Defining the act of philosophizing

I am Jaco, the philosopher pilot. Welcome to the podcast of the show “My Views From 35,000 Feet” entitled: “Defining the act of philosophizing”

Before we philosophize together, as I’ve invited you to do at the end of the philosopher pilot’s introductory podcast, perhaps we should first address three questions that I believe are paramount which are: what is the act of philosophizing? Why philosophize? And finally, how can we philosophize? So, let’s start by defining the act of philosophizing, because if we are to do it together, perhaps you should know what I mean by it.

The Act of Philosophizing

In his “Dictionnaire philosophique,” (a French philosophical dictionary which I don’t believe has been translated into English) the French philosopher André Comte-Sponville describes a philosopher as follows: “It is someone who practises philosophy, in other words, who uses reason to reflect on the world and their own life, in order to become wiser or happier.”1 He further describes the act of philosophizing as follows: “I have sometimes defined philosophy, or the act of philosophizing, even more simply: To philosophize is to reflect on one’s life and then live it based on those reflections. Not merely that one should be satisfied with introspection or egocentrism! But rather, to reflect on one’s life is to think of it as it is here and now, certainly, but also within society, in respect to history and in reference to the world we live in. And to live it based on to those reflections is to take action, as much as one can, as much as one must, because failure to do so results in being subjected to life rather than in charge of it, remaining a perpetual dreamer.”2

“Reflecting on one’s life and living it based on those reflections,” what a beautiful way André Comte-Sponville has of summarizing the act of philosophizing in its simplest expression. But to be able to fully reflect on one’s life as he mentions, one must dare to question truths that are often considered unquestionable. It is also necessary to be able to consider reality from a different perspective, a new perspective. Whether it is to question the state of things, to reflect on the human condition or on societal issues, philosophizing consists of thinking in a reasoned way in order to better understand. But to philosophize is to question ourselves about ourselves, even to the point of reconsidering who we currently are or who we are to become if necessary. To philosophize is an exercise that we seldom undertake as it can be destabilizing. But the beauty of it all is that it is possible for anyone who wants to philosophize to do so, because to do so, one must call upon two faculties that most of us possess, that of reasoning and of thinking.

To Philosophize in Order to Reach Wisdom

In the same work quoted above, André Comte-Sponville illustrates the relationship between philosophy and wisdom by writing the following: “Philosophy is the doctrine and the exercise of wisdom, not a mere science; philosophy is for man an effort towards wisdom, which remains forever unaccomplished.”3 This quotation contains two essential elements, namely that the philosopher aspires to wisdom which he will never attain, and therefore that his quest is never-ending. And as for a definition that one would attribute to the word “wisdom,” here is how Nigel Warburton addresses it in his book “A little history of philosophy,” when he quotes Socrates: “Wisdom for Socrates was not knowing lots of facts, or knowing how to do something. It meant understanding the true nature of our existence, including the limits of what we can know.”4

So, in summary, philosophizing is a quest limited by that which is possible for us to know, with the ultimate goal of becoming wiser in order to be happier, and this throughout our existence as this quest is endless.

Is philosophizing something we can learn to do?

According to André Comte-Sponville, “Philosophy is not a science, nor a gained knowledge (it is not one additional knowledge, it is a reflection on all of the available knowledge), and that is why, as Kant said (Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher)5, one cannot learn philosophy: one can only learn to philosophize.”6 Considering this last statement, it seems obvious to me that, unlike disciplines such as science, mathematics or history, philosophy is not a discipline that offers a unique answer to every question. Moreover, philosophical thought evolves over time. We can therefore read and be inspired by past and present philosophical currents, but the exercise of reflection remains ours to do in spite of everything, according to the times we live in.

And therefore, contrary to mathematics or sciences which state elements and notions said to be immutable, at least, at the time they are transmitted, philosophizing can potentially generate as many answers or variants of the same answer as philosophers who reflect on it. So, philosophizing can certainly be learned, but it cannot be taught and we can only learn to philosophize on our own. To philosophize is an aptitude that we are called to develop as we read, as we discuss, but especially as we reflect. And this learning could not be done at school since there is not only one way of thinking, there is not only one way of doing, philosophizing is unique to each and every one of us.

So Learning the Way Socrates Did

Many consider Socrates to be the father of philosophy as we understand it today, that is to say, the father of moral philosophy, the branch of philosophy, and more precisely of practical philosophy, which is concerned with the implementation of morality itself, based on ethical reasoning.7 The French Wikipedia page dedicated to him mentions that he was “The first to have devoted philosophical reflection to human affairs, and not to the study of nature.”8

A precursor in his approach to things, he could not therefore have been inspired by anyone before him in his ways, despite the fact that, as Socrates himself mentions in Plato’s Socratic dialogues, he recognized, “the influence that these thinkers had on him, even if he often criticized them.”9 Questioning the very foundations of human thought, he challenged convention. Unlike the sages of his time who shared their “wisdom” with anyone who would listen, Socrates preferred to get his listeners to reflect rather than simply provide answers.10 On the same Wikipedia page dedicated to him, it is mentioned of Socrates that “ … he is the first philosopher, as defined for the first time by Plato in ‘Symposium,’ that is to say the one who is not wise, but who desires wisdom, knowing that he doesn’t have it.”11 This is what differentiated him from other great thinkers who preceded him. To this day, many consider that there is the pre-Socratic era, recognizing the impact that he had on ancient philosophy, and which is still relevant today. Therefore, although Socrates exhibits a certain wisdom just like the great thinkers who preceded him, he was more a philosopher than a sage.12

So, since Socrates lived more than 2400 years ago, this goes to show that the act of philosophizing is anything but new. Many after him followed suit. And as mentioned before, anyone who is able to think and to reason can learn to philosophize. So, all that remains for us to do then is to learn to philosophize by ourselves, just as Socrates and others after him did. It’s up to us.

