Who is a philosopher?

“Wonder is the feeling of the philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.” Plato

“…A philosopher… has…[a] structure of thought unified by a purpose for his own life and for mankind.” Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, p. 141

Philosophers are commonly called “thinkers,” but really, that is not an adequate definition of a philosopher. A philosopher looks at the world in wonder. He seeks the underlying meaning of things; he wants to understand it and codify it into a system of thought. If he succeeds in this task, he often feels compelled to share his system with the world, even knowing it is likely futile. This is because he loves the world, despite the difficulty it has given him.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need anything besides this burning desire to understand things and to connect them. You don’t need to get a PhD, to have taken any philosophy classes, or to have read a single philosophy book. Of course all these things can help you to sharpen your thinking and to avoid “reinventing the wheel,” but they do not in themselves make you more or less of a philosopher.

Beyond the basic definition, no two philosophers are exactly alike. Some are comets: long lived and brilliant like Socrates; others are streaking meteors like Nietzsche, consumed by their romanticism and brilliance. Some create systems haphazardly, and other are meticulous beyond belief (compare Nietzsche to Spinoza). Some are cynical, and others are hopeful. It seems to be a function of your personality and how you react to your environment.

Here are examples of two very different modern day philosophers: Alain de Botton and Jason Silva. Neither is a “professional philosopher” in the traditional sense (academia), and they have their critics. However, each has striven to take philosophy out of the ivory tower and to make it accessible and relevant to a wider audience. Personally, I find this very commendable.

Knowing what it means to be a philosopher, I’m sure not many people would choose such a fate for themselves or their kids, yet I believe it’s as unavoidable as fate. I suspect that some people may be genetically predisposed to be order seekers, and certain external circumstances simply activate these tendencies. Sheltering yourself or your kids from such stimuli may work temporary, but it is highly impractical in our increasingly connected world. Perhaps it is better to embrace who you are so that you can forge a path through life with true conviction and purpose.

53 thoughts on “Who is a philosopher?

  1. Good day,
    I’m not really droppping a comment but rather asking a question. What is the difference between a philosopher and philosophy?

    I await your utmost respopnse.

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  2. A philosopher is a person who live the the life of reasoning, s/he has a deep liking towards knowledge. A philosopher develop the attitude towards knowledge, they are not satisfied by the available knowledge, they believe that more knowledge can be known.

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  3. I would add a little to Kyaruzi’s definition by saying that philosophers are concerned with how knowledge is interconnected and what it means. To me, this is what separates a philosopher from a scholar or a scientist. Scientists and scholars delve into topics and answer the question “how;” philosophers go a step further and ask “why?”

    “Philosopher” is not an exclusive category. You can be anything and also a philosopher – scientist, musician, artist, etc. Looking back at history, you will find great philosophers came from all walks of life.

    I like Kyaruzi’s comment about philosophy being about attitude. Philosophy is not simply a field of study which you can master by taking enough classes or reading enough books. We are constantly gaining knowledge both about ourselves and the world in which we live. Philosophy is the lifelong quest for the meaning of all this – the meaning of existence. If you are on this quest, you are a philosopher.

    Being a philosopher has no other requirement. You do not have to take a single philosophy class, read a single book, or have a particular job. All these are simply aids that may help you on your quest.

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  4. Yes, I would also agree that being a philosopher is defined by the attitude you carry through your life. It is the attitude of questioning and accepting discussion within yourself.
    Many philosophies are very different from each other, often even contradicting, but the people who devised them are philosophers none the less. I have met countless such people, but most of them are preoccupied with reinventing the wheel(which I most likely am too).
    If you have found a new way of answering a certain question and have published it and gained recognition for it, then you have become what other’s call – “a philosopher”. Or in other words, you have earned the right to be called that – by others, and not only by yourself.

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  5. I’ve spent a fair amount of time reinventing the wheel too, which I have mixed feelings about. Sometimes I feel that it was not an efficient use of time, but mostly I realize that it was necessary. Most insights are not really new; they have been written and spoken about for ages. Yet reading and knowing something is not the same thing as really understanding it. Experience helps us understand things on a personal level.

