Grown-Ups and the Wonder of Big Ideas: Guest Post by Marietta McCarty

We're huge fans of lifelong learning, especially when it involves food!  Author and philosopher Marietta McCarty blazes trails into big ideas for thinkers of all ages.

In both of your philosophy books for adults, you discuss the role that philosophy can play in everyday life.  What was your inspiration for taking this “grass roots” approach?

My study of philosophy in college was exhilarating, liberating, and a true liftoff. It seeped into my every day easily, unasked.  Leaving it behind after graduation was never a possibility. I couldn’t imagine living without an inner sanctuary filled with what British philosopher Bertrand Russell termed “goods of the mind.” A questioning intellect continuously arranged and rearranged my priorities and corrected errors, just as previous insights steadied me during difficulties. Philosophy, which I define as “the art of clear thinking,” deserves my lifelong cultivation. Alas, in graduate school I witnessed what happens to philosophy when dialogue and creativity disappear—here, and only here, is what Plato or Kant means, repeat after me…period. Whatever philosophy is, it is neither stale nor set in stone. It is alive, asking the unanswerable, stretching toward the infinite, prodding the unknown. The community college provided the ideal setting for me professionally and personally to spark philosophical curiosity—if a course isn’t relevant to these hardworking students, most of whom have plenty of outside responsibilities, they will flee!

Happy philosophers after discussion of "A Fruitful Ecological Solution," set in Kenya.

Philosophy for children is praised for its ability to foster skills like critical thinking and communication.  What skills do adults who are new to philosophy stand to gain from it?

Philosophy opens the mind and the heart, making room for sound ideas by discarding lazy assumptions, damaging emotions, and untested opinions. The bigger the world, the less my self-absorption…new avenues appear when I reassess the meaning of happiness…realizing how old and full the world is, my sense of entitlement now embarrasses me…embracing responsibility for being a part of the world chips away at my ego…relieved to know that I am not the center of the universe, I can relax and appreciate life’s simple pleasures…my flexible outlook welcomes change (including my mind!) as inevitable. Philosophy’s deep well of clarity has staying power. Gratitude settles in. Good living prospers.

Diners dig in to good food and good conversation at a local restaurant.

“The Philosopher’s Table” takes the unique approach of combining philosophy with food (including actual recipes).  How have readers reacted to this?

Pass the carafe, please! More oregano! Light the candles. Food is the number one icebreaker and relationship maker. “Breaking bread” lies at the heart of so many spiritual traditions for good reason: Communion. We suffer as individuals and as societies when we neglect the importance of eating and talking together. It’s almost as if The Philosopher’s Table gives readers the “go ahead” to take time and gather round. The technological revolution isolates us if we are not very careful. Instant, constant communication on screens will never replace nor match the shoulder-to-shoulder sharing of bread and ideas.

Hands gently pass the ever-popular No-Knead African Seed Bread.

Your previous book is entitled “How Philosophy Can Save Your Life.”  Philosophy is an age-old practice, but can it save us in the 21st century?

The practice of philosophy stands a very good chance of saving us. It relies on two arts without which we can’t survive: the arts of clear thinking and good conversation. Dr. King asked, “Is your heart right? If your heart isn’t right, fix it up today.” Our minds must overcome anger and hatred—if we replace them with gratitude and kindness, two powerful forces for good, then peace has a chance.

Candles lit and wine pouring to celebrate February in England, anticipating a chat about Mental Clarity over Stout Beef with Biscuits.

What’s next on your to do list for grown-up philosophers? 

I’m going to work on my mental clarity, persistence and grace, empathy—the topics in my two books for grownups! I learn from every talk I give, workshop, email exchange, dinner table interaction—so I’ll keep hanging out my philosopher’s shingle. Occasional thoughts drift toward another book, one which would be very different from the first three. We’ll see. Right now, a dog walk in the snow, blanketed by sunshine, beckons.

In addition to National Bestseller Little Big Minds: Sharing Philosophy With Kids, Marietta McCarty is the author of Nautilus Book Award winner How Philosophy Can Save Your Life: 10 Ideas That Matter Most, and The Philosopher’s Table: How to Start Your Philosophy Dinner Club – Monthly Conversation, Music, and Recipes. Having been Assistant Professor of Philosophy since 1988 at Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville, Virginia, her teaching now revolves around her books. She hosts workshops, gives talks, teaches classes, and delights in joining philosophy circles of all ages.  

Find more about Marietta and her work, including some fantastic interviews, on her website.  

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