I am not typically drawn to philosophy. I tend to equate it with guys sitting around earnestly discussing whether when a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear, does it make a sound. In other words, pointless ruminations. I went to hear Al Gini and Steve Edwards at the Oak Park library because I had nothing better to do. I’m glad I did.
Both men live in the area, Edwards in Oak Park and Gini in River Forest. Edwards works for NPR and was the host of a program for several years on WBEZ. Gini is a professor of business ethics at Loyola. Gini’s latest book, Seeking the Truth of Things, was the springboard for their discussion. The book is partly a memoir of how Gini became a philosopher and partly a look at what he considers to be the important philosophical questions each of us has to answer.
Gini started by saying that he thought that the central question for humankind is: How do we live well with others? He did not answer that question, but he went on to raise other important questions whose answers have direct bearing on how we can and do live together. He discussed how important work is for self definition, even work we hate. He pointed out that as adults we spend more time at work than anywhere else, so it can’t help but influence how we see ourselves. He believes we need to work to affirm ourselves. He also discussed the need in all of us to be creative, whether in how we live our lives, in our work, or in the arts.
Gini in person is funny, engaging and far ranging in the topics he covers. That same personality comes through in his book. He admits to taking his first philosophy course by mistake, thinking it was psychology which he could immediately apply to improve his success at picking up girls. He says he was hooked from his first class. He is also one of the few people who I have heard talk about Viktor Frankl and his book Man’s Search for Meaning. I first read this book as a college freshman and it has remained one of my all-time favorites. He suggested that Frankl is a good place to start reading philosophy and I agree that it is thought provoking and highly readable. So is Gini’s book.
Gini contends that questions are the central concern of philosophy, not answers. For example, he said (and I paraphrase) that Socrates, from his place in history, could not tell us how to answer the question of the ethics of genetic research but his questions about what it means to be ethical remain our questions. Other crucial questions are: What is the meaning of our lives? How can we live well with others? What does it mean to be ethical? For Gini, the questions are perennial but the answers change.
One thing I especially liked about both his book and the discussion was the good will and honest seeking for knowledge. I cannot listen to TV pundits any more because I am weary of the bitterness, anger and cynicism expressed about the world and people. These talking heads seem locked into their positions and although they throw words at each other, they don’t listen or appear interested in what anyone else is saying. They dismiss anyone who shows any emotion outside of anger as naïve or intellectually flabby.
It was refreshing to listen to a discussion about ideas and questions that didn’t beat anyone down. I think I could get hooked on philosophy myself.
Gini’s book, a slim volume of less than 100 pages, is available through The Book Table. It is worth your time.