People who teach, study, and write about philosophy routinely refer to themselves as “philosophers.” Lately I have become deeply ambivalent about this language. At first glance it seems weirdly pretentious. If someone asks me what I do, I don’t answer “I’m a philosopher.” I do not expect my discomfort with this label to decrease the more I have written and the longer I’ve taught. Now I am a graduate student of philosophy. Eventually I hope to be a professor of philosophy. But a philosopher?
But as I've mulled over my discomfort, I've come to think it is far deeper than worries about apparent pretentiousness. The uneasiness I feel, however, is not with the notion of being a philosopher itself, but with making “philosopher” a professional term—as if one only need to teach and write on the right topics to be doing philosophy. Being a philosopher is not an academic accomplishment. After all, as Pieper reminds us, anyone can do philosophy:
Anybody can ponder human deeds and happenings and thus gaze into the unfathomable depths of destiny and history; anybody can get absorbed in the contemplation of a rose or human face and thus touch the mystery of creation; everybody, therefore, participates in the quest that has stirred the minds of the great philosophers since the beginning.
When is someone a “philosopher?” Maybe that’s not an important question. Maybe the better questions are "what is philosophy?" and "am I doing philosophy?" (doing philosophy, whatever exactly it amounts to, doubtless means more than teaching or writing about it)? And if the answer to the latter question is “yes,” or at least, “I’m doing my best,” that is all that matters.