There are More Things in Philosophy, Gentle Reader, than are Dreamt of in Our Heaven and Earth…Part 1.

I, i Thunder and lightning. Enter the three WYRDES and the Reader.

WYRD2: To read, or not to read: that is the question:

WYRD0: Whether ’tis gnobler in the soul to wonder–

WYRD1: What outrageous fortunes were suffered in times of slings and arrows…?

[Wyrdes Fade into background.]

The Ghost scene from Hamlet, the Shakespeare play that inspired the title of this post. Image from Blake Quarterly

WRITER: Wow, you’ve returned!

READER: Yeah, I’m really curious now. I hear that word philosophy and I think I know what it means, but I have a feeling there might be more to the story.

WRITER: Isn’t there always? Philosophy can be a little abstract for people. However, there can be no cultural development without philosophy. And as the saying attributed to Socrates during his trial for corrupting the youth goes: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I hope to help you examine the usefulness of philosophy and also present you the beginnings of a mystery. These things are contained in the etymology of the word itself.

READER: I’m starting to figure out that that usually happens.

WRITER: Well, doesn’t that make etymology more fun?–the promise of mystery!

READER: Mystery only makes things fun if I have a shot at solving the mystery.

WRITER: You do. Everyone with a curious mind can pursue the Mystery. Whether you actually solve it or not, you usually learn something valuable along the way. In this case, we’re going to stumble upon a long buried thread of religious and spiritual history in the West.

All right shall we dive into that rabbit-hole?

READER: Yes, go for it!

WRITER: By the end of the “Etymology, Not Entomology” series of posts, we had (or I had) come to the conclusion that, at its root, the word etymology could be interpreted as a pursuit having the same end as the traditional discipline of philosophy–the search for Truth. However, historically the words took different paths of meaning through their individual developments into their Modern English usages. We examined the word true inThe Truth About Druids; Wisdom of the Trees, Part 1.

In this post we set our sights on discovering where the word philosophy comes from? A trip to the pages of the Webster’s tells us:

The Thinker sculpture by Rodin. Image from Wikipedia.

philosophy n., pl. -phies [ME. philosophie < OFr. < L. philosophia < philosophos: see PHILOSOPHER] 1. orig. love of, or the search for wisdom or knowledge. 2. theory or logical analysis of the principles underlying conduct, thought, knowledge and the nature of the universe: included in philosophy are ethics, aesthetics, logic, epistemology, metaphysics, etc….

–Websters New World Dictionary of the American Language, (c) 1980

The modern form of the word philosophy comes to us from Middle English, philosophie. That form came to us from those Old French vikings of the Norman invasion. William and his conquering cohorts brought that word to the shores of England from the Latin philosophia which in turn came from the Greek, philosophos. We are referred to the entry of PHILOSOPHER for more information.

philosopher n. [ME. philosophre < OFr. philisophe < L. philisophus < Gr. philosophos < philos, loving + sophos, wise] 1. A person who studies or is learned in philosophy. […] 4. [Obs.] An alchemist, magician, etc.

–Websters New World Dictionary of the American Language, (c) 1980

READER: What? An alchemist or magician? What does [Obs.] mean?

WRITER: [Obs.] is the dictionary shorthand for ‘obsolete.’ I guess there’s a reason the ultimate quest of the alchemist is known as the Philosopher’s Stone (not Sorcerer’s Stone)!

READER: Huh, that’s weird.

WRITER: Or Wyrd. And the mystery begins to emerge….

Anyway, we see here that in Middle English we have philosophre. That form came to us from the Old French philisophe, which in turn came from Latin philosophus. The Latin form was derived from the Greek word philosophos, which was coined from a combination of philos, ‘loving’ and sophos, ‘wise.’

