Who can call himself a spiritual philosopher?

Duke asked:

Philosophy is about humans experience of every day living. every body
over 60 years old is a philosopher of his own experiences and
understand more about life than any young graduate of this generation
will ever know.

My question is, who can call himself a spiritual philosopher?
Don’t you have to be dead to be a spiritual philosopher like you say?

Answer by Tony Fahey

Hi Duke, the first thing that must be said is that not everyone who has reached the age of sixty can be called a philosopher. Whilst I tend to avoid making generalizations, I would make the case that philosophy demands a particular form of disciplined inquiry which many prefer to leave to those who are more predisposed to such a discipline. Indeed to argue, as you do, that everybody over sixty is entitled to be called a philosopher, brings into the frame all those who, through no fault of their own, are not equipped with the mental or intellectual ability to engage in philosophical issues. Moreover, whilst I agree that worldly wisdom, in some instances, can be one of the benefits of old age, it can equally be argued that many meaningful philosophical insights have been conceived by younger philosophers. Not least of these being Wittgenstein who was only thirty three years of age when he presented his first book, Tractatus Logico -Philosophicus to the world.

The second thing that must be said is that one certainly does not have to be dead to be a spiritual philosopher. Indeed, since we cannot be sure that there is life after death, we cannot say that this line of enquiry, or, for that matter, any line of enquiry, would be open to the post-corporeal state. Moreover, I would make the case that all philosophers, even the most ardent empiricists, at one time or another in their career, engage with the relationship between spirit and matter. In fact, it might also be argued that metaphysics – that branch of philosophy concerned with that which is beyond physics, and deals with such issues as ‘Why do we exist?’, ‘Is there life after death?’, ‘Is there a God?’, and so on, is but spiritual philosophy by another name.

It may interest you to know that the term ‘spirit derives from the Latin spiritus, ‘spirit, breath’, and from spirare, ‘to breath, to blow’. And it is in this context that, under the appendage of ‘soul’, it is seen by Descartes when he describes it as ‘the breath of life which animates the human organism’.(see Patrick Quinn, Philosophy of Religion, 2005, p.206)

With regard to the issue of whether one can be a spiritual philosopher whilst alive, it should be pointed out that the history of philosophy is replete with examples of thinkers who would meet this description. As well as the most obvious example of Socrates (who took direction on whether his choices were either wise or unwise from his daemon: his ‘spiritual being or ‘inner voice’, Plato (who not only held that the soul or ‘spirit’ existed separately from the body, but also that, on the birth of the physical body, it brought with it certain knowledge that was not dependent on empirical experience), we have Boethius (who, while awaiting execution for his beliefs, was visited by the goddess Athena, who reminded him that it was in philosophy that he could find consolation for his fear of his impending demise, and, following Socrates, that philosophy was the preparation for life beyond that of the physical body).

Without continuing with the specific details of others who might be counted as ‘spiritual philosophers’, amongst those can also be said to fall under this rubric are, Aristotle, Augustine, Arius, Avicenna, Arendt, Berkeley, Chardin, Erasmus, Hegel, Levinas, Maimonides, Marcel, Spinoza, Stein, Vico, Wittgenstein, and many many more too numerous to mention.

Answer by Shaun Williamson

I have no idea what a spiritual philosopher is and I don’t want to know what one is either.

The word ‘philosopher’ as it is used on this website refers to the attempt to find truth by using reason and logic alone. This sort of rational philosophy arose in ancient Greece and it is the philosophy that is taught in Universities all over the world i.e it starts with people like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

Philosophy is not about humans experience of every day living. You can use it in that sense if you want to but don’t expect us to agree with you. Most people are completely ignorant about the nature of philosophy but the young philosophy graduate has at least made a good start towards becoming wise because he has read some books and studied philosophy. Books are how humans pass on knowledge and wisdom, you may have heard of them.

Everybody over 60 does not understand more about life, understanding takes knowledge and knowledge takes study and hard work.

This site is often visited by hippie philosophers who want to say ‘Isn’t everyone their own philosopher?’. The answer to that is no they aren’t and being able to add up doesn’t make you a mathematician. Singing out of tune at the Karaoke bar doesn’t make you a musician either and so on.

So forget all this home grown wisdom, read some books and then read some more books. Start by reading Bertrand Russell’s one volume ‘History of Western Philosophy’ (it is available for free over the internet). This book will give you some idea of the sort of questions philosophy deals with.

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