture human flourishing for all and for the living world we participate in. A philosopher is one that inspires, a “change of taste,” in terms of the contemporary collective sensibilities.  
A philosophy of praxis cannot but present itself at the outset in a polemical and critical guise, as superseding the existing mode of thinking. . . it must be a criticism of common sense.  Antonio Gramsci 

Giorgio Agamben describes this role of the philosopher as being a “contemporary.”

Those who are truly contemporary, who truly belong to their time, are those who neither perfectly coincide with it nor adjust themselves to its demands. . . but precisely through this disconnection . . . they are more capable than others of perceiving and grasping their own time.

Contemporaries are “those who  do not allow themselves to be blinded by the lights of the century, and so manage to get a glimpse of the shadows in those lights.” As a contemporary, your capacity and your vocation is “not only to firmly fix your gaze on the darkness of the epoch, but to  perceive in this darkness a light that, while directed towards us, infinitely distances itself from us,” as the collective sensibilities of an era exert a social gravity of compliance to the norm.  Yet, the philosopher as contemporary

returns to a part within the present that we are absolutely incapable of living. . . nothing other than this unlived element in everything that is lived. . . The attention to this ‘unlived’ is the life of the contemporary.

Michel Foucault succinctly describes how the task of the philosopher as contemporary is

to give some assistance in wearing away certain self-evidences and commonplaces . . . to contribute to changing certain things in people’s ways of perceiving and doing things; to participate in this difficult displacement of forms of sensibility and thresholds of tolerance. . . . to bring about that they ‘no longer know what to do’, so that the acts, gestures, discourses that up until then had seemed to go without saying become problematic, difficult, dangerous.

Gramsci also suggest that it is important that a change of taste, a different sensibility proposed by philosophy must “already enjoys or could enjoy a certain diffusion,” because it draws on something about us human organisms that, upon being introduced to the sensibilities of such philosophy, we feel a connection to what it proposes, an “implicit” affinity that resonates with how we are human organisms. In effect, the culture went off on a tangent from ways that nurture and vitalize the community of human organisms.

How can philosophy actually be beneficial in our lives today?  

What comes to mind when you think of philosophy? Sometimes, inspiring ideas. Often, we have a feeling that it is dry and abstract, too much heady rationalizing. In our world today, most philosophers are academics, and our interaction with them is a college humanities intro course. Surely, we gained something valuable from this encounter  Many famous philosophers (is that an oxymoron?) are political philosophers, and while what they do often is concerned with issues of life in mass society, we may benefit from their works without knowing.  Of course, whether philosophical writings are difficult to understand does not take away from their potential benefit.

If we  consider a definition of philosophy borne of the common etymology of the word, we get the love of wisdom, which Luce Irigaray fruitfully turns upside-down, proclaiming that “the wisdom of love,” rather than the love of wisdom, “is perhaps the first meaning of philosophy.”

Drawing upon Aristotle’s theory of friendship, Agamben notes how a human organism incessantly experiences a vivid, raw poignancy of the “sensation of being”—we feel alive! Yet, when we are graced by friendship, we notice “there is another sensation. . . that takes the form of a joint sensation, or con-sent with the existence of the friend.”

Friendship is so tightly linked to the definition of philosophy that it can be said that without it, philosophy would not really be possible. The intimacy between friendship and philosophy is so profound that philosophy contains the philos, the friend, in its very name.

This love that grounds wisdom is not simply romantic love, nor simply a love of others, it is being in love with life, that inescapably familiar yet mysterious, impersonal yet very intimate feeling of our aliveness.  Yet this philos is only where we begin.

Irigaray suggests that an honestly beneficial philosophy necessarily “joins together, more than it has done in the west, the body, the heart, and the mind.” Further, she insists

That it not be founded on contempt of nature. That it not resort to logic that formalizes the real by removing it from concrete experience, that it be less a normative science of truth than the search for measures that help us in living better: with oneself, with others, with the world.

Pierre Hadot, a scholar of ancient philosophy, wrote of the ways that, during the foundational era of the tradition in the west, philosophy was understood as a “way of life,” touching all parts of our lives. He makes this emphasis exactly because philosophy has lost its way, an integration with life in practice. What he suggests as relevant philosophical practices from that golden era includes contemplative “spiritual” exercises, including one called the “flight of the mind” to gain “the view from above.” While such practices are undeniably helpful, it is important, as Irigaray suggests, to balance such practices with those which cultivate the wisdom inherent to our embodiment. The vital  aliveness that all human organisms share can become abstracted, too heady and philosophy can be accused of lacking heart and gut. If a view from above intends to gain wider perspective, we must recognize that we also gain a valuable  and more nuanced perspective attending to the fleshy, mortal sensibilities of a human organism, including our qualities as profoundly social mammals.

Philosophy for human organisms

What brings us to experience others, to feel our separateness as well as what stimulates our affinity, is our existential status as embodied human organisms. I like to use the phrase “human organisms” because it suggest so much more of what we are that we sometimes forget—animals that are highly social, speaking and often literate. Furthermore, in our era, our lives are highly influenced by communications technologies, from language to iPhones, and, for many, we have a significant degree of leisure.  All of these are important factors that we must attend to for effective philosophical theories and practices.

