I realized the other day that when people ask me ‘what do I do’, I should answer with: I am a philosopher.
This sounds pretty grandiose so let me dial it back a bit. First, I do not earn any money from being a philosopher. I don’t “make a living” from it, and I’ve never tried to do so. I do earn money from other things. I will elaborate on this later; I prefer not to expand on how I make money, because the whole point of this revelation is that the ‘other things’ that I do - notably, things I do to make money - are not the best answer to that question. This doesn’t mean those aspects of me - my career - are not important to me, or not an important part of who I am. They are important to me, at any rate, and in all likelihood important to whomever is asking me what I do. But I digress (I always digress. That’s almost the point itself.)
So anyway - I am not, at the moment, a “professional” philosopher. Which is a bit self-deprecating, but I can live with that. I’d rather be self-deprecating than thought to be pompous. I do make money in other ways, and when I say I am a philosopher, I am not referring to anything that involves money.
Another important distinction to make is that I am not an academic philosopher. I have not studied philosophy in any university, I do not have a degree in philosophy, and I do not currently intend to get one. I hope any such academic philosophers reading this paper do not take any offense to my self-description. (Indeed, I can see why someone who dedicates years to their craft or research would be offended or dismissive of someone who casually self-describes themselves as on-par. “Ah yes, I too dabble in medicine/law; I guess we’re both doctors/lawyers!”) But whatever. I have not found a better concise way of saying what I want to say, so academic philosphers will have to forgive me for if they feel I’m abusing this term.
A third important distinction is that I am not making any claims about my ‘quality’. Not my quality as a human being, but more precisely not about my philosophy. When saying I am a philosopher, I do not claim that I am a particularly good philosopher, or that I have been successful in any way, or even that you would find my thoughts and opinions worthwhile, in any way, at all. I might be the worst philosopher that you’ve ever met, or that ever existed. I don’t think any of this, but that’s not the point: the point is that I am claiming at the moment that I am a philosopher, not that I am a good one.
So with the appropriate apologies out of the way (and indeed it is telling that in inspecting my definition of self, I focus strongly on making sure I have not hurt the feelings of the listener nor any other distantly-involved party), what am I trying to say?
I am a philosopher. I am interested in “serious questions”, I am constantly discussing, analyzing, and trying to understand the deepest concepts I can possibly understand. My favorite pastimes includes deep conversation and analysis of the most confusing and unclear points of life, and I am regularly accused of going ‘too deep’, ‘too heavy’, and recently, too much ‘philosophizing’. I am enthralled with figuring out my own mind and others, the meaning of life, the existence of God, free will, and morality. I can (and do) talk about this for hours on end. I read about it, I write about it, I blog and podcast and meditate about it. (My God, I sound so dreary. Like I would be such a party burden. Well, whatever.)
In some ways, explaining what philosophy is, is doing it. Have you ever thought of why you do what you do? Why do others what they do? What should we do? What does that even mean? What is actually going on in our lives, in the world? And why? Does any of it matter? Does anything at all matter? Why? Are we sure of that? Are we sure of anything? Can we be sure of anything? How do we know this?
Have you ever doubted conventional wisdom, ‘obvious’ truths, or societal standards? Have you ever doubted your own deep-rooted beliefs about yourself and about the world? Have you ever truly questioned the nature of your own reality? Have you spent much time grappling with who you are, really?
I’m not the first, last, or best to ask any of these questions. I’m just genuinely curious in learning the answers, and then sharing whatever I have learned with anyone else who is interested. To me, that is what I mean when I say I’m a philosopher. In a sense, reflecting on what it means to ‘be a philosopher’ and whether this applies to me… is exactly ‘doing’ philosophy. So congratulations… we’re doing it right now. Boom, there goes the fourth wall.
There are many, MANY definitions for what consitutes philosophy, and I guess now I have added one more to the pile. My goal here is not to define what philosophy is (you can find or make your own), but to try to convey to you what I am. In many ways, this defines who I am, and is a core part of my identity. In many ways, it always has been. Of course, it is not the only part of my identity. I am not just a philosopher. I am also (here we go, and in no particular order) a software engineer, a man, an Israeli(-American), a world traveler, a life traveler, a writer, an entrepreneur, a husband, a sports fan, a Rafaeli, a military officer, a sensitive guy, a polyglot, a hiker. I’ll go into some or all of those at another time; self-definition is a wonderful world (and pertitent to, if not the subject). Self definitions also fluctuate over time, and the
But none of the above seem to make sense when describing myself, or specifically ‘what do I do’, to another person. With the exception of career choices, most of the above are either part-time, or passive. I am not actively a man, Israeli, a husband, a sports fan, a Rafaeli, an officer, sensitive, or polyglot. These are more attributes I would use to describe myself, than a definition of my activity or ‘what I do’.
Most of the remaining activity-prone non-career aspects are generally part-time: I sometimes write; I sometimes travel the world and sometimes hike. Definitely not all the time. So it seems odd to define myself as “I’m a hiker”.
Which leaves me with with software engineering, entrepreneurship, life traveling, and philosophy. Which, to be honest, is a refreshing view of what I actually do and plan to do, that perhaps stands out from others. Software engineering and entrepreneurship are very money-oriented (not that I do them just for the money, but clearly if money was not involved I might be doing something else, and money certainly affects just how my time on these activities is spent). And I’m tired of defining myself through money. No less importantly, I could see myself not-doing software engineering or entrepreneurship. I remember my life before I got into those, and I can see my life afterwards. I cannot say the same for philosophy and life traveling. So we’re down to those two.
By ‘life traveling’ I mean… traveling through life. The same way you can travel throughout the country and see different parts of the country, or you can travel throughout the world and see different parts of the world, you can also travel through… life. And see the different options that life has to offer you. There are A LOT of different things to do and see and experience and be and feel. And I have found myself continuously drawn to new experiences, feelings, realizations, modes of being. I have always been very curious. Life - consciousness - really has an astounding variety to offer to us, in all dimensions. Observing these flavours, both passively and actively, is something I find fascinating and is truly a core of my being. The day I stop doing this, I will be somebody else.
So honestly, yeah. At (and up to) this point in my life, perhaps a traveler is a good way to describe me as well. And I do use that description, sometimes, with people who I think can ‘get’ it. But it sounds even more pompous and full-of-myself than saying I’m a philosopher. That sounds just a bit more down-to-earth, doesn’t it? Saying “I’m a traveler” sounds like an Instagram wanna-be ‘influencer’ who parties on boats in Ibiza; saying “I’m a philosopher” sounds like a dude who thinks he’s deep and sits at the coffee shop and writes self-important texts. Which, to be frank, might be an amusingly accurate external description of me.
So if you’d read up to here, it’s fair to say that yeah, hi, nice to meet you. I’m a philosopher. I like to think and talk and write about things. About the ultimate question[s] to life, the universe, and everything. I also like to ‘travel’ through life and I’ll expand on that some other time, because if you’d read all of this, then you and I might just get along.
So I’m a philosopher. It’s a big part of who I am and what I do in this brief time that I have on this planet. However inaccurate, it feels good to be able to define that.
Nice to meet you, and nice to meet me. :)
-Sella, Aug 14th, 2019