You are a philosopher.
If you don’t believe me, I understand. Philosophy today evokes images of bearded thinkers writing abstruse treatises. These thinkers are a class, a guild, part of the education system, boasting advanced degrees and academic expertise.
It wasn’t always that way. In fact, the idea that philosophers are professors is a new idea. The New York Times published an excellent essay, “When Philosophy Lost Its Way,” on how this system originated.
Our university system is an extraordinary gift to humanity, and I am glad it has a place for professional philosophy. I wouldn’t be who I am as a person or professional without academic philosophy.
The problem is when academic philosophy, which I practice and support, forgets that it is both new and narrow. It has to answer to systems and pressures that have nothing to do with wisdom; that’s fine, it’s a job, like any other.
But philosophy was never about a job. Philosophy was – and in its truest form remains – a way of life, open to all.
That’s one reason I practice academic philosophy as a scholar of religion; not only are these compatible identities, even as a professional, but they are closer to philosophy’s historical origins than the divorce between “philosophy” and “religion” that seems so common today.
But the reason I practice academic philosophy is because I am a philosopher; I was before I went to school, and I would be even if I left academia.
That’s why you can be a philosopher without being an academic; you can be a philosopher without having a degree; you can be philosopher no matter who you are.
You know why?
Because you love. Philosophy does not just start with love. It continues and ends with love. Philosophy is love all the way down.
And love is for everyone. Love moves us. It moves toddlers across the floor into their parents’ arms. It moves people to make a life together. It moves enemies to make peace.
Love joins. And love creates.
When love moves us to question, to seek, to find out who we are and how we should live, it moves us towards wisdom. We all want to know what is true about the world and ourselves.
No one wakes up wishing to live a lie.
The love of wisdom – philosophy – moves us out of self-satisfaction, kicks us out the door of numb ignorance, and sends us stumbling towards the best version of ourselves. Everyone has this love because we all want wisdom, even if we don’t know what it is.
Wisdom is to truth what happiness is to pleasure: more, not less than, the deepest longing of our hearts. Happiness is pleasure in harmony with our ourselves and the world, pleasure that comes from living our true selves.
Truth is haunting fragment, a wandering melody. Wisdom is the home truth left and searches for, the place where truth makes sense, not just to us, but of us, and the world.
When you want the world to make sense but will live with uncertainty. When you want meaning but will live with frustration. When you want happiness but need truth. When you love but don’t know what, walk but don’t know where.
You are living the way called human.
You are a philosopher.