My colleague Richard Shusterman has explored in some detail how between antiquity and modernity the conception of the philosopher shifts from one who leads a life of integrated thought & practice to one the conduct of whose life is incidental to the power of her or his thought. Thoreau expresses the ideal of the pre-Sokratic philosopher, or of Sokrates himself –
Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live, according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. The success of great scholars and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not kingly, not manly. They make shift to live merely by conformity, practically as their fathers did, and are in no sense the progenitors of a nobler race of men.– and along the way he manages to denigrate our own anemic generation of mere "scholars & thinkers."
It's I suppose even a further shift to go from Thoreau's armchair thinkers to contemporary professors of philosophy, many of whom spend their careers writing commentaries on earlier thinkers, never venturing to produce anything that might be mistaken for a "new" thought. I had a semi-savage argument with my father-in-law over this some years ago: He held that one who merely writes on earlier thinkers shouldn't be called a philosopher at all; I argued that commentary & assessment of previous systems of thought was one of the basic modes in which philosophy gets done. Was I playing devil's advocate, or was I simply besotted with Derrida on Rousseau, Deleuze on Spinoza, Cavell on Emerson?
At any rate, one of the lovely threads in the vast shaggy tapestry of Walter Kaufmann's Hegel book was a series of quotations from Hegel's latish letters addressing the issue of studying philosophy. I won't actually quote, but simply render the gist: Hegel argues, repeatedly, that if one truly studies philosophy – not just absorbing potted summaries (like Kaufmann & Peter Singer) but actually working one's way thru the primary texts with all the sweat, tears, & blood that sometimes requires – one isn't merely studying thought: one is actually doing thought, is repeating the process by which the world-soul becomes conscious of itself. Original, new thought is highly overrated, & far rarer than one supposes; almost as rare is the spectacle of a student of philosophy transforming herself, by submission to the great works of earlier philosophers, by thinking alongside and through them, from a student into a thinker herself.
Excuse me; now I'll get back to another reading of the Preface to the Phenomenology.
On the earbuds: John Zorn/Naked City, Torture Garden