The "Practice" of Philosophy
Does not the conjoining of those two words, 'practical' and 'philosophy', strike us as somewhat oxymoronic, if not outrightly moronic? Did not Aristotle once write that wisdom (philosophy) studies that which is "extraordinary, amazing, difficult, and divine, but useless, because it is not human goods that he looks for (Nicomachean Ethics §1141b)"? And if the 'masters of the earth', as Nietzsche calls them, are a race, a caste, of philosophers 'born to command' and what he dubs 'slave morality' is "essentially a morality of utility (Beyond Good and Evil §260)" could there be a wider gulf in the realm of knowledge than there is between philosophy and what is merely "practical", that is to say, a mere means to an end? And while the story begins to shift in the modern era, as philosophers such as Descartes boast of a supposed "practical philosophy" the aim here is to briefly explain how the dialectic between wisdom and the practical affairs of life might be broached.
I am a philosopher. What that means is that I will not tell you what you want to hear by propagating mediocre and fashionable opinions, regardless of whether such moral prejudices are popular this week, this month, or this millennium. Instead, I will challenge you in order to bring out the very best in you. In this fraternal spirit, I will patiently and kindly address all of your questions, ask many in return, and, along with you, come to a greater, more nuanced, more manifold, understanding of ourselves and the world in which we live—all with an uncompromising spirit of magnanimity, thoroughness, and competence about the history of ideas which has preceded us. If a spiritual challenge of this nature, however, does not appeal to you, then you are strongly encouraged to find any of the innumerable other counselors or therapists out there who likely will not challenge you a whit. Admittedly, I am forced, in contradistinction to a Socrates for example, to charge a nominal fee for this service, but that is only for the sake of keeping the practice (and myself!) afloat, and I am hopeful that you can forgive me for that! All sophistries aside...
I will, likewise, not retard or otherwise diminish the value of philosophy, as is the want of the academicians, who try to convince capitalist university administrators, those in their tutelage, and most likely themselves, of the supposed "practical", in other words profitable, import of philosophy. For, in contrast to these “scholars” and other cowards who so often use “big words” to express the very same moral prejudices held by everyone else, and as so many of the ancient philosophers knew, what is great about philosophy is that it is beyond all practical necessity, that it is not a mere means to an end, that it is valuable in an of itself... that is to say, that it enriches, not the wallet, but, rather, the mind of he who “practices” it. For this reason, Aristotle once dubbed it the only ‘free science’. In the final analysis, the most pernicious form of slavery, these and other philosophers knew, was the slavery that accompanies being held eternally captive to alien idealities that are not your own, forever paying homage to unknown and plastic gods that are not borne of your own struggle and necessity, a slavery, as Nietzsche puts it, ‘in the subtle sense’. For these reasons Plato deemed philosophy itself a god and the only true path to human happiness upon this earth. As Nietzsche writes, what these great philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, in turn, knew was that anyone who is not a philosopher, that is to say, a free mind, a free spirit, is a slave in the profound sense, and recalling, therefore, that “belief means not wanting to know what is true (The Anti-Christ §55)”, they secretly knew that there are more slaves in existence than what the masses have always believed (The Gay Science §18). As he writes elsewhere, what a true philosopher, that is to say, a true psychologist, seeks above all, therefore, is to purge the mind of the moral prejudices that have perverted it, and to, in turn, uncover the true pathology of the unconscious drives and affects that underly those moral prejudices, an “in itself” that can never be known completely. In this sense, a true psychologist is a kind of ‘philosophical physician’, as Nietzsche calls him, who will bring the health or sickness of our moral prejudices to the fore, along with the soundness of the ideas, words, and deeds determined by them, all in an attempt to restore the animal reality of Homo Natura, a pursuit, a task, available only to the freest of free minds.
It is perhaps in this sense, therefore, that one could rightly be said to take his cue from Plato about how a philosopher uses philosophy, that is to say, principally as a "tool" for that most primeval of truly human delights, the delight in questioning. What, then, does such an individual question? But I've already told you! The philosophical physician bravely questions that vast network of shadowy ideals and sweet delusions that allow each of us simply to survive the day in exchange for the unconscious instincts and pathology that gave birth to them. For, unlike as Plato might have had it, the true philosopher never looks up, but, instead, only down. Therefrom exists the promise of a singular joy and hope for the future: a celebration and rite reserved for those few born artists and psychologists fundamentally averse to fashion and "success", and possessed instead by the inclination to plum, and perhaps even deify, the depths of the 'mortal soul', as Nietzsche once called it, an ancient birthright and joy reserved for true philosophers alone.