FOR A STREET PHILOSOPHY
byÂ Silvia Soannini
‘The king takes all my time; I give the rest to Saint-Cyr, to whom I would like to give all’ (Madame de Maintenon)(1)
Philosophy began on the streets in ancient Greece 2500 years ago: It didn’t begin in academies or in the palaces of knowledge.
Socrates, the first and well-known thinker, was interested in people’s thoughts. He used to ask anyone whom he met – without discrimination based on social condition, sex or religion: ‘What does the word “good” mean to you? And what do the words “beauty”, “State” “love”, “freedom” mean to you?’,
We offer a ‘street philosophy’, too.
We are on the streets asking anyone of you a question, and you may answer, maybe by posing another question, then we will say goodbye to each other when turning at the corner at the end of the street, and we may take up our discussions after one day, one year: or we may never meet again, but, at least, we will have walked a little way together, which is something we will be always aware of.
We are not doing philosophy because it’s an “intellectual subject” or because it makes us better than other people: We do philosophy because we are human beings and the things that happen around us do affect us, they draw our attention, they prevent us from falling into the trap of indifference.
The tragic occurrences in Paris and the major escalation of violence which is taking place in the world to which we belong are known: something has happened, it provokes me, it disappoints us, it prevents me from looking the other way.
Doing philosophy means exactly ‘not looking the other way’ – no more and no less. It consists in recognising that we, as human being, need not only to act — aren’t we living in a time when what matters is only to decide and act quickly? — but also to take a backwards step, to avoid the ‘I want everything, all and immediately’ pattern, to stop a moment to wonder: what’s happening?
Does thinking make us real and alive? Is thinking and discussing about what’s going on around us a way to preserve our world?
It’s not only about Paris. The current global reality is changing rapidly: a new definition of family and environment, the distant and corrupt political elite, the social media’s new language. We all discussed these matters on an evening with friends, at the bar, on the internet.
‘Street philosophy’ doesn’t want to transform these types of communications but rather it wants to offer you — and ask you — some time: it’s about stealing some instants in which you can pause, ponder and think with your head, and finally share your thought and, by doing so, put it to the test.
Each time we will propose a reflection: and you will do the rest, if you want. It’s up to you, in the end, whether that instant you decided to take for yourself/we decided to take for ourselves, will have served a useful purpose or not.
(1) Madame de Maintenon was the official mistress of Louis XIV of France. Saint Cyr was an institution for the education of the impoverished young women of the nobility. This is a quote taken from an “Epigraph” to the first chapter of the book by Given Time. Counterfeit money Jacques Derrida, University of Chicago Press November 1992 (original title Le temps. La fausse monnaie).
Illustration by ManuelaCh