What does it mean to be a philosopher?

Literally a ‘lover of wisdom’, the philosopher can be defined in many ways. Some imagine a philosopher as someone sitting around thinking about abstract concepts which have very little relevance to real life (Marx said that philosophy is to the real world what masturbation is to sex), others may view the philosopher as an antisocial outsider who does not participate in anything public, or as an exclusively academic position. Perhaps the most notable description of what a genuine philosopher is comes from Nietzsche, who wrote that living “as a philosopher” ‘hardly means more than living “prudently and apart”.’ He argues that the genuine philosopher lives “unphilosophically” and “unwisely”-‘he risks himself constantly, he plays the wicked game.’ The wicked game, it seems, is the game of making a judgement, ‘a Yes or No, not about the sciences but about life and the value of life’. The philosopher doubts his ability or even duty to this judgement, but he must seek this right ‘only from the most comprehensive-perhaps most disturbing and destructive-experiences, and frequently hesitates, doubts, and lapses into silence.’ Genuine philosophising involves delving into the darkness of existence, and not only contemplating it, but experiencing it. The Yes or No judgement, perhaps the greatest judgement of all, is incredibly complex and not at all straightforward. The answer is unclear, and may remain elusive for great periods of time, perhaps for one’s whole lifetime, yet only through experience and feeling ‘the burden and the duty of a hundred attempts and temptations of life’ can a person begin to become a true philosopher.

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1 thought on “What does it mean to be a philosopher?”

  1. “Genuine philosophising involves delving into the darkness of existence, and not only contemplating it, but experiencing it.”
    True and brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

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