So You Want to be a Philosopher?
Henry H. Lindner
In a healthy society, every person should be a philosopher in his own right. What is necessary? Below is an outline of the process that I experienced over the last 20 years of my life. It was for me, and must be for anyone, a self-motivated, self-directed process. It has nothing to do with any courses offered in any schools.
1. A basically healthy personality--required in order to honestly face reality and courageously question accepted beliefs. All of us are more or less disturbed; we are the products of more-or-less sick parents in a sick society. Some of us were treated better than others. The more distorted your personality, the more your intellect is held hostage to your own problems, and the more rigid your patterns of thought. All of us need therapy, but not the kind offered by most licensed practitioners. Read up on psychology. John Bradshaw’s “Bradshaw: On the Family” is a good place to start. Read Alice Miller, Albert Ellis and Irv Yalom. Pursue self-directed therapies and or the kinds of professional therapies recommended by Miller and Bradshaw. If, contrary to how you've been raised, you can just be honest with yourself about what you think and feel, you may be able to do much of the therapeutic work by yourself.
2. Personal Deprogramming--We are all raised as members or a cult. Our nation, religion or ethnic group is a jealous cult that hates all other cults. You must rescue yourself from your cult--from the false and inadequate ideas forced upon you by parents, school, church, state, and society. Educate yourself, read psychology, history, and philosophy, including works mentioned in my list of readings. You must go through a long and difficult process of questioning all that you've learned and putting it to the test. Does the idea correspond to the facts? Does the idea contain contradictions? For instance, we are taught many things about the person or persons who supposedly created the Cosmos and humans. Are all these characteristics consistent with reality?
3. Travel--This is necessary part of the deprogramming and educational process. You must get out of your society and become acquainted with others. Preferably, go and live in a different culture for some years. You will become aware of the elements of that culture which are superior to your own, and those which are inferior. You will begin to formulate a better idea of human nature and its possibilities. You will gain the extra-cultural perspective needed to look on human beliefs and practices dispassionately, objectively. You will become a citizen of Earth, no longer merely an Englishman, American, Egyptian, Japanese, etc.
4. Intellectual Development--you must acquaint yourself with the tools of philosophical/scientific thought. A good starting point is Ayn Rand's Philosophy: Who Needs It?. She was not right about everything, but in this book you will see that she had discovered the power of philosophical cognition. Read also any good book about logic and the formal and informal fallacies of thought. Read Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Read Aristotle, Epicurus and Lucretius. Learn to analyze all ideas as theories. Are they adequate to explain the phenomenon? Do they contain contradictions? Look for the underlying, usually unstated assumptions of every idea that you encounter. Comb through libraries and book stores, new and used, to find works that have something meaningful to say about the significant issues that interest you. Read, Read, Read, and when you can no longer find authors who know more than you do about a subject, Write, Write, Write!
5. History--traveling will acquaint you with the places and artifacts of history. This will spur your curiosity to learn about these places and times. You'll need to read about the whole story of human mental and cultural evolution; seeking the big picture. Read Will Durant’s History of Civilization, and Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. Only by knowing where humankind has been can you understand how it got where it is now. You will gain the extra-historical perspective needed to see the human needs and capabilities underlying the story of cultural evolution.
6. Tackle real problems--in the process of personal and intellectual growth, you will come upon some of the glaring problems that bedevil mankind's thought and culture. You will eventually be ready and willing to analyze one of these problems in depth. You will search for its origins and discover a solution. You will have become a philosopher and will be able to contribute a new and important idea to the stream of human thought. You will help to improve human civilization.