by Lakshmi Sadhu
“The unexamined life is not worth living” — Socrates
Millions of years of evolution have not stolen mankind’s ability to pigeonhole everything and anything in the known universe. It is excusable – our imposition of binaries on an ever-changing world is what allows us to understand not only our place in it, but the world itself. Unfortunately, not everything is black and white; the spectrum of grey is where life thrives in abundance.
In my years of studying philosophy, I’ve heard my fair share of ignorant stereotypes about philosophers, and the study of philosophy in general. Engineers, I may or may not be looking at you.
To those with absolutely no experience in philosophy, it may come across as a rather obscure and esoteric academic discipline. That is why it understandably, but undeservedly, gets negatively pigeonholed so often. Some people have asked me, rather skeptically and with no real concern for my well-being, whether philosophy has taught me anything I could employ in a real-world situation, along with just what sort of employment I could possibly hope to secure with such a degree. Others genuinely wondered whether I just smoked weed with my colleagues all day, filling the silence with “new agey woo woo”.
A harmless and overwhelming majority however, just wanted to know what the heck it was that philosophers actually did. Well, fear not! I’m about to throw some serious enlightenment your way.
Eurocentric philosophers would like you to believe that only old Greek men are the pinnacle of successful philosophy. Fortunately, that is not the case. Philosophy is an incredibly ancient pursuit, one that is not limited to a certain part of the world. So chances are, lovely reader, that whichever country you’re from also has its own unique history of philosophy!
In essence, philosophy is the love of wisdom. The discipline encompasses a variety of branches of study, each branch further divided into sub-categories. Some of the major ones are epistemology, metaphysics, ethics and logic. Don’t get bogged down by those details, though. If I could summarize the goal of philosophy in a single sentence, it would be this: to question absolutely everything – ourselves, the world, and why things are the way they are.
To practice philosophy is the indispensable proclivity of just being a human being. Everyone philosophizes! What does it mean for something to be beautiful? What makes an action morally virtuous? How do our minds work? What is the purpose of human existence? What happens after we die? Do we have souls? What is happiness? Is perception always objective? Does God exist? Is this all a dream? Who even am I? Why did Jack have to die instead of Rose?
If you have ever caught any of the aforementioned thoughts sneakily tiptoeing across your mind, then congratulations – you have philosophized!
Philosophy is not a wishy-washy, namby-pamby discipline, folks. It is a searingly analytical inquiry into everything we hold to be true. Questioning the breadth of our interiority and the world around us is essential if we want to live authentic lives. A sincere and persistent inquiry into the nature of reality brings us closer to truths that resonate with us, and motivates us to live life to the very fullest. It also ensures that we never take refuge in the comfort zone of mass opinions, in letting others think for us instead of thinking for ourselves. Philosophy has taught me how I ought to think, and in turn how I ought to live. It truly is the art of living. Everyone exists, but it is only the philosopher who lives.