It is not often society is forced to a standstill—our routines and norms have been shaken up like ice in a glass.
People are losing their lives and loved ones, too. To put it simply, we are living through difficult, unprecedented times. But, at the risk of sounding cliché or overly optimistic, there are lessons to be gleaned from them.
We are all learning—about unity, authority, hope, and more—whether we realize it or not. And we all should be reflecting on our lives, which means engaging in some philosophy. This is not just an effect of our worlds being turned upside down. It can be a coping mechanism for it.
Philosophy calls us to ask seemingly simple questions about the world and society. Of course, the simplest questions can be the most difficult. Philosopher John Kagg, for instance, recently told Wisconsin Public Radio:
"When people are in crisis or are deeply unsettled, they tend to ask existential questions — like, why am I here? Where did I come from? Is life worth living? How do I go on in a meaningful way? And times, like the one we are in right now, give us a chance to ask these questions in a new way."
Asking these questions can also help people focus on what is important. In March—when most people truly woke up to the extent of the impact and danger of coronavirus —the website Quartz published a piece called "Read this ancient text to deal with coronavirus pandemic stress". Sometimes, stress is the result of resisting some component of reality or of being overwhelmed by tasks and distractions. By reflecting on that, the stress may be minimized.
Of course, philosophy is not a solitary activity. While it requires reading and self-reflection, it also requires dialogue. That’s why philosophy centers are so important. They unite philosophers all over the world, allowing top thinkers to work through questions like those being surfaced by the current pandemic. In 2009, for instance, philosophy faculty at Moscow State University established The Center for Consciousness Studies.
Since its founding, the Center has hosted leading philosophy scientists from Oxford, Carnell, Cambridge, New York, and other top universities. It has organized numerous events as well, including a true philosophical expedition in 2018. That year, its conference ("Problems of consciousness and free will in analytics philosophy") was held on-board a sailing ship that cruised along the coast of Greenland.
Now, with the field of philosophy more central than ever to our lives, the Center is hosting a Summer School. The School aims to provide young thinkers with the chance to collaborate and solve current philosophical problems. This year, graduate students and recent PhDs from around the world will elaborate on the "Consciousness and Introspection” topic under the guidance of Daniel Stoljar, Professor of Philosophy at the Australian National University.
In some sense, we are all in a philosophical summer school right now. The potential of philosophy to impact our day-to-day lives, especially in the wake of the pandemic, is seemingly endless. As such, it’s more important than ever for individuals to read and reflect—and for leading thinkers to gather and work through big ideas around humanity, existence, thought, and consciousness. Philosophy can and will help us cope with this crisis—and be better because of it.
Luke Fitzpatrick has been published in Forbes, Yahoo! News and Influencive. He is also a guest lecturer at the University of Sydney, lecturing in Cross-Cultural Management and the Pre-MBA Program. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.