What Is A Philosopher?

DT Strain, 2006.

I have been interested in philosophy for longer than I knew what philosophy is. In the broadest sense, we are all naturally interested in philosophy, as many children’s questions show. “Why is the sky blue” is a philosophic question.

I also had a strong sense that what we determine in our philosophic thinking should have an impact on what we stand for, what we vote for, and what we live by. I had already long taken up interest in philosophy, when I read a book called The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius by Mark Forstater. Everything about my conception of philosophy was clarified as I read the following...

“When I was in the midst of writing, I found a book called Philosophy as a Way of Life by Professor Pierre Hadot... in his book he emphasizes the point that to the ancient Greeks philosophy was a practice and not an academic study as it is now.

To the ancient Greeks, philosophy (the striving after wisdom) was not a dry, analytical discourse but a means to living life correctly. Philosophy was a tool: a method you could use to maintain harmony in your life, to control negative passions such as anger and hatred, to reason out the best action to take, to understand how the universe worked, and to find your place in it.

Philosophy was to be embraced and lived, not just thought and talked about... The philosopher’s goal was to live a virtuous life and thereby perfect his or her character and find true satisfaction and happiness.”
Now, I think of a Philosopher as an applied lifestyle with certain principles – not merely an academic title or an activity (thus I use a capital “P” to distinguish the concept). By this reckoning, a person who holds a philosophy degree, or even one who teaches philosophy as an academic subject, is not necessarily a Philosopher. Likewise, someone without a philosophy degree can be a Philosopher (that’s not to say that education in academic philosophy isn’t greatly helpful).

To that end, I considered some of the traits exhibited and discussed by ancient philosophers about their own lives. I then played around with various lists of properties which I have edited into this short five-point summary I call “The Philosopher Code”...



A Philosopher is, first and foremost, humble. S/he admits ignorance, accepting fallibility and the possibility that any belief or perception may be mistaken, and admits when s/he is mistaken. A Philosopher should not speak in overly verbose or complex language when plain speaking will suffice. S/he will not engage in ‘name dropping’ books, authors, or technical terms in lieu of thoughtful discourse.

A Philosopher is committed to Truth above pleasure, above material gain, and even above bodily harm. No subject is immune to scrutiny and no authority unquestionable. The Philosopher must be as open-minded, objective, and unbiased as possible. S/he must not attempt to distort facts for unethical purposes and s/he will not hold ideological loyalty to any one conclusion, school of thought, political group, religion, or tradition above the pursuit of Truth.

A Philosopher attempts to approach everything with a rational mind, seeking out inconsistencies and contradictions. S/he will seek to improve his/her logical thinking skills and general knowledge. A Philosopher employs a healthy skepticism toward all claims, basing acceptance on the degree to which they are supported by the evidence and by reason. As such, a Philosopher must be capable of mastering his/her passions such that they do not interfere with clear thinking or reasonable action.

A Philosopher is committed to virtue and ethics. His/her efforts as a philosopher are to be used compassionately for the betterment of mankind and the individuals with whom s/he interacts. This involves patience, tolerance, and a helpfulness in spreading knowledge and the values of the Philosopher Code.

A Philosopher does not merely study or discuss philosophy, its history, or its notable figures. While a Philosopher may happen to be a scholar, historian, or professor of philosophy, a Philosopher actually practices philosophy. S/he makes efforts to apply principles discovered through philosophy to his/her lifestyle. This requires self-discipline and a serious commitment to connect one’s intellectual conclusions to one’s actions without hypocrisy.


Of course, there are many other traits and ideals I find valuable. For example, I myself am a Humanist who also sees value in many Buddhist, Stoic, and other traditions and beliefs. But all of these various positions and beliefs I would consider a subset falling under the core principles of my pursuits, as listed above. In other words, I hold those positions, only under the current belief that they are in fact those which are True, Rational, and Virtuous. While I am open to the possibility they may be incorrect, in the meantime I make efforts to discipline myself to those beliefs (self-discipline being my weakest trait, with which I struggle often).

As I continue to explore a variety of ideas and concepts, I can therefore let others worry about what pigeonhole I might fall in or what label I might be called. This frees me to cross ideological boundaries and take good ideas where I find them throughout the world and history. I am, first and foremost, a Philosopher and whatever myriad of other definitions my current beliefs and actions may fall under is less consequential.