What Makes You A Philosopher?

I did a video on my YouTube channel this past week. I went into more detail in my original script but had to cut the video down for time reasons. Here’s the video, and the original script. Congratulations, you get a lot of extra content!

Original Script

What makes a philosopher?

As some of you may know, I’m currently in a program called Praxis. This past week was the beginning of month 4, which is a month based on philosophical thinking, especially as it relates to creativity. We covered several interesting topics, which I’ll tell you about, but the one I most want to focus on is this question:

What is philosophy?

In a podcast called Philosophy Bites, the interviewers asked several different philosophers the same question: What is philosophy?

They got a wide range of answers. Some of them simply laughed at the question and didn’t really have an answer, because, according to them, there isn’t really an answer. Others gave unique takes I hadn’t heard before. A couple of my favorites were:

“Philosophy is the attempt to unify theoretical and practical reason.”

 

“[To] Make the universe we live in mind-portable: instead of being possessed by it, we possess it.”

 

“Understanding what people should do, and how people should act rationally based on the nature of human beings.”

 

“It’s a way of loving knowledge.”

So when we take that as a whole, what then is philosophy? It seems to me to mean a basic understanding that there is a deeper layer to everything in the world. And that is going to look different for everyone. When people study philosophy, they’re trying to find the answers to why we’re here. Some people want to know how it relates to science. Everyone has a different approach to it.

So I want to answer this question that T.K. Coleman presented at the beginning of one of our introductory videos from this week:

What does philosophy mean to you and what value does it provide in your life? Because everyone in some sense of the word is a philosopher, and that means you.

To me, philosophy means searching for an understanding of our hearts, minds, and emotions. What leads to the decisions we make, how we came to be here with our beliefs, and why we react to the world as we do. To explore the depths and comprehend the different psychological reasons for my own feelings, the why behind everything I do. Everything is connected to emotion and logic, and I have both. I process my feelings and thoughts based on an understanding that there is something deeper beneath both of them.

Philosophy is the study of where these deeply subconscious mindsets come from.

How do I do that? How do I let myself be a philosopher?

Music helps me explore philosophy in a way nothing else does. I’m drawn into music that dives into the emotional state of myself, such as music by Twenty One Pilots or Half-Alive. There are a lot of concepts buried deep in the lyrics of their music. My philosophical approach to these songs is to understand where these emotions come from, why I understand them and where they come from.

Our emotions are deep set into us, as our personalities… And I want to understand all of that.

Another way I explore philosophy is in my attempt to understand people. People can’t be put into boxes. You can’t describe or label them with one word. There are very basic concepts of personality that have complex meanings, such as the Myers Briggs or the Enneagram. Both of these personality tests seek to help you understand your true self. Both are philosophical.

The purpose of the Enneagram is to understand on a basic level why you do what you do. Its main idea is that every personality type has a basic fear and a basic desire, and everything we do stems from that. It’s a simplification of a complex issue, which I think in essence is philosophy.

The Myers Briggs concept looks very simple on the surface, but there’s a deeper level to the 16 personality types that most people don’t know about: cognitive functions. That’s the philosophical side of the Myers Briggs. The personality type is the basic understanding, while the cognitive functions are the deeper answer to the “why” question.

Philosophy to me is answering the “why” question of everything in the world.

I want to understand the world, my world. The people who surround me, who influence me. I want to understand the deeper levels of my consciousness that I can’t reach on my own. And I want to get to a deeper understanding of the deeper layers of other people. This is what philosophy does for me.

“Philosophy is 99 percent about critical reflection on anything you care to be interested in.”

~ Richard Bradley

And perhaps most importantly: Philosophy for me leads to action. I’ll admit: I don’t like the thought of being philosophical. It’s not something that sounds interesting to me. But it is a good thing, a worthwhile thing. Because I can take action on it. I’m not just trying to understand the deeper why of the world and the people in it; I’m acting on it and seeing if it works. Throwing something at the wall and seeing what sticks. If I learn the Myers Briggs as a way to understand my fellow man, I will take that concept into action until it proves no longer useful.

I will follow what I’ve found to be true, but never hesitate to stop and question that maybe it isn’t.

