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The Thinker

No this isn’t going to be a blog about Rodin’s iconic sculpture. Francophobes can relax.

You know how speaker introductions and biographies tend to define their subjects as inventor, politician, musician, business tycoon, etc? Well, I just heard a noted historical figure described as a “thinker”, and it stopped me dead in my tracks. Aren’t we all thinkers?

Immanuel Kant was an 18th century German philosopher on the optimistic end of the scale (some would say idealistic). So what makes him so special? Was he called a thinker during his lifetime, or is this a more trendy, 21st century thing?

Today we have brainiac, rocket scientist, brain surgeon, nuclear physicist, computer wizard which are roughly analogous, I suppose, to thinker.

Can you imagine how thrilled the Scarecrow would have been to be called a “thinker”? He famously undertook a hazardous journey through a foreign land to ask the Wizard for a brain, which he mistakenly believed to be the same thing as “thinking”.

But I digress.

I suppose this appellation struck a chord with me because of the way I was brought up. Bear in mind that one of my forebears founded a college and three of my four grandparents were educators, as were both of my parents.

So it probably isn’t surprising that my parents never tired of telling me that the only thing they expected me to gain from a college education was the ability to think. As a parent myself, I learned the expression “suitcase full of facts” which a proponent of the Waldorf theory of elementary education disdainfully claimed was all children would get out of attending public schools, whereas the holistic Waldorf method taught children to – well, I don’t want to belabor the point….

I may not be much of a philosopher, but I definitely think of myself as a “thinker”. Yet I doubt very much that my obituary will describe me as either. I suspect both terms are reserved for academicians, which I have spent a lifetime trying to differentiate from, with mixed success.

So what are we to make of this? What’s the difference between a thinker and a philosopher? Does it matter?

Since we all come more or less equipped with brains, and one of their primary functions is to allow its owner to think, to solve problems – logically or creatively – then it follows that we are all thinkers. So singling out one of us with this label seems a bit redundant, don’t you think? Or maybe I’m just jealous.

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