Mar. 3rd, 2011 02:17 pm
[personal profile] lhexa
There are questions which every person must, in one form or another, ask himself. Such are, 'What have I to do with my nation's politics?' 'Can I fully mean what I say?' 'What is worthwhile?' 'What do I know of others?' 'What have I learned?' and 'How shall I create myself?' To answer such a question is to explore oneself. The ones who can best answer these questions are the ones who have most thoroughly explored themselves. Yet there are some who have only begun this inner exploration. They can recite all that resides within their one horizon, but know of nothing beyond. They dwell always in the one region of their mind which is best-explored, this necessarily being the part which borders the outside world, and it is a region fully settled: they live in that coastal city you may call their behavior, unable or unwilling to live without all its conveniences. Ponder if you want the value of city life, with all of humanity's capabilities at hand, and the value of commerce, of contact and trade with those other lands across the oceans. Their value is real. But there may, there should, come a day when your answers cease to satisfy you, or when you come to see that they were not the answers you sought in the first place. Then you must turn away from the ocean, away from the city, and fix your gaze on the opposite horizon. Your truths lie inland.

A philosopher's business is with those questions which every person must ask himself, whether or not the question is posed in a familiar manner. He does not answer them: one who proffers such answers may be an activist, leader, priest, critic, therapist, parent, or teacher, but he will not be a philosopher. A philosopher, I may say, assists with those questions. He brings them up, questions them anew, reveals what paltry things pass as their answers -- but when he interposes his own answer, no matter how powerful, he ceases in philosophy. A philosopher knows that each person is a continent unto himself, a continent traversable by no-one else. The philosopher may be an outfitter for the ventures inland, one who provides you food, clothing, compasses (but not maps!), mounts, or even weapons. He may be a trainer, who can teach you how to hike, climb, swim, camp, hunt, forage, and cook, skills unnecessary in daily life but vital in exploration. He may even, on those rare occasions when his inner terrain resembles yours, be a guide for a short time. Or he may be nothing more than the braggart in the room, who tells incredible and incessant stories of the wonders he has found, and provokes you to find out for yourself whether they do exist, to prove him wrong or prove him right. But one thing he will never be is your cartographer.

Ani DiFranco sang, "Art is why I get up in the morning. But my definition ends there; you know, it doesn't seem fair that I am living for something I can't even define..." For years I said the same of philosophy. But now I have a late answer to the question of what philosophy is, an answer which came only as I started to find my feet as a physicist. Why this irony? Why did the answer come only now, when I no longer live for philosophy?



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