Elements of Philosophy: What Do Philosophers Do?

Posted: August 30, 2013 in Piano

philosopher-socratesI just read a blog which has the same title as this one. It caused a very strong reaction in me. An explanation of the merits of philosophy should not be presented in esoteric language, which is often the case. My introduction would be straight-forward. The intended audience is a group of eager freshmen who are taking Introduction to Philosophy 101. Here’s what they need to know.

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What Do Philosophers Do?

Philosophers kick butt! Make no mistake about that. We rule: literally.

If you think you have arrived in a class that has no meaning, no purpose, no direct impact on your ability to achieve your dreams, your aspirations, your life goals…then think again.

And you will think again. You will think over and over and over again.

Philosophers do everything. You will find them in every walk of life. They are nurses, plumbers, taxi drivers, and astronauts. They drive trucks, operate heavy machinery, work in textile sweatshops, and sell $60 million in bonds before you even wake up. Every college in this university depends on philosophy. Without philosophy there would be no other colleges.

Philosophers invented everything you see in this classroom. Before there was iPad there was philosophy. Before there was a man on the moon, there was philosophy. Before calculus, before theology, before literature, before music, before every nuance of every feature that you identify as being a human being, philosophy came first. Everything we know was preceded by philosophy.

Philosophy begins with a question and it ends with a question. This is not an SAT test where you choose from best alternatives in a multiple choice format. This isn’t a class which will determine if you are GT or average. This isn’t a class at all.

It is an opportunity.

You arrive with opinions. You have opinions about morality, opinions about politics, opinions about the world and the people in it. Here’s your first lesson (and yes, it will be on the test): opinions are like assholes: everyone has one, and they all stink.*

You sit in a chair that was once occupied by Einstein, by Leibniz, by Socrates, by Aristotle, by Nietzsche, by Marx, by every great mind from every age. You insult them by asking what do philosophers do. You are ignorant, and fortunately, you are in the best place for an ignorant person to be.

Each day you will walk into class angry, and you will leave confused, frustrated and more angry. That is what philosophers do. They make some people very angry. There are no answers. There are only questions. There are tests, and there are answers to the questions on that test which you must provide to pass this course. You will ask, “How can there be answers in a class that only provides questions?” When you ask that question, you are doing philosophy.

When you finish this course, when you walk into other classes in any other college, you will be able to contribute to that discipline of study more than any student who has not sat in your chair. Because most students will avoid the pain that accompanies learning. Most students are not brave enough to face the anger that occurs when reasonable inquiry reveals the falsity of their common opinions. Most students will regurgitate what others tell them is important to know. By showing up today in this class, you have already demonstrated that you are not most students.

There will be days where you probably will not feel good about being in this class, but you will feel fantastic in every other class that you take. If you succeed as a doctor or lawyer, as a CEO or CFO, as an astronomer or architect or engineer, you will always attribute your success to what you learn in this class.

Philosophy is primal. It is quintessential. It is necessary. It is.

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*This statement was the opening remark my first philosophy professor made in my Phil 101 class. I was shocked that a professor would use that language.  Although the content of that statement goes beyond the bounds of the standards I set for my writing, I have made an exception here because it accurately describes how offensive unexamined opinions can be, and it serves as a fair and honest report of a statement that was once made by a college professor. My sincere apologies to those whose sensibilities are offended.

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