I use to say that philosopy is philosophizing or doing philosophy, an that this is an activity. I know, of course, that people do not understand me when I say such things. Therefore today I want to explain this issue which is central for me.
Maybe you will ask: “But aren’t all things that are done by human beings human activities? Philosophy is obviously done by human beings – so what else can it be than a human activity?”
Well, no. I will explain the difference to you.
Academic philosophers do say things like: “The questions of epistemology (which is a branch of philosophy) are: Can we really know anything? What is knowledge? … [and so on]”
This clearly indicates that academic philosophers do not share my idea that philosophy is an activity. If philosophy was an activity, there would be for example us two, you and me, philosophizing. We would then ask each other: “What are you interested in?” And what we would answer then, those are our philosophical questions.
Do you understand the difference? If philosophy was an activity, there would be no “questions of epistemology” or “questions of philosophy” because the discussion would not be about epistemology, or ethics or philosophy, it would be about us.
Seeing philosophy as an activity means that we reappropriate our questions. Those questions might be so called philosophical questions, but they might es well be mathematical questions, biological or musical ones. What makes them to be philosophical questions is not that they belong to philosophy but what we do with them, the special treatment we give them.
What does this special treatment consist in? Here again we can find orientation in the idea that philosophy is an activity. Academic philosophers (who do not understand that philosophy is an activity) will say that a philosophic dispute is about who is right. This is false. Philosophical discussions between two or more persons is not about who has the right answer to the question, but about helping the others and oneself to come to a decision about what one really thinks about the question discussed.
The aim of philosophy is not truth (itself), but it is a decision about what one thinks about a specific question. This decision is a deed, it has do be done, accomplished. This is the reason why philosophy cannot in any sense be theoretical, it is always practical. Philosophizing you are “manipulating” yourself, trying to achieve new convictions and leave old ones behind yourself. The topic of your philosophizing might be theoretical or practical, if you achieve the goal to change your own opinion you have done something. This is why philosophy is eminently practical.
There is one more example that shows very well that academic philosophers do not understand philosophy as an activity. If you read papers in philosophy journals you will often come about expressions like “realists” or “anti-realists”, “contextualists”, “invariantists”, “non-reductionists”, and so on. What are they doing here? They invent names for every possible opinion one could hold about a specific question, and then they situate these opinions in the form of positions in some kind of imaginary landscape or continuum. This landscape or continuum is nothing else than the topic itself. The result will be that knowing something about a specific philosophical proeblem in the academic sense will mean to possess knowledge about all possible intellectual positions that exist in this specific theoretical field.
In short, academic philosophers are analysts of positions. They want to find out why something is, or has become, like it is. They do not want to change anything or do anything, they just want to see how things are.
But if you, like myself, embrace the idea that philosophy is an activity the task is a different one. There might be “realists” and “anti-realists” and so on, but you will have to decide yourself for one position because you are just one person. If you want to decide yourself for two positions, you have to make clear if this is possible at all for just one person. Maybe it is possible in some cases, in others it will not be possible. So, for example in ethics for academic philosophers it suffices to know that there are utilitarianists and kantians and virtue ethicists, and so on. It suffices because they do not want to do anything. But if you are a philosopher for whom philosophy is action your task is to find out whether you, yourself, decide to be a utilitarianist a kantian, a virtue ethicist or something else.
And this is because, philosophizing for you will mean to do something, to make up your mind. You will ask yourself: “Did I accomplish something philosophizing today? Did I arrive at some point? If I haven not arrived anywhere, my philosophical work of today was of no use.”
Did I make myself clear about why not all human activities are activities? (Some of them just try to figure out where we are and have no aim to get us anywhere.)