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think piece explores the new idea of philosophical well-being for family and
consumer scientists. A well-lived professional life is contingent upon
philosophical well-being. And, although technological and scientific knowledge
and aesthetics can make life worth living, the art of philosophizing, engaging
in skeptical intellectual curiosity, has to come first (Russell, 1987). The
discussion concludes with a collection of novel strategies to help us break out
of our intellectual cage to become especially adept at seeing the implications
and assumptions behind the thinking that guides our practice and the world
within which we live and work.
Dare I say that the modern profession of family and consumer sciences
is “unwell.” It is philosophically deficient and impoverished and something
must be done about this situation. The basic premise of this paper is that,
although a collection of scholars is chipping away at codifying the philosophy
of the profession, it is the responsibility of individual family and consumer
scientists to clarify, and continually refine, their own philosophical
well-being. “For any set of philosophical ideas to make a difference in human
well-being, it must ‘aspire to inspire’” (Pietersen, 2001, p. 8). Nonetheless,
no matter what these scholars come up with for philosophical underpinnings of
the profession, there will not be a good fit between their rhetoric and
individual practice (it will not inspire) unless each practitioner
prepares herself to receive and reflect upon it. Once one starts to clarify and
refine one’s philosophy of life, concurrently with what it means to be a
professional, it can become a regular part of one’s daily reflection—leading to
philosophical well-being. Then, when this happens, practitioners can more
consciously strive to facilitate individuals and families as they build their
own philosophical well-being, leading to a more critical and reflective
citizenry. Knowing what this concept means can bring us all closer to this professional
the Concept of Philosophical Well-being
Let us start with the familiar notion of well-being before we bring in
the notion of philosophical. It is a given that family well-being is the focus
of our profession, although Smith (2003) and others suggest that we have not
reached a consensus on what it means. Well-being has many definitions because
it does not have a very precise meaning. Tiberius (2003) agrees, noting that
some believe there is no common notion of well-being while others contend that
a universal notion of well-being does exist, despite cultural variations. But,
it is generally defined as something in a good state, with “the
something” being humans or social systems, although what is meant by being good
is still unclear (Veenhoven, 2003).
The conventional approach in the family and consumer science profession
is to conceive well-being as comprising seven dimensions: emotional, social,
economic, physical, spiritual, environmental, and political (personal autonomy)
(McGregor, forthcoming; McGregor & Goldsmith, 1998). Veenhoven (2003)
approaches well-being from a different perspective, adding four “kinds of
things that are well” with overtones of the approach used in FCS. The first
thing that can be well is one’s living conditions—standard of living and social
equality. The second is one’s ability to cope with the problems of life (inner
life chances, capabilities, fitness). The third is personal enjoyment of one’s
daily life (happiness and satisfaction, similar to our concept of quality of
life). The fourth area has a moral focus and relates to the meaning of life
such that the good life is good for something more than itself (e.g.,
some higher value than self interest, such as ecological preservation or social
equity and justice).
But, what of philosophical well-being—the healthy state of our
intellect, with intellect referring to our ability to think, reason, acquire,
critique, and apply knowledge and paradigms? The Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2004)
defines philosophy as the act of constantly improving one’s understanding by
way of thinking and discussion. The Philosophy Dictionary (2002) defines
philosophy as, literally, a love of wisdom. Philosophy is careful thought about
the fundamental nature of the world, the grounds for human knowledge, and the
evaluation of human conduct. These sources did not, however, marry the concept
of philosophy with well-being. Plato did define philosophical well-being
as the preservation of one’s soul, claiming that it is better to be at odds
with the whole world than to be at odds with, and contradicted by, oneself
(Folks, 2002). In order to be in a state of harmony with oneself, one has to
question one’s life on a regular basis, asking “what’s it all about,
Alfie?” A professional needs to ask herself, “Why am I doing what I do, and
what is the impact of those actions? What are the underpinnings of my practice?
Am I philosophically sick or well?”
The home economics scholar who comes closest to this dimension of
well-being is Henry (1995). She conceptualized “political well-being,” and
understood this to be empowerment and autonomy based on moral and ethical freedom. Political
well-being, or an internal sense of power and autonomy, is construed as: (a)
being in control of one's life; (b) able, and having the freedom, to make
decisions; (c) being aware of, and able to anticipate, the consequences of
one's actions on oneself and others; and, (d) having the skills to act on one's
decisions. When this dimension of well-being is achieved, individuals no longer
unquestioningly accept those practices in society that are frequently taken for
granted, those practices which reinforce inequality and injustice.
