I have a friend who is always asking me why I am studying philosophy. After I explained it to his apparent satisfaction for the third time, and then he asked me again for the fourth time I realized that what was bugging him just wouldn’t go away. And that might be okay. The real reason to study philosophy is said best by the famous Socratic statement that the unexamined life is not worth living.
If this is the beginning, and founding motivation of philosophy, then we need to reexamine what is going on in philosophy as we know it today. Much of what we think of tends to center around arguments and doubt. “I think therefore I am”, has become the new foundation, and this foundation is one that begins with the free choice of doubt. Ironically what is scarcely called into doubt is the motivation for using doubt as a vehicle of truth. Not many years removed from Descartes Hobbes allows doubt to rather mockingly describe the irrationality of human life, and the inevitable hopelessness of attaining truth. And philosophy has run the gamut where it is no longer attached to any sort of sanity.
Not every question “why” is equal to another, any teacher can tell you that? One might ask why from a simply cantankerous spirit, or one can ask why from humble reverence and youthful curiosity. But the difference is not merely in the internal attitude of the questioner, but in the as-of-yet undiscovered answer to the question. There is no cure for the cantankerous, but there is always hope for a little more enlightenment for the bright-eyed. I submit that the person that has decided (probably because there were told to) to start with doubt as their dialectical vehicle will become more and more removed from sanity, because the starting principle is itself unreasonable; and it becomes this way because the principle cemented into its place of honor without any reason to do so. Sane people act on reasons, it is the hubristic man that arbitrarily determines what will guide his search for truth.
For this reason philosophers have looked less like truth seekers and more like angry, haughty speculators. For this reason prudence and practical rationality have found the halls of the academic to be a hostile environment; and the man outside the ivory tower believes rightly that philosophy is an empty and irrelevant pursuit.
But Socrates… Socrates the man, the soldier, the husband, did not concern himself with corrosive and unreasonable doubt. He certainly lived in what one might call a religious temperament, full of fantastic myths, cosmological guesses, and after-death speculation, but he was also in the world. What Socrates shows us, hemlock in hand, is that life and death, though separate, inform one another essentially. Chesterton said that the courageous man is he who loves life so much he senses the necessity to risk death. The existentialist likewise try to remind us that life, living, and the here and now have a self-apparent value to them – and posit that as a response to Descartes.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who came to give us life abundantly, reminds us that he who tries to save his life will lose it, and he who loses his life will gain it. And I submit that the examined life, the philosophical life, inasmuch as it is a suspension of natural prudential life, is a form of such healthy death. It is within the realm of true reality, and it is also a path that reveals another aspect of He who is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.