Philosophers explore a wide range of questions but the core questions that form the foundation of a philosophical education are “Is the world really there?” and “If so, how can I know anything about that world?”
These are not questions that anyone else is concerned with. In ordinary life, we are concerned with how to deal with real things and real people, not wondering whether they exist. Academic philosophy begins where the concerns of everyday life end. This is largely because philosophy is concerned with the mind, subjective experience, and how it connects to a world distinct from and independent of the mind. But in trying to answer these questions, academic philosophy assumes a stance of detachment, questioning the fundamental assumptions we make about ourselves and our connection to reality and to others.
These are interesting, in fact, fascinating questions. However, there is no particularly good reason why these concerns should be central or why philosophical reflection should begin with this sense of detachment.
Suppose we shift the focus. Suppose we begin to think philosophically by thinking about something very ordinary such as food and wine. When you’re hungry or thirsty there is no time to doubt the existence of a “real world.” We have to shop or forage, store, cook, eat, and drink. Real, practical problems arise for which we must find solutions. Abstract, hypothetical questions seem less important.
Instead of an isolated mind trying to make contact with a hypothetical world that may or may not exist, we find ourselves already living with others and dependent on them. Farmers, all manner of purveyors, and the people we cook and eat with form a world of mutual sustenance in which our full engagement makes skeptical questions about real existence irrelevant. When problems arise in these relationships, we may need to think deeply and well but always as part of a search to live a better life and always as fully engaged with things and people.
A philosophical practice concerned with food and wine is concerned not with the question “Can we know anything” but with the question of how we can make our activities more thoughtful and more satisfying. Detachment is not an option. Detachment means hunger and loneliness.
I wonder about what our civilization would be like had Plato been a foodie.