For the Love of Wisdom!: Comments on Practicing Philosophy in Contemporary Times

It’s come to my attention that not only is philosophy somewhat popular among many subcultures in our modern, primarily Western societies, but this popularity has somewhat estranged the general practice and purpose of philosophy from the many theories, perspectives, and philosophers whom are held in some esteem by the members of these subcultures and niche fan-bases.

To me, the very notion of philosophy being popular among select groups seems kind of ironic, as the greatest philosophers of the West, many of the thinkers these subcultures idolize, would criticize these groups for their seemingly superficial treatment of the theories and ideas which they spent decades refining and meticulously wording to best fit their moral and metaphysical perspectives. From Socrates to Nietzsche with many thinkers in between, philosophy has been thought of as somewhat of an elitist practice. To Socrates in particular, it was what made the few distinct from the many. It was not so much the knowledge or understanding of some philosophic theories, but the understanding of the method of philosophy and its fundamentally abstract and deeply personal nature. To be a philosopher is somewhat trivial compared to how one philosophizes, and so the engaging of philosophy was only the entry to a uniquely human art. Despite all of the “what would X philosopher have to say about Y modern phenomenon” videos I have, with great interest and pleasure I will admit, indulged in on the internet, I have yet to see a person in our society come to the realization which was explained in a video deciphering only a single paragraph of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, namely, that all theories and -isms given by philosophers throughout the ages are but autobiographical perspectives of random intellectuals who had little but their own reasons for rather egotistically proclaiming their own interpretation of existence to the rest of the world. Philosophy is an art-form, and like all art, it is the projection of one subjective experience through abstraction to a form of information translatable to another subject, or consciousness, for interpretation, typically in a manner that provokes strong feelings or desire for conceptual understanding.

I do not mean to cast a negative light on the engagement of philosophy and philosophic theories by any person in the past, present, or future, but I do mean to say that so long as one engages in philosophy, which I would argue all humans do to a degree but the members of these subcultures claim to be personally invested in the development and propagation of as well, one ought to understand that the practice is more accurately asking socially relevant and provocative questions rather than discovering meaningful or supposedly accurate answers. Philosophy is not even primarily a serious practice, but a supplemental one like spending a few minutes daily exercising. It can be seen as serious if one attaches all one’s value to whether or not one’s arbitrary values and standards are fulfilled, but if there is anything to be learned from philosophy, it is that these values are in fact arbitrary. Though there are many ways to be wrong, there is no absolutely right philosophy, no absolutely right way to think, and no absolutely right frame of mind. And above all else, one should not seek to gain some measure of the greatest good if one cannot even explain what serves this good or what this good entails.

A professor once told me that the only difference between science and philosophy is that questions in science have facts for answers, whereas philosophic questions don’t necessarily have answers at all. To think that a philosophy can be learned and utilized like a tool is to neglect the very nature of conceptual framing and thinking. One cannot apply any philosophy absolutely, for there are always the criticisms and admonitions of other philosophies that in many cases conflict with, if not outright contradict, the supposed truths of the former philosophy. Learning how to philosophize is like learning how to walk. It serves no explicit purpose other than the utilization of the skills it develops, which in the case of philosophy are usually aimed at defining or eliminating information as either adequately clarifying for all intents and purposes or as simply confusing and nonsensical, respectively. Learning to walk does not help one to go anywhere in particular, but rather to go at all instead of never moving.

To express how I feel about what I’ve seen in regards to philosophy, particularly on platforms like YouTube, I will say the following. I am disappointed in the lack of personal philosophizing happening in the public space. There are too few people presenting their own theories and ideas, outside of an academic or institutional context, about people and existence compared to the number of people content to stay within the realm of what theories and perspectives other thinkers have already presented. In the same vein that there are too few people striving to advance new ideas and perspectives in the sciences instead of spending their effort simply revalidating older theories or conceptually “playing” with invalid models, such as what theorists and scholars such as the Weinstein brothers have complained about being somewhat rampant in institutional settings, there are too few “amateur” philosophers challenging the institutions to do something and produce something of instrumental value to people. There are too few people making their own theories instead of only focusing on the popular thinker or theory of the season. We need not strive to make more subjectively phrased -isms to throw into the conceptual mix of information we are trying to interpret, but, in my opinion, not enough of what’s being said about philosophy has any deeply personal, contemporary origin in philosophizing itself. Nietzsche’s, Dostoevsky’s, Lao Tau’s, and a great many others’ philosophies will always be personally relevant in the manner that art transcends the time frame of the culture from which it was birthed, but if we are to validate our own existence and by extension the societies we uphold, something about our values needs to be said and lived in our own being. A new philosophy must be made, not for something to believe in, but for the sake of avoiding relegating our critical thinkers to obscure corners of society hidden behind unmarketable characteristics where their ideas will barely crack the public’s threshold for attention, until maybe after their death once they are no longer available to revise and refine their mind’s conceptual representation. If our philosophies are existential, psychological records of our experiences, we must make our mark in history for the sake of there being any mark at all.

That being said, I am actually excited for the increased interest in philosophy and intellectual contemplation and reflection. If there is any advice for the practice of philosophy that I would have for others, it would be to admit that what you know is known only as knowing how to conceptualize it or embody it, to know that these two modes of knowing are not equatable or mutually exchangeable, and to remember that in practicing philosophy you would be arranging the self-expressive, subjectively formulated ideas of many thinkers, including yourself, into a network of information that is like an abstract representation of existence built across humanity’s history by many different thinkers with greatly different perspectives. Also, know that no one is better or more valuable morally for being wiser or more intellectual. While some may be able to map entire psychological frameworks, including epistemological and metaphysical distinctions, into conceptual theories, there are many ways with which an individual can demonstrate knowledge and understanding of existence, and showcase their respective intelligence. And always remember that an argument is at least two claims with one, the conclusion, being supported by the other(s).

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