What makes someone a philosopher?

Paul asked:

What makes someone a philosopher?

Answer by Shaun Williamson

The word ‘philosophy’ can have many different uses. So we can talk about the philosophy of animal husbandry or the philosophy of hair dressing. Philosophy can just mean the most fundamental ideas about something.

However there is a much narrower definition of philosophy. Philosophy is the study of truth, the scope of human knowledge and logic that first started in ancient Greece. This philosophy was always an academic subject and Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were all teachers and founded schools.

The people who answer questions here are qualified in this sort of philosophy. Of course many people have the idea that philosophy is really just having deep ideas about life and they protest that surely you don’t need to study academic philosophy to do this. All you need to do is sit down in your armchair and think really deep thoughts. Well if you can do this, good luck but don’t expect other philosophers to be interested in your deep thoughts. Academic philosophers are far too busy with their own thoughts and are not looking out for wonderful untrained geniuses.

If you want to be a philosopher then, if you can, study philosophy and logic at a recognised university. If you can’t do this then you can still become a philosopher by reading all the books and reading them again until you understand them. You need to know all of the history of philosophy, there are no short cuts.

If you want to be a doctor then study medicine, if you want to be a philosopher then study philosophy. Philosophy is hard work and will make your brain hurt. Don’t do it unless you are dedicated and can stand the pain!


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