How is our awareness of our inherent embodiment a valuable trait of philosophy? Michel Serres notes that “sensation, it used to be said, inaugurates intelligence,” and more specifically, “taste induces sapience”  He invokes a forgotten etymological hint—that our embodiment is the inherent source of wisdom as human organisms. He explains how, due to our forgetfulness of our status as human organisms, we are “too quick to forget that”

homo sapiens refers to those who react to sapidity, appreciate and seek it out, those for whom the sense of taste matters—savoring animals—before referring to judgment, intelligence, or wisdom, before referring to talking man.

“Speaking is not sapience. The first tongue needs the second”. Seres reminds us that “wisdom comes after taste, cannot arise without it.” In other words, a sensibility inherent to wisdom is a taste-like sensibility. Perhaps this is why there has been an ongoing affinity between philosophy and the power of aesthetic experience. “Knowledge cannot come to those who have neither tasted nor smelled,” Serres proclaims. Without engaging and developing the range of sensibilities arising from the multivalent modalities of human organisms, our capacity as speaking beings can lose access to valuable inherent capacities for wisdom. As savoring animals, we must savor not only life, or a glass of wine, but our embodied sensibilities, others, and every situation we find ourselves in. How is it we may begin to develop this capacity to savor?

Juicy philosophy is based on an understanding that to experience greater wellbeing it is necessary to become more subtly aware of our “sensory profile.” The term suggests the varying degrees to which we live via our various sensory openings to the world, while such variances profoundly influence how we interact with others and the situations we find ourselves amid.

You would probably agree that human organisms rely highly upon the sense of sight, but this tendency has side effects or byproducts that effect our sensibilities in subtle yet far-reaching ways. What we call objectivity arises from a sensorial capacity to experience objects, most highly developed in sight, and furthermore, eye-hand coordination brings even greater confidence to both our experiences of things and also, most importantly, its derivative sensibility, objectivity. Literacy also has its profound side effects upon our sensibilities.  Upon the solid footing of these tendencies, we now live our lives to a precarious degree by means of electronic communications media, thus we often experience ourselves exceedingly in our heads, behind our eyes, between our ears—the two sensory modalities that communications technologies. invoke. Yet this is not something new—even before written language and web surfing on smartphones, the inherent human phenomenon Drew Leder calls the “absent body” describes how our sensory motor capacity to do things with things in the world also lends to a forgetting how we get these things done, i.e., as embodied living organisms.

To regain our inherent capacity of embodied wisdom, we must get out of our heads and practice being a body being aware, engaging and enlivening the more dormant aspects of our more resplendent capacities of a fuller sensory profile that the ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles suggested is paramount to exercising metis, the human virtue immortalized by the Greek goddess of this name, who embodied wisdom, skill, even cunning, yet also prudence.

The three limbs by which  juicy philosophy engages the world 

The first limb is  critical and, at times, logical. A greater, more nuanced awareness of our status as human organisms and a critical sensibility that recognizes why we need philosophy today in our era. The characteristics of our era suggest specific needs of philosophical theories and practice, perhaps in ways that makes some of the issues and concerns of philosophy in different eras irrelevant. Yet critical capacity also includes understanding logic, but most importantly an understanding of logical fallacies. To paraphrase the linguist and political critic Noam Chomsky, pollticians, advertising, and PR in general are all interested in in subtly misinforming you. We need to develop a critical awareness of the limitations imposed upon us, what Herbert Marcuse called “surplus repression,” suggesting unnecessary limitations imposed upon us. Yet human organisms do not live on critique alone. There are two other limbs that juicy philosophy stands upon, touches the ground, engages others, and invokes movement and change.

The second limb is both nurturing and vitalizing. Its activities engage both the the relational modalities of the highly social mammal that speaks, and the fleshy aliveness that somatic practices develop. What is typically referred to as the socio-political and psychological modalities of human organisms must always be integrated not only the relational posture of philosophical friendship, but and the somatic (first person embodied experience) fleshy-aliveness of the human organism. The second limb encompasses the practices that enables us to ripen, and because of its relational and embodied characteristic, it is one of the ways philosophy becomes a way of life, and its practices are not only intellectual in nature.

The third limb of a juicy philosophy is transformative in nature. It too involves philosophy as a way of life. Here we can share briefly some of the theoretical roots of the transformative limb of juicy philosophy, which concerns the role of rituals in our lives. Rituals express an inexpressible aspect of who we are and feeds us in a way redolent of the shared existential feeling of philosophical friends. Ritual has several distinctive characteristics in juicy philosophy.

One, is the understanding of what Mario Perniola calls “ritual without myth.” In ways, a practice of a secular, everyday mysticism, without traces of occultism—a respect for life beyond words and a growing humility with words, a growing appreciation and greater familiarity with wordless living.

Secondly, we must recognize rituals, such as the practice of flavor play are characteristically the profanation of something sacred, whether sacred in a religious or a secular way. Flavor play is, from this perspective. a profane gastronomy, a profanation of the sacred cultural practice of gastronomy.