    When I started this site years ago, my goal was to share all my insights so that other people didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Lately though, I have come to accept that people must customize wheels for their own journeys of self discovery; you cannot totally eliminate wheel invention. I can only hope that my insights can help make the process a little less arduous.

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  6. I have always been incredibly obsessed by natural order and the preservation of accurate information into a codified manner. It literally eats me up when I can’t organize information. I want to improve my self education so I take hours trying to codify all possible subjects of study (for I want to study each of them) into categories that interconnect. I must be a philosopher. I am obsessed with information being understood, no just known. It’s really frustrating sometimes to be this way. So many paths, not one answer. So many contradictions in this life. Email me if you also seek what I do.

    montgomeryyoder@gmail.com

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  7. I know exactly what you mean because I was the same way. I am not quite as obsessive now because at a certain point you realize that there is simply too much information. I realized that my goal wasn’t to become a walking encyclopedia but to glean enough key insights in order to appreciate how amazing the world is and to share this feeling with others.

    You are indeed a philosopher. Savor the journey – it is a frustrating yet most rewarding one. I know it’s hard, but try to pace yourself and not go crazy like poor Nietzsche (and others).

    I created this site to meet other philosophers and exchange ideas, so please feel free to browse. I’m happy to correspond with you on any topic that catches your fancy through comments or email. You can reach me at contact [at] philoscifi.com

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  8. I think am born philosopher because looking back into my childhood years and pondering on the present state of my mindset, one thing is constant and that is the way at which I see issues- always desiring to be different and finding why things happen.

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  9. Good to meet you, Austin. Yes, it sounds like you are a philosopher. We are a curious and independent breed. Sometimes we get into trouble because of these traits, but hey, at least we can’t say life is boring!

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  10. Philosophy involves critical thinking.we see things that others dont see.we dont just accept information but we want to know the basis of such info.We believe that knowledge can still be gotten from a thing so we dont rest on our achievements.

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  11. The philosopher does not only always preoccupy himself/herself with fundamental questions of existence, but in grappling with the issues, also apply the rigorous method of logical reasoning, employing the principles of logic to his mode of thinking. This distinguishes him from any man in any other field. He also does this in a way that has fundamental bearing on knowledge and practical living.

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  12. Thank you all for your comments and questions. Through this site and a class that I am taking, I have just discovered that I am a philosopher. I always wondered how philosophers “became” philosophers – a degree, specific courses, etc – Through reading these comments you have opened my eyes to the beginning of a “revealed discovery” and pursuit of purpose in Life – My destiny. Thanks again for each one of you.

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  13. Guys this is realy enteresting, I happen to have come across this site because I was looking for the definition of a phylosopher in google, and know what! the information that I got here is exactly what I have been thinking, I have a lot of literature and the heading is BORN PHILOSOPHER, but I said let me find the meaning of this word. Guys all your comments r true indeed, Im an independent thinker who does not believe religiously even the Old Philosophers’ theorams without scrutinising then logical beyond any doubt. So i think I have met people who can understand me coz only a very few people who understand me, Im realy convinced that my reasoning is beyond an ordinary person’s understanding, but when I simplify it they do understand it.

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  14. I’m glad you found it helpful, Roy. You bring up a good point. Since philosophers tend to have wide ranging interests, they often have difficulty simplifying their insights and reasoning. But this is a very valuable (and necessary) skill to gain in order to be understood by others. I particularly admire those that can distill their wisdom into memorable quotes and stories. These “snapshots” can get people interested enough in the concept to learn more.

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  15. oh GOd i’m also a philosopher i remember i started thinking about how things are happening in my family and i got the understanding.

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  16. Small quote I came up with the other week..

    The wise man seeks that which dwells beneath the surface while the fool admires the beautiful painting while ignoring the artwork.

