On the virtues of peripatetic philosophy

Aristotle was the first philosopher to extol the virtues of peripatetic philosophy or the art of thinking while walking. In our computer-bound world, the very idea of going out for a meditative walk may appear bizarre. What’s wrong with interacting with the world from the safety of one’s home or office? Descartes would have embraced the IT revolution as one can just imagine him answering young Princess Elizabeth’s latest query through extended emails and texts. Yet, this is the way philosophical enquiry began and no doubt Plato himself invited his student Aristotle for contemplative strolls down to Piraeus harbour in the same way Socrates had conducted his dialogues with friends or strangers accosted in the middle of busy Athenian streets. The Socratic method demanded the immediate receptiveness of the participants to new ways of thinking as the master’s thought s were punctuated by the rhythm of his feet. The man who described himself as a ‘gadfly’ needed the open air to chase and trap new ideas. Just like the walker’s body is constantly subjected to new impressions and sensations, his mind is liberated from the confines of pure logical thinking as well as the temptation to reach for a book and lose his unique stream of consciousness.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau found in his solitary walks the inspiration for a new Romantic sensitivity, alien to his salons obsessed contemporaries. Rousseau rediscovered his true self through his direct contact with nature. Unlike Socrates for whom walking was a way of letting his mind wander and hit upon the right train of thought, Rousseau strove to lose his ‘civilised’ self and let his ‘natural’ side enjoy the basic sensations of being at one with his surroundings. Walking certainly has a soothing effect on the mind and illness-prone Nietzsche regarded his daily perambulations as an essential therapeutic as well as philosophical exercise. His most provocative thoughts were inspired by long, strenuous walks through the mountains and valleys of the German and Italian Alps: ‘A sedentary life is the real sin against the Holy Spirit. Only those thoughts that come by walking have any value.’ Both Rousseau and Nietzsche were individualists who chose to pursue their own truth off the beaten track. Posterity celebrates them for the originality of their thought and their idiosyncratic way of thinking. Maybe, we should follow their example and take our philosophy students out of the classroom and let our feet take us onto unexplored philosophical paths.

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