Do they need sometimes to rest from the thoughts and the study of their work, like common people do and how often?

I know it's a funny question but I wanted to post it and I hope they don't close it. Maybe it can be more interesting if I ask how much important is the quantity of the work produced for the evaluation of their contribution to knowledge. I wonder if one want to give a good contribution to knowledge, how much he/she need to study and what about speed of reading, thinking and writing and how many days in a year a very good philosopher need to switch off his/her mind and just relaxing.

Maybe could you suggest me any researches which touch these topics, please?

  • 1
    Of course they did.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 11:26
  • 2
    Wittgenstein is a good example of a philosopher who stopped doing philosophy during many years, and went back to it after a while. Commented May 25, 2016 at 2:15
  • Reminds me of the Dining Philosophers, who alternately think and eat. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dining_philosophers_problem (This is a technical problem in computer science regarding resource allocation and deadlock avoidance).
    – user4894
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 5:48
  • Do the many hours great philosophers spend idling on this Stackexchange count? We would have some hard numbers from the server stats then :)
    – DBK
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 22:28

4 Answers 4


One memorable case of a great philosopher's rest is David Hume's account in the Treatise of Human Nature. Hume complains that his deeply skeptical conclusions cause him misery.

The intense view of these manifold contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so wrought upon me, and heated my brain, that I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another. Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence . . . I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, invironed with the deepest darkness, and utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty.

Luckily for his mental health and sanity, when he takes a break from philosophy, nature herself resuscitates him.

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

This brings Hume to wonder, why does he keep philosophising at all. What in it is worth the self-inflicted misery?

Under what obligation do I lie of making such an abuse of time? And to what end can it serve either for the service of mankind, or for my own private interest?

And he finds that he does have, after all, a natural inclination, an unrelenting curiosity about his own motives and reasons, that brings him back again and again to philosophy.

At the time, therefore, that I am tired with amusement and company, and have indulged a reverie in my chamber, or in a solitary walk by a river-side, I feel my mind all collected within itself, and am naturally inclined to carry my view into all those subjects, about which I have met with so many disputes in the course of my reading and conversation. I cannot forbear having a curiosity to be acquainted with the principles of moral good and evil, the nature and foundation of government, and the cause of those several passions and inclinations, which actuate and govern me. I am uneasy to think I approve of one object, and disapprove of another; call one thing beautiful, and another deformed; decide concerning truth and falshood, reason and folly, without knowing upon what principles I proceed.

Another motive force is his fear from superstition, to which reason and philosophy are the best antidotes. Even a mistaken philosophy is safer than superstition.

But even suppose this curiosity and ambition should not transport me into speculations without the sphere of common life, it would necessarily happen, that from my very weakness I must be led into such enquiries. It is certain, that superstition is much more bold in its systems and hypotheses than philosophy; and while the latter contents itself with assigning new causes and principles to the phaenomena, which appear in the visible world, the former opens a world of its own, and presents us with scenes, and beings, and objects, which are altogether new . . . For as superstition arises naturally and easily from the popular opinions of mankind, it seizes more strongly on the mind, and is often able to disturb us in the conduct of our lives and actions. Philosophy on the contrary, if just, can present us only with mild and moderate sentiments . . . Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.


Nowadays, most people seem to think of philosophy as an academic discipline that you study in university and that to be a philosopher is to be a professor of philosophy. However, according to eg. French philosopher and historian of ancient philosophy Pierre Hadot, that is not always how it as been : in ancient philosophy, it was perfectly normal be a considered a great philosopher without ever having written anything of significance and/or without having had any formal training in philosophy, for what mattered was not the discourse of philosophy in itself, but living philosophically.

For those who live philosophically, philosophy is something that comes as spontaneously and natural as breathing. For those who live philosophically, philosophy is not an academic discipline involving the study of philosophical theories, but the organic trans-generational enterprise of making sense of the universe that they engage in on an almost daily basis. For those who live philosophically, the act of philosophizing is not something consciously started or stopped, and thus not something one can consciously take a break from.

This is in dire contrast with those treat philosophy as just an academic discipline. They see philosophy as just the study of what people wiser than them wrote in the past, distinct from the living experience of themselves and their peers. In my opinion, they fail to grasp the true nature, the true depth and the true value of philosophy. In my opinion, they fail to grasp what makes the great philosophers of the past such great philosophers!

For an introduction to living philosophically, I'd recommend Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World, which follows the (fictional) events of a teenage girl living in Norway and a middle-aged philosopher who introduces her to both the very nature philosophical thinking and the history of philosophy.

So, to summarize my position : I believe the answer is "no". I believe that being a great philosopher requires one to live philosophically, and thus never really take a conscious break from philosophy.

I think philosophy is all about lived experience, which is to say life in the streets, life in a variety of different contexts. I don’t want to make it just urban; you can have life in the streets in the country. But it’s fundamentally about how you come to terms with living your life and trying to do it in a wise manner, and, for me, that means decently and compassionately and courageously and so forth.

