Updated: Apr 17, 2021
It’s not all just reading books is it?
In short, no, but you can do so if you wish, although just how much abstract knowledge does one need, especially if you are not going to apply it? After all, philosophy is the love of wisdom (Greek: “philo” means love and “sophia” means wisdom – so if you want a wise daughter, name her Sophia) and the pursuit of truth and one should learn to embody their convictions and not simply be masters of theory and rhetoric.
Ideally, one consumes philosophy in order to live well, to live the “good life”, that is its main purpose. Although philosophy is known to attract the intellectuals among us, it truly is for everyone and nobody knew this better than the Stoics. Any school of thought that can be of significant benefit to a slave (Epictetus) and a Roman Emperor (Marcus Aurelius), is truly a universal philosophy.
In his book “The Enchiridion” (Greek: The Manual), Epictetus postulates that “If you desire/commit to philosophy, prepare yourself from the beginning to be ridiculed/laughed at, to expect that many will sneer at you, and say, ‘Suddenly there is a philosopher among us!’ and ‘What makes him so pretentious now?’ Only don’t be pretentious: just stick to your principles as if God had made you accept the role of philosopher. And rest assured that, if you remain true and abide in the same principles, these men who first ridiculed you will come to admire you in time: but if you shall have been overpowered by them, you will bring on yourself their ridicule twice over.”
“Whoopty-doo! What does it all mean, Basil?” I hear the Austin Powers in you ask. Philosophy has helped solidify me to contend and confront the world with courage. It has helped me to understand the nature of being and that of my fellow man and to find and align our purpose here, if there is indeed one. It has given me comfort through this understanding, though it constantly poses questions which I must admit can be confronting and exhausting. I’d be lying too if I hadn’t thought what is the point of all this reading, exploring and gathering of knowledge and insight, especially in a world which seems to be losing its faith in truth, reason and competence. Then, however, I remember a beautiful quote, because philosophy is also concerned with beauty and its integral nature to human life, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “greatness is the perception that virtue is enough”, and I’m reminded that living a life of virtue is a reward in itself.
Returning to the quote by Epictetus mentioned above, it can be a journey of solitude this philosophical life, or a journey of few at best, but if I felt there was not some life altering benefit to it, I wouldn’t be doing it. The obstacle is the way on The Path. Schopenhauer quoted Aristotle in saying that those “…distinguished in philosophy…appear to have a melancholy temperament”, but Schopenhauer was not the most cheeriest of chaps.
I really enjoy a good philosophical discussion, call it intellectual stimulation, but it does help me contend with things, sure up my arguments, sharpen my thinking and make me aware of the blind spots in my knowledge (of which there are many) and open up to new possibilities.
Thankfully, there is a plethora of philosophical texts for you to decide what to read so just start where whatever piques your interest. I wouldn’t recommend starting with Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason”, even I haven’t attempted that bad boy yet! You don’t need to read all the books as the below video from The School of Life illustrates.
The only thing left for me to start doing, aside from continuing to learn, is to find a way to distil this knowledge out to the world, of which I have begun to do through my writing. To reiterate a previous point, theory is nothing without the application.
“Men learn while they teach.” - Seneca