People are sometimes surprised that I’ve involved myself in the financial industry when just two years ago I had left my studies in somewhat close relative, accountancy, to read something closer to heart, philosophy. And they’d ask: Whatever has finance got to do with philosophy? Sometimes with a subtle implication of finance being the ‘antagonist’ and philosophy being the ‘protagonist’. Most people don’t understand that philosophy isn’t like most other subjects. It doesn’t mean that when you study philosophy, you’re bound to it forever; as if the only path left to take is to become an academic and spin more novel arguments from the multifarious tomes of wisdom. Philosophy merely shares with you a way of living and of think. It implants in you a habit of observing and reflecting, of questioning and understanding, doubting and allaying. These skills can be treated to anything. And this is precisely why I always have no answer for those who ask me what I wish to do in the future, particularly with a degree in philosophy. So I tell them, everything and nothing.
For quite some time did I sit by a meekly whirring fan, trying to understand the writings of Husserl – who, if one is not familiar with, writes in a tremendously difficult, but also tremendously delicate, fashion. I imagine that the latter quality is what gave birth to the former. Anyhow, as I collected the papers and turned to leave, I did not realize that the fan was still whirring behind me. So immersed in the writings had I gotten that the wind began registering itself as a natural breeze. I suppose that is the demand of philosophy; that to understand the works of men possessed of such fine thoughts, one must have his focus set entirely on the metaphysical edifice before him; to observe so intently the pillars and panes holding it up as to forget about everything else.
Told my uncle of my intention to study philosophy; he instinctively responded by saying what an interesting course it is. I assume he only said that out of politeness. What really came to his mind upon hearing those words, and which he expressed after that little dallying of politeness, was “what are you going to do with a degree in philosophy?” So he asked me: “what are you studying philosophy with – I mean, surely, it isn’t studied alone?” I wanted to tell him the truth; that I was indeed planning on studying philosophy alone, notwithstanding, of course, all the other modules scattered on the sidewalks of other subjects. But the manner in which he asked – rhetorically, convincingly, as if it were common knowledge that philosophy cannot be studied alone, for all its impractical pursuits – kept me from speaking the truth. How baffled he would be to learn it. And so I lied to him: “Yeah, I’m maybe taking economics along with it.” But perhaps that is becoming less of a lie. I am beginning to distance myself from the idea of studying philosophy. Too many sentiments are pushing me away from it. It feels as if the whole world knows the truth -that a study of philosophy is foolish – and I alone know nothing; or maybe I have been deceiving myself, conjuring dreamy images of ever finding a profitable position with a lexicon of philosophical theories.
I am often asked what it is that I shall wish to do in the future, or more rightly, what it is that I can do. One would think of an education in philosophy as having little value in this world so fixated on capitalistic endeavors. “Study engineering, or accounting, or economics, or medicine; leave philosophy to recreation.” On so many occasions have I heard this that I began to believe that there was no truth in my passions, but only in the words of others. I enrolled in the study of accounting; for what could be more practical than that guardianship of migrating numbers – the world functions on these numbers. But half a year into the course and I felt purposeless. Yes, there was a purpose to my drudgery – to earn a good living in the future – but even then, would I be truly satisfied? Of course, I did not think so, and left the course half a year later. To imagine myself as a mindless cog, planted in a tiny box and made to spin day to night, day to night, endlessly, drearily, like the prisoner who counts his days on the stone wall, and who admires from inside his cell the azure freedom beyond; will I not descend into my tombstone a corpse full of regret? Philosophy is what truly gives me life. It is what gives me purpose and meaning, and above all, a great deal of happiness.
“What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.” – Kierkegaard, 1835.
I am feeling an urge to study something ‘practical’, learn a skill that allows me to spin at least a cog in the great machine of society.
All through the holidays I have concerned myself with the affairs of faith and religion and of the human nature and psychology. And I realize, having acquired sizeable knowledge on those subjects, that such a learning has procured me no more than brief satisfactions. Once I settle upon a dialetically-derived position, there is no further to go. And where there is no movement, there is no joy. Furthermore, I had not gained anything tangible from it apart from a change of opinion; which really the world could not care less about – it strides on while I practise my little metaphysical somersaults.
So now that I have grown bored of baptizing truths, lost the pleasure in philosophizing, my mind turns instinctively to worldly, tangible things. I wish to be useful. I wish to earn money. I wish to know of the workings and windings of the world and effect changes in its motion. I wish contribute to the economy of the society, not the economy of the mind. I wish to work, not study purposeless things. I wish to be a man of the physical, not the metaphysical.
Before me lies twitching in the light breeze, my most cherished Beyond Good and Evil. But how difficult it is to read it. Where once I had an overpowering interest, an enthusiasm that would propel me through its entire space, I now languish by the end of the first page.
Perhaps, I ought to reconsider my major.