Although Henry’s (1995) notion of political well-being brings us closer
to having a philosophy that is well (Isn’t that a nice turn of phrase?),
it does not go far enough. Being politically well means one has a sense of
personal and political freedom and control. This then leads to the likelihood
that one will engage in reasoned political and social actions that take into
account the impact on others and that strives for the greater good. At this
point in time, her concept does not go far enough to capture the essence of
having a healthy philosophy. Henry and McGregor and Goldsmith (1998) introduce
the notion of spiritual well-being. The spiritual aspect of well-being encompasses the joy
and sense of completeness associated with the holistic connectedness of the
world, an appreciation of nature as a dynamic ecosystem, the pure joy of
living, and peace and faith gained from insights and moments of growth and
enlightenment. This concept definitely moves us closer to a better
understanding of that nebulous
concept of philosophical well-being.
Gulick (1998) takes us even further with his premises that people using
philosophy can contribute to their own well-being. First, one needs to
reflectively explore why one does what one does and what consequences these
actions have. Second, one has to engage in critical reflection as well. Third,
one has to pay attention to, and foster, experiences that make life worth
living (existentially meaningful experiences). Fourth, there is a moral and
ethical dimension with a twist. The existential experiences one is involved
with (that make life worth living) should involve benefits to the whole human
community. Finally, one has to be radically open to things in the world so,
when these expose themselves, one can determine their depth, weight, and
complexity and appreciate the mystery of life. Although he does not use the
term philosophical well-being, his ideas are useful in developing the
concept. To bring Gulick’s ideas to a discussion of FCS philosophical
well-being, one would reflect on why one does what one does (and the subsequent
consequences), would foster community focused meaningful experiences that make
life worth living for everyone, and would embrace the mystery of life.
It seems that philosophical well-being is achieved by continually
examining the world one lives in, and one’s relationship with that world. The
objective is to always make morally responsible decisions that benefit all
humanity and nature. This entails questioning the prevailing world view and
pondering the impact of practicing by using the theories and models stemming
from it. Being philosophically well means one would always consider how
one’s practice might need to change to reflect the insights gained from
continuously improving one’s wisdom, defined as deep, thorough, and mature
understandings of life. One becomes a philosopher, a person who seeks reason and
truth by thinking, meditating, deliberating about, and celebrating, life.
Isolation: Breaking out of Our Intellectual Cage
Philosophers have an extraordinary rich repertoire of theoretical and
paradigm perspectives at their disposal. Therefore, they are especially adept
at seeing the implications and assumptions behind the thinking that guides
their practice and the world within which they live and work (Wikipedia
Encyclopedia, 2004). This is a standard of practice that family and consumer
scientists could achieve if they cultivated their philosophical well-being. Are
you endowed with a rich repertoire of perspectives beyond the prevailing world
paradigm of capitalism, neoliberalism (free markets), corporate led
globalization, consumerism, and Social Darwinism? Are you a philosopher or just
a practitioner locked in her intellectual cage built years ago when you left
the university? The world has changed. Have you? I know from personal
experience that I was philosophically isolated for years after I
graduated from my undergraduate degree in 1975. It took the actions of a few
brave mentors to challenge me to break out of my intellectual cage so I
could free myself for intellectual and philosophical growth.
Questions arise from this discussion: How is your practice affected if
you are not sure of your life and professional philosophy or if you are
philosophically ill? How can you engage in critical practice if you have not
given serious attention to clarifying your philosophical well-being? What happens
to your practice if you cannot reconcile who you are with the new philosophy
being espoused for the profession as a whole? How does this lack of congruency,
if it exists, affect any actions you take to facilitate individuals and
families as they strive for well-being? Are you, for example, able to
facilitate consumers’ critical reflection so they can critique the world in
which they live and make morally responsible decisions minimizing structural
violence in the marketplace? Are you likely to help individuals and families
see the merit of fostering community focused meaningful experiences that make
life worth living for everyone instead of self-centered ones? Are you open to
helping people appreciate the benefits of embracing the mystery of life instead
of craving certainty and resisting change (McGregor, 2003a,b,c)? If the three
philosophical cornerstones of your professional identity are not in
sync—personal philosophy, professional philosophy, and the philosophy of the
profession as a whole—you are less able to practice in such a way that truly
improves family well-being and society at large (Vaines, 1990).
