Most philosophy concerns words and meanings, arguments and debates. But wisdom is also a matter of perception and intuition. Images can sometimes convey what words cannot. We see in order to understand; intuit before the rational explanation becomes clear. And sometimes - best of all - we just stop and look, perceiving without any need for words.
Here are my reflections each month on a particular image. I hope you enjoy them and use them as a basis for your own reflections. I'd welcome any brief comments you'd like to send, and will hope to include them alongside my own.
Walking round the palace at Versailles, I came across this image of musical instruments tied together with a thin length of cloth. The room in question was described in the guide as presenting images of peace, and this one seemed entirely appropriate. Music represents a balance of harmony - where peace is far more than an absense of warfare or strife, but a naturally occuring state of inner well-being. In fact, music not only represents peace, but may well contribute to it. It was, I believe, Aristotle who argued that music should play a key role in education because it could influence the emotions and attitdues. That's absolutely right, but more than that, it creates a sense of being one with something larger than the self, of immersing oneself in the rhythm of things.
For me, the one redeeming feature of the dreary month of February is Valentines Day - that annual celebration of the triumph of emotional insanity over rational calculation. Love triumphs because it makes a commitment that goes beyond hormonal drives, that thrives on hope and fantasy, and strives to incarnate both. My wife and I visited Paris just a few days after the Charlie Hebdo shootings - a city with heightened security, mourning those who died, affirming liberty - and, walking along right bank of the Seine, came across the bridge of love-locks. Here lovers write their names on padlocks, fix them to the bridge and throw away the key. Each lock has a story attached, one reads them and speculates on the many lovers for whom this place is special. Who knows how it worked out for them, but it stands as a symbol of the enduring quest for love, in a world where hatred, resentment, and cold calculation tend to get the headlines.
Midwinter here in the UK, and the final days of December bring snow and disruption on the roads, to say nothing of railway chaos wrought by the usual midwinter engineering works. Wildlife struggles to survive, and - once we emerge from the warmth of family and retail festivities - the world looks ramarkably bleak, as every news bulletin evidences. Warfare, Ebola, the sectarian brutality and chaos of the Middle East, welfare cuts and austerity... It's easy to be depressed in January. Yet amidst the economic and political gloom there are moment of hope. I was particularly encouraged by the efforts of Pope Francis to inject morality into our vision of the future - both in terms of the need to take our responsibility for our planet seriously, and also his attack on the thoughtless acceptance of the dictatorship of the markets, which evacuates our political life of the moral and human dimension that are its very essence. When 'growth' trumps justice or love or equality as the unchallenged, pivotal value, there is little hope for a sustainable future. But if January is depressing, take heart and get it into perspective - February is often worse!