The word “philosophy” comes to us from ancient Greek and means “love of wisdom”. Someone who pursues philosophy, then, was supposed to be someone who was seeking the attainment of wisdom. What is wisdom, though, and what is it to love wisdom?
Normally, as a philosophy tutor, I answer questions pertaining to particular philosophical texts or problems. I don’t often reflect with students about the questions above or ask them whether they think an education in philosophy has brought them closer to gaining wisdom. I would like to take the time to do some of that in this post.
There is a certain, common image of the person full of wisdom that I’ll call the image of the guru. I certainly once had it. According to the image, the wise person is one who has reached a state of profound insight into life, the nature of reality, existence. This state is reached throughdeep reflection for extended periods of time. The wise person is one who has reached a state of equanimity and peace with her surroundings. Most of all (here’s where the “guru” part really kicks in), the wise person has the answers. If only you knew one, you could resolve all of life’s quandaries.
As a philosophy tutor and candidate at Harvard, I can say that philosophy has many roles and does many things. One role is that it is the most fully general subject area, encompassing many kinds of thinking and cultures. The depth and breadth of philosophy as an undergraduate major or gradudate discipline will take you far.
One of the United States’ great 20th Century philosophers, Wilfrid Sellars, said: “The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term”. This means that the relationship between electromagnetic fields, the dynamics of tectonic plates, sexual selection, efficiency in farming methods, the history of feudalism, and a human tendency to seek each others’ praises, if any there be, falls within the purview of philosophy.
After being ignored or swept under the rug by scientists and philosophers alike for decades, consciousness has come into central focus over the last 20 years. Biologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers have all weighed in with books and book reviews proffering or denying new theories attempting to explain consciousness.
Suppose you wanted to design an undergraduate major that would provide you with a classic liberal-arts education as well as the skills necessary to gain a competitive edge in some of the world’s most prestigious professions. It might surprise you, but you'd be hard-pressed to do better than the modern philosophy major.
My name is Enoch and I am, among other things, a philosophy tutor in Boston. This is my first blog post with Cambridge Coaching and I thought that I would begin by writing about what philosophy is from the perspective of responding to people who want to know what I do.
Here is a schematic representation of conversations I am often involved in: