Philosophy Skills: Omer 12

Philosophy Skills: Omer 12
Image representing the quest in philosophy: a human face looking at the stars, with the back of its head filled with wheels within wheels.

Hod. Splendour. Gevurah. Judgment. Hod she’b’gevurah. Splendid judgment.

So, I have a Ph.D. in philosophy.  I don’t teach it anymore, and I’m glad. But I learned so much.

Philosophy is equal parts critical thinking and creative thinking. In the critical thinking part, you have to define concepts precisely. Think quickly about all the implications of each definition. Follow each line of thinking with immaculate logic. Choose the best conclusion. And then explain what’s wrong with it.

In the creative part, you get to pick a topic people normally don’t pay attention to. Something that hides in the fabric of everyday life. You notice it, wonder about it, ask startling questions.  And, as soon as an answer seems familiar, you let it go. Then you push your mind in a new direction. Towards the edges of what you used to think about. And then beyond.

But (ideally) you never become unhinged. Because logic grounds you.

Not everyone appreciates philosophers. Some people think we are rigidly intellectual. That we need to loosen our grip on thinking once in a while. And turn towards something more spiritual. But they don’t realize: pushing at the boundaries of our concepts is a spiritual experience. It’s our way of seeking deeper truths.

Of course, not all philosophers are interested in self-reflection. In soul-accounting, or cheshbon hanefesh, as we call it in Hebrew. But some of us are. And, maybe now, I should speak in the first person. I am very into cheshbon hanefesh. And I use the habits of thought I learned in philosophy.

For example, I might notice a movement of thought or feeling that doesn’t feel right. Then I’ll try to define carefully what it is. I’ll ask myself questions about it. Find some tentative answers. Notice they’re not quite right. Ask a few more questions.

And, as I go through the steps, my thought and feeling begin to change. Because I’m pushing at the edges of what I used to think. And maybe going beyond them. Am I moving towards the good? That, too, is an important question.

Splendid Judgment never ends.

Today is day 12 of the Omer, one week and five days.

New to the Omer count? Here’s a primer.

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