Monday, 30 August 2010

To Ponder

I have been reading 'Friends, Lovers, Chocolate' – the second in Alexander McCall Smith's 'Sunday Philosophy Club' series of (mildly philosophical) novels. I say 'mildly philosophical' because the stories in these novels tend to move quite slowly and frequently digress to ponder – rather than thoroughly interrogate – various moral questions for a paragraph or two as they go along. The protagonist Isabel Dalhousie is the editor of an academic journal 'The Review of Applied Ethics' and is the vehicle via which McCall Smith can make his various philosophical musings.
On p52, Isabel is running her niece Cat's delicatessen while she is away at a wedding in Italy when we read what I thought was an interesting and concisely made observation:

'So the morning drifted by, and not once, she reflected, had she had the opportunity to think about moral philosophy. This was cause for thought: most people led their lives this way - doing rather than thinking; they acted rather than thought about acting. This made philosophy a luxury - the privilege of those who did not have to spend their time cutting cheese and wrapping bread. From the perspective of the cheese counter, Schopenhauer seemed far away.'

Even in retirement, when one might expect there to be plenty of time for thought, there may be little of note. I remember a retired man talking on a television programme once saying how he got up at 8.30am, had breakfast at 9.00am; read the newspaper and did the crossword, then did the washing up and pottered around the garden before having a cup of coffee at 11.00am. He then complained that the morning passed very quickly and that he didn't know where the time went. Had he stopped to think, he might have realised that he had just told us: 'doing rather than thinking'. Thinking about the crossword is a form of 'doing' – a thinking about a circumscribed task rather than a broader musing. Even when pottering around the garden – if all one is doing is checking on how one's plants and cuttings are doing – can be time when one fails to see much about which to ponder.