Why PhDs Are Overrated
& Everyone is a Philosopher
As to what we call the masses, and common men -- there are no common men
I am a lucky man. For ten years, I had the good fortune of studying at some of our nation’s top universities. I discovered my passion for philosophy as an undergraduate at Stanford. Then I spent five years at Princeton working under some of the leading thinkers in the world of political philosophy.
In the realm of knowing, the people I met were brilliant. If you ever had a question about Hobbes’ theory of sovereignty by acquisition or Marx’s historical materialism, they had all the answers.Read the original post
But I also learned that wisdom doesn’t require a PhD – that all this formal training can, at times, even be a positive hindrance to it.
I learned to take seriously Emerson’s idea that “there are no common men.” Emerson’s challenge is to see everyone as having some gift that they are here to express. We don’t live in an oligarchy of genius. We live in a democracy. Everyone is a philosopher.
This is not the way we ordinary think of greatness. We live in a social world that has reduced greatness to a handful of qualities. To be great is to have amassed massive amounts of money, become famous, gone to fancy schools, or aced your SATs.
We don’t see greatness in other areas because we’re looking at the world through the lens of achievement – a lens that filters out many unconventional shades of creativity and beauty.
But Emerson’s radical idea is that greatness takes infinite forms and emerges in all spheres of life. After one great individual emerges, says Emerson, “in some other and quite different field the next man will appear; not Jefferson, not Franklin, but now a great salesman, then a road-contractor, then a student of fishes, then a buffalo-hunting explorer, or a semi-savage Western general.”
Greatness can arise in even the most unexpected places. It might come from how you smile, how you garden, how you hit a golf ball, how you teach, or how you raise your child. Your philosophical gift might not be an encyclopedic knowledge of Hegel but the gift of listening with deep presence to a friend in need.
So for this week’s experiment, let’s explore viewing the world through Emerson’s eyes. What would it be like to treat every being as though they were the next Socrates, Mozart, or Einstein? What would it be like to live in constant appreciation of each person’s genius?
This is a radical challenge. To see the world through Emerson’s eyes is to explode our normal categories of greatness. It is to find greatness in the ordinary and the everyday. Even more challenging, it is to find greatness in those we normally see as having nothing to offer – even in the mean, dirty, dark, and intolerable.
What’s the genius of the homeless man you drive by each day who sits with his sign on the traffic median? What can he teach you about the limits of your capacity to see human greatness?
I’m going to be living this for the week and filming many of my experiences. But I also want to know – what’s your experience viewing life through Emerson’s lens of equal greatness?