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  17. Ok, I’m only a junior in highschool. I haven’t taken any fancy classes, or pursued any type of degree. I think I’m a philosopher. I’m also not exactly following every characteristic that is used to define a philosopher. However, the majority of the traits I do follow. More specifically, the traits that i feel really define a philosopher. For example, I have a very large love of learning and understanding, but yet again, don’t all of us? I’ve heard from many places (such as my parents, teachers, and on some posters) that all men have an innate desire to learn. but getting back to the point before I trail off, another trait that I follow is over thinking things, yet not to the point of coming to an irrational conclusion. I also find it very easy to analyze things and figure out how things work, but on the other hand, I can never seem to get my words out right for people to understand how I feel or what I mean. Clearly, its different when it comes to writing on a computer because theirs no feeling of being rushed to answer. No one, at this moment even knows I’m writing this. so I have time to think about what I’m saying. I’ve also got extremely bad adhd. I feel like this is the opposite of what a philosopher is. A philosopher is someone who takes a question, finds an answer, and asks themselves why the answer is what it is. But with me, I usually forget what I’m thinking about half way through a thought. For example, earlier today, I was asking myself why talking to yourself is considered a characteristic of only men who are insane. My little brother turns on the television and poof, what ever thought that was in my head is gone. I can regain this thought with some hard concentration that usually results in a headache. but even though I lose my train of thought, I still feel that I resemble what a philosopher REALLY is. a person who strives for an explanation. I have very contradicting feelings about whether I’m a philosopher or not. from what i’ve told you, what would you say?

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  18. Hi Nick, I think that you are a philosopher. Don’t worry too much. You are still young and have much room to grow. I was a lot like you back in high school. It took a lot of practice to get to where I am today. I wasn’t quite as distracted as you described, but I took forever to organize my thoughts into something coherent.

    I recommend that you write your thoughts down in a journal. That way, you won’t have to try to remember all of your thoughts, and you’ll work on your writing at the same time. Nowadays, I basically carry around a pocket-sized notebook everywhere so that I can jot down any interesting ideas that pop into my head. Think of it this way: the more you get out of your head, the more room you have for new–even better–ideas!

    You are right: the key to being a philosopher is a lifelong love of learning. Treasure it; it’s rarer than you think. Keep working at it, and expressing your thoughts clearly will come in time. Hope this helps.

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  19. I am very happy I have found this website and this particular article. Yes, being philosophic in nature is a challenging one but it is highly rewarding when YOU know who you are and not dependent on others or society for definition and absolute validation.

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  20. I’m happy to hear that, Kamika. As a writer, especially on the Internet, one often wonders if he is reaching anyone. This article and its feedback always reminds me that I am in some small way.

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  21. Hi Justarius.

    I don’t even know that i’m a philosopher or not. But similar kind of situation also happens with me. I also used to connect one point with another whenever i do something. I always think that this thing i should know whether its related to me or not and some time i feel that i should know everything there should not be a single thing which is not in my knowledge. While my daily work i always used to put myself at others place and other at my place, then i compare both situation thinking what is better for me and for other and what could be the better way as compared to this. While doing this some time i get angry and some time happy. Over all i always want to change it if its not matching according to my thoughts and others benefits.
    I dont even know why i do all this all time. yeah but i want a small advice from ur side.

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  22. Hi, Hemant. I know how you feel. I used to do a similar thing to what you described, but I try to do it less now because it is very demanding on the brain. In the end, I just felt tired all the time, and I wasn’t any happier or better off.

    So in the last few years, I’ve tried to learn to prioritize. As you go along, you’ll find that some decisions are more important than others. I try to spend most of my time on these now. On the less important ones, I learned to be okay with less than perfect results because it’s not worth the effort. In the beginning, it was difficult to retrain my brain because habits are hard to break. But if you keep working at it, you will find that it become more manageable. Hope this helps!

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  23. Hi Justarius

    May I know the difference between an Indian saint and a philosopher. Also, may I know whether philosophers live the life or just die out of questions.

