Community & Government

How to Think Like a Philosopher

Cornel West

Lesson time 10:59 min

Cornel walks you through his personal philosophy, explaining how applying critical thinking can help you navigate your everyday interactions and become a deeper thinker.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Question Your Assumptions • Socrates: A Case Study • Remember What Came Before • What Socrates Missed


[JAZZ MUSIC] - I think the first act of pursuing philosophy in a serious way is to be a non-conformist long enough that you can question certain assumptions and presuppositions. [MUSIC PLAYING] I've been blessed to teach philosophy for 44 years. And in each one of my classes, I tell my students, you have come in this class to learn how to die. And they say, oh, Professor West, I thought I was just here to get a grade and try to get my degree. No, no. That's just the professional, formal dimension of it, because dying takes the form of calling into question certain assumptions that you have. And if you let that assumption go, that's a form of death. All of us have presuppositions. We let certain presuppositions go-- that's a form of death. There is no life without death. There's no growth without death. There's no education without questioning. And so learning how to die-- Montaigne, of course, one of the great French philosophers, he's the creator of the essay itself as a genre. In his essays, he has a whole section on to philosophize is to learn how to die. And so we building on that particular way of understanding why students must be non-conformist long enough to question. Now, you might question certain assumptions and keep it. I got certain Christian assumptions I've been wrestling with, and I keep a whole lot of them, but I question them all the time. You can engage in questioning, and some assumptions you give up, others you hold on to-- certain dogma you question and let go, other dogma you hold on to, you see, so that the questioning doesn't necessarily mean everything is negated. No one lives a life in which they have no assumptions, no presuppositions, and no dogma. In fact, to think that every dogma is wrong itself is dogmatic. And everybody in our call for help, as babies emerging from my mother's wombs on our way to death-- physical death-- and trying to wrestle with our predicaments and our plights, trying to look for ways out-- we all have assumptions that presupposition lens through which we view the world. But the question is, are your assumptions and presuppositions acceptable, rational, valid, both to you and to others who you prize, to others whose voices you take very seriously? [JAZZ MUSIC] Socrates is a figure that the Greeks call a tapos. A tapos Means unclassifiable, unsubsumable. There'll never be one label that fully accounts for who he was. Socrates exemplified a way of being, a way of living in the centrality of questioning, interrogating, scrutinizing in a quest for truth. The mentor, the master-- he used to have masterclasses right there in the public space. He used to have the young folks sit, and he would ask, what is justice-- as in "Republic"; what is courage in the "Laches;" what is knowledge in the "Theaetetus"-- these elenchus forms of inquiry-- what is, what is, what is? So he went around and asked these questions of the people he thought were the wisest-- th...

About the Instructor

Cornel West is one of the most profound, diverse, and intellectual thinkers of our time. Now he’s inviting you into the depths of his brilliant mind to teach you how thinking like a philosopher can help you navigate your personal relationships, your decision-making, and your everyday life by looking at the world from a completely different point of view.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Cornel West

Distinguished philosopher Cornel West teaches you how to think more deeply, connect more closely, and live a more fruitful and meaningful life.

Explore the Class
Sign Up