What is a philosopher?

Joshua asked:

Good day philosophers! These are the questions that I long to seek answers to, for I am concerned of how somebody can stand up and say without any impediments that he is a philosopher regardless of social opinions that his ideas will influence someone or be recognized someday!

What is the path way of being a philosopher? Is it only through an academe? It is for sure that the goal of studying in universities is different to that of an individual’s search for philosophic questions, the academe and the individual who pursues have different natures in terms of philosophical studies and questioning which may be said incomplete by anybody if the view is one sided, that formal studies is required or in the other philosophy cannot be taught, well those I can see are two distinct natures of philosophical studies, so can anyone choose either of this nature as a pathway of becoming a philosopher? not exclusive only to one.

Who above all would consider somebody a philosopher, most importantly, is it him or his society? Is it him who makes philosophical ideas after which names himself as a philosopher, or is it the society that is the only source of recognition such that if all men aside from him doesn’t know him and he says he is a philosopher, and none of this society believes, then he is not, though he considers himself, because the society set their own standards. So in other words what is most important basis of considering a philosopher the personal or social recognition?

Is fame necessary for a philosopher? All of the discipline of philosophy knows for sure of Hume, Kant, Leibniz, etc, however, can somebody be an ‘honored’ philosopher in such sense that his self proclamation of being a philosopher is treated in formal essence and can be said equal to the pedestals of the known philosophers even if he is the only one who knows of his intellect or few knows of him being such?

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

Good day, Joshua! This is one mountain of a question, and I feel certain that you will receive many responses. I will keep mine very simple, because after a couple of preliminaries I propose to tell you a story and let you draw the consequences yourself.

First: a private philosophy is well and good for that person; but in the end it’s the same as saying, ‘I’m a great movie star’ without ever having played in a film. There is only one judge: yourself – plainly not acceptable.

Second: There are ‘professional’ philosophers and there are ‘vocational’ philosophers. The pro’s are usually teachers, whose function is to instruct their students in the work and importance of the great thinkers. From what I can see, few of them have a philosophy of their own, and they don’t usually teach their own, but other people’s philosophy. Much the same as your math or history teacher. It might end up as a case resembling the difference between Leo Tolstoi and Jackie Collins, who are both ‘novelists’.

Third: Some very great and important philosophers were never associated with an institution, e.g. Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche a.o. (not to mention Socrates!). It was part of the bourgeoise craving for institutionalised legitimacy that made philosophers accountable to administrators – the same as in science, the arts and elsewhere. I don’t have to spell out the perils to you, but you might consider ‘funding’ and contrast its effect on intellectual freedom.

And so to the story: Sometime around 1794, Johann Fichte was a young professor at an insignificant Swiss university. He already had a reputation and influential friends. But when his mentor retired and recommended him for the post of professor at Jena – Goethe’s university! – he was in a pickle and took the unprecedented step of writing back: Could the university possibly defer his appointment for 6 months? As of now, he said, I am still writing my philosophy, and until I’m finished with my book, I have no philosophy to profess.

So you see, there was a time when it was clearly understood that a philosopher is a person who has a philosophy to profess.


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