A literal, surface reading of the English translation from the Greek roots of the word makes it seem as if a philosophos were someone we all want our parents, grandparents, and mentors to be–loving and wise! So could it be the case that in the beginning anyone who was loving and wise held that honorific? Just a thought. But in modern usage and pretty much throughout its history, a philosopher has been someone who loves and pursues wisdom, or knowledge of the fundamental nature of existence.

READER: Why do people think that’s useless?

WRITER: Probably because it’s actually a lot of work for very little pay. It takes time to convert the fruit of all that thought labor into tangible results. Philosophy seems useless, because it’s hard to measure the actual effect in the real world that philosophical contemplation has on your mind.

READER: I see. Because the changes that doing philosophy bring about happen on the inside, in a person’s mind, and you can’t exactly take a ruler or scale to your mind. It’s hard to tell that it has changed anything at all.

WRITER: [Laughs out loud.] “Doing philosophy.” Yes, doing philosophy seems to be discouraged in favor of more immediate action that produces tangible results. Quickly. Although, modern neuroscientists have been able to measure the effects of meditation on the brain, so why not philosophical contemplation?

Getting back to the derivation: looking at definition 2. of philosophy, we see a list of things that the various types of -logy seek to make sense of. (See “Etymology, Not Entomology, Parts 1, 2, & 3.) In other words, it appears that the word etymology could have in principle encompassed the discipline of philosophy had it taken a different course down the river of semantic drift.

Alas, it did not come to mean that though. And we have the word that we have: philosophy.

In traditional Western academic philosophy there are various types of -logy that comprise some of the sub fields of the philosophic discipline. A few examples are: epistemology, phenomenology, and logic. Those are just some that derive from the Indo-European morpheme *leg- (at which we have already looked, see HERE). In part 2 of this post we will look at the different activities that philosophers have been known to undertake: contemplation, introspection, meditation, etc.

READER: Oh, cool. I’ll be looking forward to that one.

WRITER: Thanks! For now, I want to veer away from institutionalized academic philosophy and tie this word in with a subject we touched on in a previous post. I mentioned in “Etymology, Not Entomology, Part 2.” my synchronicity surrounding a book called Gnosticism, by Stephen Hoeller at Book Shop Santa Cruz and People’s Coffee, respectively. The word philosophy brings us back to that group of original Christians, later viewed as heretics, the Gnostics. For contained within the word philosophy is the name of the goddess of the Gnostic mythos, Sophia. This is how Hoeller defines the goddess in the glossary of that same book.

Sophia: (Gk.) Greek form of the Hebrew word Chokmah, denoting Wisdom. In Gnosticism, as in some Christian sources, this is the proper name of a transcendental being coming forth from the Most High God. Gnostic sources describe her fall from the Fullness, her agonizing journey in the chaotic lower worlds, and her restoration to her original place.

— Stephen Hoeller, Gnosticism (p. 239)

Sophia is a Greek name derived from the word for wisdom. In the Gnostic view the goddess Sophia is the protagonist (and in some sense the antagonist) of the creation story. The god of the Bible is an impostor god. He is an entity known as the Demiurge, who has the delusion of being the actual god of creation and the Universe. He is in essence an artificer, hijacker and co-opter of an already existing reality, created by Sophia without the help or knowledge of her male counterpart. The Gnostic texts describe the Demiurge and his sub-demons that help him manipulate and run this prison earth as the “Archons.” Which is a fancy Greek word for ‘rulers,’ the root of which gives us words like monarchy, oligarchy, patriarchy, hierarchy, and such. Like Odin, Zeus, and other father gods, the Demiurge has several names; some of which are Yaldobaoth, Samael, and Sakla to give a brief list. Without going too far into the mythology of the Gnostics, Sophia is, as mentioned, the goddess of wisdom, but her wisdom has been hard-won as part of her descent and fall into material reality.

Image from Abebooks, ” This paperback edition of the Pistis Sophia is a complete and accurate reprint of the original translation by G.R.S. Mead in 1921.”

