Why Keep Studying Philosophy?

Is there any point to studying philosophy endlessly? I believe so, although I am quick to concede that even a small amount of philosophy is sufficient for happiness.

Now, there is a minimum level we’ll want to reach once we’ve embarked. Too little philosophy, and we’re liable to make ourselves and everyone around us miserable, thinking we understand more than we actually do.

Still, there is a point beyond which more philosophical knowledge does not make us much happier. The question then becomes, why would anyone study philosophy beyond that point?

Given a little Plato, a touch of Aristotle, maybe some Boethius or Augustine or Dionysius, and of course the occasional dose of Epictetus, the determined learner will be able to cultivate a soul and a life that is as close as possible to a happy earthly existence, especially if comforts are many and sorrows are few, but even in times of uncertainty or distress.

I hope for as many as possible to have this sort of education, although there are few I’ve met who even know that such an experience is available, or who are open to the thought that it could anything else than a naive bit of ancient superstition and ignorance. (We moderns are much too smart to risk a life of sturdy happiness.)

I want as many people as possible to have it, and I could never condemn any who were satisfied with it and progressed no further in the study of philosophy. Indeed, that sort of self-restraint and moderation would be evidence of a praiseworthy disposition. It would mean that the person was studying philosophy for the right reasons, and only the right reasons.

However, I do think it is also possible to study philosophy beyond that point in a way that is consistent with virtue.

I don’t find that philosophy is like money, where taking more than you need is eventually a sign of an avaricious malady of the heart.

Philosophy is the love of wisdom, and wisdom is never fully attained in this life. We will all fall short, and we must all be content with falling short, but with that said, the pursuit of wisdom is an endless source of joy and pleasure for the person who loves it.

And there’s a secondary benefit as well that’s very powerful. By studying the history of philosophy, we have the chance to reflect on the philosophical and terminological layers of sediment that have accrued up to the present day.

Today all of us, no matter how much or how little we know of philosophy, are heirs to ten thousand half-digested bits of philosophical debate that have worked their way into our words and our conversations.

In this way, studying philosophical history helps us understand ourselves better, and our contemporaries likewise. And over time, it helps show us how to escape the quandaries and errors into which we’ve been thrown, and how to help others out of those same traps.

It’s not an indispensable part of the happy life, but for those with the capacity and inclination, it is certainly a good way to spend our time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *