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Telling Apart Wisdom From Armchair Philosophy


Val is a life-long practically oriented student of effective emotional and attitudinal responses to the many challenges of life.

Wise People Rarely Disagree; It Takes Philosophers to Be in Intellectual Wars. -- Val Karas

Wise People Rarely Disagree; It Takes Philosophers to Be in Intellectual Wars. -- Val Karas

To think too much is a disease.

-- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Too Smart to Learn

If your literary appetites insist on some more precise definitions of both, philosophy and wisdom, feel free to look them up in a good dictionary, because there will be nothing of an academic glamor in the paragraphs that follow.

As usual, my views about man and life stay anchored to simplicity, since I never believed that the human truth could only be expressed by fancy academic cosmetics.

Which immediately brings to mind the familiar anecdote involving a learned philosopher who visited a wise man to hear about the tenets of his teachings about life.

As the story goes, the wise dude offered him some tea; and after placing a cup in front of him, he kept pouring, and pouring, until the tea overflowed. Astonished, the philosopher asked why he was doing it, when the wise man said:

"This cup is like your mind, and it's already full, so anything new will merely be an excess and a waste of my words."

Such is usually the case of most philosophers, notably those of an armchair variety. They form a "theory of everything" which they guard with a closed mind and intellectual arrogance -- oftentimes leaning towards dogmatic and inflexible stubbornness.

They also tend to categorize; so they are bound to ask you about the source of your views, meaning some already existing authorities or a "school of thought" popular on the culture market.

Next, such armchair philosophers usually display views that carry a strong emotional charge, in form of criticism, disagreement, and protest.

Basically, their stuff is an item ready for long and emotional debate, in which it is not really of much significance "what" is right -- but "who" is right.

We got some endless examples of those smart asses these days as some bitter debates are going on over the American presidency. At some other forums lay people may be spilling their bile over religious issues, or the economic global battlefield.

But more often than not, those debates are not after some satisfying resolutions, rather existing as their own purpose. Would you believe that there are "experts" actually being paid some incredible salaries for nothing else but arguing over different issues.

Can you see politicians in that group? In styles of armchair philosophers they are exchanging phrases and cliches, while capable of talking for hours without saying nothing that they didn't say so many times before.

You Could Hardly Ever See A Philosopher Smile on Any Picture, Any Statue. What a Waste of Mind! -- Val Karas

You Could Hardly Ever See A Philosopher Smile on Any Picture, Any Statue. What a Waste of Mind! -- Val Karas

Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.

-- Albert Einstein

Philosophy Doesn't Inspire Happiness

We could say that wisdom is insisting upon making us more spiritual, happy, loving, and peaceful humans, whereas philosophy is trying to make objective our sense of reality -- whatever "reality" may mean to the gamut of different intellectual tastes.

Wisdom is about life as an experience, about consciousness and its potentiality to grow, whereas philosophy is trying to stay married to parameters of scientific principles where the subjective has not much of a value.

Thus, if you are familiar with a long line of philosophers throughout history, you could be reminded that many of those brilliant minds belonged to some truly unhappy, some cynical, but all downright miserable and unloving individuals.

With their often sterile views -- which almost looked at man and life as at something cooked up in petri dishes of god or nature -- contained nothing of wisdom which would be life-promoting in any conceivable way.

Actually, the classical components of philosophy being: logic, metaphysics, politics, religion, aesthetics, and ethics -- any of those hardly hint at a warmth of humanness, and at our inherent drive to grow beyond some socially imposed limitations.

Philosophizing seems to be a sort of intellectual self-gratification, as it is reshuffling philosophical concepts ad nauseam. Something reminding of the United Nation's incessant outsmarting games of politics over issues that should have been resolved long time ago with a dash of pragmatism -- or shall we say a "wise" frame of mind..

"Complete World Is Crazy. It's a Jungle Out There" -- Val Karas

"Complete World Is Crazy. It's a Jungle Out There" -- Val Karas

I often wonder why the whole world is prone to generalize. Generalizations are seldom, if ever true, and are usually utterly inaccurate.

-- Agatha Christie

Futility of Generalizing

However, herein we are mainly talking about those armchair philosophers, that growing number of smart asses raising some senseless questions, like: "What is happening with the mankind? Or: "What is the role of black man in predominantly white society? Or: trying to philosophize about our health while contending that "we are what we eat".

Well, how many people see those questions and contentions as legitimate? Let's see them separately.

First, we can't tell "what's happening with the mankind" if we don't specify "which part of it". Clearly, the world is composed of people who are to a different degree happy, fulfilled, peaceful -- and those at the other side of the scale.

So that the answer to that would be that it depends who we are talking about. This world, as it is right now, gives a pretty mixed impression of a paradise on earth and a hell's inferno, making any generalization senseless.

Likewise, we can't generalize about black folks; and when the question is about "their role in a predominantly white society", again, we should be specific -- whether we are talking about Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Mohamed Ali -- or those folks of Harlem and ghettos.

And, as for our "being what we are eating", we could also say that "we are what we are thinking" -- but neither is correct, because, again, we are leaving out of the equation our psycho-biological and genetic individuality in which any of the imaginable parameters might play a pivotal role.

Thus, generalizing about it is like saying that, "since Einstein was a Jew. all Jews are geniuses, and all Italians are romantic, and all French are culinary experts"...etc.

Beautiful Heart Generates Beautiful Face. Too Much of Crappy Thinking Tarnishes Both. -- Val Karas

Beautiful Heart Generates Beautiful Face. Too Much of Crappy Thinking Tarnishes Both. -- Val Karas

Simplicity is ultimate sophistication.

-- Leonardo da Vinci

Academic Mind Shamed by Simplicity

Unlike philosophy, which is theoretical, wisdom is pragmatic. Many years ago, as one book was following another in my almost marathon fashion, my intuition kicked in with a warning that collecting all that information could not replace a sound plan for applying whatever was applicable of all that material.

Was it after I happened to read about that confessing story of the great thinking man Aldous Huxley, who told how at visit to a beach resort in a third world country he had a unique eye-opening experience.

Namely, as he was taking a morning walk, a local young woman was walking in his direction carrying laundry basket on her head. What caused him to feel a shock of embarrassment mixed with admiration was her happy glowing face and her humming a tune -- a picture that stayed with him long after.

It was to that learned man a mocking reminder of how little he really knew about genuine happiness and how to attain it. He was left with a realization that despite all his theoretical knowledge about human nature he would never be able to duplicate that young woman's state of mind.

That story added enormously to my resolve to go pragmatic about everything I had read. Ever since, I have been alike to a tiny bee, collecting pollen from many flowers to make my own recipe for honey, the one that I could spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically benefit from.

If philosophy meant anything at all to me, it was only if it would be hyphened into something as "psycho-philosophy".

Everything else in that fund of accumulated information got downgraded into a "mental gym" of wrestling with concepts -- while so much got downright scrapped as useless intellectual masturbation.

And boy, did I have some to scrap, much of what is still a hot subject of debates between armchair philosophers. Intellectual simplicity can be so elegant in its wisdom that anything added to it is just a mental excess.

Here I tried to make a simple distinction between philosophy, that classical and armchair -- and wisdom, which simply shines with its practical purposefulness.

© 2020 Val Karas


Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 22, 2020:

There is a vast difference between true wisdom and armchair philosophy, as you have nicely dissected in this piece. That example of the woman with the laundry atop her head, and her obvious happiness, is a perfect example. To categorize all people as being one thing or another is a flawed way of thinking. I enjoyed reading your article. Keep them coming!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 22, 2020:

I would hope I have picked up some wisdom over the years. Otherwise I'm just an old man expounding on nonsense. :) Happy Holidays, my friend!

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on December 22, 2020:

Well, I am neither a wise man nor a philosopher but I thoroughly enjoyed your views on what sets them apart. A very interesting read Val. The overflowing cup of tea was a very good example of a philosopher's mind though I thought.

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