A Philosopher’s Code

The Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God created man in his own image. The interpretation of this notion is many and I shall not go into detail each and every one of them except but to offer one of my own. The Creator blessed us, at the point of creation, with his divine flame of intellect, intuition, and inspiration. Man alone in the animal kingdom possesses the ability to think and create. We alone of the inhabitants of this world have erected magnificent monuments in glory of God and man. We alone have invented tools to ease our burden. The wheel, the saddle, the bridle, the hammer, the chisel, and the compass, these are but the few of man’s creation that mirrors that of the Creator.

Hence, the greatest of man are not the one’s with the most power, or wealth but the one that uses the flame of the Creator to achieve knowledge and wisdom of one’s self and the world around him. A man that lives from hand to mouth without the use of his intellect is no different than the beast of burden that dwells on the fields. It cares only for its survival and lives a meaningless existence in contest of its natural environment. The greatest man, after he has secured his means for existence, is constantly in pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. And this man is called a philosopher or a lover of wisdom.

Philosophers are strange creatures. Some philosophers are hermits and social outcasts. Some were aristocrats or wealthy speculators. Others were kings that had power over entire nations. Ultimately, philosophers are thinkers. They are the living embodiment of the greatest virtue that man possesses, namely, man’s ability to think rationally.

The great achievements in human civilization come from the simplest of ideas. These ideas are the contribution of philosophers to human society over the ages. If one looks back in history, one would find that almost every branch of science, from biology to physics, could be traced back to the writings of Aristotle. Behind the physics of Albert Einstein is the Jewish philosopher Spinoza. Behind the psychology of Sigmund Freud is the German philosopher Schopenhauer. The French Revolution, and subsequently, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the product of the many writings of Voltaire, Rousseau, and John Locke. The Christian and Islamic philosophers help shape part of their respective religions in the Middle Ages. The writings of Confucius, on the other hand, have permeated in the way of life of almost every Chinese in the world. 

Philosophers, through their thoughts and ideas, have changed every aspect of human life. Yet we give so little attention to these great people. In fact, most of us take them for granted. Science seems to conquer ever more ground while philosophy seems to falter in retreat. Science gives the assurance of certainty while philosophy only introduces ambiguity, speculation, and abstract results. The reason for this is that philosophy seeks to answer questions where the variables cannot be measured and quantified. Science is certain because it deals only when things can be converted into numbers. Philosophy, on the other hand, deals with human behaviour and human society. These two aspects of life can never be quantified. And so philosophy, as always, sails into the dark uncharted waters. 

The soul of a society is its people. The soul of the people are the individuals that make up its numbers. But the soul of an individual is his philosophy. It defines his thinking, and subsequently, it defines his actions. It shapes his culture and it is the source of his greatest strength, and often, his greatest weakness. 

What is in philosophy that made Plato called it, ‘that dear delight?’ The word ‘philosophy’ means ‘lover of wisdom’ in Greek. But philosophy defies such a simple definition. According to Bertrand Russell, “The definition of ‘philosophy’ will vary according to the philosophy we adopt.” Philosophy is for most people extremely personal. If philosophy is defined as a way of life or an outlook of reality, almost every person in the world is a philosopher. 

But philosophers are more than the notions above.  At the heart of the philosopher is a longing for knowledge. And this longing for knowledge is aimed for the betterment of human society. A philosopher knows that the world we live in is not the best of all possible worlds. There is a lot of room for improvement. Even to this very day, people are oppressed and discriminated. Some live in poverty unimaginable by civilized urban dwellers while others have no access to even their most basic needs for subsistence. 

The aspect that really sets a philosopher apart from other people is his approach to knowledge and wisdom.  In the next few lines below, I hope to outline the values that make a philosopher distinct from every other individual in society. I believe that every individual will come to a period in life where one seeks guidance and direction as to how to lead a good life. A life inspired by love and guided by knowledge. Those who are short sighted fail to see the unifying threads that connect all of reality together. Existence for them is random and without purpose. But for those who sit still and look long enough, they see a universal pattern of harmony. This pattern gives them purpose. And the life of a philosopher is one filled with purpose, and meaning.

  ~

Knowledge over Ignorance

Through observation and experience, a philosopher knows that human understanding is imperfect. He knows that whatever knowledge he currently possesses is piecemeal and incomplete. Therefore, it is essential for a philosopher to know of his own ignorance and to work to improve himself. For this purpose, the philosopher embarks on a journey of lifelong learning to gather knowledge and to improve his understanding of his environment.

A philosopher’s life is filled with exploration and discovery. The phrase, ‘dare to know’ is his personal motto and he challenges himself everyday to use his own intellect and reasoning to understand reality. His aim is threefold: to know himself, to know the world around him, and to know his relation to the world. The three aspects above give the philosopher knowledge about his reason for being.

The purpose of our existence is to lead a good life. But to lead a good life, one must possess the knowledge of what a good life is. No one does wrong or misses the mark voluntarily. People will not make the wrong choices if they are well informed and know the consequences of their actions. Such wrongdoing is due to the lack of knowledge. For the philosopher, knowledge is virtue: the ultimate virtue. The unexamined life is not worth living. He chooses knowledge over ignorance and he rather chooses to live for a day under the sun than to live for a hundred years chained within a dark cave.

