Winter and Philosophy

Winter is a time for contemplation, a time for philosophy. Summer moves too quickly, spring is too full of life, and fall is reserved for nostalgia. Yet winter, winter allows one to look inward, it allows one to leave the city and return to a primitive nature, not one of savagery but of Eden, the place beyond the city, the place we all seek to return, that none but the saints have found. The great 20th-century existentialist Albert Camus, once wrote, “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” I propose that this summer is in all of us. I propose it is eternal, and only through the harsh winter, and her companion philosophy, can we find it. Allow me to show the relationship between winter and philosophy, both the literal and metaphoric, and then show how the two will lead us to summer.

Boethius writes that Lady Philosophy’s clothes were made of “the finest thread, skillfully woven and imperishable.” I though disagree. Lady Philosophy wears the furs of wild beasts, harshly but tightly bundled together to protect her from the cold without. Her face is not fair and soft, but harsh and rough. Lady Philosophy does not dwell in the warmth of southern places, but in the darkest tundra where only the bravest men will dare seek her. Philosophy is not for the children of summer, but only the men of winter.

In the depth of winter, the desire for material luxuries is stripped away, leaving only the bare necessities such as a desire for warmth, for simple companionship, for a hearty meal and the summer sun. But is this not exactly where philosophy begins? In late night conversations by a fire with drink in hand and simple food in front of us. John Senior knew this when he told us to smash the television set, and if he were here today he would tell us to smash the rest of the coffins we have made for ourselves and return to the fire in the family room, return to winter, and by doing so, return to philosophy.

Now let me direct your attention away from the literal to a more metaphoric reading of winter, specifically the harshness of winter. Philosophy cannot survive among the soft handed, those the world has left untouched. She can only survive among those who have seen both the wonder and the woes of the world. Winter is beautiful, but also cruel; magnificent, but also malicious. Winter, like the world, tends to make men hard. It is painful but necessary in the formation of a man.

I by no means deny that philosophy is born in the soft places, for all children are philosophers. But when we become men and put childlike things behind us, we tend also to leave behind philosophy unless we go through a winter of the soul. As we leave childhood we must enter the tundra in search of our dear old friend Lady Philosophy. And if one truly wants to seek her, this lonely and dark path is the one he must take.

I now think back to the classic stories of Narnia by C.S Lewis, when Lucy heard a whisper from above, “Courage, dear heart.” I wish to whisper the same to you now, for remember the wise words we started with, “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” For we carry summer in us throughout the winter, as the traveler carries thoughts of home, in hopes of seeing it once more.

The telos of winter is not winter, nor is the telos of philosophy, philosophy. We go through winter to lead us back to summer, and we go to philosophy to lead us back to a home we have forgotten, a home of eternal summer. So as winter fades, let us leave it with joy as we once again approach the summer sun, but also let us not forget our time with winter and his faithful companion, Lady Philosophy.


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