Become a philosopher in 7 simple steps


I’m a philosopher. Not a self-acclaimed one. But by professional training, which was what my Nsukka days were all about. Yes, I make bold to say that I was instructed by some of the finest lecturers on the planet, and they did fashion me into a positive something else. I’m not on some sort of ‘self-trumpet-blowing’ mission here, but intent on demonstrating that my testimony is trustworthy.

By internalizing the succeeding 7 ways, you will turn into a philosopher – almost overnight. And it is darn important to note that philosophy is not so much about Aristotle’s Hylemorphism, Plato’s Forms, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, or Aquinas’ Five Ways, as it is simply and squarely about employing critical thinking to engage the tough choices that daily stare us in the face, and the hard questions that always bother our mind.

So, lets get started:

1. Develop the Socratic mindset: “I know nothing
Of the Greek Socrates the Oracle of Delphi revealed that none was wiser. Perturbed by this startling revelation, Socrates made it a life’s mission to prove the Oracle wrong; he went in search of a wiser person. Guess what? He found that everyone else claimed to know something when in fact they knew nothing. And so, Socrates was said to be wisest on account that he alone knew that he knows nothing.

Seen thus, it has come down to us that the philosopher must profess ignorance, not in the guise of humility but as a matter of fact. So, this Socratic mindset is a conditio sine qua non for philosophizing.

2. Remember that everything makes sense; even ‘nonsense’ has a ‘sense’ in it
Don’t be quick to branding things ‘nonsense’ or ‘meaningless’. By natural default, everything’s got meaning & makes sense. It’s your job to ‘draw’ meaning out of things & ‘make’ sense out of them; it’s a sign of mental laziness to quickly dismiss them as meaningless & nonsensical. Philosophy is such that ‘it is done’; ‘we do philosophy’. It’s a job, & we do it!

Want to become a philosopher? Don’t wish it were easier; do the job! E.g. While a stranger may dismiss a child’s rantings as meaningless, mum knows that little baby is up to something. We’re always up to something; find out by thinking more.

3. It is more about raising questions than trying to answer them
My first lesson in philosophy was the primacy of ‘questioning’ over ‘answering’. In fact, it is the ability to raise questions that makes one a philosopher. Answers are not No. 1 because every answer becomes a new question. Raise question! Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do people die, & when they do, where do they go? Why is the naira crashing against the dollar? Why do married people cheat?

When you begin to ponder on those questions, then you’re a philosopher.

4. Think critically; leave no stone unturned
Admonishing his disciplines on praying, Jesus told them not to babble like the Pharisees. In like manner, the philosopher must not think like the everyday man. No. Philosophy is marked by thinking things through; critical thinking. When the philosopher thinks, he leaves no stone unturned; he stretches everything to the limits. When thinking is critically done, things make more sense.

5. Listen to everyone; someone out there knows something you don’t
The Socratic mindset moves one to listen to everyone, to try to get something from them. And it could just be that the solution to the problem you’re facing simply needs you to pay closer attention to the cab driver or person next door. In essence, have an open mind; this means everything.

6. Argue to learn, not to win
The function of argument is to straighten out thoughts. To marshal out, in a sequence, the basis for our beliefs and conclusions. It’s never about trumping those of others. In arguing, be always ready to shift grounds when it’s obvious that the other person knew something you didn’t. Of course, don’t be hell bent on your position simply because you want to have the day. Argue to learn. Argue to learn. And argue to learn.

7. Communication is everything
Communication is a complex. What happens at the senders end and the receivers end is something else. And it’s a world where it’s the case of communicate or perish. Therefore, we must meaningfully and effectively communicate. Devote ample time to understanding human psychology, because a whole lot come into play during the communication business. Spend quality time to crafting your messages, because a good part of understanding you depends on what you actually sent out.

At the end of the day, and after all said and done, those are all what philosophy is about. Everything else is commentary.