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recursos_naturaleza_txt_Cada hombre es un filósofo

Every man is a philosopher

Author: Jutta Burgraff
Published in:
Date of publication: 2 January 2013

We are free to think for ourselves. But do we have the courage to really do it, or are we rather used to repeating what the newspapers and magazines, television, radio, what we read on the internet or what some more or less interesting person we meet in the street says? Are we willing, on final, to be or become "philosophers", to get excited about reality and to search for the ultimate meaning of our life? Pope John Paul II says something that seems daring at first glance: "Every person is, in a certain sense, a philosopher and has philosophical conceptions with which he or she orients his or her life".


Philosophy begins with humanity

Negative influences on philosophical capacity

Basic attitudes to philosophy

1. Detach from the everyday world

2. Encourage admiration

3. Do not be prejudiced

4. Acquire a certain independence in one's own judgements and reflections.

5. Acquire intellectual humility

Challenges and freedom

A goal that opens up new horizons



"Thoughts are free', says a German folk song. It is understandable that it was forbidden to sing it in the Third Reich. But the command to "forget it", typical of a totalitarian regime, led only to singing it more enthusiastically, in hiding, or at least inside, in one's own heart, that is, in that intimate place that orders cannot reach, and where "the others" cannot enter.

We are free to think for ourselves. But do we have the courage to do it for real, or are we rather used to repeating what the newspapers and magazines, television, radio, what we read on the internet or what some more or less interesting person we come across in the street says? Nowadays, in many countries it seems that the authority that dictates thoughts, censorship, has disappeared. But what we find in reality is that this authority has changed its way of working: it does not use coercion but only soft persuasion. It has become invisible, anonymous, and disguises itself as normality, common sense or public opinion. It asks nothing more than to do what everyone else does.

Are we capable of resisting the constant firefights of this "invisible enemy"? Have we learned to exercise our School to think and to discern? Thinking is certainly a great thing, but it is above all a requirement of human nature: we must not voluntarily close our eyes to the light. Are we willing, on final, to be or become "philosophers", to get excited about reality and to search for the ultimate meaning of our life?

Pope John Paul II says something that seems daring at first sight: "Every man is, in a certain sense, a philosopher and possesses philosophical conceptions with which he orients his life".1What does this mean? A chemistry teacher, a housewife, a taxi driver, a minister, a peasant, an artist, a footballer - can they all be philosophers?

Philosophy begins with humanity

It is common to call for a specialist whenever one wants to deal with medicine, physics, architecture or engineering. No one can consider themselves capable of competently answering the questions that arise in these fields if they do not have a basic training in these subjects. And don't even try to talk about these subjects at a barbecue or on an excursion. But that is precisely the case with philosophy: anyone dares to talk about philosophical issues. Even in some pubs - noise permitting - you can hear deep conversations about the world, the meaning of life or how strange it is that time passes so quickly and you can't hold on to the moment. By the way, how many people have not been waiting at a station in front of a clock and become philosophers! It is truly impressive, for if we look for a while at the hand, and observe how the second hand and the minute hand move... we ask ourselves, almost without realising it, what is the instant? What does the present mean? Am I not already moving into the future? Or am I still in the past? "Today will be tomorrow's yesterday," people say; and also: "To the now... I will soon refer with the words just now." Even St. Augustine asserted, "I know what time is, provided you do not ask me."

It is possible to discuss this and many other questions in almost any situation, preferably in nature, in the mountains or by the sea. In principle, everyone is capable of reflecting on the deeper dimensions of life. Does this mean that we are all philosophers, in the strict sense of the word, and that no special training is necessary to practise this science? Not at all. But it does mean that philosophy is different from the other sciences, and that, in principle, any man capable of reasoning can be a philosopher.

