Born to be a philosopher — the philosophical child
Philosophy was my greatest passion in high school. My philosophy textbook said something like this:
Everyone is a philosopher as everyone has their own life philosophy.
While on the one hand, this sounded very plausible, on the other hand, it also sounded counterintuitive and I was sceptical. That’s one thing all philosophers have in common: doubt, especially doubting traditional truths like religious truth or traditional ways of thinking. Why did it sound counterintuitive? Anyone who has an ardent interest in philosophy will know that the vast majority of people are clueless about philosophy. Admittedly, this isn’t much proof. However, if you try to talk to people about philosophy, most people will quickly find an excuse to end the conversation. A few might go on to discuss it with you for hours on end. Those few are the real philosophers.
Philosophers aren’t made, philosophers are born. Philosophers are the kind of children who incessantly ask their parents: “Why?”. I was such a child and managed to annoy my parents with my why-questions and I got my own share when my children became toddlers and preschool children. My oldest son was called “the philosopher” by his teachers — in primary school.
How can I prove my claim that philosophers are born rather than made? To begin with, philosophical children are high in intellectual curiosity, two facets of the Big Five personality factor “openness”. It’s comparable to a drive to understand the world. This curiosity can manifest itself very differently depending on the child’s personality. Some philosophical children love taking their toys apart in order to understand how they work, some love stories like mythology and superhero stories, some take an early interest in history or psychology in order to understand humanity. Common to all those interests is, not taking the world for granted.
Philosophical children have a number of typical traits or tendencies that go beyond their curiosity. They tend to
- be reserved or detached, often loners
- have a heightened sense of justice
- have heightened sensibilities (highly sensitive)
- have a dash of ADHD and/or ASD
- be skinny (ectomorph) body type
- look younger than their biological age
They often give an out-of-this-world kind of impression. I have also seen children like this described as “ethereal” or “elvish”, both childlike and wise old souls. They do not like conflict and often serve as mediators or withdraw easily.
This may sound like a bunch of BS, but anyone who has a strong philosophical inclination will have the eerie feeling that this description is roughly accurate. These are common traits of children who are gifted or neurodiverse (ASD, ADHD, and others).
How do personality and the propensity of becoming a philosopher relate? Here is a random excerpt of philosopher’s profiles (MBTI and enneagram) from an internet database:
Many people have told me that it’s useless doing research with these personality systems, as they aren’t scientific. I agree with the “not scientific” part, but I don’t agree with the “useless” part. Philosophers are pattern seekers and the pattern that we find here is that philosophers show very high rates of being “intuitives” and type 5 (“the thinker”) in the enneagram.
Even if you think that MBTI and the enneagram are hogwash, you will agree that some people are more of a “thinker” than others and some people are more “intuitive” and introspective than others.
Why do some people have these traits more than others? The answer is likely to lie in our evolutionary history:
Philosophical children are hunter-gatherer (forager) types. Like the classical distinction at universities, they tend to fall either into the sciences or humanities categories. Many philosophers were scientifically-mathematically included, others, like the former Czech philosopher-president Vaclav Havel, more poetically.
Philosophical children are born into a world that they weren’t programmed for by evolution and thus become philosophers always having a need to understand the bigger picture and why things are the way they are.
Check out my new book Homo Philosophicus
Originally published at http://the-big-ger-picture.blogspot.com on January 15, 2022.