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Friday, May 27, 2011

Philosopher: A low-stress occupation?

(The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David)
A 2011 report lists “philosopher” among the 10 least stressful jobs.  Those who are philosophically inclined might be wondering at this point how this could possibly be.  Even a brief glance through the biographies of world-famous philosophers reveals some not-so-relaxing details.

Take Socrates, for instance.  Although he never did write an autobiography (too busy philosophizing), others wrote quite a bit about him.  Xenophon describes him as the quintessential philosopher - in that he had no other job but to go about town asking the big questions.  According to Wikipedia, Aristophanes even parodied him in The Clouds as “a clown who teaches his students how to bamboozle their way out of debt.”  Aristophanes also mentioned that Socrates accepted payment for philosophical services rendered.  Socrates is also described as having served in political capacities, often being at odds with his superiors while doing so.  This led to threats of impeachment, imprisonment, and even death.  What finally turned this latter threat into reality were Socrates’ “gadfly” activities.  He would verbally wrangle with
Athens’ most prominent citizens, making them appear guilty of foolishness and wrongdoing.  Although elements of this might have felt like fun at the time, the end result was toxic stress.

And then there’s Nietzsche.  Hardly a walk in the park.  Although Wikipedia reports that his central philosophy involved “an honest questioning of all doctrines that drain life’s expansive energies,” it seems that his own energies became more and more drained as his own life sadly ebbed.  Albeit the son of a Lutheran pastor, Nietzsche wound up espousing “the death of God.”  As life unfolded, Nietzsche suffered from a host of debilitating illnesses, allegedly including tertiary syphilis.  His radical ideological stances alienated more and more people until he was left practically friendless.  Wikipedia reports that he had also “become in effect unemployable at any German university.”

If these two gentlemen are examples of just how “calming” philosophy can be, then might have been just a wee bit hasty in its occupational reporting. By its very nature, philosophy digs down deep into rough-edged crevices.  That which eventually surfaces goes a long way in determining the true stress levels of a philosopher’s life.


Copyright May 27, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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