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What makes a philosopher?
Posted: 22 July 2008 09:08 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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This is a problem that I have been working on solving for quite a while before turning to the crowd for answers. It is, “what makes a philosopher a philosopher?”

Is it the person’s thinking and writing that makes the individual a philosopher? Is it the attitude, ethics, and behavior of the individual? Must one be notable in order to be a philosopher?

How must one write in order to be philosophical? I often question whether or not there is a method. Nietzsche has shown us his great affinity for aphorism, but do philosophers consider aphorisms complete thoughts, or merely the shotty musings of an intellectually stimulating person? Must one write at great length in order to be considered a philosopher?

I tend to believe (a) That philosophers are the incarnation of their ideas, and are thus figures, (b) that philosophy is more opinion and idealism than rigorous logic and the answering of various puzzles/problems. That is, philosophers are idealists, not logicians, and (c) philosophers do not need to meet any stringent requirements other than those elucidated in (a), and perhaps not even that.

Granted, my view is probably skewed—I’ve been up for quite a while, so be kind ;-). I’d love to hear what the crowd has to say about this topic.

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Posted: 22 July 2008 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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perpetualdoubt - 22 July 2008 01:08 PM

This is a problem that I have been working on solving for quite a while before turning to the crowd for answers. It is, “what makes a philosopher a philosopher?”

Is it the person’s thinking and writing that makes the individual a philosopher? Is it the attitude, ethics, and behavior of the individual? Must one be notable in order to be a philosopher?

How must one write in order to be philosophical? I often question whether or not there is a method. Nietzsche has shown us his great affinity for aphorism, but do philosophers consider aphorisms complete thoughts, or merely the shotty musings of an intellectually stimulating person? Must one write at great length in order to be considered a philosopher?

I tend to believe (a) That philosophers are the incarnation of their ideas, and are thus figures, (b) that philosophy is more opinion and idealism than rigorous logic and the answering of various puzzles/problems. That is, philosophers are idealists, not logicians, and (c) philosophers do not need to meet any stringent requirements other than those elucidated in (a), and perhaps not even that.

Granted, my view is probably skewed—I’ve been up for quite a while, so be kind wink. I’d love to hear what the crowd has to say about this topic.

Sextus Empiricus classified philosophers into three classes: (1) The dogmatists, who believe that their doctrine is true; (2) the academics, who deny the possibility of truth (as in post-modern relativists); (3) the skeptics, who suspend judgment and continue searching.  See Socrates discussion with the priestess Diotima in the Symposium for a description of this last lot.

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Posted: 22 July 2008 10:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Hello, p-, welcome to the forum.

perpetualdoubt - 22 July 2008 01:08 PM

This is a problem that I have been working on solving for quite a while before turning to the crowd for answers. It is, “what makes a philosopher a philosopher?”

Is it the person’s thinking and writing that makes the individual a philosopher? Is it the attitude, ethics, and behavior of the individual? Must one be notable in order to be a philosopher?

How must one write in order to be philosophical? I often question whether or not there is a method. Nietzsche has shown us his great affinity for aphorism, but do philosophers consider aphorisms complete thoughts, or merely the shotty musings of an intellectually stimulating person? Must one write at great length in order to be considered a philosopher?

I tend to believe (a) That philosophers are the incarnation of their ideas, and are thus figures, (b) that philosophy is more opinion and idealism than rigorous logic and the answering of various puzzles/problems. That is, philosophers are idealists, not logicians, and (c) philosophers do not need to meet any stringent requirements other than those elucidated in (a), and perhaps not even that.

Granted, my view is probably skewed—I’ve been up for quite a while, so be kind wink. I’d love to hear what the crowd has to say about this topic.

Etymologically philosophia means ‘friend of wisdom.’  Classically, a philosopher is one who wants to ‘get it right.’  That is, someone who is a friend of wisdom wants to address three main problems:

(1)  The Problem of Knowledge (Epistemology) or ‘how can we know?’
(2)  The Problem of Conduct (Ethics) or ‘how should we live?’
(3)  The Problem of Governance (Politics)

These three problems tend to designate who should be called a philosopher.  For example, although the Renaissance is often said to have begun in Italy, it is not considered a rebirth of ‘the long debate’ of philosophy because the main problems were not addressed until later.

From my reading of your introductory post, you are working with a popular definition of philosophy based on ideas which were developed in the modern period (begins with Rene Descartes).  In conversations that some of us are having in this part of the forum currently, the (post)modern period is more like a swamp or a bog than it is a period of progress in philosophy.