Thirdly, we must understand that rituals may be formal or informally a ritual, consciously or unconsciously so..”The ritual transmission of customs tends to characterize the everyday,” suggests Perniola. If you sit in traffic for an hour, twice a day, five days a week, this is a ritual. Yet so is looking out the window quietly  with the first few sips of your morning coffee, or if, alternatively, if you read the paper or your Facebook wall.

Finally, practicing rituals as a conscious invocation of a ritual without myth, we are engaging in a political activity, stimulating a change of taste, invoking and indulging other possibilities of wellbeing and flourishing inherent to the human organism that have been left at the wayside. Thus Perniola rightly defines a ritual without myth as engaging a sensibility that is aesthetic, suggesting what Welmer deems the “autonomy” of the aesthetic sensibility in relation to common sense and tradition. Perniola describes ritual without myth as “an emancipation of gestures and modes of behavior with respect to their functionality and their motivations,” allowing for news forms of life to emerge as an other possibility from our commonly enacted forms of life.

Ritual without myth, as collaborative, improvisational performance art, suggests an “aesthetic education of man,” that Schiller proposed over two centuries ago in the face of the nascent problems of the hegemony of so-called reason in mass society.

How can you bring juicy philosophy into your life?

It seems that one who hears a calling from outside the box of present-day conventions needs a friend, a companion on this way, a guide or a teacher, as always was the case in the ancient mediterranean philosophical schools and likewise in the popular Buddhist traditions, including how they are manifesting in the West. Reading books and participating in the amazing wealth of engagement that the internet offers will never replace face to face engagement, whether around a table, taking a stroll, silently sharing a view or a glass of wine.

The practices of a juicy philosophy must engage the multivalent modalities of the human organism.  A truly juicy philosophy is an education about living well, learning and practicing how to be a ripe human organism.

And learning is not obtaining knowledge, but gaining experience and developing an inherent skill of the sapient, savoring organism. Many of us are not taught how to live well, as adult education is often vocational training, with a small taste of humanities added. Within the teachings of juicy philosophy, our notion of  adult education spans from an education in learning how to live well and includes aspects of what in contemporary culture we define as psychotherapy as well, but also, in some ways, a post-secular theology.

A  juicy philosopher is a catalyzing friend, a teacher who brings you to notice and then develop your innate sensibilities that support wellbeing, as was the case in the ancient philosophical schools, facilitating practices that that develop into a way of life.

This suggests a two-fold role of a juicy philosopher. First, as the critical cultural theorist of the human organism—one who notices outside the box of conventions, who sees a incongruity between the practices and values of an era and the potential for human flourishing at that time amid its conditions. In effect, a philosopher must be a contemporary of the era, as Agamben suggests. Yet also, as much of what philosophy has to offer may seem dry and abstract to many, there are voices and notions within the outpouring of philosophical theories that we find actually beneficial for human organisms. Some of us have a taste for exploring the theoretical landscape for poignant sensibilities that resonate with our impersonal wisdom, our inherent embodied genius. Our task is to share this with others.

Secondly, the role of juicy philosopher is as a teacher and a Maitre d’ at the existential table of life, an engaging learning catalyst to nurture and vitalize the capacities of human organisms, capacities that are inherent, though are drowned out by the social gravitational forces that the common sensibilities and practices of the era exert upon most of us, most of the time.

As a Maitre d’ at the existential table of life, the juicy philosopher facilitates an attitude of “studious playfulness” in the art of living and creating new forms of life.

The philosophical Maitre d’s role is to facilitate practices individually and among the companions of juicy philosophy, such as  sharpening one’s critical rigor, the profane gastronomy of flavor play, learning a new way with words,  “embodying wellbeing,”, or an ecotherapy amid the elements—earth, water, sun, wind, sky.

In short—the goal of a juicy philosophy is to refine your sensibilities in order to notice the subtleties that have not-so-subtle influences, allowing you to more creatively and effectively, in a more response-able fashion, appreciate, nurture, and vitalize your life, and transform your ways of living.

Are you ripe for the wisdom that a juicy philosophy has to offer? Is such an invitation temptingly appealing in a somewhat scandalous way?

2 thoughts on “Juicy philosophy: A way of life for ripening human organisms

  1. Hi Tomas. This is all truly interesting. In Italy there is a movement which must be about 15 years old now, which is about spreading philosophy and creating it with people, including teaching it in non academic ways. Master classes are offered for those with an academic degree in philosophy who are interested in learning how to bridge the chasm between philosophy and real people (and, often, with their emotional self). So now, for example, people with existential questions may choose among a psychological therapy, a religious retreat, or… a philosophical counseling. In my mind, the three are not mutually exclusive, but clearly there are important differences. I believe you speak Italian? Are you connected to this movement already?

    Ciao

    Gianluigi

    • ciao Gianluigi-

      and what is the name of this practice in Italian? there is something in the US called philosophical counseling, which, to my somewhat brief consideration, seems more like an analytical consideration, more prone to a life of thought, in our life of language. thanks for the insight

      thomas

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