Philosophy in Action: A Way of Becoming



By Gary Z. McGee



“To win true freedom you must be a slave to philosophy.” ~Seneca


What does it mean to be a slave to philosophy? It means surrendering yourself to inquiry. It means sacrificing answers for questions. It means allowing fate to drag you kicking and screaming into awe. It means giving up all hope for a “meaning to it all” and instead creating a deeper meaning of your own. It means forfeiting certainty.


Without philosophy we are slaves to our own fallible reasoning. Becoming a slave to philosophy is gaining mastery over what we think we know by not allowing our minds to settle. It keeps the open-ended question mark ahead of the dead-in-the-water period point. It keeps “I don’t know” ahead of “I know,” lest knowing become our end.


Here are seven philosophical dispositions that can move us from merely practicing philosophy to embodying philosophy.


1.) Philosophy should shatter illusions and demolish delusions:


“If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.” ~PC Hodgell


Philosophy should always be in attack formation. It must always be moving forward. Once it settles into any given idea, belief, or ideal, it loses its philosophical edge. Once it stops questioning, it ceases to be philosophy.


Philosophy is a battering ram, or it is nothing. If it’s not toppling thrones, it’s merely a footstool for the king. Philosophy must never become a footstool. It must never become a crutch. Once it does, it ceases to be philosophy and devolves into religion.


“The king” should fear philosophy, or philosophy isn’t doing its job. Reason should always be worried that imagination will outmaneuver it. Power should always be on its heels before the greater power of humor. God should tremble before man’s mighty question mark sword lest we forget that God was created in our image.


2.) Philosophy should keep courage ahead of comfort:


“As fire is the test of gold, adversity is the test of men.” ~Seneca


Philosophy in action is always in the throes of stretching comfort zones. No safe place is off limits. Philosophers of action understand that comfort zones are good for regrouping after a setback, or for licking wounds, but they are eventually a hindrance to philosophy.


When you become too comfortable you become complacent. You become stagnant in mind, body, and soul. Your inquisitive mind begins to atrophy. Your muscle memory fades. There’s a tendency to fall back on what you’ve learned. You begin to make excuses: “I’m content.” “I’m tired.” “I’ve done enough.”


Great philosophers nip this in the bud early on. They don’t allow their ideas to take root. They dig them up and move them into the next iteration. They stretch their comfort zone until it snaps, allowing the unknown to challenge what’s known. They do it with gusto and aplomb, for many reasons, but mostly to guarantee they don’t become stuck, deluded, trapped, or dogmatic.


3.) Philosophy should choose dangerous questions over safe answers:


“The secret of reaping the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment from life is to live dangerously.” ~Nietzsche


Rule number one for the philosopher of action: Don’t settle on answers, ask unsettling questions. Especially regarding the Self.


A philosopher of action utilizes the tool of self-interrogation to the nth degree. It’s the most effective way to get out of one’s own way. It’s a method that aggressively asks mind-opening, heart-expanding, soul-shocking questions. It outmaneuvers cognitive dissonance by “entertaining a thought without accepting it (Aristotle).”


Philosophy in action is about destroying illusions and murdering delusions. It unsettles settled mindsets. It asks forbidden questions. It tests the untested. It put God’s feet to the fire. It’s about counting coup on outdatedness, reordering ancient order, and transforming boundaries into horizons. It pulls no punches. It hangs a scythe over all dyed-in-the-wool period points.


Asking difficult questions and challenging yourself will always be more important than receiving simple answers and pacifying yourself. As Ken Kesey said, “The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.”


4.) Philosophy should neither be restricted by tradition nor bounded by convention:


“Elevate yourself above the battlefield.” ~Robert Greene


Philosophy is about taking risks, turning tables, flipping scripts, pushing envelopes, and kicking open third eyes. It questions comfort despite the tiny-hearted. It questions power despite authority. It challenges all Gods.


A philosopher of action is restricted by nothing. Unfettered, he is free to defy. Equal parts firebrand and fountainhead, the world is put on notice. Everything is put on blast. Nothing is off limits. Everything is put under the blade of his pen.


