Philosophy, mon amour!
From my experience, different people study philosophy for different reasons. Or they start studying philosophy for one reason but end up discovering that they were after something entirely different the whole time. What I am going to tell you now might be true for most (more or less scientific) subjects: People who aren’t involved in the whole system(s) usually have no idea of the enormous size of the field. This often results in questions about the biographies of certain famous philosophers like Hegel or Schopenhauer. How dare you to look all startled and just shrug, saying “Never read any of his books.” You studied philosophy, you ought to know! Well, tell you what, my sweet but ignorant potatoes: I most certainly don’t have to know! I don’t have to know the dates of birth and death of all the philosophers, I don’t even have to know all their names. I know the names of the ones I’ve read and to whom they were connected through some of the general ideas circulating at the time. I know roughly the centuries or sometimes even decades they lived and published in, and who they argued with on a professional or personal level.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Inside the heads of people who never tried philosophy themselves, there seems to exist a very specific idea of what studying philosophy means. But there is not ONE way of studying or doing philosophy. Philosophia, the love for wisdom, can be tackled from so many different angles and on so many different levels that when two people tell you they are studying philosophy, there is a pretty good chance they don’t mean the same thing. At my university there were students who fell in love with one author pretty early on, so they studied different books and texts from this specific author, may it be on the same subject over and over again or on different subjects. Then it was possible to be interested in a certain subject and to read all sorts of authors who wrote on this very subject. Another possibility was to follow a certain school and to read all the authors involved in said school. Or to study a single period or a specific form of writing (dialogue, essay, thesis). And last but not least: To study simply for the credit points and for a degree.
As far as my ‘career’ as a philosopher goes, I had a difficult start and at first I thought I would never get the hang of this. I even wanted to drop out a few times. After a while though I gained enough confidence to write my first term paper about the connection of lying and making art. From the point where I am now, it is an awful essay, of course, and I pray that it will never go public in any way, shape or form. But back at the time, when I basically had no idea what I was doing, it wasn’t all too bad. The relationship between philosophy and me was like a love affair. To be more precise, it was a bit like the affair between Lady Chatterley and her lover, me bearing the role of Constance and Oliver in jolly rotation. Sometimes the ideas of philosophy struck me as out of my league, never to be understood nor conquered by a simple mind like mine. On other occasions, I felt so misunderstood by ‘normal’, ‘simple’ people that I lingered for a satisfaction that only proper intellectual challenge could provide. As I got more experienced in the whole field of philosophy, I learned that some authors and some topics spoke more to me than others, and that this was fine. I learned to dig really deep into the ones that grabbed my interest and to scratch the ones that didn’t just enough to help me understand the ones I was interested in. And then, I learned to relax and the ideas of philosophy suddenly started to understand me.
I have no idea how many texts and books I’ve read during my years at the university, how many schools I peeked into and how many great theories and people I’ve simply ignored. I just know the following: 1. French philosophy provides nothing for me, it is way too complicated and frustrating for me to read. 2. Pragmatism helped me a lot in my second field of study (which is actually my first field of study…never mind that…) because some of the theories overlapped (often simply due to the fact that their authors were philosophers as well as educationalists), which made it easy for me to understand most texts on educational science in the blink of an eye. 3. Kant has more humor than most people would think.
It wasn’t (and still isn’t) easy for me to grasp certain ideas and to think them through, to discover loop holes in theories and to come up with my own ideas. But studying philosophy helped me sharpen my sense for words, for nuances inside different languages that are included in certain words but cannot be translated; it helped me developing respect for strange ideas I didn’t necessarily concur with and, most importantly, studying philosophy helped me to ask the right questions.
So, if by any chance, this post got you interested in philosophy at least a little bit, I’ll have a few more posts coming up, in which I am going to give tips on how to enter philosophy in a – let’s call it none-mundane way, and I am going to recommend some books I found and still find quite helpful in conquering the battlefield of thoughts. Your comments and suggestions are very welcome at any point.