So that does beg the question, then; what is Wisdom? (And I’m using “beg the question” in the modern vernacular sense.)

A look at the Webster’s tells us this:

wisdom n. [ME. < OE. < wis, WISE1 + -dom, -DOM] 1. the quality of being wise; power of judging rightly and following the soundest course of action, based on knowledge, experience, understanding, etc.; good judgment; sagacity 2. learning; knowledge; erudition [the wisdom of the ages] 3. wise discourse or teaching 4. a wise plan or course of action

–Websters New World Dictionary of the American Language, (c) 1980

We see that the word came via Middle English from Old English, where it was coined using the Old English base wis and the suffix –dom. We are instructed to look up those two morphemes for further information.

wise1 adj. wiser, wisest [ME. wis < OE., akin to witan, to know < PGmc. *wisa-, wise IE. base *weid-, to see, know, whence Sans. vedas, knowledge, Gr. Idris, knowing, L. videre, to see] 1. having or showing good judgment; sagacious; prudent; discreet…4. learned; erudite…6. [Obs. or Dial.] having knowledge of black magic, etc.

–Websters New World Dictionary of the American Language, (c) 1980

READER: [Laughs out loud.] Definition 6.: “Having knowledge of black magic, etc.!?” Okay, so what does Dial. mean?

WRITER: Dialect. It means a form that occurs in some local dialects of Enlgish. So that part of the entry means “obsolete or dialect.” Apparently, in 1980 there still existed somewhere some dialect of English where wisdom was defined as “having knowledge of black magic.”

READER: So a philosopher is a ‘lover of black magick?’

Rene Descartes, who gave us the concepts of Cartesian coordinates and duality, as well as the famous aphorism, “Cogito ergo sum,” which translates to “I think, therefore I am.”

WRITER: Uh. That’s probably something like what the Inquisition would like you to believe. Remember right now we’re examining the native English word wisdom so that we can understand what the lexicographers mean when using that word to translate the Greek word sophos. So, no, philosopher does not mean ‘lover of black magic.’ Although, I’m sure some “philosophers” did and do practice magick, black or otherwise.

Hey, while we’re examining the word wisdom let me point out the words wizard and vizier derive from the same Indo-European root as wise.

READER: Really? I guess that makes sense, especially the wizard/black magic thing.

WRITER: I’ll one day do a post on words used to describe magick and practictioners of magick.

For now, let’s return to the task at hand. We could stop there for the word wisdom. But I like to be thorough and follow etymologies all the way down the rabbit hole. Let’s follow the derivation back as far as we can. So, returning to the Webster’s we find:

-dom [ME. & OE. dom, state, condition, power: see DOOM1] a n. -forming suffix meaning: 1. rank or position of, domain or dominion of [kingdom, earldom] 2. fact or state of being [wisdom, martyrdom] 3. a total of all who are [officialdom]

–Websters New World Dictionary of the American Language, (c) 1980

The suffix -dom was used throughout both Old English and Middle English and came to us unchanged. It has the same derivation as the word DOOM1. o it is to that word we turn to find the Indo-European root of this native English morpheme.

DOOM1 n. [ME. & OE., dom, lit., what is laid down, decree, akin to Goth. doms, judgment < IE. base *dhe-: see DO1] 1. orig. a statute; decree 2. a judgment, esp., a sentence of condemnation. 3. destiny, fate 4. tragic fate; ruin or death.

–Websters New World Dictionary of the American Language, (c) 1980

DO1 vt. [ME. & OE. don, akin to G. tun, OS. duan < IE. base *dhe- to put, place, set, whence Sans. dadhami, Gr. tithenai, to place, put, L. -dere (as in condere, to set down), facere, to do, make]

–Websters New World Dictionary of the American Language, (c) 1980

So the noun DOOM1, the verb DO1, and the suffix -dom all trace back to the Indo-European base form *dhe-, which means ‘to put, place, or set.’ Each of these words denote a kind of ‘putting in place’ by a ruler or expert of some kind. The root *weid- means ‘to see’ or ‘to know,’ so we can also interpret wisdom as vision or knowledge set or put in place.