Hope this helps,

John

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Posted: 22 July 2008 10:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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perpetualdoubt: 22 July 2008 12:08 PM
This is a problem that I have been working on solving for quite a while before turning to the crowd for answers. It is, “what makes a philosopher a philosopher?”

Is it the person’s thinking and writing that makes the individual a philosopher? Is it the attitude, ethics, and behavior of the individual? Must one be notable in order to be a philosopher?

How must one write in order to be philosophical? I often question whether or not there is a method. Nietzsche has shown us his great affinity for aphorism, but do philosophers consider aphorisms complete thoughts, or merely the shotty musings of an intellectually stimulating person? Must one write at great length in order to be considered a philosopher?

Sallltttyyy??  Oh Salty??  Where are you Mr. Creek?  Here’s another reason for you to live yet one more day.

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Posted: 22 July 2008 12:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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burt - 22 July 2008 02:26 PM

Sextus Empiricus classified philosophers into three classes: (1) The dogmatists, who believe that their doctrine is true; (2) the academics, who deny the possibility of truth (as in post-modern relativists); (3) the skeptics, who suspend judgment and continue searching.  See Socrates discussion with the priestess Diotima in the Symposium for a description of this last lot.

Interesting definition of the skeptic and the classification of Socrates among them.  My view of the matter would separate skeptics like Diogenes and skeptics such as Socrates.  Yes, Socrates suspends judgment and continues his search for wisdom (‘True wisdom is to know that you know nothing about the good and the beautiful’—Apology).  Socrates was relentless in his pursuit of knowledge leaving a number of his interlocutors in bewilderment.  For example, consider how Euthyphro simply throws up his hands and says ‘another time’ to which Socrates replies:

Alas! my companion, and will you leave me in despair? I was hoping that you would instruct me in the nature of piety and impiety; and then I might have cleared myself of Meletus and his indictment. I would have told him that I had been enlightened by Euthyphro, and had given up rash innovations and speculations, in which I indulged only through ignorance, and that now I am about to lead a better life.

But seems to make a difference between knowledge of the good and opinion which is applied to the matter of conduct and governance.  For instance, I am thinking of his metaphor of the puppet in The Laws:

May we not conceive each of us living beings to be a puppet of the Gods, either their plaything only, or created with a purpose-which of the two we cannot certainly know?

Here he is suspending judgment.  However, he goes on to assert what we can know:

But we do know, that these affections in us are like cords and strings, which pull us different and opposite ways, and to opposite actions; and herein lies the difference between virtue and vice. According to the argument there is one among these cords which every man ought to grasp and never let go, but to pull with it against all the rest; and this is the sacred and golden cord of reason, called by us the common law of the State; there are others which are hard and of iron, but this one is soft because golden; and there are several other kinds. Now we ought always to cooperate with the lead of the best, which is law.

For Plato’s Socrates, ‘knowledge is true opinion’ and ‘to know the good is to do the good’ which puts him Socrates in a league of his own as far as skepticism is concerned.

That’s the view from my keyboard ...

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Posted: 22 July 2008 03:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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I’ve decided—perhaps tentatively—that I don’t care if others see myself or others as philosophical. I might go about doing something similar to Marcus Aurelius and his Meditations, albeit without becoming an emperor and all. I may begin a philosophical diary of sorts.

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Posted: 22 July 2008 04:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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JETurnbull - 22 July 2008 02:44 PM

Sallltttyyy??  Oh Salty??  Where are you Mr. Creek?  Here’s another reason for you to live yet one more day.

grin

Something opinionated this way comes.

What rough beast slouches towards the Sam Harris forum waiting to bleed acid all over an unsuspecting poster?

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Posted: 22 July 2008 06:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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JETurnbull - 22 July 2008 02:44 PM

Sallltttyyy??  Oh Salty??  Where are you Mr. Creek?

He’s off hosting a MST3K-type show devoted entirely to Hollywood tearjerkers. I will be tuning in.

Sander - 22 July 2008 08:37 PM

What rough beast slouches towards the Sam Harris forum waiting to bleed acid all over an unsuspecting poster?

I seem to lack the poetry gene - for years I wondered if the “rough beast” line in the Yeats poem was intended as a slam against Christianity.

[ Edited: 22 July 2008 06:36 PM by Carstonio]
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Posted: 22 July 2008 07:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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JETurnbull - 22 July 2008 02:44 PM

Must one write at great length in order to be considered a philosopher?

Sallltttyyy??  Oh Salty??  Where are you Mr. Creek?  Here’s another reason for you to live yet one more day.

