What’s It All About? The Pursuit of Understanding…

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In the end, all of our quests for ultimate understanding necessarily relegate us to metaphor. And over the years I’ve been exposed to many different explanatory metaphors.

Perhaps the deepest and most enduring yearning of humankind is to understand the meaning and purpose of it all. The Greek roots of the word ‘philosophy’ define it as literally the “love of wisdom.” Over the years, philosophies of one type or another have emerged to address the most fundamental questions. It seems that one of the thinking animal’s greatest loves is the quest for understanding.

Philosophy distinguishes itself from other pathways toward knowing and understanding the ultimate realities of life. Unlike mysticism, which seeks to bring a person into conscious awareness of ultimate truth, or the various arts, which use intuitively-derived symbols and creative expression to bring a person closer to an appreciation of the most sublime realities, philosophy generally takes a rational approach to gaining knowledge about the most fundamental aspects of existence.

It would be nice if philosophy were a single discipline or field of study. But in fact there are not only numerous branches of philosophy, but also different major schools of philosophical thought within those branches, each of which has enjoyed varying degrees of prominence and acceptance during different eras and within different geographical and cultural boundaries.

Psychology (literally the study of the psyche or “mind”) had its origins in philosophy. And despite more modern trends to define psychology as more of a science of behavior as opposed to a more philosophical study of the mind, psychology cannot and probably will not forsake its roots.

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In the end, all of our quests for ultimate understanding necessarily relegate us to metaphor. A metaphor is a comparative description of something without using the terms “like” or “as,” whereas in simile, those terms are used to make the point that what we’re attempting to describe resembles something but might not in fact actually be the something we describe. After eons of enlightenment and scientific advances, the ultimate truths still defy our complete understanding. So, we are left with major schools of thought, which embody the most persuasive and resilient metaphors.

Being a psychologist by training and by discipline, my thirst for knowledge, especially with regard to the human condition, has never really been quenched. And over the years I’ve been exposed to many different explanatory metaphors. Every new metaphor that comes along seems to help me understand some things a bit more but inevitably seems lacking, leaves unanswered questions, and keeps me hungry for more. Whether I’m in fact getting any wiser in the process is a matter of some debate. Still, I love the very pursuit of understanding. I guess that’s why they call it ‘philosophy.’

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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