Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why I am not a Philosopher

I think I could have been a philosopher; that is to say, a professor of philosophy at some college.  I can't be certain of this of course, but what need is there of certainty?  It's an option a student of philosophy likely considers as graduation approaches, and I once was such a student, and a good one if academic record means anything.  I chose the law instead, and am probably the better for it, not because the law is "better" than philosophy but because I'm probably better at being a lawyer than I would be at being a philosopher.

I enjoy reading some of what is described as philosophy, much as I enjoy reading some of what is described as history.  I'll continue to do so.  But I find it difficult to consider doing anything more than that, and presumably there is something more involved in being a philosopher.

I think I lack the patience to be a philosopher.  Or, perhaps, the imagination.  There is only so much time I find I can devote to what have been described as traditional philosophical problems, because I think them insignificant.  They seem to recur, however, in the sense that we keep thinking about them, but I cannot understand why we do so.  I don't mean by philosophical a question such as "What is the meaning of life?" although there have been philosophers who have dealt with such questions.  That is a question which naturally occurs to us, but one we must resolve for ourselves; no philosopher, living or dead, will do it for us.  I mean questions such as "What is reality?"  or "What do we know?" or "Do I exist?" or "Do others exist?" or "What is consciousness" etc.  I wonder whether it may be the case that the only reason we continue to consider such questions is because we are told they are significant or believe them to be because some who are dead and considered great thought them to be, and devoted so much time and effort--unsuccessfully--to their resolution.

There is something fantastic about such questions, I think.  They seem to be fanciful, in other words.  There is no reason to ask them in the sense that they don't arise from problems or issues we must face, consider or resolve in our lives.  To the extent that a question such as "What is reality?" may be said to be more than fanciful, it seems that science is more likely to address such a question usefully than thinking about it, long and hard.

There is ethics, of course, and that may be said to address actual problems requiring answers.  However, for the most part (and with some outstanding exceptions) philosophers have not focused on the practical side of ethics, instead considering, in abstract, questions such as "What is good?" or perhaps "What do we mean by 'good'?"

I think that the Greeks, and Plato in particular, led us all too persuasively astray.  Their fear of and contempt for the world and its annoying tendency to change led them to look elsewhere for truth and wisdom, just as their fear of and contempt for the common people led them to look for some way to control them rather than be controlled by them.  The Greek philosophy was found to be conducive to Christianity in those respects, and so we've been under its otherworldly spell ever since.

There are indications that philosophers are becoming less enamored of the questions they've failed to answer for centuries, and more interested in questions that may actually be answered.   There are also indications that there is an increasing tolerance for democracy among the wise.  It's unfortunate for all of us this has been so long in coming.  I've been a lawyer far too long to even think of being a philosopher again, though, and no doubt that's for the better as well.


  1. Hey, is it kikero or Sisero to you? Never mind. Doesn't matter.

    Always enjoy reading your comments on a certain which will remain advertently named. Your approach (pragmatic) is a refreshing breeze on a hot, stuffy night.

    I probably don't have the brains to be a philosopher -- it bores me to death. Reading the sacred texts, quoting them ad nauseum. "But Plato said..." and "As Aristotle said in..." etc. At some point (long past, actually) we just have to stop relying on Aristotle's opinion of how many teeth a horse has and look in the horse's mouth and count them ourselves.

    So to speak.

  2. My understanding is the Romans themselves pronounced "C" as "K" as best as we can tell, so its "Kikero" for me.

    Thanks for the comment and kind words. I think philosophy can be valuable when pragmatic (in more than one sense), and hope it will become more so.