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What is a philosopher? A philosopher is a lover of wisdom - that is just simple and basic etymology. What does it mean to love wisdom, though?

I just finished assisting with an introductory philosophy course. The final paper topic was "Is Philosophy Bullshit?", a reference to the well known paper "On Bullshit" by Harry G. Frankfurt. One of the papers I reviewed for one of my students very convincingly attributed the attribute of bullshit to philosophy.

The crux of the student's paper was that philosophers purport to know the truth, and many of them espouse the correct doctrine based on fact. The problem which the student identified with this is that many philosophers acknowledge some degree of epistemic skepticism, or difficulty of actually finding truth. If truth is inaccessible, then, then why look for it?

I will not argue the semantic difference of truth and wisdom. I will stand by the claim that if one is to search for wisdom then one is searching for truth. That being said, and taking into consideration the conclusion of the student mentioned above, it should seem peculiar that many people who claim to love wisdom believe that it is inaccessible. Is it coherent to be a philosopher at all? Many people say no: philosophers should all give up their profession and either get jobs at Macdonalds or become respectable scientists or logicians. I think that the title philosopher is productive, however, because when applied properly it identifies an important type of person. If we cannot have knowledge (for reasons of the success of one skeptic argument or another) then what is the job of a philosopher?

Consider a lover of women - a Don Juan or such - who espouses a love of the feminine sex and all of their wiles and ways. Is it necessary that this Casanova actually consummate his desires to be a true lover of women? Can this man not simply love women in the courtly sense - where he admires their grace and finds the shortcomings of their gender (physical frailty) to be enchanting. Is it not the case that this man may be considered a lover of women because of his disposition or attitude towards women?

A philosopher must bear to knowledge what a courtly lover must bear to a woman (let us forget about the shame of Lancelot here...). A philosopher must see wisdom as an unattainable but admirable thing. A philosopher must allow his efforts to attain the unattainable make him a better person. A philosopher must strive to achieve knowledge, but in the end be satisfied with only the striving.

A philosopher is defined not by what he knows, but by how he thinks.



2008-08-06 00:27:56

Well, you need to narrow down which philosophers you're speaking of. I mean there are philosophers who seek knowledge to use it for practical means alongside simply learning to be enlightened. I mean there are many philosophers who contribute enormously to daily life and vital to the improvement of society. Take for example the article I wrote on the "Racism in the Olympics," I mention that political philosophers on ethics would disagree with turning the problems of multiculturalism into binaries. Well that's because philosophers such as Schmidt, Young, and Wartenberg have a lot to add about what multiculturalism and more importantly human rights are. As you mention, we may never get the answers but a few steps towards peace is a lot greater than making no progress. ...I'm sure victims of the poor-philosophies we are currently stuck with would agree.



2008-08-20 19:14:25

While reading this, I was reminded of something a professor of mine once said:

"It's pop-philosophy to say that it's not the answer that is important, but the question... About this, let me just say, it's bullshit. If the Greeks had the option of pressing a button to know all answers to their questions, you can bet they would have pressed that button very quickly..."

And I guess that applies here as well. A lover of knowledge doesn't want to stay hung up on the questions. The lover of knowledge has an endless appetite for the answers, and knows that with the answers, there will only be more questions.

The person who just loves the questions is just frustrating, particularly when they keep asking the same question.

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