Religions dissolve. Politics fall apart. Ideologies implode. Philosophy itself is taken aback. A philosopher in action is a tempest, a force of nature first, a person second. He is the eye of the storm, and everything is caught in his spinning unforgiving vortex and found wanting.


5.) Philosophy should be Dionysian in nature:


“These poor creatures have no idea how blighted and ghostly this so called ‘sanity’ of theirs sounds when the glowing life of a Dionysian reveler thunders past them.” ~Nietzsche


Under the blinding sun of the Apollonian ideal, a Dionysian philosopher of action is a much-needed eclipse. He’s a beacon of darkness that gives us creative hope despite artless belief. He’s a primal upheaval, an animal frenzy of passion, frivolity, and lightheartedness in the face of over-domestication, apathy, and hardheartedness. He’s the liberation of instinct and insight. He’s the personification of transforming boundaries into horizons.


He dances through the mannequin culture. He thunders past the status quo junkies. He flies high above the steel walls of the Apollonian labyrinth. He sees how Goliath has become an idol, a golden cow, a parasitic icon which has blinded the people of the world from the knowledge of their own imagination and courage.


Foremost, the Dionysian Philosopher of Action is a courage-enforcer, a mettle sharpener, a lion-awakener. Far too long has the culture lived a fear-based lifestyle under the comforting gaze of the Apollonian Goliath. It’s time to cultivate a courage-based lifestyle. It’s time to get mad and wrestle the gods. It’s time to balance the scales, to melt down the golden pedestals of idolatry, to burn down all the uppity high horses, to upset all the parochial apple carts, and to un-wash the brainwash from the minds of thinking men.


6.) Philosophy should stay as close to the edge as possible without going over:


“Failure is the information you need to get where you’re going.” ~Rick Rubin


The philosopher of action is proactive about staying ahead of the curve. He does so by keeping curiosity ahead of certainty. Curiosity gives him his edge. It keeps him ahead of the game. While everyone else is falling all over themselves in the myopic one-upmanship of petty finite games, he’s playing James P. Carse’s Infinite Game.


Curiosity is a philosopher of action’s guiding light in the dark. It’s his beacon of darkness in the blinding light. Why? Because curiosity keeps him on the edge of life. It’s the tip of the spear. It is foremost, utmost, supreme. It is always cutting, despite the world’s attempts at dulling its mettle.


The philosopher of action uses his curiosity like a razor-sharp question mark in the dark. He harnesses its trailblazer essence. He channels its catalyzing synergy. He recalibrates the universe with it. He discovers the cheat codes hidden in the storm. Despite the slings and arrows of vicissitude, despite the worst that life can dish out, despite fear, his unconquerable curiosity keeps him ahead of the curve.


7.) Philosophy should seek power over power:


“The comfortable life lowers man’s resistance, so that he sinks into an unheroic sloth.” ~Colin Wilson


A philosopher of action never sinks into an unheroic sloth. He goes full-frontal boss mode into the adventure of “not knowing as much as he thinks he knows.” He grabs the gods by the throat and forces them to reveal their deepest secrets. He gets power over power through the greater power of a good sense of humor.


A good sense of humor is a philosopher’s saving grace. It keeps him humble yet fierce. Hungry yet grounded. Lighthearted yet lionhearted. Laughing yet laughable. With it he bridges the gap between himself and God.


If, as Jung said, “the main function of religion (finite) is to protect people against a direct experience of God (infinite),” then philosophy’s main function is to drag people kicking and screaming out of religion and into a direct experience with God, with Infinity, with the bare-bones horror of reality in all its existential glory.


Philosophy in action doesn’t balk. It’s autonomous. It’s Contrarian. It’s trailblazing. It creates worlds between worlds that questions all worlds. It gives us the latitude to make mistakes. To create, destroy, and recreate God. It gives us the power to pivot. To interrogate rather than gravitate. To meditate rather than deify. It chooses risk-taking over script-making. It doesn’t settle, it meddles. It mixes it up. It kicks up the dust and knocks off the dross. It chooses improvisation over tradition. It transcends the comfort/discomfort dynamic through sincere nonattachment.


Philosophy in action is a way of becoming an Overman in a world of ordinary men.

Image source: Infinity Sky by Julian Majin


About the Author:


Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.


This article (Philosophy in Action: A Way of Becoming) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.