READER: Wait a minute! So doom hasn’t always meant some bad fate?

WRITER: Well, what does the etymology tell you?

READER: That instead of some mystical term it looks as if it were a legal term in the beginning.

Image from the National Archives UK. A page of the Domesday Book

WRITER: Exactly. And in Gothic German it did mean just that, ‘a judgment.’ But in English it went down a completely different tributary of the river of semantic drift and has taken on a more metaphysical denotation of a tragic fate, decreed by the gods or other supernatural forces. But originally it meant no such thing. There is even a very famous historical document which has a title using the same root word, a kind of census, called the Domesday book. It was commissioned by William the Conqueror to survey his newly taken territories.

At any rate, let’s get back on track. Now we know what the lexicographers mean by wisdom when they use it as the native English translation of the Greek word sophos. It is the use of knowledge, or the derivation of knowledge from experience. The doing of something, or the application of that derived knowledge, that makes one wise. The Gnostics named their goddess after this concept of wisdom (though originally in Hebrew). The definition given in the etymology of the Greek name Sophia confirms this aspect of wisdom as being pragmatic, used and useful; that is, applied skill or learning. Or perhaps it’s better to think of it as ‘tested,’ since we’re dealing with knowledge derived from experience, trial, and error.

Sophia [ <Gr. sophia, skill, wisdom < sophos, wise] a feminine name.

–Websters New World Dictionary of the American Language, (c) 1980

READER: Wait, I’m having trouble keeping this stuff straight. Who were the Gnostics again? Some Greek philosophers?

WRITER: The Gnostics were a diverse group of proto-Christians that flourished in the second century AD within and around the Roman Empire, especially in the region of Judea. They were eventually branded as heretics, suppressed and crushed by what went on to become the Roman Catholic Church. The word philosopher can literally be interpreted as “lover of Sophia.” Regarding the term used to describe this group of eventual heretics Hoeller tells us:

“The term gnostikos, meaning “Gnostic” or “knower,” does not seem to have been used often in the first centuries A.D. Most simply called themselves Christians, although there also existed a non-Christian school of Gnosis known as Hermeticism. It is widely agreed, however, that the people in question were aspirants toward and partakers of an experience that brought with them a liberating acquaintance with Divinity and with the intricacies and predicaments of the human condition. By what specific means the knowers came by their knowledge we are in no position to recount.”

— Stephen Hoeller, Gnosticism (p. 5)

READER: Why was a love of wisdom so bad as far as the Church was concerned?

WRITER: It maybe makes more sense to ask why a love of wisdom is so antithetical to Empire? Again Hoeller states:

“The monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in their mainstream manifestations have placed much emphasis on faith. “I believe” (credo) is the central affirmation of much of the conventional religious mind. In contradistinction, the Gnostic mind aspires to, and eventually attains, not faith but a certain interior knowing that liberates one from unconsciousness and eventually transports one beyond the bounds of manifest existence itself.”

— Stephen Hoeller, Gnosticism (p. 5)

We also find an expression of the veneration of Wisdom in Eastern Orthodox Christianity in the construction of the Church known as Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

It seems Empire likes its citizens to embrace faith as the primary attribute and not think too deeply about the fundamental nature of knowledge and reality. One might even consider philosophers dangerous to Empire. A large part of the ability for a government or other organization’s ability to control its members is by maintaining a high power differential between itself and its “citizens.” We’ve all heard the phrase “knowledge is power.” Well, any power structure that resides over human kind discourages their citizens from too many self-empowering pursuits. I think you get my point.

READER: Wait, let me make sure I do. You’re saying that philosophy and philosophers are made fun of in society to discourage people from doing too much philosophy?

