I think, therefore I am… a philosopher or an empiricist or both?

A few weeks ago, a dinner table conversation ensued around the superficial money-oriented culture of Dubai (the irony being that all of us were dressed in our fineries, at an expensive restaurant bang in the middle of the week, sipping on expensive drinks, with absolutely no occasion to celebrate/warrant such a lavish yet slow recall into broke-ville; more on this another day); and inevitably the question arose, “What would you do if you had billions to your name?,” the asker already wandering off into reverie. I nodded and agreed with almost all answers: somebody said they’d invest in profitable markets, somebody spoke about never working a day in their life, somebody said they’d buy all that they’d ever desired. When it was my turn, eyes turned expectantly towards me, I answered without skipping a beat, “I’d study, and keep studying a degree after next well into old age.” I saw disappointment in some eyes and confusion in others and just like that the conversation was dropped.

The pursuit for education and examination of one’s life for me has been, to me, the single-most exciting thing you can do with your time. Those, to me, who do not examine the three core questions of the truth about existence, how can we know what is true and ethical connotations of such knowledge, are not really living. A love for philosophy was born even before I knew what it meant and the authors I picked up I didn’t know were (some, influential) philosophers. My study of the subject has been indiscriminate, chaotic and not really following a chronological order. A peculiar problem then knocked at my door: One of the many reasons I have been mostly unsettled in my adult years is because of the dichotomous compass of my mind: Can I be a philosopher and an empiricist both? And if I was the latter, being the source of a lot of solace, how much philosophising can I allow before I construct and seal my core beliefs (albeit, in a way that I can revise occasionally)? Can I let myself presuppose that my peculiar temperament, my own attitude to intellectual problems is universally valid (as an empiricist would argue that only a philosopher would indulge in such an assumption)?

Philosophy (and subsequently, one of it’s offsprings, Psychology, my two loves) has been scapegoated and treated with derision for centuries; when not, it is met with the tired criticism as Mark Manson points out: it poses no solutions; philosophers argue for the sake of arguing; science and empiricism tells me what I should know, big data and artificial intelligence are more relevant discussions of today. Even Carl Jung refused to call himself a philosopher despite being one, Albert Camus was unimpressed with being called a philosopher and Schopenhauer openly insulted other philosophers (like Hegel) and called them frauds. But the answer to my conundrum could only come from philosophy; as I trudge through questions like what do I know to be true, how do I know that it’s true and how should I live based on what I know/believe, empiricism is one of the tools afforded to me through giants like Locke and Hume. The other tool is my hunger to devour their words and so if I was rich and not distracted by the need to earn a living, I’d stick my nose between the pages written by giants and find meaning in trying to find meaning. And maybe occasionally take respite from my resting nihilism by diving into Kant’s transcendental ego; you’re not a thing in the world the way there are other things in the world, you’re the thing experiencing other things, putting it all together – incidentally, shedding light on my conflict between philosophy and empiricism as not much a dichotomy, but a non-duality in my own epistemological journey.

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