Philosophy is unlike any discipline I ever studied in school. The word philosophy (from Greek: phileo, meaning “love,” and sophia, meaning “wisdom”) means the love of wisdom. My first philosophy teachers in college introduced me to the ancient Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. From these three great founders of Western intellectual thought I caught what I call the spirit of philosophy.
While philosophy has gone in many diverse and even contradictory directions over the last 2,500 years, the spirit of ancient Greek philosophy endures. It has remained with me as a fresh resource in living out my life. I concur with Socrates’ famous injunction: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Philosophy at its best demands a critical spirit of inquiry from its adherents.
Allow me to sketch out the three features of the philosophical enterprise that I find deeply challenging and yet also greatly beneficial.
Three Features of Philosophy
First, when people pursue a philosophical approach to living their life becomes an exciting journey in constant pursuit of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Life is then about asking and seeking answers to the big and challenging questions of human existence. This intellectual expedition can be very difficult at times, but it also can provide meaning, purpose, and direction.
Second, seeking after wisdom involves the use of human reasoning. Thus, a philosophical life calls on people to think, reflect, and contemplate. Simply put, philosophy is about thinking carefully and critically about life’s most important issues. Developing the life of the mind is crucial. Understanding and utilizing the laws of logic and rational inference is a necessity.
Lastly, philosophy’s reward is rich and enduring both for individuals and society. The process of philosophy itself can produce a “good life” (a moral education) within a person. And, of course, diligent philosophical pursuers may encounter the great treasures of truth, goodness, and beauty, which they then may choose to share with others.
So while the philosophical task isn’t easy, it is noble. The financial rewards are few but who could put a price tag on a good life?
As a Christian philosopher I have come to view philosophy as the ancient and Medieval Christian thinkers did: as a handmaid to theology. And as a Christian apologist I’m thankful for the tools that philosophy provides to help demonstrate the reasonableness and truth of my faith.
For those who would like to consider taking the noble philosophical journey, here are three introductory resources:
- Apology, Crito, and Phaedo of Socrates by Plato
- Questions That Matter: An Invitation to Philosophy by Ed Miller and Jon Jensen
- Philosophy: The Quest for Truth by Louis Pojman and Lewis Vaughn