Sooner or later, every human being asks himself why and what he exists for, where he comes from and where he is going, who he is and what he could make of his life. In this he differs from the animals. An animal lives from one day to the next: it eats, drinks, sleeps, grows, runs around, reproduces and dies. Such a life is good and normal for an animal, but not for a person. The philosophers of antiquity went so far as to say - perhaps somewhat rudely - that if a person does not ask himself the fundamental questions of life and only lives from one day to the next (from one meal to the next, from one news programme to the next), he will have "failed" in his existence. In the depths of his being he will not have found himself; he will not have "become a man". To put it in the traditional way: his existence will not have been worthy of being that of a man.

When did philosophy begin? According to some experts, with Thales of Miletus, in the 6th century B.C.; according to others, it began with Homer in the 9th century B.C.; there are more radical people who point out that, before the Greeks, the Eastern peoples were in some way already philosophising... However, if it is true that every man is a philosopher, philosophy must begin with mankind. In German libraries one can find an old-fashioned, dust-covered, multi-volume work written in the 18th century, "History of Philosophy - from the Beginnings of the World to our Times". The title page of the first volume sample shows a wild landscape with a large bear and is entitled: "Prediluvian Philosophy".2.

However, it is a characteristic feature of our times that not a few people seem to lack intellectual concerns. They are even "cheerful" in a certain practical nihilism that does not concern itself with the why of life, nor does it ask the simple question of the meaning of existence. We are faced with the danger of not living life, but of "letting ourselves go". Sometimes we do not have enough inner calm to consider events with a certain objectivity and to become aware of our own existential situation. We do not reflect on the meaning and goals of our own actions; on final: we do not act as philosophers, thus missing an essential dimension of human life.

During the Second World War, a young German resistance fighter in Russia wrote in his diary a fictitious dialogue with one of his chiefs: "Man is born to think..., to think, dear official! This word is directed directly against you, against you and the whole system you have set up. This surprises you because, you say, you are a person who exalts the spirit. It is a perverse spirit that you are serving in this hour of despair.... You reflect on the perfection of the machine gun, but the most rudimentary, the most fundamental and important question you silenced already in your youth: it is the question: why? and where to?"3.

Indeed, simply asking these questions is already a first sign that a person is rebelling at the prospect of living like an animal. Normally, of course, it is possible to philosophise when the basic necessities of life are at least minimally fulfilled. But even if this is the case, we observe a certain "apathy", a certain "abstention from thinking", precisely in consumerist Western societies.

Negative influences on philosophical capacity

Our life has become, in many ways, a continuous hustle and bustle. Many people suffer from stress or chronic fatigue. The hardships of professional life, and also the exaggerated demands of the leisure industry, bring with them excessive obligations, so that all one wants to do in the evening is to rest, to be distracted from everyday problems, and not to exert oneself any more. All this can lead to a certain "spiritual alienation", to the superficiality of a person who lives only in the moment, for the immediate things. In our society of a society that is so satiated, it is often very difficult to stop and reflect.

At the same time, we can often observe a decline towards the instinctive, the purely sensual. Many films, magazines, talkshows and even quite a few websites on the internet speak a clear language. But a person who allows himself to be absorbed by materialism and sensualism becomes dulled and blinded to the spiritual. One can become accustomed to almost anything, even to not using one's understanding to make the most elementary and necessary criticisms.

Too much information can also be a hindrance. We live in the age of mass media. We receive an immense amount of information. Those who try to have immediate access to all the information from the five continents, who do not miss any TV talk show or political commentary, or who watch one film after another, can become very superficial. We often have neither the time nor the strength to assimilate all the information we receive. In addition, we unconsciously absorb many thousands of pieces of information when, for example, we walk through the centre of a city... A little anecdote about the German writer Ida Friederike Görres comes to mind. Once, in the 1950s, she was asked what she did to always have such original ideas and to be such a clear judge of the situation in society. She replied: "I don't read any newspapers. That way I can concentrate my energies. I'll find out what's important anyway". Of course, this stance is highly debatable and, in my opinion, not worthy of imitation. But it can be thought-provoking. Today, several decades later, the amount of information we receive every day has multiplied enormously, and at the same time has become more specialised. It will be difficult for a person to become a philosopher without a certain "detached attitude" towards the media. The Russian writer Dostoevsky says: "To be alone from time to time is more necessary for a normal person than to eat and drink".4.

