The Philosophical Attitude
To live a meaningful and rewarding and reflective life a person must consciously develop some habits, some qualities of mind and character. The totality of those habits and qualities is a necessary condition in our philosophical search for meaning and truth in life. But it is also a goal and our aim towards which we should be moving during a lifetime. It may be asked how do we know about those conditions? By observing great leaders in any area of human search for meaning we realize that most of them possessed those characteristics or they would never attain the greatness, which became not only fruitful for themselves, but by which they influenced generations upon generations of other human beings. They are the great creative individuals, who direct and redirect the course of human history in areas like religion, philosophy, science, art and others.
It seems that most of them were characterized by one or more of the following traits of personality. Our main concern is with the philosophical attitude of course.
1. Independence of thinking and living seems to be the most important quality. Independent minds refuse to be manipulated by others and to submit passively to the current prejudices, beliefs, and authorities. This independence in thinking presupposes a great deal of courage, the capacity to risk one's security and sometimes life itself. It is based on strong determination to follow one's vision wherever it may lead. People who are too much concerned with their personal safety and security are very rarely honest, truthful or courageous. They are seldom creative, and almost never leaders in any true meaning of the word. Independence of thought presupposes a deep passion for truth and meaning. It does not mean dogmatism, or fanaticism. It is characterized by open-mindedness, tolerance and respect for other people's views within limits. Independence of thought is not afraid to be different, to be original. It does not take too seriously purely human authority. It does not take anything for granted without examination and evaluation. To be independent in this sense does not mean to be closed minded or arrogant or cynical. Quite the contrary. An independent thinker is never dogmatically sure of his own truth. He is always open to new insights and ready for change.
2. Tolerance and understanding instead of power, indoctrination or brutal force is a very vital ingredient of the philosophical stance. Tolerance for the differences of opinions and lifestyles is the outgrowth of understanding the basic limitations of each human being. It presupposes a genuine humility in a person, and an awareness of one's own limitations. Tolerance is there, where there is self-knowledge and a realistic self-criticism.
3. Absolute truthfulness characterizes any independent thinker. For truthfulness with others is the flower of truthfulness with oneself first. Hypocrisy, self-deception, lying to oneself, cheating oneself does not go together with authentic search for truth. Truthfulness implies disregard for convenience, cunning and hypocritical scheming.
4. Self-mastery and self-discipline combined with sensitivity to one's conscience is the internal base of a philosopher's mode of life. An independent thinker knows very well that discipline is an absolute must for reflection and mental concentration. He cannot tolerate turmoil, disorder and chaos within himself. He knows well that uncontrolled passions and emotions can destroy a man's life and are dead enemies of concentration and clarity of vision. They can blind the mind, paralyze the will and ruin entirely the whole person. For they may dehumanize a human being and rob him of all sense of meaning and direction in life.
5. A sense of wonder and openness to the new and the unique is indispensable for any independent thinker. He knows that all existence is a great mystery, that what we know is extremely little and what we do not know is practically infinite. Thus he is neither a blind worshiper of the past or the present, nor a dogmatic prophet about the future. He listens to the “voices of all times” and tries to gain a view over and above the noises of the now. Gradually he becomes aware of what is trivial and ephemeral, and what may hide permanent value and meaning.
6. For an independent thinker a free search for truth and meaning is a matter of a lifetime. Endurance and faithfulness to his search is the food of his existing and living.
7. Independence of thought goes together with openness to criticism of others and of one's opponents. An independent thinker is primarily in search for truth and meaning. He knows too well that truth is not anyone's private property and no one has a monopoly on truth. He listens carefully and without prejudice to his opponents and enters into a dialogue with his ideological enemies. For he keeps in his mind that he can gain new insights even from the one who opposes him. In most human statements there is probably some truth hidden. And even if we realize that it does not contain truth we are enriched by this experience since our knowledge increased anyway, for we learn also by recognizing error and unmasking untruth.
8. With all this a true philosopher remains faithful to his humanity. He lives an authentic human existence to the fullest extent. Nothing that is human is alien to him.
9. The basic tool of a philosopher is his intellect that is the power to think. Thus a true thinker is careful to use his tool to its fullest. He protects his thinking as much as possible both in depth and accuracy and logical vigor. As in any other area so in the area of precise and valid thinking he remains a learner aiming at the best.