But even if we can learn to philosophize, is there a reason why one should? In the next podcast, I will answer that question while in a subsequent podcast I will address the question of “How to Philosophize?” So, once we’ve demystified everything, you’ll see that it’s not rocket science and we’ll be able to philosophize together!

In closing, I would like to mention that, for those who are interested, this podcast is also produced in French. To access it, simply go to the website https://lepilotephilosophe.com. Otherwise, I invite you to visit the philosopher pilot site at https://thephilosopherpilot.com and discover the three distinct podcast shows as well as the blog section there. You may also want to subscribe to my newsletter to be informed about new podcasts or publications. Finally, if you like my writing and my podcasts, let those around you know by sharing them. It would be greatly appreciated. Till next time for another Philosopher Pilot podcast!

Credits: Music by Infraction on Bandcamp
Photo by Carlos Blanco on Flickr

Sources

  1. Comte-Sponville, André. Dictionnaire philosophique (Quadrige) (French Edition). Presses Universitaires de France. Kindle Edition.
  2. Comte-Sponville, André. Dictionnaire philosophique (Quadrige) (French Edition). Presses Universitaires de France. Kindle Edition.
  3. Comte-Sponville, André. Dictionnaire philosophique (Quadrige) (French Edition). Presses Universitaires de France. Kindle Edition.
  4. Warburton, Nigel. A Little History of Philosophy (Little Histories) (p. 3). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
  5. Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher and one of the central Enlightenment thinkers.[25][26] Kant’s comprehensive and systematic works in epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics have made him one of the most influential figures in modern Western philosophy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Kant
  6. Comte-Sponville, André. Dictionnaire philosophique (Quadrige) (French Edition). Presses Universitaires de France. Kindle Edition.
  7. Free translation of: La philosophie morale est la branche de la philosophie et plus précisément de la philosophie pratique qui a pour objet la mise en pratique de la morale elle-même basée sur un raisonnement éthique. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophie_morale.
  8. Free translation of «il serait le premier à avoir consacré la réflexion philosophique aux affaires humaines, et non plus à l’étude de la nature. » https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socrate at paragraph : Place de Socrate dans la philosophie antique.
  9. Free translation from https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Présocratiques.
  10. Taken from “Il enseignait, ou plus exactement questionnait, gratuitement — contrairement aux sophistes, qui enseignaient la rhétorique moyennant une forte rétribution.”, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socrate at paragraph : Enseignement Public.
  11. Free translation from https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socrate at paragraphe : Place de Socrate dans la philosophie antique.
  12. Il existait avant Socrate des individus réputés pour être sages (sophoi), faisant preuve de sophia (c’est-à-dire de sagesse, de savoir, ou de savoir-faire)34,Note 19. Ces sages, maîtres de vérité ou de sagesse, représentent une sorte d’aristocratie, tandis que les sophistes, qui affirment pouvoir enseigner le savoir à tous contre paiement, sont le versant démocratique de la sagesse. En s’opposant aux uns et aux autres, Socrate est le premier philosophe (philosophos), tel que le définit pour la première fois Platon dans le Banquet, c’est-à-dire celui qui est non sage, mais qui désire (philein) la sagesse, sachant qu’il ne l’a pas. Individu inclassable, il provoque chez les autres le bouleversement de soi-même d’une façon irrationnelle. Cette remise en question de l’individualité se trouve dépassée dans le dialogue entre un individu et un autre, dialogue fondé sur la raison, pour atteindre l’universalité. Paragraphe intitulé : Place de Socrate dans la philosophie antique, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socrate.
Join the discussion

2 comments
  • Contracting Polio at 18 months of age has given me time to sit back and take in things around me. Polio affected my ability to walk and for the past 20 years it has affected my arms also. I don’t look at my power wheelchair as a hideous, feel-sorry-for- me, type of equipment – but rather something I can use to shop all day long and never get sore feet! Or, take my beautiful dog for a 2 k walk every day. I want to touch on Jaco’s Episode 2 – Defining the act of philosophizing. I, too have been privileged enough to view our planet earth from 35,000 ft. and what an amazing sight. The clouds put me at ease as I peaked through the window of a the jet. It seemed that the clouds were providing a footing for me but above all – the sun rose above them. What an amazing picture!

    • Marion,

      I’m sure having Polio poses challenges but good on you to spin it somewhat positively when you mention that at least you can “shop all day long and never get sore feet.” It’s all a question of perspective, isn’t it? And as you mentioned, it has brought something positive in your life in as, it has given you time to sit back and take in things around you. Too many people just go through life “surviving” it instead of living it and don’t see the beauty that surrounds them. It is not giving to everyone to marvel at the splendour of the world we live in and appreciate the view from 35,000 so blessed are you to have done so as I’ve done. Stay safe and see you around.

      Jaco

More from this show

My Views From 35,000 FeetEpisode 2