Throughout history, there were great thinkers who voluntarily separated themselves from the hustle and bustle of society. They did not want to be distracted by banalities. A famous example from antiquity is Diogenes, who lived happily in a barrel and, according to tradition, did not allow himself to be disturbed by anyone. An example from our own time is the Austrian philosopher Wittgenstein, the son of an industrialist, who gave away the millions he had inherited to his brothers. He preferred austerity to riches. For a long time he ate nothing but bread and cheese; when asked why, he replied simply: "I don't care what I eat; what matters is that it should always be the same".5. When he died in 1951, his last words were: "Tell them I had a wonderful life".6.

Basic attitudes to philosophy

As we can see, this basic capacity of each person to question the meaning of the world and of his own existence can be developed throughout life, or it can be corrupted. Let us consider the basic attitudes that are required for a person to become a philosopher.

1. Detach from the everyday world. 

According to the German philosopher Josef Pieper, "philosophising is an act that transcends the world of work".7. The world of work here is synonymous with the world in which one has to function, perform, compete. From time to time it makes sense to distance oneself from all that: not to focus only on the immediate (and to be overwhelmed by it), but to look "in another direction".

A break from the world of work is very relaxing. You can rest and find new strength for everyday life. This is not only achieved by practising philosophy. The poet, too, transcends everyday life; he is capable of forgetting everything and committing madness. So does the lover: his love impels him to leave all calculation behind and not to allow himself to be compromised by a utilitarian world. In other words, the philosopher resembles a lover and a poet. He too is a lover: he loves truth, he longs for it. Plato speaks of "philosophical eros". He says that philosophy is like madness, because it takes man out of his little world and leads him to the stars. And everyone who suffers a shock is invited to transcend his everyday world. This is what happens when someone finds himself in a "borderline situation", for example when faced with death, then a philosophical - or religious - act often arises.

Philosophy, art, religion and also love are related in a certain way. They are opposed to the utilitarianism of the world of work. They do not allow themselves to be "commercialised" or used for certain purposes. In doing so, philosophy and religion would be transformed into ideologies, and love into a sex industry.

In a certain sense it is true that philosophising is "good for nothing". It is, so to speak, useless. And now for the main course: it cannot and must not serve any purpose! For it wants to overcome utilitarian thinking. Martin Heidegger says: "It is absolutely correct and must be so: 'Philosophy is useless'...".8.

With philosophy - as with poetry - one transcends the everyday. This is sometimes necessary in order to "survive" in a difficult world, it is a way of maintaining serenity, if the everyday is unbearable. Nietzsche says that Socrates fled to philosophy because he had an unbearable wife, the famous Xanthippa, who nagged him incessantly. Tradition has it that Xantipa once threw a bucket of dirty water out of the window, and it fell on Socrates who was downstairs with his friends, discussing philosophical matters. The friends were angry, but Socrates remained impassive: "In my house it rains when it storms". And the friends concluded: "As Socrates knows how to treat Xantipa, he knows how to treat anyone else".9.

When a person transcends the everyday world, he denies the "totalitarian demand" of the world of work: he expresses that the profession, however important it may be, must not completely absorb the human Schools , nor can it satisfy all the desires of his heart; there is something else to which one wants to dedicate oneself. In this all philosophers, poets and lovers of all times have agreed with agreement . The philosopher, then, has much more in common with a poet, for example, than with a businessman; which is not to say that even a businessman cannot and should not practise philosophy.

2. Encourage admiration. 

The medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas states: "The reason why the philosopher compares himself to the poet is this: they are both capable of admiration".10. A person who philosophises recognises and admits his own lack of knowledge; he opens himself to a greater truth and allows himself to be fascinated by it. Admiration is, according to the ancients, the beginning of philosophy. It is said that some great philosophers were capable of such awe that they literally forgot what was going on around them. Thales of Miletus, for example, even while in battle, suddenly stood still when an idea occurred to him, and did not see the enemy approaching.... And Thomas Aquinas was the only one who was silent during a solemn banquet, to which the King of France had invited him, while all the others were engaged in learned conversation; suddenly he punched the table and cried out, "I have got it!" He had found an argument to reason against the Manichaeans.11.

