Why I am a philosopher!
Did you immediately get the references to other philosophers that this title implies? Did you think of Bertrand Russell’s book ‘Why I am not a Christian’? Or rather of Friedrich Nietzsche’s essays titled ‘Why I am so clever!’ and ‘Why I write such good books!’? Well, I did, after I thought it up. Russell’s text was meant to give a criticism of Christianity, of course, and the personalized sentence was meant to give it urgency, and to draw attention. Nietzsche’s texts did more, philosophically. They criticized the idea that philosophy can be detached from the individual that writes it, and in the meantime they make you smile, at least they did that to me, as the irreverent boasting so strongly goes against the grain of the courteous style of classical philosophy. Untill Nietzsche philosophers succesfully upheld the image that they could erase themselves as individuals, giving the weight of universality to their thoughts, and in the meantime, through the backdoor so to speak, bestow fame upon their own, impersonalized selves as ‘thinkers’. Plato was ‘a great thinker’, it is said. Never ‘he was a great man’.
Since Nietzsche, and to be sure some others from his times, we can not get rid of the nagging truth that there is a man, or a woman, speaking in those venerable texts. And of recent, with the appearance of Heidegger’s notebooks, it gets more and more difficult to separate thought from life. Feuerbach already was very clear in this point, of course, the thinker whose words I took as the motto of this very blog: ‘try not to think as a thinker, but as a human being.’ What you feel, what you have enjoyed and what you have suffered not only will appear in your work, but you should let your work profit from it, more, express it in your work, to let others get a fair view of your experiences and be able to dialogue with your thoughts in the context of your life, and possibly to learn from them.
Just a few days ago I realized why I am a philosopher. And by that I do not mean to say why I became one, why I decided to go and study philosophy a long time ago – this had a very simple reason: I had the impression that the study of philosophy would help me the most to better my writing, which was my main goal when I was young. And it did. I also do not mean to say anything about the advantageous effects being a philosopher might have – like being able to clear up minds, my own and other’s, or being able to enhance the knowledge of why our world is like it is, etcetera. These are all positive effects of being a philosopher, to my view. What I mean with the title of my post of today is, however, something else: just what makes me passionate about what I am doing, right now, every day anew, if possible. What makes me enthusiastic. Why I LIKE it. I just suddenly saw that doing philosophy to me is the possibility of being in an adventure. The adventure of the mind, so to say.
Feyerabend said it very clearly, in his ‘Against Method’, although he was speaking about science: only ‘a little brainwashing [makes] the history of science duller, simpler, more uniform, more ‘objective’ [than it actually is]’. In fact it is ‘as complex, chaotic, full of mistakes, and entertaining as the ideas it contains’. The same goes for my pathway through philosophy: it is complex, sometimes chaotic, it contains mistakes, and it is entertaining. And I want to add this: it is exciting. Learning something new from time to time, seeing new connections, after having read so many books and articles some times without really knowing why – untill they suddenly and unexpectedly get connected amongst each other, creating new views to understand things which were irritatingly incomprehensible before. I just like it, like wandering, not knowing where I will go when I start out. The best views are the unexpected ones. The sudden glittering sunlight on a canal, when I take an alternative route with my bike. Finding an unknown part of town, or of countryside. Meeting people who have a view of life I did not know before. Learning from grief and disappointment, from success, and from shame. In doing philosophy, which is always mixed with all these personal events: suddenly getting enlightened about something which seemed closed to understanding for years on end. Yes! I like it!
Thank you for sharing this! Your post inspired me to ask myself the same question.
The first thing that entered my mind, was another question, namely if I am even entitled to call myself a philosopher, since I am not a daily practitioner like you are, and have not been so for many years. But the answer was that I actually am a philosopher, as well as a daily practitioner – for the thing that fascinated me most during the study of philosophy, and in fact during my whole life until this very day, is that *everything can be questioned*. This does not mean that everything always should be questioned at every single moment; that would make life quite impractical, if not impossible. But the realization of the possibility of such questioning, combined with its frequent actualization, improves our understanding of our reality, ranging from the origin and nature of the universe to the deepest, most hidden layers of our individual selves. Therefore I feel myself to be a philosopher in the litteral sense of the word: a lover of knowledge and wisdom.
Thanks, denk2014, for your reaction – for your own reflection on this question. Reading your words, I suddenly understood why the medieval philosophers kind of ritualized questioning, in the practice of treating a ‘questio’. For it seems that this, questioning, is a very important aspect of philosophizing. I must admit, however, that my approach is much more chaotic than that of the medieval thinkers. I suppose there are many roads leading to Rome…
Yes, it may well have been the systematic treatment of the ‘questio’ that made me become a medievalist. But however chaotic or systematic our approach may be, we still share a capacity for the good old Platonic/Aristotelian ‘thauma’ 🙂