Infatuated with philosophy

Roy asked:

I’m writing this in hopes of getting a response, over the past few years I’ve grown increasingly interested in philosophy. Books from Socrates and Plato have captured my imagination, along with leaving me with more questions than I already had. As I dive down deeper into philosophy I find myself wanted to know more, wanting to read more into philosophy. My question is where should I start, how can I become more infatuated with philosophy?

Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

You remind me of myself, Roy. Around 1971. I’d just left my job as a photographer’s assistant. I think the first book I picked up from the local library was ‘Volume something’ of the collected dialogues of Plato translated by Benjamin Jowett. As I wrote back in 1999,

“I discovered that philosophy and I were made for one another. It was a whirlwind romance. I revered Kant and idolized Plato. I went on endless philosophical walks. Instead of my beloved camera, I carried a notebook. In October 1972, I enrolled as an undergraduate at Birkbeck College London. From day one, I had set my heart on becoming an academic philosopher.” (My Philosophical Life).

Things didn’t turn out quite the way I’d planned, but that is another story. If you are very bright, then maybe a life in academia might suit you. But it can also be a recipe for heartbreak. A recent message posted to the Philos-L list described the suicide of a mid-40s member of the ‘academic precariat’ in Australia:

“John had worked as a casual university tutor since finishing his PhD in philosophy 15 years ago. Passed over a few times for tenured jobs, he was a long-term member of the academic reserve army, the members of which perform around half of the undergraduate teaching in Australia’s universities.”

Where to start? It actually doesn’t matter too much. Follow up leads. Follow your nose. The Pathways Introductory Book List has some suggestions for reading. Or you could join Pathways to Philosophy and have the opportunity to have up to 30 essays reviewed — and shared with other Pathways students if they are up to the required standard.

The most important thing is to sort out your motivation. I once wrote:

“You can philosophize for sheer enjoyment. Or because you want to change the world. Or to develop and hone your mental powers. Or out of insatiable, childlike curiosity. Or because your very life depends upon it” (Pathways to Philosophy: Seven Years On).

Each of these alternatives (they are not mutually exclusive) will determine the approach you take to study. Infatuation is a great thing but will it last? How will you feel about this after four decades? The best advice I can give is don’t let your other interests fall by the wayside. Keep up a lively interest in the world around you. Don’t neglect your friends and your relationships. In other words, be as Normal as you can be — in a world where many of the good people you will meet don’t care too much about the ultimate questions of philosophy.


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