    About me: whenever I see anything, my mind continuously insists me “that is not true. Your vision and what you see keep changing”. Similarly, I get the same feeling with everything(eating,listenening,etc). So in fact I couldn’t enjoy anything; even if I try to overcome it, I couldn’t. Many advised me such are negative thoughts and come out of it. I don’t know the truth behind life and how could I classify negative and positive. I tried some religious works also. I say “Nothing is mine , even I am not controlling my breath or my heart pump. Really don’t know what is happening to me. Some religions say conscience is ‘you’ and not the body or mind. But really i don’t know how a conscience get built”.

    Very recently I entered my first career life as an Assistant Professor. But I really couldn’t admit myself as a teacher because I felt “when you don’t know the purpose of life and the truth behind the why’s, how can you direct a student “. So I left my job. People say me “You have degree (ME) but you are waste”. But I am not worried about it since “Nothing to be won, Nothing to be lost, For nothing mine”. Let this life rhyme goes off and fades off till it is destined to. I think I play a role in the energy balance of the universe ha ha ha, what else?

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  24. Hi Ananthi,

    First, I’m sorry to hear about your experience. I hope that you discover your purpose. In truth, no one can tell anyone else what his purpose is. And purpose is not always something to be found. Many times, it is something you decide and then act upon. Having a purpose can be as simple as asking a question and then trying to find the answer. For example: you may ask, “How does consciousness develop?” If you go and find out–talk to religous people and scientists, read books–then that is a purpose.

    The biggest pitfall for thinkers is overthinking. When they do it, simple things become hard and obvious things become invisible. It’s a good idea to talk to people you trust. Maybe they can point out things that are hard to see yourself. Also, keep an open mind because sometimes your purpose is what you least expect.

    To answer your questions, the biggest difference between a saint and a philosopher is faith. Both are seekers, but they use different methods. Philosophers are of all different types. They all ask questions. They all attempt to organize their insights and thoughts into a system. But whether they die from the stress of asking too many questions or “live the life” really depends on their personalities. If they only see negatives, chances are they won’t last long. The philosophers that last are the ones who learn to balance. They try to see the full picture, both negative and positive. They try to understand a dynamic world, but they know that they can’t ask the world to stop in order to be examined. I hope this helps!

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  25. Hello Justarius!

    Sorry, if I made your website with negative thoughts. Thank you for
    your kind reply. Now I am practicing not to “think much” but just to
    keep me involved in some works and enjoy it. Also, if I get into any
    strange negative thoughts I just write it down and try to map its
    origin. I believe I have the solutions within me. Shall I add my
    definition of philosophy (bear with me if it doesn’t sound well):

    “A philosopher is one who lives out the ‘life’ taking the world
    moments too close to his mind; so poetic and socialist he will be..But
    he never settle down as a poet or a socialist because he still observe
    deep the universe rather than its beauty and tries to unveil the
    working of the universe; so a scientist he is..But he never settle
    down as a scientist because he understands a ‘oneliness beyond the
    diversity’ in the universe and starts to venture his relation to the
    universe and his purpose in the universe..once he discovers the bliss,
    he loves to share with others; when someone doesn’t understand he says
    ‘delve into yourself..you have the answers'”

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  26. Hi Ananthi, I’m glad to hear your reply. It is much more positive, more balanced. Writing is a great way to figure things out. It worked for me, and I hope that it works for you.

    Your definition fits well. Philosophers are always in motion–either looking for something or sharing what they have found. They wander into many different fields because they are not interested in being a specialist in one field but seeing the connections between many fields. If you enjoy this journey–this process of discovery–then you are “living the life.”

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  27. Hi everybody,
    philosophy is my passion, though i am not. philosopher thinks everything like nothing but can share just nothing of its everything

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  28. Hello Justarius, I like your site. This a great work. I don’t think i am a philosopher since my inquisitive mind was ruined by education system of my country together with the society i live in. I’d like to ask a question though. to achieve a good thing, an individual has to work hard and smart. on the contrary, you don’t need to work any hard to attain a good thing. why? It is hard putting this thought to word. i hope you go it anyway.

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  29. Hi Kemboi, I’m glad that you like the site. You can still be a philosopher if you want. Just stay curious and keep trying to put things together into a system that makes sense to you. Honestly, formal education is overrated. The best education is still self-education.

