A Philosopher’s First Birthday

Well, a year ago today the How To Be A Philosopher blog was born. Ten monthly editions, two special editions, and an interlude later and fellow philosophers we celebrate our first birthday! Hip Hip Hooray! Thank you regular readers — your sincere curiosity and quiet approval makes this ongoing project so worthwhile for me.

The story so far: Continue reading


Beware of Philosophers bearing Trojan Horses


Sinon is brought to Priam, from folio 101r Roman Virgil

We witness the greatest human horror acted out for the good of an idea. Lives, societies, countries can be fractured, mutilated, deeply and inconsolably scarred by the embodiment of an idea. In turn, we worry about the harm ideas can cause. We fear they will mess with our heads, bend wills, break hearts.

So last time (excluding the special edition), when I suggested that we imitate — that is, imaginatively act out — ideas that are not our own as our own, I also acknowledged the worry that we risk being damaged, corrupted, by the bad ones. Continue reading

Special Edition: How to be a philosopher during the #Brexit fall out

The EU referendum result made me angry, very angry, anxious, uncertain, and sad, very sad. And like a great many people, I needed to express that anger, anxiety, uncertainty, and sadness loudly and viciously. No philosopher is immune to these needs, these natural feelings, and nor should we expect or demand otherwise.

As our initial shock subsides, though, I have been wondering how, in this circumstance, to be a philosopher? Now, do not confuse this with that meaningless cliche ‘I am being philosophical about it’ — this just amounts to the faux-intellectualisation of resigning yourself to the fates. Rather to seriously consider how to come to understand, act and react as a philosopher during this uncertain, over-wrought, divided time. Continue reading

The Art of Listening

We’ve all had those conversations. You know the sort. The ones where you are simply talked-at — incessantly. The talker-at only pausing for necessary bodily functions (well, we hope). And if you do manage to get that edgeways word in it is either received with eyes-glazed impatience or that faux-attention that is really only seeking a gap to recommence the talking-at.

Yet, we are all guilty of them, these conversations that amount to no conversation at all. While we are usually (excruciatingly) aware when we are being talked-at, we often fail to realise when we are doing the talking-at. Especially when it all seems so civilised, politely taking turns to talk, keeping friendly eye contact, and paying sincere attention. Your body (including your mouth) is doing all the right things, but in your head all you hear is BLAH BLAH BLAH, except perhaps the bits you want/like/agree, or the random bits that make you go WHAT?! Continue reading

The Virtuous Change Their Mind

Our principles are important. The virtuous live for them. Socrates, in his wisdom, died for them. While the immoral forsake them. It is typically the measure of good character to maintain your principles, whatever, it seems, they may be. And any deviation is the mark of deviance — the weak-willed, the spineless, the hypocrite!

At the same time we think that some principles are just rubbish. Those based on crazy, sometimes dangerous beliefs, those of crack-pots, looneys, terrorists. But we are also inclined to dismiss those who hold onto ideas we simply disagree with or that go against our own. And we are particularly wary of those who hold onto these at all costs — the self-righteous, the arrogant, the deluded!

This raises a problem. On one hand it is a defect of character to forgo our principles, beliefs, ideas, to ever change our mind. While on the other hand it is a dangerous character that holds onto them unwaveringly, to never change our mind. Alas, we cannot have it both ways. Continue reading

My Philosopher to be

For International Women’s Day.

How To Be a Philosopher

Originally posted for World Philosophy Day (2015), but as it is about a philosop-HER, reposted for International Women’s Day (2016).

As this blog is about being a philosopher, for my World Philosophy Day special edition, I thought I would talk about the philosopher I want to be.

So far in my philosophical life I have encountered quite a few philosophers who I admire, aspire to, and have been importantly influenced by. My undergraduate lecturer and supervisor who first introduced me to my philosophical interests and loves. My graduate supervisor who manages to generally challenge, and extract my intellectual best while also being tolerant of my (many) peculiarities. My philosophy hero whose every shining idea and charismatic word I hang on like a starstruck groupie (gushing and all). In addition to these living examples there are also a number of dead philosophers whose ideas and lives have made me think hard…

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Yeah, but I’m not smart enough

As we learnt last time, Socrates was the greatest know-nothing; and importantly, he knew it. Still, despite his genuine protestations, Socrates was actually brilliant. ‘The wisest of them all’ the Oracle of Delphi said; and everybody knew it.

Now it might occur to you that it is actually Socrates’ brilliance that affords him his philosophical ignorance. He had the right kind of smarts to come to grips with, and flourish from, knowing he knows nothing — the extraordinary natural talent to be a philosopher. He’s marked by the divine sign, for goodness sakes! Whereas, like those everyday thinkers who Socrates relentlessly questioned, someone like me (you think) does not have his sort of philosophical mind, just an ordinary mind confined to the usual ignorant.

Perhaps, resigning you to declare: ‘Yeah, it’s alright for Socrates, but I’m just not smart enough to be a philosopher.’ Continue reading

The Rights and Wrongs of Ignorance: Now the Rights

Following from last time, you will now not be surprised that I remain pretty ignorant. As I described, my schooling neglected to … well, everything. This meant I went off to university ignorant of the one required skill — how to learn.

Entering my first real institute of learning, I was a lone naturally skilled, self-taught thinker set amongst a sea of educated, trained learners. For me, it was not simply a matter of adjusting to a new learning environment and new expectations, not just the next step on a path of learning progression. I had no path. No points of reference at all. I was like Columbus off on an uncharted ocean, with only the hope of finding the East Indies before falling off the flat earth. Only I had many more naysayers and a lot less funding. Continue reading

The Rights and Wrongs of Ignorance: First the Wrong.

You may be surprised to learn I am pretty ignorant. (If you aren’t surprised, just for me, pretend.)

For all my 12 years of state schooling I was left largely to my own devices. No memorable educator to admire and emulate, no intellectual guidance, no challenge. Still my precociousness drew attention, revered and ridiculed in equal measure, yet, unhelpfully, left uncultivated. I had taught myself everything I knew. This meant by time I reached university I was starkly ignorant of perhaps the most important thing — learning. Ignorant of how to learn. Ignorant of why to learn. Ignorant of what there was to learn. Ignorant of all the goings on in the world of learning.

One main reason for my ignorance regarding learning is that I come from place where there is a certain pride in being ignorant in this way. I grew up amongst who I call the wilfully ignorant. Those who purposefully disengage from formal education, scholarship, anything intellectual. And consequently, they are deeply wary of those who do pursue it, acting as if the learned are somehow tainted, or defective, and are out to infect you with their taint or defect. The wilfully ignorant’s whole position is resolutely summed up with their go-to rhetorical response: ‘What the bloody hell do you want to do that for?’ Continue reading