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Philosophers VS Gurus -- Why They Are (Usually) Not the Same

Although philosophers can be gurus and vice versa, there is no necessary connection between the two. In other words, by seeking and/or sharing wisdom, AKA being a philosopher, you do not necessarily bring people from "darkness" to light" (as I will soon explain).

A philosopher doesn't necessarily have a following behind them, like an audience of readers, and one doesn't have to philosophize publicly, usually done through writing, in order to be a philosopher. A guru, on the other hand, is necessarily a figure of authority; An advisor of sorts whose purpose is to make people more knowledgeable on a more existential (or spiritual?) level.

If I'm not wrong, the word "Guru" comes from the Indian language of Sanskrit. It is composed of two words: "Gu" which means darkness, and "Ru" which means light. Thus, the hybrid term, "Guru" was developed, as a way to describe a person whose purpose is to enlighten people.

To those with greater knowledge on that specific language, or are from India, feel free to correct me or provide me with notes, on the matter.

Even by its basic meaning, or the original composition of the word, a philosopher isn't necessarily this person who converts people from one state of knowledge and/or being to another. I believe the word was formed by Socrates, who is seen as the father of western philosophy, even though there were philosophers before him.

Like with the word "Guru", a "Philosopher" is a hybrid term (AKA composed with more than one word), composed of two words: Philo and Sophia. In Greek, Philo means "love" and Sophia refers to "wisdom".

Thus, while a guru's job is to "convert", the work of a philosopher remains unspecified, at least on the basic level of terminology. After all, loving something or someone isn't usually a job, but simply an emotion directed at something external.

The stereotypical meaning directed at philosophers is purely that: Stereotypical. By default, there is no necessary pretentiousness or arrogance existing when one declares that he or she is a philosopher. At least on that level, you simply say that you love and/or seek wisdom.

Unless you lie, and you do not like/seek wisdom, there is no pretentiousness or deception necessarily present. As for arrogance, a philosopher isn't necessarily superior to anyone else, and anyone can, technically, be a philosopher. If I recall, Socrates was a stonemason, Plato was a wrestler and Diogenes lived in a barrel and was probably unemployed.

(While I have trouble reading extensively due to a disability, I am capable of looking things up from multiple sources, so I am reluctant to spread misinformation or "fake news". If I'll ever do, I see no other moral choice but apologize. Please humour me for now).

A guru has an implied role a philosopher does not. While the philosopher aims to seek wisdom for whatever reason (other than "loving" it), the Guru's purpose is to bring people to greater clarification, usually of the existential kind. The philosopher is a truth seeker, but the guru is a truth-provider. I believe that is the core difference between these two roles/occupations.

Also, there is no necessary connection between being a guru, a philosopher, and have or not have an academic life. The orthodox idea that one has to have one or more degrees in order to be knowledgeable is a fallacy I talked about in a far earlier article. First of all, there are other sources of the same knowledge, that can be found (like in libraries and online), and second of all, while there is no fault in being an academic, it is unnecessary at least for one's intellectual pursuits.

In other words, to be a philosopher, one does not need any specific professionalization like a medical doctor would, which implies that anyone can be a seeker of wisdom. The same could be said about Gurus, even though I am unaware, as of writing this article, of a specific academic course, that gives certification as a guru.

Arguably, gurus have much more at stake than philosophers, as they supposed, by definition, to teach people, which is why I at least find more potential pretentiousness in being a guru rather than in being a philosopher. After all, a Guru is a public figure who is supposed to enlighten people; the philosopher's only "requirement" is to pursuit wisdom, not provide it. Therefore, by this logic, it will not make a philosopher pretentious if they are deceptive (maybe they are logically convinced to deceive?).

The main reason I dislike deceiving when philosophizing is because I see no gain in doing so, especially given the fact that I write publicly, which isn't required of philosophers, in order to be considered ones, by definition.

Why would I be trusted or be taken seriously if I seek to deceive while philosophizing to the international stage? While it would contradict the purpose and credibility of public philosophizing, it will not, however, contradict the fact that I seek wisdom.

On the contrary, people who call themselves "Gurus" are more likely to be deceiving due to that term's basic definition. If one deceives or lies, in the role of the guru, he or she will automatically betray the definition of the title in question. Not only it would be unprofessional, but it would also be scamming: Providing a service which one does not provide in practice.

That is why I don't see myself as a guru but see myself as a philosopher. By reading my content, I do not intend to bring you from "darkness" to "light"; I simply share my work with you, which could be correct, but also be disagreed upon, regardless of whether it is correct or not. I don't know if I'm wise, yes? But it doesn't contradict the fact that I love wisdom, and as a result, wish to share it, if it is indeed wisdom.

The title of guru, on the other hand, brings greater authority to the one holding it. The guru comes with the assumed impression that he or she are knowledgeable, and thus, are capable of "enlightening", whatever it actually means.

Whether or not they have that knowledge, is something each and every one of them will have to face. Philosophers MUST have some sort of ignorance, because without ignorance, the seeking of wisdom will not be possible, technically. They aren't necessarily wise, but they have to admit they lack wisdom, because otherwise why would they be seeking, something they already have?

How can a homeless person own a house? The homeless must not have a house to at least reside in, in order for them to be defined as homeless. While I have yet to own the part of the apartment I live in, I am not homeless because I rent the place which I live in. Only if I'll have no place of official residence, I will be homeless.

The same may go with philosophers, they don't necessarily have wisdom, but they at least have some experience with it and/or with seeking it. Therefore, it shouldn't be a surprise, if a philosopher might be found as dumb or naive at best... And yes, I at least admit I am naive, maybe it's one of the reasons I philosophize -- to reach greater understanding.

Please, never see me as a guru, or perhaps anyone as one, too. To be capable of being knowledgeable to the point of being able to "convert", or "enlighten", is a responsibility I don't have, and those who claim having, perhaps they should be met with suspicion, for they might be scammers.

Cult leaders are usually those who define themselves as gurus: People who wish to exploit others, financially and/or otherwise, under the guise of having greater wisdom (Some were and are self-proclaimed God/s, prophets, or sons of God/s!). That's also why, I wish to avoid trying to build such organizations, especially given the fact that they may be considered illegal in some places of the world... And rightfully so.

The best summarise I think I can give to this topic, is that philosophy encourages scepticism and being open-minded, whereas the Guru may not do so necessarily. Any honest philosopher must accept some degree of controversy or criticism to their work... such obligation is not necessary when being a Guru.

Hence why, when it comes to the two, I believe philosophers in general should be met with a less pretentious stigma, and I'm not saying this just because I do not see myself a Guru. You either seek to be wiser or you don't; Whether one actually succeed in it, is a different matter, is it not?

Maybe I will always be naive, but after I'll spend my life trying to become wiser, no one will be able to logically blame me for not trying to exit this state of ignorance. The thing I call, "World Relevancy", which I try reaching, is secondary in comparison. I prefer being less known, but a truth seeker, rather than having much renown, but deceptive towards others (and/or myself). One does not philosophize just to get a following... This might not always be the case, when claiming Guru-ship.

I have forgot something else to mention, so I will put it here as an afterthought. The modern usage of "Guru" might be just a slang word for an "expert" or a "master" (Like a management guru or a health guru).

I must have forgotten this aspect because being an expert does not necessarily bring others to greater knowledge while a Guru does, supposedly... After all, depending only or mostly on someone's authority, is a fallacy known as the "authority fallacy". There should be no shame when being wrong when philosophizing! It is part of the process for greater understanding: To mistake, while daring to know more!

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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