Must one write at great length? Not at all. One must, however, be willing to polish one’s dick with jeweler’s rouge until the sparkle can be seen for miles. Not to mention the length.

[ Edited: 22 July 2008 07:53 PM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 22 July 2008 09:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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One must, however, be willing to polish one’s dick with jeweler’s rouge until the sparkle can be seen for miles. Not to mention the length.

What!?

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Posted: 23 July 2008 12:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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John Brand - 22 July 2008 04:41 PM
burt - 22 July 2008 02:26 PM

Sextus Empiricus classified philosophers into three classes: (1) The dogmatists, who believe that their doctrine is true; (2) the academics, who deny the possibility of truth (as in post-modern relativists); (3) the skeptics, who suspend judgment and continue searching.  See Socrates discussion with the priestess Diotima in the Symposium for a description of this last lot.

Interesting definition of the skeptic and the classification of Socrates among them.  My view of the matter would separate skeptics like Diogenes and skeptics such as Socrates.  Yes, Socrates suspends judgment and continues his search for wisdom (‘True wisdom is to know that you know nothing about the good and the beautiful’—Apology).  Socrates was relentless in his pursuit of knowledge leaving a number of his interlocutors in bewilderment.  For example, consider how Euthyphro simply throws up his hands and says ‘another time’ to which Socrates replies:

Alas! my companion, and will you leave me in despair? I was hoping that you would instruct me in the nature of piety and impiety; and then I might have cleared myself of Meletus and his indictment. I would have told him that I had been enlightened by Euthyphro, and had given up rash innovations and speculations, in which I indulged only through ignorance, and that now I am about to lead a better life.

But seems to make a difference between knowledge of the good and opinion which is applied to the matter of conduct and governance.  For instance, I am thinking of his metaphor of the puppet in The Laws:

May we not conceive each of us living beings to be a puppet of the Gods, either their plaything only, or created with a purpose-which of the two we cannot certainly know?

Here he is suspending judgment.  However, he goes on to assert what we can know:

But we do know, that these affections in us are like cords and strings, which pull us different and opposite ways, and to opposite actions; and herein lies the difference between virtue and vice. According to the argument there is one among these cords which every man ought to grasp and never let go, but to pull with it against all the rest; and this is the sacred and golden cord of reason, called by us the common law of the State; there are others which are hard and of iron, but this one is soft because golden; and there are several other kinds. Now we ought always to cooperate with the lead of the best, which is law.

For Plato’s Socrates, ‘knowledge is true opinion’ and ‘to know the good is to do the good’ which puts him Socrates in a league of his own as far as skepticism is concerned.

That’s the view from my keyboard ...

Indeed, the term skeptic has lots of different uses.  I liked Sextus’ follow up on his classification: “Skepticism is like a good purge, in the end it eliminates everything, including itself,” a statement that I take as saying that it eventually carries a person to recognition of the distinction between the relative mind of language and conceptuality, and the absolute mind of non-conceptuality.  Unfortunately, today it carries a connotation of doubt rather than suspension of judgment.  The way that I read many of the Socratic dialogs is that Socrates is pushing people to make a jump, in discussing piety, for example, pushing to eliminate conceptual definitions in favor of a person coming into a state where they simply are pious (which may lead them to act in apparently unpious ways under certain circumstances).  The analogy I see is to the negative dialectic used by the Madyamyka school of Buddhism, and the exercise of “nyte nyte” (I am not that) used in some of the Buddhist and Hindu meditative traditions.

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Posted: 24 July 2008 04:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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burt - 23 July 2008 04:16 PM

Indeed, the term skeptic has lots of different uses.  I liked Sextus’ follow up on his classification: “Skepticism is like a good purge, in the end it eliminates everything, including itself,” a statement that I take as saying that it eventually carries a person to recognition of the distinction between the relative mind of language and conceptuality, and the absolute mind of non-conceptuality.  Unfortunately, today it carries a connotation of doubt rather than suspension of judgment.

Yes. Since reading your post and relistening to a lecture by Daniel Robinson on the early Greeks, I noted his calling their quest a skeptical quest.

The way that I read many of the Socratic dialogs is that Socrates is pushing people to make a jump, in discussing piety, for example, pushing to eliminate conceptual definitions in favor of a person coming into a state where they simply are pious (which may lead them to act in apparently unpious ways under certain circumstances).  The analogy I see is to the negative dialectic used by the Madyamyka school of Buddhism, and the exercise of “nyte nyte” (I am not that) used in some of the Buddhist and Hindu meditative traditions.