You do not have to strive to define and refine your philosophical
well-being on your own. Schuster (1999) clarifies that philosophy means friendship
(philo) and wisdom (sophia). What better way to develop one’s
understanding of one’s accumulation of wisdom capital and professional capital
(aspects of one’s philosophical well-being) than in concert with friends, new
and old? He notes that person-to-person exchanges in examining life have
disappeared and been replaced with academic papers and scholarly work (of which
this is one example . . . sorry). Our challenge is to keep a meaningful inner
and interpersonal conversation going. Schuster points out that “healing through
meeting” serves to break the isolation capsule we tend to place around
ourselves and can lead to transformation. Dialogue, and encounters that shape
philosophical well-being, is not bound to a particular routine or to a specific
place. The effort to get philosophically well is worthwhile since cultivating
philosophical well-being can recreate, or change, lives in a positive manner.
A well-lived professional life is contingent on philosophical
well-being. And, while technological and scientific knowledge and aesthetics
can make life worth living, the art of philosophizing, engaging in skeptical
intellectual curiosity, has to come first (Russell, 1987). There are several
things we can do to start this healing process. Instead of telling you what to
talk about, I am sharing some ideas about how to start the conversation!
Cafés (face-to-face) –
Professionals in family and consumer sciences can take direction from other
fields and establish and participate in philosophical cafes, either online or
in real time. The former started in 1997 in Paris with the Café-Philo. An
American version can be seen at http://www.cafe-philo.org
. The cafés are places where coffee (fair trade coffee of
course) and philosophy can mingle.
Cafés – Make sure to check
out Café Utne for another example of a place in cyberspace where people and
ideas can interface http://www.utne.com/cafe/.
Family and consumer sciences could easily establish such a venue. This café
would be for dialogue rather than shopping etc. as is the conventional use of
the term cyberspace café.
- Salons and
Dialogues – A similar
approach would be to organize and participate in salons where dialogue is
encouraged. The word salon is French for drawing room. Salons, small
groups of people who gather together for conversation, are making a comeback. Utne
Reader has useful guides on how to conduct salons at its website (Sandra
& Spayde, 2002; Utne, 1991). Dialogue is shared exploration towards greater
understanding, connection, or possibility. Bohm, Factor, and Garrett (n.d.)
provide a very useful discussion of why dialogue is a useful approach for
intellectual growth and how to go about it. Kappa Omicron Nu also provided a
discussion on dialogue in its newsletter, aptly named Dialogue. Margaret
Wheatley (2002) recently published a book on the importance of conversations.
This resource would provide valuable direction for those wanting to heal their
philosophical selves through conversation.
Salons or Chat Sites – Family
and consumer sciences could establish and manage e-mail virtual salons about
the topic of philosophical well-being. There would be a salon-keeper
whose role is to keep the conversation stimulating, involving, and
transformative. These are an extension of static distribution lists and involve
people engaging in online discussions of what they think about philosophical well-being.
Some good examples of etiquette, logistics, etc. for educational chat rooms are
available at http://www.siec.k12.in.us/~west/edu/chat.htm.
Circles – In local areas,
study circles could be formed around the notion of philosophical well-being. A
study circle is a group of 8-12 people from different backgrounds and
viewpoints who meet several times to talk about an issue. This is why it is
such a good idea right now since many people in family and consumer sciences
have specialized and moved away from a central philosophical core. In a study
circle, everyone has an equal voice, and people try to understand each other's
views. They do not have to agree with each other. The idea is to share concerns
and look for ways to make things better. A facilitator helps the group focus on
different views and makes sure the discussion goes well. A lot of useful
information on this format is available at the Study Circle Resource Center at http://www.studycircles.org or call 860-928-2626.
Circles The idea of
reading circles is often credited to Paulo Freire. He developed “culture
circles” or problem-solving study groups to guide discussion and learning
experiences. These resemble college seminar groups. After agreeing on material
worth reading, everyone reads it and then gets together to discuss. Each state
or local area could establish Reading Circles with some coordination from a
central source if desired. Some ideas on how to structure a reading circle are
at the Vancouver Community Network site at http://www.vcn.bc.ca/citizens-handbook.
As well, Brown and Hayes (2001) provide a model of reading circles as a mode of
- Web based
networking – Following the
lead of The New Civilization Network model, http://www.newciv.org/,
family and consumer science professionals could set up a web-based site as a
way to link people who are committed to becoming philosophically well.
FCS Philosophical Well-being Journal – Family and consumer sciences could convince someone
to publish an online journal where think pieces can be placed for
others’ consideration about the concept of philosophical well-being. A good
place to start is with the Kappa Omicron Nu Human Sciences Working Papers
Archive (HSwp), where you are reading this paper right now!
Brown, M., & Hayes, H. (2001, November).
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narrative of childhood grief. Queen: A Journal of Rhetoric and Power,
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