Philosophy has an essentially non-bourgeois character. For to admire is not for the "bourgeois": it is not for the insensitive bourgeoisie who take everything for granted. They are only capable of admiration when something very extraordinary happens, such as a scandal. That's why the entertainment industry is becoming more and more aggressive. The need for sensational facts in order to be moved and admired is a sure sign that a person is not a philosopher.

To admire oneself is not only the beginning of philosophy in the sense of initium, of preliminary step or beginning. It is the principium, the inner origin of philosophising. Admiration is not put in brackets, nor is it put aside, no matter how advanced the philosopher may be. Whenever a person philosophises, he is admired; and as his knowledge grows, so must his admiration grow. Thomas Aquinas defines admiration as "desiderium sciendi", the longing and desire to know more and more. The person who admires himself is the one who begins to walk, who desires to know more and more and tries to get to the bottom of all things. That is why Goethe, the great German writer, said: "The greatest thing a man can attain is admiration".12.

The philosopher admires himself. He discovers, in the everyday and commonplace, the truly extraordinary and unusual. He knows how to get excited about a blade of grass or a dandelion, just as a poet, a lover or a child would. Thomas Aquinas said that we could not even grasp the essence of a gnat. (A philosopher is also capable of meditating deeply on family and social situations, on human problems of any kind subject...

3. Do not be prejudiced. 

To philosophise means to open horizons, to direct one's gaze towards the totality of the world; our spirit is, in a way, a "force to achieve the infinite".13. So do we always have to talk about everything when we philosophise? Of course not! It is not possible; and the result could only be chaos! But a person has to be willing to talk about everything! He must never lose sight of "God and the world". He must not pass over anything arbitrarily, if he wants to get to the bottom of things.

The philosopher as such has to be ready to deal with "everything", to pay attention to "everything". This does not mean, of course, that he should concern himself with a thousand little things. As we have just seen, an excess of information can impede the philosophical stance. But one must be prepared not to overlook anything that may in principle be essential. For the philosopher, to have a critical stance means: to take care that nothing is consciously overlooked.14.

Of course, the "totality" of reality is not identical with an addition achieved by a sum that now contains everything and anything. He who understands a lot about biology and literature and recipes and football and international politics and the private lives of all artists and princes is not a philosopher. Philosophy deals with the whole, with a "structured" understanding of the world that has a hierarchy: the essential is recognised as essential, the non-essential as non-essential.

A genuine philosopher simply tries not to intentionally exclude or overstep anything. He has broad horizons: with him you can talk about anything! For him there are no taboos. Nor are there any hasty systematisations that ignore everything that does not fit into the system and prevent any further discussion of it. Philosophy does not accept arbitrary limitations, for if it did, it would lose its own identity and become an ideology. In this sense, Goethe judges very negatively some philosophers of his time, who pretend to "dominate God and the human spirit" and enclose the whole universe in different systems.15.

To "face everything" has more to do with depth than with extension. The philosopher does not only look beyond. He does not only look away from everyday life, transcending the world. He also knows how to look exactly at the things around him. He asks for the ultimate reasons. He is not interested, for example, in the quickest way of acquiring money, but in the power of wealth itself and what it means for man.

Whoever wants to have a view of "the whole of reality" soon realises that this is hardly possible. The world is much larger than our capacity for understanding. The philosophical act does not consist primarily in "thinking hard", but in contemplating reality, in listening attentively, in being silent: "listening so fully that this attentive silence is not disturbed or interrupted by anything, not even by a question".16(The nature of the question entails a certain orientation of the answer, and that means a limitation. Pieper speaks of the "unlimited openness" with which one must listen to the world. The philosopher considers the world "under every conceivable aspect", and not just under any particular one, as the particular sciences do.17.

