Philosopher Zeno said he had only two types of disciples:
The definition is now considered obsolete, but “philology” was for centuries “nearly synonymous with humanistic intellectual life, encompassing not only the study of Greek and Roman literature and the Bible but also all other studies of language and literature, as well as religion, history, culture, art, archaeology, and more. In short, philology was the queen of the human sciences.” – Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities, James Turner
And of the two types of disciples, the philologists, it should be said, were Zeno’s favorites.
It’s ultimately on us, as the disciples of our own lives, to figure out whether meaning matters to us and, if so, whether we are willing to make the investment to approach life as philologists. To love learning for the sake of learning. To question, to critique, to develop our own thoughts.
We don’t typically learn this from those in positions of authority, who instead ingrain a mindset and demeanor of rote and regurgitation in us when we’re young. “The authority of those who teach is very often a hindrance to those who wish to learn.” (de Montaigne, Essays.) And, unfortunately, many of us will unknowingly carry this on throughout our lives… and eventually extend this to other people in positions of authority – with that authority sometimes only imagined – such as those in our professions.
And we have to deliberately step out of this learned helplessness. To “sift everything, and take nothing into our head on simple authority or trust.”
To realize that a man “who follows another follows nothing. He finds nothing, and indeed is seeking nothing.” This is not the way we should lead our lives, and not the way we should lead other people.
“Our object is… not to make a grammarian, or a logician, but a gentleman.” We should leave the “grammarians” and the “logicians” – the logophiles – to their time-wasting pursuits. Because “we have business elsewhere.” – Essays, Michel de Montaigne
Our highest endeavor is to serve as our own master. And that means, first and foremost obeying our own principles. And not simply echoing the noises of others. To lead a richly humanistic intellectual life. To exist more meaningfully. To understand.