Practical Philosophy St Albans

Discover a deeper meaning to life with our course of weekly discussions

Blog: “Assume a virtue, if you have it not.”

“Assume a virtue, if you have it not.”

31 July 2019
 

This quotation is very familiar to our students, as one we’ve used in our introductory philosophy class for many years.

In these words, Shakespeare’s Hamlet advises his mother to practise good habits.

By ‘assume a virtue’, he does not, of course, mean to pretend, but rather to adopt the virtue.

In this, he echoes the philosopher Aristotle, who also believed that, in order to acquire a virtue, we first have to practise it – just like learning to ride a bike.

The speech continues:

“That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat of habits evil, is angel yet in this, that to the use of actions fair and good he likewise gives a frock or livery, that aptly is put on."

So, just as habit can reinforce harmful traits and behaviour, it can also work the other way, to help us develop useful ones.

Beautifully expressed by Shakespeare,  the advice is also immensely practical.

There’s plenty more wisdom where this came from!

Our next introductory practical philosophy course in St Albans gets underway on October 1. Come to our free open evening and taster session on September 17 to find out more.

 

 

 

 

“Real wisdom does not merely cause us to know: it makes us ‘be’ in a different way”

17 June 2019

We're really excited about our next introductory Practical Philosophy course in St Albans starting in October. We've already had a lot of enquiries so it's looking like a good-sized group, after a few quite small ones.

To whet your appetite, here are some quotes we’ll look at on the first evening of the course itself, as we consider the question “why philosophy?”

Firstly, in case you were wondering if philosophy is really for you (it is), Epicurus said:

“Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young, nor weary in the search of it when he has grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the benefits of philosophy.”

Probably the best known quote from arguably the greatest of all Greek philosophers, Socrates:

“The unexamined life is not worth living”.

And finally Pierre Hadot, a modern-day philosopher, whose understanding of what ancient philosophy was all about really accords with the practical approach we favour in our School:

“Philosophy was a way of life, both in its exercise and effort to achieve wisdom, and in its goal, wisdom itself. For real wisdom does not merely cause us to know: it makes us “be” in a different way ... Such is the lesson of ancient philosophy: an invitation to each human being to transform himself.”

All three quotes happen to be from the western tradition, but there’ll be plenty of other insights and wisdom from the East as well as the course unfolds.

And just to leave you with one more quote to think about, here’s one from Marcel Proust, who wrote in Remembrance of Things Past:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

 

PS Places are being booked up fast for our next Practical Philosophy Open Evening and free taster session on Tuesday 17 September. It’s open to all and is a great way of finding out more about our philosophy group in St Albans and the introductory course.

 

 

"Tried mindfulness…what’s next?"

24 May 2019

Let’s be clear. Here at St Albans School of Philosophy, we’re great believers in the value of mindfulness.

In fact, since our Practical Philosophy courses first started in London in the 1950s*, we’ve introduced tens of thousands of people across the UK to the Awareness Exercise, a simple two minute practice of falling still and connecting with each of the senses in turn. It’s just about the easiest and surest way of leaving our thoughts for a while and coming into the present.

But what does this have to do with philosophy, you might ask? After all, if philosophy is all about thinking, why would you want to come out of your thoughts?

The answer lies in the word ‘practical’.

When it comes to the big questions of life, such as What is it for? What am I for? Where do I fit in?, you can try taking an intellectual, academic approach, thinking deeply, applying logic and reason and debating with others. This is, after all, is the path followed by most philosophers in the west in the last 300 years.

But there is another way. One based on observation, practice and self-discovery. The work starts on oneself – learning to live more mindfully, being more connected in the present and with those around us, less time lost in idle thoughts.

Then, as we discover insights from great philosophers of the past and test out their ideas in practice as we go about our daily life, our wisdom and understanding can really grow. We call this second approach practical philosophy.

"The Self is not known through discourse, splitting of hairs, learning however great…” (Katha Upanishad)

And here’s the thing. Mindfulness, important as it is in this journey of self-discovery, actually takes us only so far. Beyond the state of being fully connected with the present moment, the here and now, the beauty of the world around us and everyone in it, is something far greater yet.

It brings with it a sense of connection to something bigger, unlimited, universal. There may be a feeling of profound peace. An awareness of expansion, great space and freedom. A feeling of being one with everything.

This state we call Higher Consciousness is something most of us have probably experienced at some time in our lives, without realising its significance. Having a chance to talk about such experiences can provide the crucial difference that sets us on a path to a deeper understanding of who we are.

If you feel ready for the next step, you might want to consider joining our next Practical Philosophy introductory course (details are on our Events page).

 

* And, by the way, we were also early pioneers of mantra meditation, helping introduce it in the UK in the early 1960’s

 

 

"Be the change you want to see in the world"

21 April 2019

Are you someone who longs for a kinder, more compassionate society, but feels disillusioned at the ability of politicians and influencers to bring about real change?

Maybe you’re inspired by the example of schoolchildren worldwide, taking to the streets to protest against climate change…but, deep down, not truly convinced anything is really going to change.  

The consistent advice of the sages and philosophers over millennia is echoed in the words above, often attributed (mistakenly) to Gandhi: to effect change around us, we first have to look within and work on ourselves.

And so begins the journey of philosophy.

To face the big questions of life, most important of which is "who am I?"

You can take an intellectual, academic approach to questions like this, thinking deeply, applying logic and reason and debating with others. This is the path followed by most philosophers in the west in the last 300 years.

Or you can take a more practical approach, based on observation, practice and self-learning. The work starts on oneself – learning to live more mindfully, being more connected in the present and with those around us, less time lost in idle thoughts.

Then, as we discover insights from great philosophers of the past and test out their ideas in practice as we go about our daily life, our wisdom and understanding can really grow. We call this second approach practical philosophy.

Why not join us for our next Practical Philosophy introductory course? Details are on our Events page.
  
Supported by simple, practical exercises to develop things like presence, stillness, attention and awareness, the weekly class provides an opportunity for sharing experiences as well as learning new philosophical concepts. 

Our aim is to provide all the support you need to get you started with arguably the most important work known to mankind: the work of knowing yourself.