Pursuing a Philosophical Life: Practical Habits
What is essential to pursuing a philosophical life? This article will likely not stay stagnant, but evolve as ideas are formed and new activities are identified. These ideas are rather from a data point of one, from the subjective and biased perspective of the author who has been developing how to live her own philosophical life mostly by observing others who live philosophically. The journey is ongoing. Some people live philosophically who do not claim to be philosophers, while many others claim to be philosophers who do not seem to live philosophically. Likely a future article will address what philosophical attitudes look like and other articles will offer arguments for some assertions made here, while this text specifically addresses the practical activities that are pursued to nourish philosophical living.
A philosopher is a tourist to the human condition, interested in being inspired, trying to understand, and exploring what it is to be human. Therefore, the philosopher seeks new ideas, or old ideas with a new perspective, in order to provoke thinking. The most reliable method for this is to read in the morning. Not the news, not social media, but some philosophically oriented text that may be an aphorism or a novel. After this habit becomes practice, the philosopher starts to read routine interactions as if they are philosophical texts: conversations become dialogues, exchanges are reflected on to examine the what and the why, and a notebook at hand becomes essential to jot down ideas to be fleshed out in the philosopher’s writing projects. Life becomes inspiration.
A philosopher is a creator, giving birth to ideas, and active expression of ideas becomes essential as inspiration leads to excitement to develop, parse, and share. Writing turns into existential need in the philosophical life, since expression of ideas is to formulate, check, and problematize those ideas, and ideas demand to be shared and discussed. For pursuing a philosophical life, a routine writing habit is a practical prescription because the ideas flow to and from the writer, with inspiration coming from the environment and interactions, and articulated, examined, and dissected in writing. As well, a routine writing habit is an attitudinal prescription because the writer’s perspective is to look for inspiration instead of reacting, explore what is happening from a more objective position instead of remaining a character in the story. The thinking life is therefore naturally developed when writing is a habit.
A philosopher is a learner, eager to distinguish personal logic from universal logic, to inspire and be inspired in their thinking, and work on the various perspectives and facets of how ideas manifest. Therefore, the philosopher seeks out dialogue with thinking partners, with neighbors, with group chats, with anyone. Reason and expression of ideas through language are very difficult to distinguish: thinking is done with words. Being in dialogue is a natural mode for checking ideas, testing articulation and expression of ideas, sharing perspectives, and suggesting paths of exploration. Philosophical schools developed in dialogue, whether in conversation between students on a porch or letters between opposing thinkers. Dialogue is the foundation for thinking.
A philosopher is a trainer, shaping and conditioning their mind as if it were a muscle, acknowledging the limitations of the body and therefore also training their corporeal muscles and emotions to actively live. The philosophical life accepts, instead of fighting against, the finiteness of the human condition: an individual has relatively few years on this earth to experience, think, write, teach, and live. Self reflection leads to the conclusion that physical demands can often impede the ability to concentrate, so naturally, routinely attending to the present world supports the work of the mind. Plato claimed a city park for his school, Aristotle would have walking dialogue with his students—early in the history of philosophy the exertion and training of the body was associated with the training of the mind.
A philosopher is a thinker, needing time and space in which to think. Anyone who has been inspired on a walk, in the bath, or on a long drive has experienced inspiration and development of an idea insisting to be expressed. Yet rest is beautiful even when not for the purpose of production: rest is endorsed by the divine, necessary for health, and a natural experience of humanity. Thinking in quiet is overlooked in a time of many demands on attention. Even dinner, driving, and exercising seem to be bombarded by the opportunity to listen to music or or a podcast. The advancements of technology support a culture of being engaged at every moment. The peace and emptiness of quiet, for instance the active practice of stillness in meditation, offers the complement of rest to give contrast to the demanding work of building ideas and writing. Every mountain needs a valley.
All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
Practicing Self Reflection
A philosopher is an explorer, wanting to describe the human condition and the human potential, so naturally the philosopher uses themself to understand how humans work and in turn how they choose to live. It seems obvious that the activity of reflecting on life and exploring what it is to be human starts with self reflection and uses direct experiences to relate to the world. An assumption commonly made is that this work is done with the intention of self improvement. While self improvement quite often results, the purpose of self reflection can be as simple as exploration. A natural result of exploring freedom and choices is to exist more actively, more consciously, more deliberately. A philosopher can look like a hypocrite at times, since they are just as capable of personal logic, emotions, and appetites. One who is specifically pursuing a philosophical life, though, engages in reflecting about those instances for the purpose of understanding what happens, why it happens, and how to exist with choice and intention.
A philosopher is an observer, not a passive participant. One of the characteristics that makes a life philosophical is the ability to observe events, people, and one’s ideas, behaviors or emotions with distance, without being excessively affected by these circumstances and modes. The opposite of taking distance would be to have emotional reactions to circumstances and environment, to let the self be pulled into their irrationality, engage in their pettiness, or feel overwhelmed by them. Worse yet to passively coincide with the others’ ideas or emotions, without being able to take a peaceful and critical look at them. A philosopher is distant, not reactive, but reflective. Philosophers take the object of analysis as something interesting to question and understand. The philosopher is open to possibilities, taking a playful and light approach. In order to practice distance, the philosopher works on identifying events, people, behaviors, ideas, and emotions that provoke some reactivity or irrationality in them. Then he asks himself why this reaction or irrationality takes place, what is happening when this takes place, and what he would like to happen instead in order to live consciously and deliberately.
These activities all depend on attitude to make them philosophical pursuits. But they also nurture creating and maintaining a philosophical attitude.
These are goals. Just like with virtue ethics, the journey, not some unattainable destination of perfection, is what aids in pursuing a philosophical life.