It goes without saying that this silence has nothing to do with a neutral passivity, but rather with a maximum of commitment. For it is a matter of not wanting to overlook anything, of considering all aspects and not allowing oneself to be blinded by prejudices. (In a dispute, one must listen to all groups with equal attention. For a true philosopher there are neither topics to be excluded, nor "sensational topics", nor "labelled people". Pieper says that being open to the world is something like the "hallmark" of the true philosopher.18.

4. Acquire a certain independence in one's own judgements and reflections. 

A person who wants to think on his or her own has to be willing to be non-conformist. To philosophise means: to distance oneself, not (always) from the everyday, but from common interpretations, from public or published opinion, from the "terror" that the media can sometimes produce. True philosophers have always gone against the tide. They are the ones who see what everyone else sees, and dare to think what perhaps no one around them thinks. Those who acted in this way sometimes even suffered death for this reason (Socrates, but they did not fail to oppose all subject totalitarian regimes.

Philosophy claims independence for itself. It must be able to unfold without any official rules and regulations hindering it. Pieper demands for every human community a free space in which it is possible to unhindered discussion any question that occupies the mind.19. If this is not possible, it is a sign that the society has totalitarian traits.

More important than outward freedom, however, is inner freedom. It means unconditionally wanting the truth, and not allowing oneself to be lulled or manipulated by anything. Situations can be for or against freedom; they can be the reason for it to increase or decrease. But they do not essentially intervene in the free act. Thus a person is conditioned to some extent by the country, the society, the family into which he is born, he is conditioned by the education and culture he has received, by his own body, by his genetic code and his nervous system, his talents and his limits and all the frustrations he has received - but in spite of this he is free: he is free to have a say in all these conditions. A man can be free even in a prison, as Boethius, St. Thomas More, Bonhoeffer and many others have shown. "There is something inside you that cannot be reached, that cannot be taken away from you, it is yours;" this is what one prisoner says to another prisoner, in an impressive dialogue, which is shown in the film "Dreams of Freedom". A man can be free also in a totalitarian system, even if threats and fear diminish freedom. He can keep a belief, a desire or a love inside his soul, even if externally its absolute abolition is decreed. Thus Sakharov was not only great as a physicist; above all he was great as a man, as a passionate fighter for the freedom of every human person. For this he paid the price of suffering imposed on him by the communist regime, whose mendacity and inhumanity he exposed before the eyes of the world. Another famous dissident publicly confessed: "Blessed prison, which makes me think, which makes me a man" (Alexander Solzhenitsin). (Alexander Solzhenitsin) 

5. Acquire intellectual humility. 

However, one should not overestimate oneself. Even if a person has an extremely rich experience and a deep understanding of human life, he or she should not lose the sense of reality: the philosopher is not "the wise man par excellence", but the one who loves truth, who longs to understand the ultimate whys and wherefores of the world, who strives to see relationships. Philosophy means the love of wisdom, the search for wisdom that is never fully possessed.

The person who admires himself is aware that he knows nothing. Socrates famously admits: "I only know that I do not know". In a way it is applicable to any scientist. Today we are very much aware that no one person can "know everything", even in a narrow sub-discipline. You start studying something, but you don't reach an end; you are constantly discovering more fields of research. Specialisation has come a long way: a psychiatrist knows almost nothing about ophthalmology, a historian with a thorough knowledge of the 16th century has hardly any idea of the 17th century. Biologists write theses on the robin's beak, and do not know the tail. All this is unimportant, because we have a limited mind. It's just that today we are again aware of it, or at least much more aware of it than during the last decades of blind faith in science.

And Socrates is so topical! He didn't just say: "I only know that I know nothing", which we can understand very well in our times. He also said: "I have never been anyone's teacher". He meant by this that it is not possible to divide mankind into two "classes": "those who know" and "those who do not know", the wise and the foolish. We are all searching for truth, none of us possesses it completely. Everyone can learn from everyone else.