Truth over Falsehood

There is unity in the universe. All that we see and feel are part of a great natural system that functions in an orderly manner. Man should seek to understand this order and to study the cement that holds the universe together. The self is not a separate entity from its environment. We are one with the world. We should recognize that we are not outside of the world looking in but rather inside the world looking around us. Hence, there is a dynamic interaction and interdependence of the self and its external environment. The philosopher’s task is to discover this unity in whatever forms it may exist. The collection of knowledge that a philosopher develops must encompass all of reality into a single harmonious body.

A philosopher must accept no contradictions and no falsehoods in his quest for knowledge. He must never accept knowledge that is vague and self-contradictory. He must possess the desire to think with exactness, precision and consistency. He must question, doubt, and scrutinize everything. Better to acknowledge one’s ignorance than to believe in something that one is unsure of. The process to gain knowledge is akin to the construction of a building. The height of the construct depends on the strength of its foundations. A weak foundation will never be able to support a tall structure. And the structure of wisdom is assuredly of astounding height.

For a philosopher, ‘to say what is that it is and of what is not that it is not, is true’. The truth should be based on experience, observation, and experimentation. A philosopher should detach himself from the subject that he is studying. “Dear is Plato, but dearer still is the truth,” commented Aristotle. His relationship with his teacher did not prevent him from seeing things as they are and, where appropriate, offering differing views. When a philosopher raises an argument against a certain idea, he is careful to only direct his arguments against the idea itself and not the man from which the idea originated. The philosopher must be impartial and fair in his judgment.

As Bertrand Russell said, “philosophy should be piecemeal and provisional like science; the final truth belongs to heaven, not to this world.” The truth that a philosopher accepts must be able to stand the test of time. We must learn to accept the hard truth even if they are not pleasing to our ears and meditate on their implications. Plato was right when he said that the unenlightened individual is like a chained prisoner in a dark underground cave, seeing nothing but moving shadows. Knowledge of truth is the only thing that can liberate us. The ultimate aim of philosophy is wisdom and one is not wise without the knowledge of the truth.

 ~ 

Industry over Idleness

There is a fable of an astronomer that stared so intently into the night sky that he continued walking until he fell into a well. It is a mistake by many philosophers to look so far into the distance that they forget about the present. Philosophy, although aimed at the gaining of knowledge and wisdom must be practical in its applications as well.

A Chinese philosopher once dreamt that he was a butterfly and when he awoke, he wasn’t sure whether he was a man that dreamt he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming that he is man. Such notions of scepticism must not hamper the ability of a philosopher to live his life in a practical manner. A philosopher should know of the limits of doubt. Reality may indeed be an illusion but can we really doubt the world around us? We may be continuously deceived by an evil spirit like the one described by Descartes, but the rumbling of our belly in hunger should put these notions to rest. 

A philosopher must understand the importance of time and treat time as a resource. He must never waste his life pursuing ideals that only exist in fairy tales. He must fight for freedom and liberty while realizing that some of the greatest sins of man are committed in their name. And more importantly, philosophers must understand the limits of freewill and that freedom isn’t free. For every choice that we make, we incur an opportunity cost. This sacrifice forces us to choose the most efficient and effective use of our time. 

A philosopher must never be like Buridan’s ass. He must never be stuck between two haystacks and die of starvation because he is unable to decide to feed from which mountain of hay. It is true that in order to gain something, one must first sacrifice something. A philosopher must weigh his choices, decide accordingly, and move forward with courage and conviction. 

The purpose of life is a life of purpose. A philosopher must continuous improve and cultivate himself to prepare for the time when his calling is fully revealed. Seize the day knowing that the greatest sin that man can commit is idleness.

 ~

Order over chaos

As time passes by, civilizations rise and fall. Great social turmoil occurs when a society’s poor and needy are unable to obtain their basic necessities. Such period in history are often accompanied by widespread destruction of educational institutions and knowledge. Take for example the fall of the empires of Ancient Sumeria, Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, and India. 

A philosopher is the guardian of social harmony and order. He seeks to be in the calm eye of the storm and acts as a bulwark against social revolution and disorder. On the contrary, many philosophical writings are in fact the cause of these social disorders. The writings of Rousseau, Nietzsche, and Marx are normally seen as the sparks that cause some of the greatest horrors in the history of man. These cases serve as a reminder that a philosopher’s power and responsibility must never be misused.

A philosopher must understand that the writings that he bestows upon the world can change the course of human history. Dictators and tyrants have used the writings of philosophers to justify their oppression and repression of the people. There is a thin line that separates liberty and anarchy. Philosophers must be aware of the dangers that their writings pose to peace and harmony.

 ~

Death over Life.

Every individual man must die but the human race will live on. A philosopher keeps the knowledge of his mortality close to his beating heart. He is mindful of how fragile his life really is. He knows that there is a limit to his achievements and that he must never assume that he will live a long life. Because of this, a philosopher will fulfil his duty to himself, his family, and the society. He avoids vile habits and takes no unnecessary risks.

Knowing that his life is short, a philosopher will not procrastinate and continuously work for his self-improvement. He seeks not short-term pleasure only to find long-term pain. He understands how short an individual life is in comparison to human history and, therefore, knows the significance of his every action. He is never idle and invests his time only in meaningful endeavors.

Death comes to all living things. A philosopher possesses a calm trust in fate and destiny. He quietly submits to the will of the inevitable and possesses a stoic composure in the midst of danger. He is able to smile at the looming death; his soul free from trouble and anxiety, for he knows that death means nothing to him. 

Comments
5 Responses to “A Philosopher’s Code”
  1. kalabalu says:

    Searching soul, the body must toil but when it finds its time to go..for the body and soul

  2. I really, really like this! Great job!

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