Growing up I had a bad taste in my mouth for “philosophy”, especially in college. Especially “comparative philosophy” with the focus on memorizing minute details of differences between schools. Lots of details without much context or understanding of why those old guys were arguing about that stuff. In college, I was a business and computer science major, a “hard” major. Philosophy was part of liberal arts, the “soft” stuff. The soft stuff was never going to get me a job so why bother? Oh, the hubris and certitude of youth. You were useful then and I don’t miss you.
Recently, by way of Ryan Holiday, I learned the greek roots of the word:
philo (“love”) and sophia (“wisdom”)
While the education system today has turned philosophy into a historical, academic exercise, it did not start out that way. It started out as the search for a “way of life”, the journey with love toward the wisdom of how to live life. I also stumbled on this deeper context.
“The rather vague definition ‘love of wisdom’ comes from the origin and etymology of the Greek word ‘philosophy’: philo (“love”) and sophia (“wisdom”). According to an ancient tradition Pythagoras of Croton (born on the Greek island of Samos, c. 580 B.C.) coined the Greek word ‘philosopher’ meaning ‘lover of wisdom’ to contrast with ‘wise man’ (sophist), saying of himself that he was only a man who loved wisdom (a wisdom-loving man), not a wise man. And the example of Socrates — whose only wisdom was that he did not think he knew what he did not know, that he did not think himself wise when he was not (Plato, Apology 23b) — further suggests that it was modesty that invented the word ‘philosopher’ (“lover of wisdom”), a word from whence the word ‘philosophy’ (“the pursuit of wisdom [by the lover of wisdom]”) came.”
So a philosopher is a “lover of wisdom”. Not a bespectacled, tweeded college professor. Every school of philosophy (and every religion) endeavors in their own way to deliver their “wisdom” to answer the “how should I live my life” question. The VIA Character Institute spent years looking across all cultures, religions, schools of philosophy, and more to figure out what are the common character strengths which are valued (and tend to lead to a “well-lived life”). These are incredibly consistent. The exact techniques and practices and belief systems vary widely, but the values and goals are all the same. Everyone wants to live the “good life.”
Philosophy, rather than being a fixed set of principals to be memorized and categorized by academia, is rather a way of approaching the world. As a lover of wisdom. As a traveler on a journey, picking up useful bits and pieces along the way to make the way forward easier and more meaningful. This only came to me later. I wish I had rocked this in my 20s. You don’t have to read ancient philosophy or religious texts to be a philosopher. You just have to be a seeker, lover of wisdom.
So philosopher = lover of wisdom.
Aren’t we all philosophers?
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