Who be the Philosophers?

One of the things that I think that The New York Times has done very successfully in the increasingly digital age, is embrace blogs as a meaningful form of discourse and presentation of opinion.  By far my favorite is the entire collection that falls into the grouping of The Opinionator; a number of blogs on an equal number of subjects.  I am particularly pleased to see that The Opinionator has added a new contributor with Simon Critchley’s The Stone which will closely examine the subject of philosophy (a personal favorite of mine).

Thus I direct you to Mr. Critchley’s first posting on The Stone which simply asks “What is a philosopher?

In some ways it is a funny questions, and Mr. Critchley does not miss the moment to point out that philosophy, and those who deem it worthy to philosophize, certainly earn a degree of silliness in the eyes of the world, but I think it is also a relevant question.  I studied philosophy extensively in college and received an academic minor in the subject and was repeatedly asked (and still am) “Why study philosophy?”

I wish for that that I could provide a simple and elegant answer, but I cannot.  I studied philosophy because, ever since a young age, I have been obsessed with the question “Why?”  Why does the sun rise?  Why do I feel happiness or sadness in these moments?  Why does anything exist whatsoever?  I did not go into the study of philosophy assuming that I would find the answer to any of these questions, but more so pursued it in the hopes that I could find myself in the company of others who also dared to ask “Why?”

I did, and some of my closest friendships from my college years came from the ranks of others who pursued philosophical studies.

Mr. Critchley suggests that “we might say, the philosopher is the person who has time or who takes time.”  I like that a lot, especially in our present day and age.  For some years now I have felt that all too often our world, and in effect our lives, are just rushing by.  We are products of function, constantly racing to complete whatever it is before us, before the buzzer of the timer goes off.  But what happens when we opt to slow down?  We suddenly find ourselves in the opportune position to examine things in more detail.  We find ourselves with the time to ask “Why?”

Do we find the answers?  No, I doubt we do.  There is too much “why?” in the world for one human lifetime to figure out.  But all is not lost, for we can add to a history of discourse and thought that has continually dared to ask the questions.  We can push the paradigm just a bit further in the years that we live and think.  Is it all happiness and ease?  Certainly not, those who philosophize suffer as much (if not more) than any others, but I do suspect that the slowing down, taking of time, and honest contemplation of the more challenging questions, can allow for a life that approaches what one might call contentment.

Of course there is always a degree of alienation as well.  A philosopher cannot really explain themselves to the rest of the world and so they are bound to appear foolish or silly or wasters of time.  One might find this sad or challenging, or they may find it liberating.  Personally I find my ability to detach and examine the world outside of perceived constraints to be quite gratifying.

We live in a world that increasingly values imediacy and convenience and that world seems bound to snuff out the pursuit of knowledge that can be found within philosophy.  It has become easy to scoff at the philosophical studies as not providing anything practical or meaningful to the “real” world.  This is all misguided.  Without philosophy we would be at a loss for understanding our world.  All of our science, religion, and medicine can trace its origins to philosophical contemplations.  And there is still much more to learn.  I applaud those who stand defiently in the wake of aversion to philosophy and proudly proclaim that this study is very relevant.

I look forward to Mr. Critchley’s further pieces in The Stone as I suspect that many of them (like the first) will be insightful and enjoyable.  Furthermore I encourage others to take the opportunity to slow themselvs and their lives down a bit, even if it is just to read a little blog post on a seemingly silly subject like philosophy. They may find themselves amazed by how much “why?” there is in the world and how enjoyable it all can be.

~ by Nathaniel on May 17, 2010.

One Response to “Who be the Philosophers?”

  1. Philosophy and relity go hand in hand in my view. To seek reality I need to understand the philosophy of others and the philosophy of those in positions of power. That is my objective with my missives. Don http://kingdomecon.wordpress.com

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