These lesser-known greats-Introduction

I am Jaco, the philosopher pilot. Welcome, you are listening to the introductory podcast of the show: “These lesser-known greats”.

Throughout history, man has pondered about existential questions. And that is still the case today, maybe more so now than ever. Whether it is to give meaning to one’s life, or simply to better understand human nature and the world in which we live, man has always had this thirst for understanding. And so, whether they lived in antiquity, in the Middle Ages or even in the modern era, great thinkers, great philosophers have come before us and have pondered these same questions. While their writings may be from a different era, the essence of their teachings resonates wisdom and is still very relevant today. But, despite the relevance of their writings, they often remain little, if at all, known. With the passage of time; these authors pass into oblivion as they come to exist solely in the imagination of a few intellectuals and scholars. But since the questions they were addressing back in their time are still the same today, wouldn’t it merit revisiting the writings of our predecessors?

I’m willing to bet that their names will probably be familiar to you. And if so, then you might not be as foreign to philosophy as you might think. If I were to mention Plato, Socrates, Aristotle or Confucius, wouldn’t these names ring a bell? In many cases, even if you’re unfamiliar with their works, their names have nonetheless managed to make their way into the minds of a large section of the population. And even if you know very little about their writing, perhaps you are familiar with some of their quotes which have found a place in popular discourse. Think of the quote from Socrates (470-399 BC), who is considered to be the father of Western philosophy “The unexamined life is not worth living” or that of Plato (428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC), Socrates most important disciple, “Love is blind” or that of Aristotle (384-322 BC) who was himself a disciple of Plato “The ignorant asserts, the learned doubts, the wise reflects.” (Free Translation of «L’ignorant affirme, le savant doute, le sage réfléchit») and finally that of Confucius (551 –479 BC), probably one of the most famous Eastern sages there ever was, which goes as follows; “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Closer to our time, while their names may not be familiar to you, I am almost certain that their quotes will be : “I think therefore I am” by René Descartes (1596–1650) or that of Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.” So, this goes to show how much the thoughts of a single individual, even though they can’t change the world on their own, can influence or at least resonate with a large number of individuals through the ages.

Our own era also counts a fair number of philosophers. I am thinking among others of Luc Ferry, Michel Onfray or André Comte-Sponville, three French philosophers, or for instance Jean Proulx, Normand Baillargeon and Charles Taylor, three Quebecer philosophers. And just like the great thinkers and great philosophers I mentioned earlier, their writings seldom find a place in the popular sphere, since too often and wrongly so, they are considered to be accessible only by an elite few. On the contrary, whatever your level of education or your social status, even if you are not familiar with certain words or certain phraseology used to illustrate their point, each of you has an innate ability to think and reflect. The intended moral and underlying ideas are much easier to understand than they may seem, regardless of the words used. And so, in this age of intellectual laziness as we are constantly bombarded with an ever-increasing oversupply from the entertainment industry, it’s important not to let our minds go numb. In addition, since it is easy to consume mainly what social media algorithms present to us as content, while reinforcing our beliefs by what can be characterized as confirmation bias, it is more important than ever to strive to broaden the horizons of our thinking.

Therefore, as Jacques Languirand did during his radio show “Par quatre chemins”, I will attempt, in my humble way, to pick up the torch that he carried for more than 42 years at the helm of his show. He made us discover great authors or philosophers, past or present, and I will try to do the same through this podcast so that together, we can reflect. Disarmingly simple and breathtakingly true, the words of these “Greats” are often far more accessible than our preconceptions might lead us to believe. And in order to illustrate my point and pique your curiosity, allow me to present some quotes that I particularly like. You will see that the sampling is very eclectic because I won’t inspire myself solely from renowned philosophers, but from all great thinkers with the potential to fuel our reflection.

First, Baruch Spinoza, a 17th-century Dutch philosopher who said: “I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.” (Tractatus Politicus [1677] ch. 1, sect. 4)

Then quoting Jiddu Krishnamurti, a great Indian thinker: “The ignorant man is not the unlearned, but he who does not know himself, and the learned man is stupid when he relies on books, on knowledge and on authority to give him understanding.” Extract from “Education and the significance of life” by Jiddu Krishnamurti.

And Wayne Dyer, author and motivational, philosophical and spiritual speaker who loved to say, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

As for Boris Cyrulnik, neuropsychiatrist and author, he said: “La résilience, c’est l’art de naviguer dans les torrents.” Free translation: Resilience is the art of navigating through torrents.

Followed by Frédéric Lenoir, writer and sociologist with this thought: “La sagesse permet de mieux résister aux aléas de la vie. Elle nous aide à savourer pleinement les moments heureux et à ne jamais désespérer dans les moments douloureux.” Extract from: Petit traité de vie intérieure. Free translation: Wisdom makes it possible to better resist the vagaries of life. It helps us to fully savour the happy moments and never to despair in the painful moments.

And Henry David Thoreau (1862–1917) American philosopher, naturalist and poet who stated: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Extract from: Walden; or life in the Woods (1854)

Finally, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900–1944) with this sentence: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Extract from: The little prince (1943)

I leave you with this thought of my own which I consider appropriate in the context and which goes as follows: “The mere fact of initiating a process of reflection can be beneficial, because what matters is not necessarily to find answers to our questions, but at the very least, to ask them!”

I invite you to come discover all these greats with me.

In closing, I would like to mention that, for those who are interested, this podcast is also produced in French. To access it, simply go to the website https://lepilotephilosophe.com. Otherwise, I invite you to visit the philosopher pilot site at https://thephilosopherpilot.com and discover the three distinct podcast shows as well as the blog section there. You may also want to subscribe to my newsletter to be informed about new podcasts or publications. Finally, if you like my writing and my podcasts, let those around you know by sharing them. It would be greatly appreciated. Till next time for another Philosopher Pilot podcast!

Credits: Music by Infraction on Bandcamp
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These Lesser-Known GreatsEpisode 1