Immanuel Kant, author of such works as Critique of Pure Reason.

WRITER: Am I saying that? I mean probably not always consciously so. But people in general do not like much disruption to the status quo. The love and pursuit of wisdom is inherently disruptive to the status quo. I think Philosophy is subconsciously discouraged in a number of ways. Using ridicule is just one way. People are encouraged to follow more or loss the one dogma of the controlling organization. Or country. Or society. Or religion. It’s a stick and carrot kind of thing. They want you to have Faith. If you do, you are accepted and rewarded. If you don’t, you are metaphorically beaten into submission. What Hoeller said above about the emphasis on Faith in traditional monotheistic religions over what was called gnosis, experiential knowledge of the divine, is important here.

READER: Why so?

WRITER: It seems like it should go without saying. If you’re the ruling power structure you want to discouraged any kind of question regarding that structure, because it is largely the consciousness invested in that structure via Faith that upholds it. Questions have a way of eroding Faith, as the answers or lack thereof come rolling in….

At any rate, we’re starting to get a little far afield here. And this post is getting lengthy, so I think I’ll just summarize the main point, which is the etymology of the word philosophy.

Philosophy is a word of Greek origin that means ‘love of wisdom.’ How’s that for a succinct summary!

Oh, we also learned that DOOM1 hasn’t always meant some horrible, supernatural fate, but was originally a legal decree.

READER: [Laughs out loud.] And wisdom is ‘knowledge of black magic!’

WRITER: No, don’t give other readers the wrong impression!

Everyone really should be a philosopher. Shouldn’t we all love the pursuit of wisdom? Or, alternatively, shouldn’t we all be loving and wise? In any case Part 2. of this series will deal with the various ways in which philosophers of all kinds pursue wisdom. We’ll examine where words like contemplation, meditation, introspection and such come from.

READER: You should throw gnosis in there while you’re at it. Hey, you forgot to say what that buried historical thread was.

WRITER: Right. Well, it’s basically this–there is a spiritual tradition out there that has been ruthlessly sought out and exterminated by the agents of Empire, in this case, the Roman Catholic Church in the West (but also by the other Abrahamists, Islam and Judaism; but also the supreme atheists of the world, Communists, not to be confused with Socialists). Whenever such extraordinary measures have been taken to eradicate something, it always makes me wonder why. In this, the Gnostics, so-called, and the Druids of Celtic culture seem to have shared a similar fate. What do those two systems of thought seem to have in common?

READER: I don’t know off the top of my head.

WRITER: I have my suspicions, but we’ll develop that thesis in later posts.

READER: No! You can’t do that to me.

WRITER: How else am I supposed to get you to come back?

READER: You bastard!

WRITER: Yes well, check back for the next installment. I also plan on publishing the second part to “The Truth about Druids; Wisdom of the Trees” soon. I’ll see you later!

[Thunder. Enter the three WYRDES and Hamlet’s Ghost, Speaking to the READER


GHOST: Swear by his pen always to speak of this that you have learned.

WYRD1: [Beneath] Swear by his pen.

READER: Well I, strange lady, don’t know what I’ve learned. A myst’rous beginning! Once more to irk, my friends?

WRITER: Oh, light and dark, but history’s strangely hid!

WYRD2: And therefore as it’s hidden give it more thought. There are more things in philosophy, dear humans, than are dreamt of in your heaven and earth.

WYRD0: Now that you know what philosophy is, perhaps more’s the thought to heaven and earth to give?

WYRD1: And If this project seems joyous to you, make sure you subscribe on social media too. Below, you will find links, so don’t miss anything!

WYRD2: Please like, share, subscribe to a platform or two, so the Words are Wyrd blog’s known the whole world through!

ALL: We live to take flights of fancy with you and explore the idea that Words are Wryd too!

Exeunt, the WYRDES and Hamlet’s Ghost. Reader Clicks Link of choice on Writer’s blog]