03 January 2009

Remember, it's 'philo-sophia', not 'niko-philia'

Given its etymology, the study and practice of 'philo-sophia' should produce a sophiaphile - a lover of wisdom - rather than a philosopher, a term that suggests a mainly academic approach to philosophy. If we are to be true to the spirit of philosophy, one exemplified by luminaries like Socrates, the Buddha, Seneca, Montaigne and Thoreau, its study should shape us into a wiser, braver, more compassionate, more temperate, more equanimous person. Yet much academic philosophy seems to focus on acquiring - and subsequently sharpening - a set of tools (weapons?) with which to win arguments, subjugate opponents, intimidate laymen and browbeat critics.

This isn't to say that there is no place for healthy debate, civil argument and informed polemics in philosophy. Such things are crucibles from which knowledge and truth are produced. But we are creatures with delicate egos, and too many philosophical engagements take the form of heated duels fought over personal honour rather than co-operative discussions with the goal of discovering answers to questions, solutions to problems.

It would be good to complement the proper pursuit of knowledge and truth with an equal dedication to cultivating personal virtue. It would be good for each of us to be both an intellectual philosopher and a virtuous sophiaphile.


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