Operative Philosophy

I have been introduced recently to the concept of “operative philosophy”, which stands opposite to “speculative philosophy”. Operative philosophy refers to an approach wherein the thinker tries to bring philosophy into one’s own experience. Speculative philosophy, on the contrary, consists of a bare reflection devoid of personal experience on the matter reflected upon. In my view, there is a colossal gap between these two approaches. While the first approach is meaningful, the second resembles a dry dessert. What use or benefit may have a mere speculation on a topic without really digging into it and bringing it into one’s experience? I personally think it would become a useless theory particularly when we are dealing with questions that are intrinsically connected with our personal lives, emotions and vital questions, such as the ones raised by Buddhist philosophy, like: what are the real causes of suffering, or what is our real identity?  

Professor Diane Denis emphasizes the aspect of operative philosophy in our class on Yogācāra thought. In her classes, we dedicate the first five minutes to meditate and apply what we are studying to personal experience. I find it very inspiring. Meditation is an excellent tool that could be introduced in educative institutions so that the knowledge received does not become a mere theory, but a nectar that goes deep into our minds and penetrates our whole being.

A caricature of me by my brother

For instance, when meditating in the Yogācāra class, we contemplate the fact that all our experiences happen in our own mind and consciousness, and there is no external world experienced apart from our own perception. Becoming aware of this, we have a more direct experience of the questions raised by this school of thought, and thus we become more familiar with their approach until it makes sense for our personal understanding. In that way, philosophy becomes transformative and powerful because one tries to incorporate the values and views of the school into one’s own understanding of life. In that sense, it may bring positive changes to one’s own way of thinking and engaging with life.  

Thus, an operative philosopher who wants to bring some color and flavor to one’s own reflections meditates before the class to get tuned to an introspective journey towards the depth of philosophy and the questions of life and existence. After all, the philosopher is driven by the thirst of knowledge to find the meaning of everything, and what else can be more meaningful than the personal experience of the possible answers to one’s questions? 

Maite Castellano 

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