Idries Shah said something about the goal of the Sufi teacher’s being to help us become aware of a faculty we are not using.  Interestingly, this was not the faculty of intellectualizing.  In other words, reason as it is currently understood in the west will only get in the way of our becoming aware of the faculty of the essential self.

Thanks, Burt, for all of your input in these conversations.

John

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Posted: 24 July 2008 04:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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perpetualdoubt - 23 July 2008 01:26 AM

One must, however, be willing to polish one’s dick with jeweler’s rouge until the sparkle can be seen for miles. Not to mention the length.

What!?

Welcome to SC’s obelekon imagery ... he considers the philosophical quest from a nihilist perspective (i.e. there is nothing to pursue; therefore, one is only ‘polishing one’s dick’).

But, here is the question for SC to answer:  What epistemological basis do you have to support the idea that becoming what the ancients called a good (wo)man is merely showing off?

Analogy:  A car is well maintained.  Is this just for show? Or, is it because the car performs more reliably when it is maintained according to its design? 

Note:  We don’t need to assume a designer here. The idea is that the car has an intrinsic versus a derived state in which it is to be maintained.

[ Edited: 24 July 2008 04:39 PM by John Brand]
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Posted: 24 July 2008 04:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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John Brand - 24 July 2008 08:29 PM

But, here is the question for SC to answer:  What epistemological basis do you have to support the idea that becoming what the ancients called a good (wo)man is merely showing off?

Analogy:  A car is well maintained.  Is this just for show? Or, is it because the car performs more reliably when it is maintained according to its design? 

Note:  We don’t need to assume a designer here. The idea is that the car has an intrinsic versus a derived state in which it is to be maintained.

People aren’t “designed”. You seem to know this, but something is preventing it from sinking in. A person is nothing like a car, in that a person is not a utilitarian object. “Reliability” and “good” are in a tautological relationship in your picture of human nature. This is a value you may revere, and maybe you could even hold a plebiscite, and “reliability” would be voted most popular candidate for the office of “Good”. However, this just means that “reliability” is popular. Why don’t you just say so? You have not solved a cosmic puzzle here. Instead, you have chosen to polish further your already-gleaming dick.

JETurnbull - 22 July 2008 02:44 PM

Here’s another reason for you to live yet one more day.

I love the smell of tautology in the morning. It’s morning, somewhere well to the west of me.

[ Edited: 24 July 2008 05:03 PM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 25 July 2008 02:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Salt Creek - 24 July 2008 08:58 PM
John Brand - 24 July 2008 08:29 PM

But, here is the question for SC to answer:  What epistemological basis do you have to support the idea that becoming what the ancients called a good (wo)man is merely showing off?

Analogy:  A car is well maintained.  Is this just for show? Or, is it because the car performs more reliably when it is maintained according to its design? 

Note:  We don’t need to assume a designer here. The idea is that the car has an intrinsic versus a derived state in which it is to be maintained.

People aren’t “designed”. You seem to know this, but something is preventing it from sinking in. A person is nothing like a car, in that a person is not a utilitarian object. “Reliability” and “good” are in a tautological relationship in your picture of human nature. This is a value you may revere, and maybe you could even hold a plebiscite, and “reliability” would be voted most popular candidate for the office of “Good”. However, this just means that “reliability” is popular. Why don’t you just say so? You have not solved a cosmic puzzle here. Instead, you have chosen to polish further your already-gleaming dick.

JETurnbull - 22 July 2008 02:44 PM

Here’s another reason for you to live yet one more day.

I love the smell of tautology in the morning. It’s morning, somewhere well to the west of me.

You have turned the argument back onto my defending my own epistemology, SC.  I am asking an answer to the question:

What epistemological basis do you have to support the idea that becoming what the ancients called a good (wo)man is merely showing off?

Are you saying that your epistemology is whatever the majority happen to think it is?

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Posted: 25 July 2008 03:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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John Brand - 25 July 2008 06:47 PM

What epistemological basis do you have to support the idea that becoming what the ancients called a good (wo)man is merely showing off?

As far as I am concerned, one tautology is as good as another, epistemologically speaking. What tautology forms your basis for understanding the word “good”?

John Brand - 25 July 2008 06:47 PM

Are you saying that your epistemology is whatever the majority happen to think it is?

The universe is entirely indifferent to one’s choice of epistemology; if one’s epistemology takes one too far off the beaten path, reality will do away with one in short order. I think one needs to take some pains to prevent ethics from fouling epistemology.

Epistemology is foul enough as it is. The care you take in writing “(wo)man” is a sham. You appear to be “showing off”, yet all your other thinking is very careless.

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