Today we have a special sensitivity for these relationships. Whoever tries to pass himself off as a know-it-all, really makes a fool of himself. He can no longer impress anyone. We have become sceptical of systematic constructions. We have seen gigantic ideological systems collapse overnight. At the same time, we have witnessed how countless fundamental traditions of Western culture have been shaken. There is no need to be depressed by this situation. Occasionally, a few strong shocks can even be beneficial for an individual and for a whole society. A crisis is not a catastrophe. It can be an opportunity to regain awareness of one's own foundations. It is an opportunity to transform oneself more consciously into a seeker, a philosopher. It is likely that in this way we will recognise more and more clearly how necessary it is to change our thinking in certain areas.

Challenges and freedom

To philosophise means, to a certain extent, to step away from the world of work. This transcendent step is not only conditioned by the origin, but above all by the goal which consists of acquiring, as much as possible, knowledge about the meaning of our world. It is based on the belief that man's true wealth does not lie in satisfying his daily needs, "but in knowing how to see what exists".20.

In this sense, philosophy is not reserved for specialists. One could say that it is a gift and a task for everyone. It should therefore be the most normal thing in the world to start philosophical conversations, not only at the university, but also on the streets and at plenary session of the Executive Council in the city centre. But then we realise something curious, which, by the way, can be observed in all times and in all societies: philosophers are very often marginalised! In this world of money and success, they may even inspire in others a feeling of pity or incomprehension.

We have seen that philosophy, by its nature, is not "marketable"; it is opposed to the world of work. For this reason, it often has the stigma of the rare, of being a mere intellectual luxury, which may be tolerated, but which is also ridiculed. Often, the philosopher does not have his feet on the ground. He admires the starry sky, the dandelion and the mosquito. Sometimes he does so out of necessity, because he cannot bear the world of the everyday. Xantipa made his home unwelcoming, and so Socrates climbed up on the roof of the house, because looking at the starry sky was more attractive... But if you look at the sky, you can walk on the clouds. It is, so to speak, the "professional illness" of the philosopher.

There is indeed a certain problem: the philosopher often enough does not see the everyday world. He looks at the sky - but nobody can live like that all the time! We are not pure spirits. We have a body, and we have to eat, drink and sleep. We need a roof over our heads and social security. In other words, not only the "starry sky" is not enough for us, but we also need a protected space, a home. We also need a familiar environment, in other words, we need to feel welcome and accompanied. If everyone looks at the starry sky, life becomes inhospitable. When I have a headache, I don't want anyone to stare at me, to do nothing but admire and philosophise about "the evil of illness"; I want them to give me a painkiller! It is also true that without the material basis that makes physical existence possible, no one can philosophise. It is difficult to meditate on the world as a whole when one is building a house, having a lawsuit, or preparing for important exams; much less so when one is in the throes of hunger or under the effects of a painful illness.

Admiration does not bestow skills or increase practicality; rather, to admire means to be "moved". But no one can spend his life in the pure contemplation of truth. For man cannot live, in the long run, by being moved alone. In fact, when he encounters the truth, the desire to transmit it arises; thus the figure of the philosophy professor or the philosopher-writer may be born.

From the (known) beginnings of Western philosophy, a rather significant anecdote is handed down to us: as Thales of Miletus was walking around contemplating the sky, he once fell into a well. A maid who witnessed the event laughed out loud. Plato warns: "The philosopher is always a laughing matter again, not only for the maids, but for many people, because he, oblivious to the things of the world, falls into a well and finds himself in much more trouble".21. This is the dilemma of the philosopher: he lives in a world in which his contemporaries are oriented by pragmatic aspects such as money and success; he, on the other hand, devotes himself to something that is diametrically opposed to the ambitions of these people, or at least it can be said that he devotes himself to something that is not "useful", not "practical".

What is not "useful" is not usually taken seriously. But this is only one aspect - the negative aspect of not being marketable. The positive side is the freedom it implies. On the one hand, philosophy is useless in the sense of direct use and application. On the other hand, philosophy is opposed to being used, it is not available for purposes outside of itself. Philosophy is not "civil servant's wisdom", but - as John Henry Newman said - "gentleman's wisdom"; it is not useful wisdom, but the wisdom of a gentleman.22It is not useful wisdom, but free wisdom.

