Becoming a self-taught philosopher

Jason asked:

How does one become a self-taught philosopher? In particular I am drawn to such models as Ken Wilber (Integral Theory), Ayn Rand (Objectivism, as an example not as a thought to contribute to) and Eric Hoffer (the Longshore Philosopher) as well as Hayy ibn Yaqzans. I do have an MA in theological studies from a progressive seminary that had a strong interest in the 3rd wave feminism, postmodernity and indigenous thought (I have to admit I am enamoured with V.F. Cordova, the first native woman to get a Ph.D in philosophy and her challenge to western thought). Another obvious set of inspirations for self-taught philosophy would be the Victorian Sage writers as well as contemporary writers in the creative nonfiction/ Wisdom writing tradition.

My own project is to look at how neurodiversity challenges our notions of thought, human-beingness and several fundamental concepts.

Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

With an MA from a legitimate degree granting institution, one would hardly describe you as ‘self taught’, but I get the point that you are looking to teach yourself philosophy, as you understand that notion. From what you say, my glib response would be that you already are a ‘philosopher’. You are also a student of philosophy, as all philosophers are. Debating with one another, we also learn from one another.

Before we go any further, a warning that my answer is not going to be along the well-trodden lines of, ‘You need to study such-and-such, and read so-and-so.’ As it happens, I did my undergraduate studies at an English university in the second half of the 70s — from which you can gather that I am trained in the methods of analytic philosophy. However, I have long since grown away from my roots. I did have to teach myself at that point, because I had no model to follow. Yet it sounds like a strong dose of Frege, Russell and Wittgenstein (both early and late) is just what you need.

Sometimes one gets the impression that philosophers working within academia consider themselves the only real ‘philosophers’, i.e. academic philosophers. The idea has gotten a hold that there is such a thing as the ‘state of the art’ in philosophy, which is nowhere to be found outside the University. Which is nonsense, to my ear.

On the other side, the good thing about universities is that the academics who work there are given the time to think and debate. But then so are monks. (There was a time when monasteries were one of the chief sources of philosophical enlightenment.)

I have books by Ken Wilber and Ayn Rand which were both given to me by ardent ‘fans’. The fact that I haven’t made much progress with them says more about me than about those authors. These days, I don’t read. I only have one Question, which I have repeated sufficiently many times, that there hardly seems any point in rehearsing that again.

Your question sounds interesting. How diverse can human brains be? A lot more, perhaps, than many are willing to admit. More interesting still is the notion that there are forms of thinking or ‘brain functioning’ that we have yet to encounter because they are still to be achieved. When we do get there, who knows?

What is the core, the essence of being a philosopher, or, more specifically, a philosopher in the 21st century? Is it possible that what you are asking me is how one can earn a living from philosophy outside the normal channels of academia? From publishing books, say? Or, gathering a coterie of followers? I found a way, but it required brain-crunching work (see my collection of over 1,000 reviews of student work at http://philosophos.sdf.org/electronic_philosopher/).

If you get an original idea, and if you are good at putting that across, then some time in the future you might well find your work on the same bookseller shelf as Rand and Wilber. Would that be it, or would you still want more? The answer to that question shows the kind of ‘philosopher’ you are striving to be.

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