Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

Frederic Gros: A Philosophy of Walking

July 30, 2019

91BBJbiHQXL._AC_UY218_QL90_  It’s a long time since I came cross such a frustrating book. I count myself as a walker, in that I try and walk everywhere I can in my normal daily routines, and in that I love going off on walking tours, exploring hills and forests and taking in the beauty of the countryside. Although I’d also like to undertake some long-distance trails, I think that age and a foot problem probably exclude this. So a book about walking ought to be right up my street (!).

But reading this was like trying to nail jelly to a wall. Gros hardly ever seemed to be going anywhere clear, he rambled (verbally) and spent a lot of time stating what I’m afraid I have to call the bloody obvious if you are a walker yourself, leading me to think that, if you’re not a walker, then you won’t find this book very helpful, either.

He writes about famous people who apparently walked a lot – Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Kant and others, but I could never really see what he was achieving by using them as examples. A good deal of what he had to say was plain common-sense dressed up a philosophy, banal to any serious walker, I would have thought. I found him most (and that wasn’t very) interesting on Thoreau and the contrasts the latter drew between frugality and austerity, and between benefit and profit, when considering decisions about how to run his life. Gros also had a few thought-provoking comments about the idea of pilgrimage too, and I learned more about Gandhi and his many non-violent protests, which also involved a lot of walking.

So, what was the purpose behind this book? What can it say to us ordinary walkers? To this one, it was vacuous and ultimately forgettable, as well as pretentious in a way that only a certain type of very annoying French writer can be. Professional, long-distance walkers and pilgrims could write something far better and more interesting: let me point you in the direction of another French walker who is miles (!) better: Bernard Ollivier. I’ve written about many of his books, if you care to search my posts. He writes about the astonishing walks he’s actually done, the people and places he’s been to and encountered, and, more to our point here, a real philosophy of walking (though I’m not sure he’d call it that) emerges as he walks and writes…

On philosophy

February 7, 2016

When I was a language assistant in France, many years ago, I borrowed a school philosophy textbook and read it. It was an eye-opener, a revelation: sixth-formers were expected to follow a basic outline course in philosophy! The book was a great help with the remainder of my university studies, and I still occasionally go back to the notes I made from it, as a basic starting-point. Why didn’t we get to do this in England?

I’ve never made any systematic study of philosophy; some aspects still give me a headache when I try to think about them. And yet it’s fascinating stuff, and for me it has always, inevitably been linked with a spiritual journey, and has therefore overlapped with a more than passing interest in theology; aspects of theology are also capable of making my brain hurt…

As humans, we are uniquely conscious of our eventual and inevitable mortality; the question of how to face this bravely, with awareness, is surely the key to much of our species’ thinking through the ages. How do we seek to live well, to feel satisfied and even contented in what we do and achieve in our limited allocation of mortal time? How do we accept our approaching end? What is there to think and believe about the nature of the world, the universe and its purpose – if there is one?

My limited acquaintance with various thinkers hasn’t produced any magic answers. The wisdom of different cultures has varied through time: the Greeks and Romans seem to have sought to accept and become resigned to our lot; the Chinese look at how to live a good and virtuous life (which I find helpful most of the time). Christianity and Islam, being more religious than merely philosophical belief systems, urge followers to think of the possible hereafter and its rewards or punishments, and have ended up creating temporal systems with enormous amounts of power over both followers and non-followers. And more recently, as our scientific knowledge has advanced by leaps and bounds (though perhaps further in the minds of non-scientists than with scientists themselves) has emerged a tendency to shrink God and the religious or spiritual, or even to seek to eliminate them completely; science becomes the god instead… and yet, such an approach has just as many limitations as what it seeks to replace, if not more, as well as apparently permitting the pillaging of the planet along the way.

Having long had a very logical and rational streak in me, I have striven to understand a solely material world and failed: there is, for me a higher plane which for need of a better word I call spiritual; there are higher things and more complex questions than our limited intellects can fathom.

Philosophy also posits the possibility of perfectibility, which brings us back to the utopian yearnings I wrote of a few days ago. There is a very powerful drive to individual fulfilment, which is inevitably at cross-purposes with our social nature which seeks to co-operate with our fellow-creatures for our greater good. It appears to me that sometimes Western philosophy is very limited in its outlook, in the sense that it originates from, and reflects that currently very powerful part of the world that calls the shots for everyone on the planet; the individualist strand is justified (justifies itself) and achieves a hegemonic position, as supposedly leading to the greatest wealth and profit, determining the political, social and economic lives of everyone. Where that leaves me is – are we asking ourselves the right questions?

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