Many laugh at the philosopher, but he is free. Of course, he is aware of his situation, but he does not care, because he is independent of what others think of him. Plato, moreover, turns the tables: the others ("the money men") also expose themselves to ridicule precisely by pursuing such ignoble goals. And when it comes to essential questions, they do not know what to say, and that is when the philosophers have to laugh.23.

The concept of freedom here means, as we have seen, not availability for concrete objectives. The act of philosophising is free to the extent that it does not refer to something outside itself. It is "a meaningful activity in itself".24. Once again, the philosopher resembles the lover: it is not possible to love a person in order to achieve something! We need doctors to diagnose illnesses, we need masons to build houses, but we do not need philosophers for our immediate needs, nor do we need them to justify our actions! If a state needs philosophers to endorse its own policy, then philosophy will be destroyed. On the contrary, yes, we need them to help us understand ourselves, and others.

A philosopher, therefore, often lives as a non-conformist, sometimes as an outcast, and can be regarded as a madman. He is someone who does not allow himself to be cajoled, or used for narrow purposes, for example, to supply the right ideology to a totalitarian regime. At the same time, he is full of longing for truth. His goal is to grasp the fundamentals of existence, and he knows that he will only achieve this in a very imperfect way, even if his effort is very great. He is not so much a person who has successfully worked out a well-rounded concept of the world; he is rather someone who is engaged in keeping alive a certain question, the question of the ultimate why of the whole of reality.25. No doubt a number of provisional answers to this question can be found, but the answer can never be found final. That is why we must be willing to ask this question constantly and for a lifetime. To give up, to resign oneself to the fact that one will never find the whole truth, to be satisfied with any solution that can only be provisional, and to give up asking any further questions, is a sign of having become a bourgeois. Philosophising means precisely the experience that our everyday life, conditioned by direct existential goals, is of course important and necessary, but it is not enough: it can and must be shaken from time to time by the disturbing question of the meaning of the whole.

A goal that opens up new horizons

The capacity to wonder is part of the highest possibilities of our nature. It makes us financial aid realise that the world is deeper, wider, more mysterious, more beautiful and more diverse than it seems to our everyday understanding. From admiration comes joy26says Aristotle. This also expresses the traditional saying "to take things philosophically": it does not mean to take things with resignation, nor with gravity, but to take them joyfully. Pieper speaks of the "intrinsic hope of admiration".27.

The person who admires himself does not remain locked up in his own little world. Boethius wrote his famous book "Consolation of Philosophy" in prison, and for the sake of death. The inner approach of admiration keeps alive the knowledge that existence is incomprehensible and mysterious, but that it is also full of meaning. And to the extent that one discovers the meaning of one's own existence, one can experience profound happiness.

When one engages in philosophy, one comes closer to the illumination of reality. And even if one reaches the truth about existence, man and the world, one can always go deeper, because closed knowledge and philosophy are mutually exclusive! (There are no "recipes" in philosophy. For the deeper and more extensive the understanding becomes, the more it crushes the vision of the immense field of what still remains to be understood. That is why the beginning and the end of philosophy are characterised by listening to reality, silence, "contemplation". The Greek philosopher Anaxagoras answered the question of what he was on earth for with these words: "I am on earth for the contemplation of heaven and the order of the universe".28. This can be seen as a religious answer.

Finally, philosophy prepares and frees man for the experience of God. It makes him capable of "transcending" again. It flows into a greater truth, into theology. Aristotle did not hesitate to describe philosophy as "divine science": "Philosophy is a "divine science.29. And Wittgenstein, who had a certain mystical view of the meaning of life, could say: "The philosopher asks for meaning. Only if one believes in God, one discovers that life does in fact have meaning".30. An ever wider and deeper world can be discovered. But even then there are no "easy solutions" or "ready-made solutions" to the great questions of life, let alone systematisations. The more one gets to know the world, the more one perceives its mysterious character.

