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We're all Philosophers

All of us, you, me, the janitor, the fundamental Christian, Muslims, physics professors, are philosophers. Some of us may not "love" learning or philosophy as a subject or as a discipline, but all of us believe in knowledge and like to think we have organized it well enough. All of us organize the information that has entered and is stored in our brain – which is what philosophers try to do when they think they are giving order to their thoughts.

Experience, including reading, puts bits of information into our memories. Reason happens when we make connections (good or bad) between these bits of information. A coherence of connections between points creates a mental picture, with greater details making finer (less grainy) pictures.

It helps if we pay attention to the connections we are making, in other words how we are putting our ideas together. That enhances us as philosophers. But we differ in the artistry of that organizing. Some of us accept an idea because it is what we learned from our parents. Some of us make sloppy generalizations. But we trudge ahead, attached to our own ideas and disliking or ignoring the rival ideas of others. We would be better philosophers if we measured our ideas against the ideas of others as if we were academics, but few of us have the patience for that.

The mental pictures we create are most clear without metaphors, but poetry and lyrics decorated with music are also used, and they add emotive power to our ideas. And we might put up an emotional defense against measurement or reason.

An extreme example of this occurred in an affluent neighborhood in Iowa. Scott Greene was at a high school football game waving a confederate flag. It created a disturbance and police escorted him out of the stadium. Greene thought this unjust. Hours later, his anger at the police led him to target randomly two other policemen, whom he shot and killed – an act so void of good sense as to appear insane to people of philosophical normality. When Greene's anger subsided and his ability to reason returned to what for him was normal, he turned himself into the police.

Some of us equate unchecked impulses with infantility. The brains of infants are not yet developed to choose between an acceptance or rejection of impulses, and we are philosophers when we engage in that choosing.

Our ability to put what we do within a reasoned perspective keeps us sane, and we benefit from questioning what we do. But we can't be philosophers all day, everyday. Balance is a part of sanity and living well. It's nice to leave ourselves free for everyday living that is not overly self-conscious. It's nice to live as if we are not professional philosophers — good for ourselves as well as others. Socrates (a muddled philosopher in my opinion) could be annoying however much he might have done well in asking questions. The Athenian playwright Aristophanes in one of his plays had a philosopher's meeting place burned, which the audience was supposed to enjoy and to care little if Socrates burned with it.


NEXT: Knowledge and Progress

I welcome your opinions and help.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.