Pursuing wisdom as an individual

It seems like we might distinguish between two ways of pursuing wisdom (meaning: metaphysics and values). We might pursue wisdom as a society/culture/species, which would be something like a scientific approach to the questions “What is real?” and “What is valuable?” Or we might pursue those same questions as individuals: “What do I take to be real?” and “What do I take to be valuable?”

Of course, so long as these questions are asked by individuals, one would expect each individual to come up with the same answers to these sets of questions. (My answers won’t be different to “What is real?” and “What do I take to be real?”) But there still is a difference in the approaches. When I pursue wisdom as an individual, I am interested in working out who I am. Maybe I need to do this in order to sort out some confusion I’ve encountered, or to make sense of my past, or struggle through some obstacle in my path. It’s existential and more personal than when I pursue wisdom on behalf of my species, which I might do solely out of curiosity, or even as part of my job.

The distinction, I guess, amounts to whether philosophy is done personally or impersonally. I think philosophers typically try to do or at least present their philosophy impersonally, perhaps in the hope of emulating scientists. But there is a need to make philosophy personal; this is philosophy’s therapeutic value. Sometimes people don’t need psychological therapy so much as philosophical therapy, which targets the questions and problems people ought to have (as opposed to the ones they shouldn’t be burdened with).

Individuals, as they pursue wisdom in their own ways, can help each other along by asking probing questions and objections and insisting on authenticity. I can call you on the carpet, and ask whether you really believe what you are telling yourself; or how you square what you believe with other things you should believe; or whether you practice what you preach; and so on. You do the same to me. The big question — “But is what I believe really true?” — ends up getting set aside, since all we can really do, in the end, is work out our beliefs, and hope for the best. Or maybe the way to put it is this: we can only work out ourselves, and hope for the best.

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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