Philosophy helps make sense of issues we all face – whether the meaning of life, and of the good life, values and obligations, freedom and power, love and justice, truth and mystery, or suffering and death. Fundamentally, philosophy asks what can we know, and how might we live? It is something we all do to an extent, and that we can do better with greater structure and focus.
I regard as “philosophers” wise persons - whether canonical or contemporary philosophers, theorists or theologians, poets or prophets, scientists or sages - or you yourself – who offer insight into the largest and deepest questions of life.
Major philosophers who have most shaped me at various points in life include Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Seneca, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Foucault and Rawls. Contemporary influences include Richard Rorty, Stuart Hampshire, Robert Nozick, Bernard Williams, Amartya Sen, Charles Taylor, William Connolly, Martha Nussbaum and Kwame Anthony Appiah.
As to figures not always regarded as philosophers, among the most intriguing and inspiring have been Homer, Sophocles, Buddha, Jesus, Lucretius, Henry David Thoreau, Max Weber, Mahatmas Gandhi, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thich Nhat Hahn, Milan Kundera and Mary Oliver.
I am always adding to these lists – searching for new authors to read, and new persons to engage through dialogue. That’s the beauty of philosophy – we can all do it, we can all learn from one another, and challenge and inspire one another. Which is another reason for us to talk.
“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)