What is Philosophy?

Our conception of philosophy is inspired by numerous “way of life” traditions and embraces the “heart and mind” aspects of philosophical thinking and living.  It is also in line with the definition provided by Martha Nussbaum who says: “Philosophy is not about authoritative pronouncements.  It is not about one person claiming to be deeper than others or making allegedly wise assertions.  It is about leading the examined life, with humility about how little we really understand, with a commitment to arguments that are rigorous, reciprocal, and sincere, and with a willingness to listen to others as equal participants and to respond to what they offer.”

A Thinking Activity, Way of Life & Art

A Thinking Activity


A Way of Life


An Art


Philosophy is a thinking activity.  This means that you approach a topic of investigation in a way that honors critical, creative thinking (or reasoning) and employ several methods commonly associated with philosophy, such as argument, refutation, systematic doubt, logic, justification of belief, and so forth.

Philosophy is also a way of of life.  This means that you approach a topic of investigation & experiences in your life with certain dispositions, including open-mindedness, a sense of wonder, imagination, sincerity, humility, and dialectical justness.

Together, philosophy (as a thinking activity & way of life), is an art. 

Why Pursue It?

Many people think of philosophy as nothing more than pointless musings with no practical effect.  But nothing could be further from the truth. Philosophy is a valuable compass & navigational tool that can help you find your way.  In addition, it is a genuinely fun, exciting, & rewarding activity in and of itself!  

One reason that philosophy is worth pursuing is (to paraphrase Socrates & Plato) “so that one might be better for the rest of their lives.”

In its commitment to “follow reason where reason guides” & “get closer to the truth about a matter,” philosophy helps us clarify and answer matters of thought (ideas, concepts, emotions, etc.) & action (behavior).  In other words, philosophy helps us remain open to the world and understand what we think & why and, further, whether or not our thoughts are philosophically justified.  It also helps us translate these (conceptual) activities into practical terms (actions/behavior) so that we can structure our lives in ways that help to promote health & happiness and and enrich our lives (and the lives of others) in meaningful ways.

The Questions of Philosophy are the Questions of Life

Philosophy is concerned with a lot things, all of which in some form and to varying degrees, concern questions having to do with the human condition, our lives, and the world around us.  In other words, the questions of philosophy are the questions of life.  Traditionally, these areas of philosophical inquiry are broken into what we fondly refer to as “the four cornerstones of (human) living”: Ethics, Metaphysics, Epistemology & Logic.

Questions about how one should & ought to live


Questions about what sorts of things exist & their essential nature


Questions about how/what we can know & our justificatory platform


Questions about the correct principles of reasoning


Within these pillars lie a variety of specialties which speak to the layers & complexity of life (e.g. philosophy of science, existentialism, environmental ethics, aesthetics, philosophy of mind, eastern philosophy, philosophy of religion, personal identity, philosophy of language).  Philosophy’s investigations are led by reason & the general maxim that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” 

Philosophical Sensitivity

When talking about embracing philosophy as a “thinking activity, an art, and a way of life” and thus “approaching life philosophically,” one must consider what sorts of things facilitate this way of being. Cultivating “philosophical sensitivity” is a helpful (and we feel necessary) means by which to do so.  In light of this, we felt it important to include here a snapshot of what philosophical sensitivity is, its relationship to our conception of philosophy as a “thinking activity, an art, and a way of life,” and how to cultivate it.

What is Philosophical Sensitivity? 
“The development of a general capacity to engage in questioning and reflection about the…questions underlying the human condition and the world in which we live.  It is a kind of ‘perceptual capacity’ — in the Aristotelian sense of a natural faculty that can be developed over time and with training.”
Jana Mohr Lone


“We traditionally recognize as important the development of [our] physical selves, intellectual selves, moral selves, and social and emotional selves, but we pay little attention to the cultivation of the philosophical self. Consequently, the philosophical selves…remain undeveloped…This is a loss.” — Jana Mohr Lone

Metaphorically speaking, cultivating philosophical sensitivity is an important part of embracing philosophy as “a thinking activity, art, and way of life” because it provides, at minimum, the perceptual capacity necessary to identify and distinguish Plato’s “shadows in the cave.”  It is a necessary aspect of approaching life philosophically and a critical skill (and ‘virtue’) to develop.  Just like other forms of sensitivity — like that of a naturalist, for example, that involves (according to J.M. Lohr) a particular sort of awareness about the world that enables her to “see relationships, details, and changes in the natural world that many of us [who have not cultivated this sense of awareness might] miss”philosophical sensitivity involves a particular way of “seeing” and reflecting upon the world.  Cultivating this faculty is important & very connected to our day to day lives.  The questions of philosophy are, after all, the questions of life.

What’s its Relationship to Philosophy?
Philosophical sensitivity is like a pair of eyeglasses that allow you to pick up on the philosophical dimensions of life that you would not have without putting them on. This “perceptual capacity or faculty” is important and integral to embracing philosophy as “a thinking activity, an art, and way of life.”  It is necessary but not sufficient for the latter, which has the distinguishing feature of pushing further by demanding that one never take these glasses off.


So how do we cultivate philosophical sensitivity?  In two words:  practice & training. “You got to lace up and get in the game!” There are a number of ways to do this.  Here are some examples offered by Jana Mohr Lone.

Cultivating Philosophical Sensitivity
  • Engage in structured philosophical conversations
  • Read philosophical works
  • Listen to philosophical lectures
  • Observe the facilitation of philosophy discussions
  • Take philosophy classes
  • Participate in a community of philosophical inquiry (in which philosophical topics are explored in a collaborative group)

Ultimately, cultivating philosophical sensitivity involves fine-tuning our natural faculties for the philosophical and developing our “philosophical selves.”  

Comments are closed.