What is a Philosopher?

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A philosopher simply wants to know what it means. Philosophy is an endless search for meaning because its aim is so straightforward. “What does it mean?” can be posed in a million variations eternally.

The answers themselves are subject to further inspection, contemplation and finally, a request for clarification: What does it mean, anyway?

Where does the circle end?

Philosophers walk a slippery slope, but above what are they perched?

If we are honest, it is clear the end of philosophy is and must be action.

A philosophy is empty if in the end all it brings are doubts, hesitation and despair. Truth necessitates ethics which necessitate action. How we act is the method by which others determine what we mean. The full expression of meaning must involve an action. Purely linguistic meaning—speaking without acting and not meaning what you say–is as much a hypocrisy as a philosophy of inaction and isolation.

So the ultimate solution is simply to act as an example for others, at all times, of the greatest hopes one has for the human race. Certainly a rather extreme request, but the only judge qualified to determine your progress along this endless quest is yourself.

Deconstructing meaning itself leads philosophy to its most dangerous and radical extremes—the intersection between the metaphysical and the everyday, that line which is so blurry and evasive, which constitutes conscience and ethics.

Faith is only the first step; without it, we would be without philosophy (and superstition, for that matter) entirely. The paradoxical belief that the circle will lead us to a destination that is anywhere we haven’t already been is the leap of faith. Seemingly opposed to reason, these leaps make reason possible. How are we to distinguish between philosophy and organized superstition?

From an absolute perspective, all our beliefs are superstition—we must have the faith that makes it possible to believe that at least some of our beliefs are accurate most of the time. This is confirmed by interaction with reality; things and people exhibit predictability to our relatively simple models.

The absolute truth out there probably doesn’t correspond precisely to our models, which are really just hacked together well enough to get tangible results, but their practical benefits are what make them relatively good enough anyway.

Actually being able to build a working rocket by studying mathematics and engineering suggests that at least some of what is being taught rests on accurate models of an underlying, objective reality, even if all parameters which may have effects on the results are not always ‘completely’ understood. This lack of understanding of all the complex interrelations between objects is what is responsible for the apparent randomness and contingency of events.

The difference we are discussing is similar to the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning. Only because of the vast amount of evidence we can rally can we assert that there probably exists an external reality which behaves in mostly predictable ways. External reality cannot be deduced from perception or using language in any absolute, objective way. Being-in-itself reveals itself by appearing, through appearances.

Being exists to our mind both directly through experience (which is untranslateable) and indirectly through representation–linguistically or conceptually (which is translatable but already is bound by subjective distortion of meaning.) Thus, any introspective search cannot lead to firm knowledge which is certain, nor can manipulating concepts nor arguments in any language lead to absolute certainty. We once again must turn to faith to provide the confidence to at least temporarily abide this unalterable, unresolvable condition.

We must assume the circle resolutely, lovingly, for even though we are in search of it, it is only because the circle exists that we may question at all. Knowledge itself has been under assault since Descartes, but we must resist the nihilistic tendency to assume that external being does not exist, that reality is a meaningless illusion.

It is difficult to take our faith so far as to assert that IF one were to be able to perceive the whole of reality at once, then some sort of ultimate meaning to the entire thing would be obvious and the randomness vanish completely. However, just because certain events or phenomena exhibited unpredictability, from an ultimate standpoint, the results weren’t random in any sense, since they depended causally on the entire history of the universe prior to the event.

This absoluteness of external being-in-itself is what causes despair in the philosophers of existence, for what could be more naked and raw than the object-in-itself, devoid of consciousness and thus of context and meaning? Explode everyday reality, abandon it in a vacuum, and the result is an absurdly random collection of nothing particularly important or interesting, anyway.

All this deconstruction is a conscious effort; taking the deconstruction a step further, we realize that our consciousness is both the beginning and the end of meaning. The meaning of an infinity is a contradiction which is allowed only by faith. We are able to mean that which we do not fully understand, can grasp only in a limited way.

We can express that beyond which we concretely experience, which allows for the expression of an infinite number of possible truths. Though the objective validity of any given alleged piece of truth is always in question, a subjective validation is simply authenticating the expression with your lived experience, which while ultimately untranslatable is a constrained window upon the absolute.

Faith inverts subjectivity and allows the possibility that some of our thoughts and beliefs reflect truth to a significant degree. Relativity is important to remember here; it is less important from ones own perspective that ones beliefs reflect absolute reality than that they reflect the reality with which one is actually confronted with. Knowledge, while infinite, is not beyond our grasp, even though it may be inexpressible.

The Author

mostly noise and glare


  1. amy-fest... it's like a party of amy! says

    ahhhhh… wow… is this yours? its amazing. i don’t have time to think about it too long right now because I’ve gotta go… but this is REALLY COOL. i like that part about how the philosophy is useless if it doesn’t translate into action/life…. once after an overwhelming philosophy club meeting mt friend told me that philosophy was something like mental masturbation– fun, but doesn’t actually get you anywhere, or something like that. which sortof made me sad, because although it did help me step back a little, i wanted to find answers that were actually helpful, if that makes sense… anyway i gtg now but if this is your paper then awesome job and if not its still pretty cool. have a nice day 🙂

  2. you’re absolutely right, philosophy (really, ideology in general) can’t solve problems, only redefine them, to help us understand the problems better.

    as zizek points out beautifully, if there’s a real crisis, like a killer virus or asteroid hitting the earth a la armageddon, we can’t play philosophy games (“what does it MEAN?!”) and hope to fix the situation, you know? that’s when we need good science, and so forth…

    thanks for the feedback! 🙂

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