Bringing Philosophy to Those in Need (guest post)

“There are those who are unable to attend formal classes in philosophy because of life situations, i.e., homelessness, re-entry from prison, working several jobs, working a fulltime job, can’t afford to pay for classes, anxious about formal education, caring for others, and of course, most recently, a global pandemic. That’s why we go to these communities and offer our services.”

In the following guest post, Sophia Stone, associate professor of philosophy at Lynn University, talks about the work her organization, Wisdom’s Edge Foundation, Inc., does to bring philosophy—not just texts or videos, but philosophy as an activity—to those who may need it but would otherwise be unable to access it, including people recovering from homelessness, sex trafficking, and addiction.

I think sometimes it can be hard for philosophy professors to imagine how doing philosophy can be of help to those in challenging situations. We have a self-deprecating view of philosophy as a kind of luxury. In some forms it certainly is, but we should not overlook how valuable it can be to those in difficult circumstances to feel like you are thinking more clearly, or to be exposed to possibly helpful ideas about how to live that have withstood the filter of history, or to be treated with the dignity that comes from being a welcomed participant in a philosophical conversation.

I’ve been impressed by Dr. Stone’s efforts so far, and with more support from the philosophical community she will be able to do a lot of good with philosophy for those in need. I think this is an organization that is well worth helping (earlier this year I joined its board), and I urge you to do so by making a donation here.

Bringing Philosophy to Those in Need
by Sophia Stone

Last Sunday we took a group to the woods, under a canopy of trees, and we read passages from Emerson and Thoreau. We thought about and discussed our connection to the nature around us. Then we drew, wrote, and painted with handmade water colors in journals. It was a peaceful gathering, intense at times with the awe and splendor of the green around us. This coming Sunday, we’ll meet at a large lake by the public library and reflect on the lake as a mirror, showing something deep within ourselves. Gathering in nature to philosophize, reflect, and create allows us to connect with each other, ourself, and the earth.

In this way, can philosophy be a social good?

Athens killed Socrates for philosophizing with its famous citizens. But after the death of Socrates, Plato opened up his school and gave us the memory of Socrates. In Plato’s Apology, Socrates tells his jury that the unexamined life is not worth living. He’d rather die than not hold these interesting conversations about life. But what about for us?

Is it possible for philosophy to be a social good?

We at Wisdom’s Edge think that everyone who wants to, should have access to philosophy. I don’t just mean access to the university or access to the public library or a YouTube philosophy channel. I mean access to philosophical texts chosen by a professional philosopher who is passionate about facilitating meaningful conversations about the deeper questions in life: how should we best live? What do we owe our future selves? What do we owe society? What should our connection to nature be? How can we get over the past and free ourselves from mental chatter so that we can focus on improving the present and future?

But many people don’t have such access. There are those who are unable to attend formal classes in philosophy because of life situations, i.e., homelessness, re-entry from prison, working several jobs, working a fulltime job, can’t afford to pay for classes, anxious about formal education, caring for others, and of course, most recently, a global pandemic. That’s why we go to these communities and offer our services.

Since Fall of 2019, Wisdom’s Edge Foundation has been providing philosophy classes to transitional housing for women, to homeschooled children, to intergenerational students at community centers, and soon to senior citizen communities. We find communities that want philosophy classes, and we offer tailored philosophy classes to meet their schedule and their needs. We’ve had great success. Here are some comments from our intergenerational students (ages 16 – 80) in St. Cloud, MN:

“I have lost loved ones and I learned to cope with the loss and the pain. I learned about the Ecclesiastes. ‘There is a time for everything.’ ‘A time to keep and a time to throw away.’ This helped me realize and helped me go through my deceased daughter’s belongings and move on with the grief.” 

“I do have a lot of anxiety when it comes to grading, and with this course I didn’t have to go through that.”

“I consider this a ‘teaser’—and long for more!’ In our busy lives we rarely take time to truly reflect on these deep, important questions that all humans face, if only they took the time to admit. The readings and class discussions were a bright spot in my week. I’m almost 80 yrs. old and a lifelong learner!”

“I wasn’t fortunate to obtain degree here in U.S., so this course was a great opportunity for me to attend.”

“We are just coming out of a year of very little outside our bubble conversation. This class provided a chance to discuss ideas and thoughts with people I had just met.”

“I think it’s really cool to see how students will show up to talk about philosophy even without a grade or out of necessity.”

Here are some comments from our students in South Florida, some recovering from homelessness, sex trafficking, or addiction:

“Dr. Stone teaches a course called “wisdom’s edge” and I am a current student of hers. She teaches us about philosophy so we can see the world from a different perspective, to unearth hidden beauty, and to find new ways of being. In the class we learn how to embrace wonder, face regrets and sustain hope.”

“I enjoy Dr. Stone’s group in particular because we examine the philosophy of women from ancient times in comparison to women today. We have covered ancient Chinese philosophy, Socrates, the 1920s, the 1950s, and [how to think about women’s roles in] the future. Our discussions help to exercise our minds and expand our thinking as it pertains to the evolution of women and how we want to be as leaders moving into the next century.”

“Dr Sophia Stone has brought us a tremendous gift with her teachings of philosophy. In a way that everyone can understand, Dr Stone shares her knowledge and insights of ancient texts and “great thinkers” as well as easily correlates it with everyday life. Philosophy is at the foundation of understanding humanity, and we are fortunate Dr Stone graciously sets aside time for us to gain this knowledge.”

We’ve done so much with so little.

Wisdom’s Edge Foundation is a 501c3 not for profit philosophical outreach organization, and we seek to provide philosophical instruction and conversation at the edges of society. We have done amazing things with what little we have. So far, none of our students pay a cent for tuition and fees, and all of our dialogue facilitators are volunteers. As we seek and apply for institutional funding, we are asking the philosophical community to help fund our programs. Without institutional support, we cannot pay our bills.

If you are interested in joining us, write by clicking here.  If you’d like to donate, click here.

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Ciaran Cummins
2 years ago

This is a brilliant project!

Sophia Stone
2 years ago

We have raised $2060 so far! Thank you, Justin, for this write up. Thank you, philosophy community for your generous support.