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How to Become a Philosopher

Edited by Keifer Albin, Ben Rubenstein, James Quirk, Tom Viren and 53 others

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Have you ever thought you could be just like Aristotle[1] - if you just had the right push? Well, here it is. These are instructions on how to become the philosopher you have always wanted to be.
EditSteps

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Understand that there is no exact way to become a philosopher. You must free yourself of all limitations such as prejudice, ignorance, and point of view when examining an issue. The Philosopher is one who dwells in reflection (but not maudlin navel-gazing): s/he takes every experience and seeks to understand, even if they need to be brutally honest with themselves. Philosophers are often people who see the world from a child's eyes. It is important to listen to people, and travel a lot, to get a sense of the world and the people in it. Asking people in your town about what they think of the war in Iraq isn't really going to help, as a lot of these will give stereotypical answers, and will not be well-informed.

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Understand that it is not uncommon for philosophers to adopt a certain bias over time or in a specific issue. These are merely frameworks; patterns of thought. Many of the greatest philosophers do just this, the evidence being perhaps most prominent when comparing Eastern Philosophy to Western approaches. In this case, the incorporated bias is acceptable if justifiable. Yet remember to examine the issue without bias as mentioned in the first step, with biases tending to emerge solely in responses, and are subject to critique.

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Understand that there is also no exact way in which you can investigate, and this is part of philosophy. Some philosophers, like Descartes, only trusted their mind and logic, and not the senses. Some say that the best way to start off, is to research about philosophy. When you study philosophy in college or university, you study about all the different philosophers and their opinions. Think about it, and agree--or disagree--with what they think. In this step it is important to actually take a stance on the topic at hand in order to find truth and achieve progress. If one were to remain free of point of view indefinitely as stated in step one, nothing would be accomplished.

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Think about the world, what it means to live, to die, to exist, and what the point of it is. Be the source of your own investigation. Since you're always available to yourself, any line of investigation about yourself (and there can be many) allows you to always makesome progress. Consider the basis for what you believe. Why do you believe what youbelieve? Start from scratch and identify your reasoning.

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Write down what you think about these subjects, including ideas you think you shouldn't write down (possibly because you think others may think they are stupid). While you may not be arriving at any striking conclusions, you will be exposing your own assumptions to yourself. You will probably marvel at how silly some of your assumptions can be, and in the process you will mature.

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The true power of philosophy lies in the continuity of thought that you'll be maintaining in your writing. As you investigate a concern, a single entry may do little on its own, but as you return to that concern throughout the day(s), the different circumstances you encounter in a day will allow you to bring fresh insights to your investigation. It is this cumulative power of thought that will bring you to those 'Eureka!' moments.

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Re-write your ideas more formally and let others read your work, so you can get others to hear your ideas. You can ask friends, relatives, teachers, or classmates if they could offer some thoughts on your work, or you can post your writings online (through a website, a blog, or a message board) and look for responses there.

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Engage in any debate possible. This will increase your ability to think freely. Keep in mind, however, that you are not engaging in intellectual Olympics. There will always be someone who knows something better than you, and arrogance will stop you dead. You will need a healthy measure of humility. Yet it is also important to bear in mind what is in fact the truth of the situation. It is not uncommon for debates to be decided in favor of the "less truthful" side due to a number of extraneous factors, especially in an informal setting. Weigh the actual evidence, and avoid being swayed solely due to repetition and ignorance.

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Read philosophy copiously, learning new questions and problems to think about and past solutions, and their criticisms. Pursuing a bachelor's or master's degree in philosophy is a good way to structure these studies, but many great philosophers were also self-taught. Balance your copious reading with your self-investigative writing: where reading broadens your perspective of the world, your writing will give you depth of understanding.

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Pursue philosophy as a career by acquiring a doctorate in philosophy and getting a professorship at a university. This can be highly competitive, expensive, and challenging, but getting paid to think can be extremely rewarding.

EditTips Assumptions are the bane of philosophy and of fresh, intelligent thought. Never stop asking "why?" Don't hesitate to argue positions that are the opposite of what you believe. Being able to see as many sides of an issue as possible is an excellent way to express yourself and opinions. A supreme philosopher can (and probably will) challenge even the most basic beliefs and ideals the human race stands for without fear of criticism. This is exactly what Darwin, Galileo, and Einstein did, and why they are remembered. Look for meaning behind everything around you. WHENEVER you encounter something that your intuition tells you doesn't make sense or seems "fishy" then look into why. Often when we think "I'm not sure that's entirely true" it's our deep philosophical assumptions contradicting each other. Nietzsche said that philosophy is more than reading philosophical works. True philosophy comes from daily thought and analysis of everything around us. As George Bernard Shaw said: If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea as well, and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas. Don't be scared of having your ideas stolen by others when you share it with them. Having people hear your ideas will spark criticism and contribution within them, only strengthening your own thoughts and counter-argumentation. Wondering is philosophy, philosophy is wondering. Never stop asking why, even when you are given an answer.

If you don't get it at first, think about why you can't get philosophy. Keep asking yourself questions and don't listen to your first assumptions.
You need to be able to accept criticism, and work with it. As a philosopher, you will have a lot of criticism. This is because you are one of those radical thinkers who make the ideas rather than just agree with them. Accept such criticism with the appropriate degree of certainty. Always remember to analyze the evidence presented in order to find understanding. And finally, a positive warning: This very process of self-investigation has enormous psychologically therapeutic benefits. Anyone taking this effort will possess enough self-worth to undermine poor self-esteem, and will have the advantage of quiet resolve instead of fear or grandiose bravado underlying their personality. Don't be afraid to voice a radical opinion. But letting its novelty and originality turn into arrogance will only blind you from seeing the validity of more conservative ideas, thus destroying philosophy, which is centered around questioning and finding the truth, not around satisfying your desires. By philosophizing, your ideas will mature, so much so that you may outgrow friends. You may find that your friends are not interested, or they are unwilling to compromise their ideas. This is normal, though it can be isolating. Remember to stay humble. Philosophy can tear friendships apart if you do not practice caution. It is a sad but true fact, that many philosophers feel very lonely, especially in their childhood. "The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable." (James Garfield)

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