Growing up, I could not have cared less about philosophy. It seemed too complicated and filled with theories outside of the practical. I could not relate to it, being as down-to-earth as I am. I understood only the most simplistic version of philosophy: that is, that most people have an intrinsic philosophy when it comes to living their lives (or perhaps not so intrinsic).
This might be as simple as putting happiness before everything else or the importance of living in the present moment and not succumbing to the past. Everyone has their own philosophy of life, whether we realize it or not.
After I graduated college, I began to realize that there had to be more to life. It could not be as monotonous as going to school, getting a job, and wasting every day away. There had to be more. Thus, I began reading philosophy. The thing about philosophers, as with life philosophies, is that everyone has a different understanding of what it means.
On Wikipedia, philosophy is merely defined as “the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.” One might say philosophy asks, as Douglas Adams states in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, what is the answer to the ultimate question? Furthermore, what is the ultimate question?
I know what you’re going to say, “Well, yes, I see the importance of philosophy, but I am busy. I don’t have time to read Aristotle or Confucius. I can barely understand Shakespeare, so why should I even endeavor to take the time to read other people’s philosophies in life when I already have my own?”
Well, this essay is here to make you think about changing—ironically—your philosophy of not reading philosophy.
Be Outside the Product of Our Times
18th century French writer Voltaire once wrote, “Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time.” We are all raised with certain ideals and understandings of how the world works. However, what most of us do not realize, especially if you are a millennial like I am, is that understandings have changed drastically throughout time. And history, unfortunately, has a way of repeating itself if we are not careful.
By reading philosophy, we learn not about the boring dates of wars and dynasties, but the ideas of those educated throughout time. We see how widely varied understanding is about how every aspect of our ordinary lives works. You might read Karl Marx and Friedrick Engels’s The Communist Manifesto to learn about Communism and then read a very different form of ideas in Utopia by St. Thomas More.
These books help us gauge understanding of reality, a concept slowly fading in modern society where our personal reality is often defined as the only reality. We all live through our Iphones and laptops (I am guilty of this too) without any understanding of how the real world works. I partially blame schools, where philosophy (especially contrasting philosophies) is rarely taught and deciphered anymore.
When I was in college, my teachers would go on and go about the importance of critical thinking, but they rarely gave us anything more complex than a turtle to think critically about (perhaps I am being a bit dramatic, but you get my point).
Behind the Guise of Politics
Let’s face it, when it comes to modern politics and philosophies, politicians and the media tend to throw out words and ideas that usually they don’t even know the meaning of. And often, these definitions and, in a sense, philosophies on how to live life and view others are massively misrepresented by the so-called “experts.”
Part of the reason I read philosophy is because I want the truth about theories without the short, often untruthful or non-contextual, summary of those who do not understand historical context or a creators’ thoughts.
Those who are commonly known as being the intellectual of society are vastly different in the modern age then they were even a hundred years ago. Because of this, we only get a very limited picture about how the world works if we listen to modernists. I am not saying there is anything wrong with listening to these people, but it simply does not give you the full picture.
Oftentimes, we think of ourselves as being so much more advanced than people who lived hundreds of years ago. When it comes to technology, that is probably the case. However, that is not the case in thinking. I challenge you to point out one modern philosopher who has come up with as brilliant theories as Plato or Aristotle. I hazard a guess you would be hard pressed to find any.
What Counts as Philosophy?
It can be anything from The Prince by Machiavelli to On the Soul by Aristotle. There are political philosophers, feminist philosophers, environmental philosophers, religion philosophers, language philosophers…I could go on for days. Most every topic, surprisingly, has some sort of philosopher behind it, from sports to technology. Philosophy also does not necessarily need to be as confusing as reading some of the Greek Philosophers.
However, just because philosophy can be broad does not mean all of it is right. One would be hard-pressed to agree with many Nazi ideologues like Alfred Baeumler or Gottlob Frege (who is also considered one of the founders of modern logic). Just because a philosopher is brilliant does not mean they are right. Reading philosophy helps you learn how to judge actions and thoughts which are right or wrong.
My final argument to you on why to read philosophy is simple: why not? If you can learn, even a little bit of the world and expand your understanding of life, why not just do it? Aren’t we all searching for something deeper, whether we realize it or not?
I am not a philosopher, nor do I have any plans to have study philosophy in an academic setting. And yet, I still see intrinsic value to everyone studying the depth of a human mind, to give both understanding to one’s own actions and to those around us. We become humble, realizing how great and complex the world is around us. We are better able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and see reasons behind actions and ideas we simple condemn without understanding.
In America, we are lucky enough to be surrounded by the ability to learn. Schools are everywhere, as are libraries, and yet we rarely utilize this part of our world. So, the next time your eyes pass over the philosophy section in a bookstore, stop and take a look. But be warned, it may change your reality!
Best wishes on your life full of adventure,