What is philosophy?

This is an opinion of mine which is perhaps not shared by many, but comes from my own view of what philosophy means, and why it’s important.

A system of thought which seeks to propound a set view of things is not “philosophy” (the inspecific noun). It is a product of philosophy, or “a philosophy” (the specific, yet indefinite noun). Since these two uses of the word sound very close, there is often confusion.

Philosophy is that love of wisdom which propels one to escape ignorance in pursuit of the Truth. It also includes the means by which we verify the products of that search. That is, are we headed down a blind alley? There are certain tools to help answer such questions, but they are not useful if enmired in ambition and emotion. It is an exceedingly difficult path to tread.

The fruits of philosophy are related to it in the same way a building is related to architecture. The individual architect is always striving for a perfect design, and each building he creates is a step along that path. But if he wraps himself up in the building itself, and declares to everyone that, “This is the ultimate goal of architecture”, we rightly should look at him with eyes askance, to hide our embarrassment.

Truth is inclusive enough that we cannot properly discuss it. This lesson came from Plato. So we examine our experiences, and question the validity of what we currently know, and how long we should employ it before moving on. There is always movement toward the more perfect, the more encompassing. To one extent, this unifies with the quest of the mystics, who seek absorption in the absolute. They say that our most divine attainment initially is a perfect understanding of our own ignorance. Once that is achieved, we become the perfect student, while the world around us is a perfect teacher, because in its reality, it truly “is”. Plato called this, “learning to see things-as-they-are.”

But how does one become a student, so as to learn from experience? Does this transformation occur randomly, with no prior consideration? Surely if truth were so commonplace as to contain us all, at every moment, no one would seek any answer to these questions.

It then stands to reason that our ignorance is deep enough that we are ignorant even of this fact. Hence philosophy, for it is a discipline that invites only those whose love of wisdom exceeds their love of self. In fact, it implies a devastating abandonment of that cursed companion, and an entry into regions both frightening and utterly unpredictable. It is our love that conquers our fear, and emboldens us to charge headlong onto the spear of that most implacable enemy: our illusion that we already possess the Truth.

Anyone who stops along the way, to turn around and descant upon the “realities” of things, does so, I believe, for one of two reasons: Either they are impatient of the goal and want it now; or else, during the course of their search, they witness the extreme travail of their fellow man, and seek to offer some tidbit of what they’ve found.

Unfortunately, these ideas are always only half-formed (compared with the Ultimate we desire). Maybe the author even conveys this, or seeks to temper the zealousness of his compatriots. But humanity at large desperately and impatiently desires this goal, consciously or not, and will grasp hold of its traces with severe determinacy, intent on calling it master. Yet these errors should not be confused with the begetter of such a tragedy.

The human spirit/soul/mind/being (whatever) is capable of perceiving realities not evident. This is true even on a basic level, for look at how many people concern themselves over greenish paper with printed numerals! We exist in a world of symbols and portent. This is a decidedly human trait. It also reflects our potential to go further and deeper into this well of experience, therewith to broaden our definition of what “true” means.

I would say in this context that any “philosophy” is utterly rubbish in the absolute sense. I assume even the author of such a thing would agree, given ten more years to pursue their art (that is, if their intentions toward Sophia be pure). Otherwise, it’s just snake oil, a false panacea, with which they strive to convince others of their self-superiority. I judge harshly, because what fools we are to consider that the end is found! and the territory finally mapped! There are only six thousand years to our collective, conscious history, and we would plant our stake on the plane of the absolute?

Philosophy is, in a sense, “the self-effacing discipline”, in that every discovery made should immediately be followed by a keen lookout for what comes next. Plato termed the philosopher as “one who already has one foot in the grave”, since he contemplates the mysteries of the soul (that part of us related to Truth) while yet possessing a body.

It is true that philosophy also includes techniques of discernment, and methods of analysis, which are quite rigorous and exact. They demand self-criticism, and a constant review of motive and method. But alas the method, being something easily graspable, is often mistaken for the whole. There can be no spoken philosophy, just as a love of anything is jejune, if that beloved be not present.

Ultimately, we each discover Sophia/Good/God/Truth on our own – definitely guided by the thoughts of others, certainly aided by discussion and debate – but unless one feels that reality touching upon his most inward essence, all that he has gained is a craftily worded hope.