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Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Inkling of Philosophy

I’ve sometimes wondered what it was that drew me into Philosophy. If people ask, I tell them, truthfully, that I came to Philosophy via the Classics. But even as I give that answer, I know it’s not the full the truth. There was something in Philosophy that called to me the first time I read Plato’s Republic, and it has continued to call to me even when I read philosophers I disagree with. But what was it within me that was responding to this call?

A large part of it, I know, is my faith. Some people might find that strange, but the more I study Philosophy, and the more my faith is challenged, the stronger it has become. But there is a sense of direction, a hint of a pattern, in my philosophical interests that point to something else. I can see it in my younger writings. The little poems scribbled out in my fifth grade handwriting, the longer poems I wrote in Middle School (once I learned poems didn’t have to rhyme), and the short stories and un-finished “novels” I made attempts at in High School. All were written before I even knew what Philosophy as a discipline was, yet looking back, many of my writing follow a clear line in philosophical thought.

As early as fifth grade, I was asking the question “what is real?”. In Middle School, I devoted many lines of poetry to that question. I wondered what was more real- the world I interacted with everyday, or something beyond it. I didn’t feel at home in this so-called “real” world- was their a greater reality I couldn’t reach? I pushed the question further in High School, as I asked if the door in the hallway was of equal reality to the thoughts in my head. In retrospect, it’s little wonder reading Plato was like waking up for me.

But the reason I felt inspired to write this blog post is that I think I might have found the book(s) that first woke up these philosophical musings in me. Looking for a fun, easy read this week. I picked up a favourite childhood book, A Wind in the Door, companion to a Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. And as I read it, I suddenly began to see the beginnings of the questions that I had posed in my poetry. “What is real?”, the Teacher in the book repeatedly asks his pupils.

In her introduction to A Wind in the Door, L’Engle wrote “In the Time novels, Meg and Polly ask some big questions. Many of us ask these questions as we’re growing up, but we tend to let them go because there’s so much else to do […] In each book the characters are living into the questions we all have to live into. Some of these questions don’t have finite answers, but the questions themselves are important. Don’t stop asking, and don’t let anybody tell you the questions aren’t worth it. They are.”

L’Engle passed away in 2007, but her books still challenge their readers to ask questions. They certainly did for me. 

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