Think walking is void of philosophy? Nietzsche and Gros are here to say you're wrong.
- French philosopher Frederic Gros tells us that walking is a route to entirely being ourselves and experiencing the sublime.
- He has a bias towards the wondering hikes of Nietzsche and Kerouac but has a place for urban strollers too.
- His book reminds us that even something as mundane as walking can be a vital part of our lives when done for itself.
But a book by French philosopher reminds us that there is more to walking than exercise.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODY2ODkxNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjQ0NTI2N30._2jlCmjMSFZNgb3ABWAMIDDw0s5Q5idB6xPzaP7Y6no/img.jpg?width=980" id="53d11" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bd7b454a98c03597c2c132633461d2f9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Hikers in Slovakia pause to rest as they take in the beauty of the mountains. Gros tells us that they are getting more out of the trip than just exercise and a holiday.
(Photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)<p>In his book <em><a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/1865-a-philosophy-of-walking" target="_blank">A Philosophy of Walking</a>, </em>French philosopher <a href="http://www.sciencespo.fr/cevipof/en/researcher/frederic-gros" target="_blank">Frédéric Gros</a> explores the surprisingly philosophical act of walking. He doesn't mean the light exercise that people try to fit into their busy schedule or our pragmatic walking from point A to point B, but rather the long hikes in nature that give us a chance to escape the day to day.</p><p>For Gros, walking is a liberating act that allows us to reconnect with ourselves. Not ourselves as we are introduced at parties or as the face we put on to make it through a long day at the office, but our true selves liberated from worrying about time, social conventions, and our daily cares. A long walk through a forest allows us to connect with the sublime in a way that merely looking at it from a distance does not. Appropriately done, walking allows us to just be in a way that can be hard to come by in our modern, fast-paced lives.</p><p>He explains this in a very French manner when he says:</p><blockquote>By walking, you escape from the very idea of identity, the temptation to be someone, to have a name and a history. Being someone is all very well for smart parties where everyone is telling their story, it's all very well for psychologists' consulting rooms. But isn't being someone also a social obligation which trails in its wake – for one has to be faithful to the self-portrait – a stupid and burdensome fiction? The freedom in walking lies in not being anyone; for the walking body has no history, it is just an eddy in the stream of immemorial life.</blockquote><p>And he speaks for many hikers when he explains how one can find more life in doing nothing than is often found in a hectic, event filled schedule.</p><blockquote>Days of slow walking are very long: they make you live longer, because you have allowed every hour, every minute, every second to breathe, to deepen, instead of filling them up by straining the joints.</blockquote><p>As he does prefer hiking over going on a walk in the city park, he says that what urban dwellers out for a walk actually do is "stroll," explaining that:</p><blockquote>The urban flâneur does experience walking, but in a way far removed from Nietzsche or Thoreau. Walking in town is torture to the lover of long rambles in nature because it imposes, as we shall see, an interrupted, uneven rhythm.</blockquote><p>But even this has meaning for him. He invokes <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/benjamin/" target="_blank">Walter Benjamin</a> and declares the urban walker to be "subversive" with respect to the urban phenomena of "solitude, speed, dubious business politics, and consumerism" in that they relish the anonymity of the crowd, are going nowhere fast, and see advertisements and sales like everybody else but manage to stroll past them.</p><p>Even if you can't go hiking down a winding country trail regularly, walking can have a philosophical benefit for you by placing you both within and without the modern metropolis. </p>
Plus, walking was a vital part of many philosophers' processes.<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e760bb84a1daaedc0099ada5ab828cfa"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/MrI5WQ4u7MY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Once desire becomes suspect, sex is never far behind.
The 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant believed that human beings tend to be evil. He wasn’t talking about some guy rubbing his hands and crowing with glee at the prospect of torturing an enemy. He was thinking about the basic human tendency to succumb to what we want to do instead of what we ought to do, to heed the siren-song of our desires instead of the call of duty. For Kant, morality is the force that closes this gap, and holds us back from our darker, desiring selves.
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Can philosophy give you true understanding about life, the universe, and everything? Sometimes it Kant.
Philosophy provides a new way of looking at the world and exploring ideas that otherwise might be too heavy, or too big, to comprehend. It's a lot better than the alternative—which is willful ignorance and throwing your hands up in the air and saying "I guess it's all part of a masterplan!". And while this incongruity between the philosophically minded and the more deity-inclined can create some major cultural hiccups, there's at least some semblance of both sides searching for the same thing. Philosophy, Kitcher argues, may not ever give us the ultimate solutions to all the big questions in life. But it does put us in the driver's seat and give us control.
As mankind raises its eyes to Mars and asks, "How do we get there?", we might need to ask, "Should we go?". Carl Sagan said we may not be entitled to visit a potentially inhabited planet.