My research into personality types has given me a constant understanding that the world, people, and their emotions are way more complex than a simple type can explain. I know that someone who is a type 4 may act completely different from another type 4, because they have a different wing (3 or 5), and because they grew up in a different town, state, family life, economic status, and because their Myers Briggs is different.

You cannot judge someone by comparing them to the description of someone else who is the same type. You have to understand them as an individual. It is a very basic understanding that someone is making the type, not the type making them. I do something; therefore I am an ESTJ. I am not an ESTJ, therefore I do something. I create the type, and it answers to me.

“Philosophy is reflecting critically on the way things are. That includes reflecting critically on social and political and economic arrangements. It always intimates the possibility that things could be other than they are. And better.”
— Michael Sandel

I study philosophy so I can act upon it.

It can be really hard to study these things from an objective point of view. When I think about my own thoughts and emotions, I process them through the mindset of what I know to be true about myself, and of what I believe about the world. Those ideas themselves have been formed over years of considering, asking questions, and they come from how I was raised, where I was born, who I’ve interacted with.

 

So how can you be objective in the realm of philosophy?

I want to pull a few other ideas from this week’s content to show how I do it. And by the way, I’ll include a link to all the articles and such I mention in this video in the description below.

 

So here are a couple of tips on how to be a good philosopher:

 

Tip 1: Give it five minutes.

This concept comes from an article by Jason Fried. He discusses the importance of letting something seep into you for five minutes, instead of voicing your opinion before you’ve really listened.

Whenever you disagree with something you hear, give it five minutes before you respond. Think about the proposition before you decide it’s wrong and before you respond to it to prove that you’re right.

When faced with trying to understand something about the world you live in from a philosophical standpoint, or when someone presents to you a different idea from what you’re used to, give it five minutes to sink in. Consider what their opinion is and why it’s a good one. You don’t even have to agree with it. You just have to listen and understand it.

 

Tip 2: Understand that you are basically wrong.

Now I’m not saying that you’re wrong about everything, but I am saying that you’re wrong about something somewhere.

There’s a video titled “You Have No Idea How Wrong You Are” where Garret Merriam gives a speech explaining how humans have been basically wrong for our whole existence. None of us knows everything, and no one of us is right in all of our theories.

One of the examples given in the video is of Nicolas Copernicus, who is considered the father of modern astronomy. He proved Ptolemy (tall-uh-me) wrong by proving that the earth revolves around the sun, instead of everything revolving around the earth. This made a huge difference in scientific study and the understanding of astronomy. However, Copernicus believed that the planets orbited around the sun in perfect circles. This is false; the planets’ orbits are actually in an oval shape.

Now I’m not an astronomer, but I do know enough to know that this completely changes our understanding of the universe and that these circular orbits are actually mathematically impossible.

Now if someone as smart as Copernicus could get something as big as that wrong, what on earth makes you think you know everything?

So consider for a few minutes that you may be wrong, and also that that is not a bad thing. It means that you have an opportunity to learn, grow, and find something true.

 

And lastly: It takes work to have an opinion.

How many people do you know who makes an assumption based on something they’ve heard, rather than from research they’ve done themselves? How many times have you done that? Do you know enough about the topic to even have an opinion?

If you’re going to have an opinion, it takes work. You need to research everything. Every single side. Don’t just consider what you believe to be right. You must understand both sides of the story. Every angle. You need to know more about your opponent’s belief than they do.

This is put very eloquently in this article

“The ability to destroy your ideas rapidly instead of slowly when the occasion is right is one of the most valuable things. You have to work hard on it. Ask yourself, what are the arguments on the other side? It’s bad to have an opinion you’re proud of if you can’t state the arguments for the other side better than your opponents. This is a great mental discipline.”
— Charles Munger

 

 

In some ways, philosophy is what you make it.

Everything you do in your life is what you make it. Praxis is what I make it. And I’m going to make this module be a great one. I don’t like big-picture thinking or philosophical thinking, so I know this month is going to be a hard one. But there is so much I can learn. And one of the best bits of advice I’ve gotten so far is that question from T.K. Coleman:

What does philosophy mean to you and what value does it provide in your life? Because everyone in some sense of the word is a philosopher, and that means you.

And now I present it to you.

What makes you a philosopher?

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