Throughout this semester in Philosophy 102, my definition of what philosophy is has evolved tremendously. Prior to this course, I saw philosophy as a field of ancient study dominated by famous Greek and Roman thinkers. I imagined it to be sophisticated discussions of vague concepts – predominantly pertaining to thinking and knowledge. However, as the course progressed I was able to see the importance philosophy plays in modern day, and its relevancy to daily life. This caused a change in my preconceived notions, helping me arrive at a new definition and enabling me to view the world from a different lens. In this paper, I will start by defining what philosophy means to me. Next, I will provide an example of how I practice philosophy according to my definition, focusing on my diet. Lastly, I will apply that definition to a popular health and nutrition documentary, What the Health, thereby establishing its philosophical nature. Ultimately, this paper will provide another interpretation of philosophy, demonstrating an additional way in which it can be applied in the world.
My definition of philosophy is based upon Socrates’ belief that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Plato, “Apology,” 13). This statement was recorded by Socrates’ pupil, Plato, during the former’s trial. When charged with corrupting the youth and impiety, Socrates rationalizes his actions by referring to his personal philosophy (5). In his explanation Socrates refers to himself as a gadfly, gifted by God to the Athenians (9). Socrates tries to show to the Athenians that in his role as a gadfly he is “fastening upon [the Athenians], arousing and persuading and reproaching” them (10). Without the harmless nuisance that Socrates imposes, the state of Athens would not be critical of its actions, as it is Socrates who constantly challenges the status quo. In fact, Socrates’ method of inquiry has been coined the Socratic Method, as it is unique to the way he practiced philosophy. An example of this method can be found in Socrates’ conversation with a clergyman named Euthyphro, in which he is trying to define piety (Plato, “Euthyphro,” 4). Socrates asks Euthyphro many questions, and just as the latter reaches a response, Socrates cleverly reveals the fallacies of that answer (5-8). This method of inquiry, although often vexing and irritating, results with individuals questioning their beliefs and trying to identify the reasons behind them. Evidently, Socrates was a bit careless in his method, as it concluded with growing resentment towards him that culminated with his execution at trial (Plato, “Apology,” 4). Nonetheless, the example with Euthyphro, a clergyman that cannot define piety, imprinted upon me the importance of questioning one’s beliefs. This idea has become the foundation of my personal definition of philosophy. Like Socrates, I believe in the necessity of examining one’s life. Where I diverge from Socrates is that I apply this idea not to vague concepts and words such as impiety, but to established activities or actions that have become so ingrained in my life that, unless I consciously question them, will go unnoticed. One such activity is the way I eat, which was a topic I put under philosophical scrutiny this year.
As a consequence of starting university and living on my own, I began to think more about the decisions I was making regarding food. When I was living in my parents’ home, I seldom questioned what I ate – I would just have whatever my mother had prepared that day. However, switching to eat at my campus residence cafeteria, there were far more food-decision to be made. Instead of unthinkingly settling into a habit, I decided to practice what would later become my definition of philosophy and examine this aspect of my life. I started by searching online for dietary guidelines and advice, however I soon realized that the plethora of contradictory information will be impossible to navigate effectively. I quickly identified documentaries as a better way to learn about health and nutrition. This strategy enabled me to practice my current definition of philosophy with people doing just the same; namely, filmmakers determined to shed light on an unexamined part of life. One such filmmaker, Kip Andersen, is what I believe to be a modern-day gadfly, and it was his film, What the Health that inspired me to continue examining this aspect of my life and change it.
What the Health is a film which traces back the astonishing growth in chronic diseases -specifically heart disease, cancer, and diabetes- to diet. In the film, Andersen investigates the causes behind the rise in these illnesses, echoing Socrates in his inquiries. On the What the Health website, Andresen’s start as a filmmaker is described as an “awakening;” Socrates uses similar language, comparing the Athenians who learn from his questioning and get frustrated by it to those who are “suddenly awakened from sleep” (Plato, “Apology,” 10). Much like Socrates, Andresen goes to experts in their field, and questions them about matters to which he expects they would have answers (like a clergyman knowing the definition of piety). However, he finds that getting an answer is far more difficult than one would anticipate. Throughout the film, Andersen’s use of the Socratic method unveils shocking information about the dietary misconceptions so commonly accepted by our society. After viewing this film, I began watching countless other documentaries about food, nutrition, and what composes a healthy diet. Some of the information I came across shocked me, not so much the facts but the possibility that they are not known by most people, and that in many cases, the opposite is held true. For example, dairy is believed to strengthen bones, but it has been found that in countries where dairy consumption is the highest, so too are the rates of osteoporosis (What the Health, 29:47). This is but a mere example of the information What the Health and similar documentaries have discovered. The volume of uncovered statistics, coupled with consistently reliable sources, has pushed me to examine my life in terms of diet, ultimately adopting a vegetarian lifestyle and reducing the amount of animal products I consume. Although at the time I did not attribute this quest for knowledge as philosophy, I have now realized that I was, in fact, practicing my own definition of philosophy. Moreover, this definition parallels that of a great Greek thinker I once considered far-removed and irrelevant in my daily life.
As demonstrated, through Philosophy 102 my notion of philosophy has significantly shifted. From an ancient study, my definition of philosophy has evolved to mean examining aspects of one’s life to reach meaningful conclusions. Such a definition enables me to dissect different parts of my life, for example my diet. Moreover, this definition has allowed me to appreciate others’ philosophical journeys, like that of Kip Andersen through his film. Ultimately, I am now able to identify philosophy when I see it in the world. This helps me lead a more informed life, and one that I -along with Socrates- would argue is worth living.
Kip Andersen’s Film Website: http://www.whatthehealthfilm.com
What the Health Film Trailer:
What the Health. Directed by Andersen, Kip, and Keegan Kuhn. A.U.M. Films & Media, 2017.