Philosophers study behavior. Philosophy is behavior. We study behavior. Therefore we study philosophers. Does this also make us philosophers?
To some degree the answer is yes. Does this hurt?
It shouldn’t, because one of the greatest assets of becoming a student of behavior is that everything we study is a kind of mirror. What we learn about others also teaches us something about ourselves. Usually.
For instance, the study of mathematics is behavior. But mathematics itself is not behavior. Math, simply, is math. It wouldn’t exist if humans didn’t exist, but the concepts underlying mathematics would.
As students of behavior, our study of the study of mathematics can be very interesting. One of the most intriguing things to come out of math during the last century was something revealed by Kurt Gödel, and beautifully described by Douglas Hofstadter. Simply, Gödel proved, mathematically, that we can’t fully understand a system from within that system. We’ll talk more about this another day.
When we study philosophy as behavior, it becomes impossibly complex. The problem isn’t the subject itself, but those pretending to ‘practice’ philosophy. If you have ever been lucky enough to hear a live philosophical debate between experts, you may know what I mean. There is nothing but misunderstanding, big words, long complicated threads of thought, and meandering statements without meaning that goes on forever. If you want to experience the same sort of thing without as much of the boredom, visit any philosophical thread on the internet and try to follow along.
More importantly, there are never any conclusions. Philosophers can’t know when they’ve come to a conclusion because none of them are even sure where they are.
Are these fighting words? Do you disagree? Let’s try an easy experiment. Find any two philosophers – expert or not, it won’t matter. And give them a philosophical term to define, in 25 words or less. And let them do it separately. Then compare the answers. Are they going to be the same definition, or different?
I’m writing down my definition now.