Although I dream of being able to communicate the depths of the human experience,I am a pretty average 22 year old woman. By this I mean I see and experience life at a particular level that is not often cutting into the deeper questions residing in my heart. I spend my time organizing my schedule, planning meals, finding work. I am anxious about money and friends and when I find myself sitting in some moments of silence I am restless. I pray, strive to love God, my family, friends, and strangers, but this second part is only after a deeper engagement of who I am with the help of others. I can engage in love when I realize my heart is asking for something deeper than the admiration of a friend, or even the absence of sadness or anger. My heart's greatest concern is answering, “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” and “Where am I going?” The beautiful questions do not always press as urgently as “What time do I have to pick her up?” and “What can I squeeze in before my meeting?” Philosophers give us the gift of relating us back to the more beautiful questions. True philosophers awaken us.
As I sat at breakfast this morning, and opened up a book of quotes by Mother Teresa, I found myself receiving from a woman who lived on a deeper level. She may not be able to sophisticatedly articulate an idle concern in the name of philosophy, but her engagement with the questions of her heart to the reality of her life have made her an excellent philosopher in the nature of love, man as a religious being, and the nature of community.
As I began reading What is Philosophy? by Dietrich von Hildebrand, I was struck when he explained,
The basic questions of every man are thus religious and philosophical. A philosophical question is not the idle concern of a sophisticated mind, nor does it possess only a specialized interest for an academic mind. On the contrary, it is a fundamental component of the human mind (11)
This means that every person has these questions awakened or dormant in his heart. A true philosopher helps us find words to these questions within us, teaches how to dialogue with these questions, and lends us words to articulate our experience of what is immediate and real and yet unseen.
Writing in the 1960s, Hildebrand explains that many philosophy teachers are unfaithful to the call of a true philosopher. Many followed positivism or relativism. Positivism, he explains, limits what is true and certain to blunt observation “restricting philosophy to the role of a mere handmaid to the sciences” (1). For example, ethics becomes a mere psychoanalysis cutting off man as a spiritual being. Love, not able to be bluntly observed, falls out of existence with only sociology and the sexual drive left to fill the wound festering after love’s ignored existence. Positivism has led us from an engagement of the deep questions of our heart to a restless searching for quiet and comfort without purpose and love.
The truth always remains.
There have been philosophers who have not engaged in real and meaningful philosophy. There are currents of thought that lead us away from ourselves. At the same time, there is and will always be a remnant of true and gifted philosophers who serve others by reminding, awakening, and articulating the questions in man. We must milk the words of these men and women. They are for us.
Mother Teresa was for me that morning at breakfast. She says, “If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”, I became awakened. She engaged the question in my heart, “who am I?” She spoke truth to that question. I was freed from my anxious need to have control over the next few hours, and my eyes were lifted to the friend who had walked in the door.
A positivist, in all its blunt observations, is not able to awaken man to the questions residing in his heart. This is proof he is not a philosopher. A true philosopher has techniques to learn. He must exercise a particular intellectual “organ” to grasp the nature of objects, have intellectual courage to stick to what he grasps, and the philosophical talents to express and formulate his discovery (3-4). Hildebrand explains that a true philosopher needs to be more than attentive and reliable. He needs to be someone who has seriously engaged his heart and life. One who has looked at the nature of things seeking truth with a certain intellectual ‘organ’ exercised in the work of philosophy.
There are times in our lives when we’re really low and the search for meaning for our life is desperate and hard-hitting. There are other times in our life where those questions sit in our heart, but aren’t brought to our attention. We are content with the blunt facts of things. For example, we begin to find ourselves with a schedule, good time with friends, and basic needs met. Maybe we are finding ourselves after a time of healing, or the start of a new relationship, when feelings of aloneness or purposelessness are removed or lessened, and the questions which once pressed very strongly against our hearts begin to rest in these new circumstances. Our new circumstances become ever-new when we engage our relationships, our work, our spirit with the questions that may have once cut at our hearts more urgently. “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?”
I encourage you to seek out a good philosopher. She may speak simply such as Mother Teresa, or robustly such as Edith Stein. Whomever you chose, may their words illuminate the questions in your heart and help you to live life fully.