Cornel West (first African American to graduate from Princeton with a Ph.D in philosophy)

  • Yes, it is possible to be great philosophers without being professors, like Spinoza, Schopenhauer and others, but if someone want to be considered like those, have to leave contributions to knowledge in the form of papers and books. The only great philosopher who is known without having written anything is Socrates, but because Plato wrote about him. Commented May 24, 2016 at 12:15
  • @Alwayslearning : I replaced without ever having written anything of significance with without ever having written anything of significance and/or without having had any formal training in philosophy. Anyway, my point is that life lived is the primary source of those living philosophically, which is something you can't even take a break from. Commented May 24, 2016 at 12:19
  • However, thank you for the readings suggested. Just notice that what you state is not against the practice of producing literary pieces of knowledge, because one can and should "live philosophically" and then writing his/her thoughts upon the topics in which he/she is more interested and publish them. Commented May 24, 2016 at 12:21
  • @Alwayslearning : To quote Timothy "Speed" Levitch : Giacometti was once run down by a car, and he recalled falling into a lucid faint, a sudden exhilaration, as he realized that at last something was happening to him. An assumption develops that you cannot understand life and live life simultaneously. I do not agree entirely. Which is to say I do not exactly disagree. I would say that life understood is life lived. But the paradoxes bug me, and I can learn to love and make love to the paradoxes that bug me. And on really romantic evenings of self, I go salsa dancing with my confusion. Commented May 24, 2016 at 12:23

Reading Speed

it's really really valuable to learn speed reading so you can read more philosophy. reading a lot (and rereading) does matter. if you can't read philosophy at 500 or more words per minute, it will be hard to do as much as those who can. it's also valuable to be able to read using both text and audio so you can read books while going for a walk or driving or at the gym, etc. you can listen to ebooks using text to speech software such as http://www.voicedream.com (you aren't limited to audio books)

the most effective speed reading approach is called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation. here's a free web version to see what it is (it takes a while to learn and get good with it, but you may be able to use it around your normal reading speed immediately. you can do higher speeds with 2 or 3 words at a time instead of just 1, and some people also find 3-4 words at a time is easier initially): http://www.spreeder.com/app.php

learning how to skim well, skip around to the important parts of books, look up relevant parts in the index, etc, is also extremely valuable. good skimming can save even more time than speed reading.

both speed reading and skimming can have major downsides if done badly. you can lose a lot of comprehension of the material. but if done with enough skill and good judgement, they can work for most material, and you can occasionally slow down as needed. (as you get better at it, you can slow down less often for less kinds of material.)

and reading faster allows more rereads. if you can do 2-3 fast reads instead of 1 slow read of a book, that's usually better. or do 1 slow read and 2-3 fast reads instead of 2 slow reads – that's pretty much always better. and getting good at speed reading can improve your minimum reading speed too.


Regarding rest, knowledge workers like programmers typically do about 10-20 hours a week of really serious hard work. They spend the rest of the time answering emails, doing meetings, checking reddit, etc. Most people can do more temporarily but would burn out if they kept it up.

People also tire from other types of thinking such as playing chess or reading difficult philosophy. Getting tired normal.

People also like excuses for not doing much. So be careful!

Some people are exceptional. The philosopher Karl Popper had a reputation for working long hours all the time and not doing much else.

Try to be honest about how much rest you really need. The more you really like your work, the more it should energize and inspire you! If that isn't happening, maybe something's wrong.

  • Thank you for your answer. My problem is that I am slow in reading - not only in reading, however, but in everything I do. Slowness is a trait of my personality. Moreover, I can't force myself to be faster because I study for pleasure and, if I would force myself, it wouldn't be a pleasure anymore :( At the same time, I always complain with myself for my scarce productivity, especially when comparing myself with very competitive people, who are much productive (perhaps, they are much more clever than me, although I don't feel to be a stupid person). Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 19:14

To be honest, your post reads to me like "I wanna be a 'philosopher', but do I really have to 'think' all that much in order to 'become' one?". I couldn't agree more with John S's answer and would like to echo all of it, especially the third paragraph, but I would be even harsher (this attitude towards philosophy bugs me): with this kind of approach, you're not doing philosophy, period. Furthermore, considering your lack of passion on the subject, why even waste your time on it?

The saying goes something like this: " these days, there are plenty of philosophy teachers, but not that many philosophers ".

  • For sure, you are a bad philosopher, as even incapable to understand simple language - thus, I cannot imagine how you might pretend to understand more obscure thoughts. In fact, if the meaning of my question had been what you have thought about, I would have written: "Do great philosophers rest OFTEN...?", instead than using "SOMETIMES". Moreover, there is no clues in my statements which suggest what you wrote - please, show me exactly which parts of my sentences suggest the idea you have got. Thus, you commit another BIG error that any philosopher should avoid: prejudice. You should do Epoché Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 18:43
  • You cannot make that conclusion if information you refer about (or you dream about) is not in the premises. However, since you showed to be interested in it, I'll tell you what was the reason of the question: I do philosophy (indeed, to cite another user who answered: "I live philosophically") to understand more myself, people and the society in which I live. It is about my need, not about becoming "famous". I don't deny that I want to give my own contribution to knowledge, but not for vanity and I think that all people who do it for the second reason are not real philosophers. Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 18:51
  • Therefore, the gist of my question was rather: I study all the time for a psychological need and pleasure, although I am slow and not very productive (for the reasons I have underlined: I do it for myself and not for career. Thus, I don't feel pressures to publish). However, since that I want to learn many things and at the same time I would like to give a good contribution to knowledge (not for material aims), I wonder how I can improve my productivity. Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 18:58
  • The day in which I wrote this question, it was one of the rare ones in which I could not study.It happens, when you think all the time on something, to feel saturated and even bored of your own thoughts, but this has not to do with lack of passion at all. Sometimes we need to take a break from routine, also the intellectual one, because repetitiveness kills creativity. In those days in which I cannot study, I feel bad, also because I don't have other hobbies other than studies, and guilty, because I feel this like a mission. However, I continue to wonder about productivity,even if I will Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 19:04
  • probably never improve from this side. Commented Jun 14, 2016 at 19:04

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