Tuesday, August 2, 2011


“…A philosopher… has…[a] structure of thought unified by a purpose for his own life and for mankind.” Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, p. 141

Philosophers are commonly called “thinkers,” but really, that is not an adequate definition of a philosopher. A philosopher seeks the underlying meaning of things; he wants to understand it and codify it into a system of thought. If he succeeds in this task, he often feels compelled to share his system with the world, even knowing it is likely futile. This is because he loves the world, despite the difficulty it has given him.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need anything besides this burning desire to understand things and to connect them. You don’t need to get a PhD, to have taken any philosophy classes, or to have read a single philosophy book. Of course all these things can help you to sharpen your thinking and to avoid “reinventing the wheel,” but they do not in themselves make you more or less of a philosopher.

Beyond the basic definition, no two philosophers are exactly alike. Some are comets: long lived and brilliant like Socrates; others are streaking meteors like Nietzsche, consumed by their romanticism and brilliance. Some create systems haphazardly, and other are meticulous beyond belief (compare Nietzsche to Spinoza). Some are cynical, and others are hopeful. It seems to be a function of your personality and how you react to your environment.

Knowing what it means to be a philosopher, I’m sure not many people would choose such a fate for themselves or their kids, yet I believe it’s as unavoidable as fate. I suspect that some people may be genetically predisposed to be order seekers, and certain external circumstances simply activate these tendencies. Sheltering yourself or your kids from such stimuli may work temporary, but it is highly impractical in our increasingly connected world. Perhaps it is better to embrace who you are so that you can forge a path through life with true conviction and purpose.

Why is philosophy important?
Many people today would say that philosophy is useless in our scientific world, yet nothing can be further from the truth. If anything, we need philosophy now more than ever.

Science provides the instruments, but philosophy is the symphony. Because I cannot improve upon his words, here again is my good friend, Will Durant:

“Science tells us how to heal and how to kill; it reduces the death rate in retail and then kills us wholesale in war; but only wisdom…can tell us when to heal and when to kill…[B]ecause in these days our means and instruments have multiplied beyond our interpretation and synthesis of ideals and ends, our life is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Science gives us knowledge, but only philosophy can give us wisdom.” The Story of Philosophy, p xxvii

Philosophy can also help people makes important decisions about the use of new technology such as bioengineering, stem cells, etc. Many people turn to religion seeking guidance, but there may come a time when religion can no longer provide adequate answers since religious texts were never meant to be tech guides. Philosophy may prove to be a more helpful guide since philosophy grows organically with new knowledge while religion tends to be more tied to the past.

Philosophy is also a strong foundation on which to build important personal things such as career, faith, and relationships.

All the way to your SUCCESS

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