    You are right. Good things usually require hard work. It’s hard for me to find the right words too! I’ve been working on this site for 5 years, and I’m still constantly finding ways to improve. Sometimes this is frustrating, but I’ve come to realize that this site will never be completely “done.” It is always in progress, and I’m slowly learning to enjoy that process.

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  30. Hi Gowhar, it seems that you are saying that either philosophers are good at thinking about things or that they overthink things to the point of nothingness. They are also not good at explaining their insights. There is truth to this. Philosophers think about big things that are hard to explain in words. And many philosophers are not the best writers. Dense philosophical texts are frustrating reads, yes. But I take a deep breath and give the authors credit for trying.

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  31. This is my new subject & I am in love with it.. the following is from my notes, :).. may it help you all……

    PHILOSOPHY – It is derived from 2 Greek words Philo(love); sopos(wisdom) so its love for wisdom.

    PHILOSOPHER –
    -> A person who desires to search for truth or wisdom
    -> One who is having taste for every sort of knowledge
    -> One who is curious to learn
    -> One is never satisfied
    -> Love to know more & more.
    -> Perceive knowledge to find answers to the questions, solutions to the problems.
    Ex:- Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan; Gandhi ji; Shakespeare

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  32. Thanks for your comment, Afreen. Enjoy the journey. I’d say that’s the most important thing I’ve learned so far. When I was younger, I’d always push for answers, thinking if I learn faster that I’d get to The Answer faster. But answers always led to more questions, which was frustrating. Now, I still look for answers, but I’m not worried about the end result. This has made the journey much more rewarding.

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  33. Hi Justarius,
    I am glad that i met a junction which discuss what i think most of the time,just to start with my discussion, i have something to write here, despite of my communication skills…:)

    to me philosophy is seeking …

    Any question can’t be a absolute one , when it is looked on one dimensional , it gets better on 2D and even better in 3D, once you start looking more than few D’s on a particular question you will find the answer in itself.

    Most of the answer’s are found inside the question when it is properly framed …

    But that doesn’t satisfy me as i have already an answer to my question, but now the task is how to frame the right question..

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    1. Hi Nagaraj,
      I’m glad that you like the site. I agree that philosophy is about seeking. For me, I find answers, but they are never The Answer. Questions often lead to more questions. Some people are frustrated by this “endless searching,” but for me, it’s not about the final destination but the journey.

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  34. Justarius
    To grow our body we consume food as the source , to grow our mind we have to consume knowledge as the source.

    Most of the time , i always feel the secret of answer to a question always lie on the natural existence.

    Like i mentioned the source , the next stage is digestion the process of creating energy. for our body when we consume good food and digest it properly our energy efficiency excels, like wise we consume good knowledge we create a energy called wisdom, which excels to understand, the process of existence.

    The next stage output:
    This is where many people differ, most of them who gets the wisdom (assume it for a discussion) by the way they climb the ladder , think there is no use in getting down and also thinks that every one should create their own ladder forgetting that they have at-least a little necessity to expose or educate .

    “You have done a great job of creating HUB for philosophers”

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  35. For AnanthiRamaswamy

    “We all can know from A to Z , but because of knowing that we can’t pronounce it all together”

    Might be this helps or not , i have to say what i had to say…

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  36. It can never be generic to crown oneself a philosopher, or be crowned as such by another, unless one proclaims either by speech, text or ‘language’ a rigorous and comprehensive assertion of truth(s) embedded within and explored by vision and shared with fellow human beings. What use is it if one declares to be drenched by philosophy and yet experience its strangling effects rather than its sublime healing. What purpose could it hold if one partakes in the banquets of knowledge and yet die from its poisons. The true philosopher is the mustang that breaks itself, and continuously imagines itself being ridden by the history of human existence.

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  37. Thanks for your thoughts, Quaysi. Your eloquent statement captures the essence of what it means to be a philosopher–joys, pitfalls, and all. It is not an easy path for anyone, but it’s the most rewarding one that I know.

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  38. Well i see philosophers under attack do to paperwork and technology they really don’t want us to think. Who is they? they are those Against Humanity

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