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Five philosophers on the joys of walking

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René Descartes argued that each of us is, fundamentally, a thinking thing. Thought is our defining activity, setting us aside from animals, trees, rocks. I suspect this has helped market philosophy as the life of the mind, conjuring up philosophers lost in reverie, snuggled in armchairs. But human beings do not, in fact, live purely in the mind. Other philosophers have recognised this, and connected our inner lives with an everyday, bodily process: walking. The act of putting one foot in front of another creates rhythm, movement, and can elevate the spirit. From teaching to reflecting, here are some suggestions for your next stroll.1. Aristotle: Walk and talk.Aristotle was named a peripatetic, one who paces, for his habit of strolling up and down whilst teaching. For Aristotle, walking facilitates talking – and, presumably, thinking. Although Aristotle’s walking was famous, he was not the first philosopher to have the habit. Socrates was delighted at how students trailed after their teacher, as reported in Plato’s Protagoras: “I saw how beautifully they took care never to get in Protagoras’ way. When he turned around with his flanking groups, the audience to the rear would split into two in a very orderly way and then circle around to either side and form up again behind him. It was quite lovely.” Comedy writers of the time also made fun of Plato for tiring out his legs whilst working out “wise plans.”2. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Examine everything in your own time.For Rousseau, the great benefit of walking is that you can move at your own time, doing as much or as little as you choose. You can see the country you’re travelling through, turn off to the right or left if you fancy, examine anything which interests you. In Emile, he writes: “To travel on foot is to travel in the fashion of Thales, Plato, and Pythagoras. I find it hard to understand how a philosopher can bring himself to travel in any other way; how he can tear himself from the study of the wealth. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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