Philosophy, then, is on its way to a goal that it will never reach by its own means. "We feel that, even if all scientific questions were answered, we would still not have touched our existential problems," says Wittgenstein.31 says Wittgenstein. If we compare philosophy with theology, the former can only reach a very limited knowledge . "But this little that is gained by it nevertheless outweighs everything else that is known to the sciences," says Thomas Aquinas.32says Thomas Aquinas. Therefore, one can only invite every person of good will to be a philosopher, even at the risk of being considered by our consumerist society as an outsider, a non-conformist or "madman". Finally, we can take heart from the words of a contemporary author: "Those who have never had a philosophical attack go through life as if they were locked up in a prison: locked up by prejudices, the opinions of their time and their nation".33 . He who does not think for himself is not free.


(1) John Paul II: Encyclical Fides et Ratio, n.30.

(2) Cf. Jakob Brucker: Kritische Geschichte der Philosophie, von der Wiege der Welt an bis zu unserem Zeitalter, cit. in Wilhelm Weischedel: Die philosophische Hintertreppe, 25th edition, Munich 1995, p.11.

(3) Hans Scholl: Russian newspaper, entry of 22.8.1942.

(4) Feodor M. Dostoevsky, quoted in Anselm Grün: 50 Engel für das Jahr, Freiburg-Basel-Wien 2000, p.53.

(5) Ludwig Wittgenstein, cit. in Wilhelm Weischedel: Die philosophische Hintertreppe, cit. p. 293.

(6) Ludwig Wittgenstein, cit. in Wilhelm Weischedel: Die philosophische Hintertreppe, cit. p.294.

(7) Josef Pieper: Was heisst philosophieren? 4th ed., Munich 1959, p. 12.

(8) Martin Heidegger: Einführung in die Metaphysik, Frankfurt/M. 1983, p. 9. At the same time, philosophy is extremely "useful" in helping us to understand the world.

(9) Wilhelm Weischedel: Die philosophische Hintertreppe, cit. p.29.

(10) Thomas Aquinas, quoted in Josef Pieper: Was heisst philosophieren? cit.

(11) Cf. Wilhelm Weischedel: Die philosophische Hintertreppe, cit. p.13 and 90.

(12) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Gespräche mit Eckermann, 18-II-1829.

(13) Thomas Aquinas: Summa theologiae I, q.76 a.5 ad 4.

(14) Cf. Josef Pieper: Verteidigungsrede für die Philosophie, München 1966, p. 97.

(15) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Brief an Zelter, 27.10.1827.

(16) Josef Pieper: Verteidigungsrede für die Philosophie, cit. p. 52.

(17) Cf. ibid. p.53.

(18) Ibid., p. 54.

(19) Cf. ibid. p.48.

(20) Josef Pieper: Was heisst philosophieren? cit. p. 33.

(21) Plato: Theaitetos, 174.

(22) John Henry Newman: The Idea of a University. Discourse V,5.

(23) Cf. Wilhelm Weischedel: Die philosophische Hintertreppe, cit. p.14.

(24) Josef Pieper: Verteidigungsrede für die Philosophie, cit. p. 46.

(25) Cf. Josef Pieper: Philosophie. Kontemplation. Weisheit, Einsiedeln-Freiburg 1991, p. 54.

(26) Cf. Aristotle: Rhetoric 1,2.

(27) Josef Pieper: Was heisst philosophieren? cit. p. 73.

(28) Cf. Aristotle: Eudaemic Ethics 1,5; 1216a 15.

(29) Aristotle: Metaphysics, 983a.

(30) Ludwig Wittgenstein, cit. in Wilhelm Weischedel: Die philosophische Hintertreppe, cit. p.296.

(31) Ludwig Wittgenstein, cit. in Wilhelm Weischedel: Die philosophische Hintertreppe, cit. p.296.

(32) Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on Metaphysics 1,3.

(33) Bertrand Russell, quoted in Wilhelm Weischedel: Die philosophische Hintertreppe, cit. p.287.