Delight Springs

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I believe in the peripatetic life

Back from the Labor Day weekend, we turn happily to our philosophical labors in CoPhilosophy. Today we introduce (and maybe even emulate) the peripatetics, and we explore the earnest atmosphere of This I Believe.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) founded his Lyceum just outside Athens and 
gathered around him a group of brilliant research students, called “peripatetics” from the name of the cloister (peripatos) in which they walked and held their discussions. The Lyceum was not a private club like [Plato's] Academy; many of the lectures there were open to the general public and given free of charge. EB
Nowadays, a "peripatetic" has just come to mean someone who travels a lot. I prefer the older signification, of someone who (like Aristotle's students in the Lyceum peripatos) walks while talking philosophy. That's how we'll understand and apply the concept in our CoPhi collaborations.
...the act of ambulation – or as we say in the midwest, walking – often serves as a catalyst to creative contemplation and thought. It is a belief as old as the dust that powders the Acropolis, and no less fine. Followers of the Greek Aristotle were known as peripatetics because they passed their days strolling and mind-wrestling through the groves of the Academe. The Romans’ equally high opinion of walking was summed up pithily in the Latin proverb Solvitur Ambulando: “It is solved by walking.”
...Erasmus recommended a little walk before supper and “after supper do the same.” Thomas Hobbes had an inkwell built into his walking stick to more easily jot down his brainstorms during his rambles. Jean- Jacques Rousseau claimed he could only meditate when walking: “When I stop, I cease to think,” he said. “My mind only works with my legs.” Søren Kierkegaard believed he’d walked himself into his best thoughts. In his brief life Henry David Thoreau walked an estimated 250,000 miles, or ten times the circumference of earth. “I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits,” wrote Thoreau, “unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from worldly engagements.” Thoreau’s landlord and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson characterized walking as “gymnastics for the mind.”
In order that he might remain one of the fittest, Charles Darwin planted a 1.5 acre strip of land with hazel, birch, privet, and dogwood, and ordered a wide gravel path built around the edge. Called Sand-walk, this became Darwin’s ‘thinking path’ where he roamed every morning and afternoon with his white fox-terrier. Of Bertrand Russell, long-time friend Miles Malleson has written: “Every morning Bertie would go for an hour’s walk by himself, composing and thinking out his work for that day. He would then come back and write for the rest of the morning, smoothly, easily and without a single correction.” 
None of these laggards, however, could touch Friedrich Nietzsche, who held that “all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Rising at dawn, Nietzsche would stalk through the countryside till 11 a.m. Then, after a short break, he would set out on a two-hour hike through the forest to Lake Sils. After lunch he was off again, parasol in hand, returning home at four or five o’clock, to commence the day’s writing. Christopher Orlet, "Gymnasiums of the Mind"
This I Believe was MTSU's freshman summer read this year. Jay Allison, who revived the old '50s TIB franchise, was to have spoken at convocation on August 23 but weather interfered.

Here's where it all began, in 1951. As Mr. Murrow said, there's no "pill of wisdom"... but lots of wise people are real pills. Many of these concise testimonials of conviction will make you feel better about the human condition.

These little essays are sometimes light and fluffy, sometimes dense, sometimes funny, occasionally profound. I'm asking students to find their faves. Sticking just to those included in Jay Allison's first book, I guess these would be mine:

This just scratches the surface. There are tens of thousands of essays in the archives, growing daily; and that probably doesn't include yours. Yet.


  1. DQ: Could walking distract persons with adhd rather than advancing their focus on thinking?

  2. DQ: could it be that their minds are free to wander because their bodies are doing such a repetive action that it is easy to get lost in thought?

  3. FQ: Who was it that created a walking path arounf their 1.5 acre strip of land just to simply walk and think?