Stop talking about philosophy and do it


‘Empty is that philosopher’s argument by which no human suffering is treated. For just as there is no use in a medical art that does not cast out the sickness of bodies, so too is there no use in philosophy unless it casts out the sickness of the soul.’ ~Epicurus

I started studying philosophy because I thought it would answer my questions about life. I was young and confused and in a hurry to figure things out. Other people I knew took their parent’s advice and enrolled in practical subjects like law, engineering, or business and economics. I thought I was clever by diving in at the deep end. I figured that once I’d answered the big questions of life (like ‘What is goodness?’ What is truth?’ ‘How do I know I’m not living inside the Matrix?’), the other subjects would be easy. First things first, right? Aristotle would have been proud. My parents, who’d never read Aristotle, were not so impressed.

But I persisted. I soon realised that I’d been wrong about philosophy. Not that it didn’t tackle the big questions of life. It was just that it didn’t produce many answers. Philosophy offers lots of theories, but these only seem to create more questions. Semester by semester, year by year, I watched my philosophy buddies and fellow seekers give up in frustration. I kept on. After a while, I had an epiphany. I realised that philosophy isn’t about answers at all. Philosophy is about asking the right questions. It is unlike other disciplines, which focus on communicating knowledge about the world. Philosophy isn’t really about anything. Nonetheless, it is a practical discipline insofar as it teaches us to step back, zero in on this or that aspect of life, and ask: why? [Read more…]