Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Do it Yourself Philosophy

David Brooks wrote an excellent column on what amounts to "do it yourself" philosophy. The money quote is:
For generations people have been told: Think for yourself; come up with your own independent worldview. Unless your name is Nietzsche, that’s probably a bad idea. Very few people have the genius or time to come up with a comprehensive and rigorous worldview. 
It probably wasn't even a good idea for Nietzsche, who ended up in the madhouse. And I would go further than Brooks: No one has the genius to come up with a worldview purely of his own invention. In fact, it could be argued that philosophy truly began when one man - Socrates - gave up trying to construct his own worldview and decided to adopt one from someone wiser than himself.  So he went around to all those "supposed to be wise", searching for the true man of wisdom from whom he could learn. It turned out, of course, that none could withstand Socrates' cross-examination, and he came to the conclusion that no one was wise, but he at least had the advantage of not thinking himself wise when he was not. Thus did Socrates establish the communal, cultural and traditional nature of philosophy: The wise man doesn't attempt to master wisdom from scratch; he inserts himself into the ongoing cultural project of philosophy. Philosophy is a dialog, not a monologue.

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