In chess the goal of checkmate is absolute while all other values are subordinate to it. In philosophy, unlike the game of chess, values are not encoded into the rules of the game itself. In fact, one of the goals of philosophy is to find out what our values should be! Yet we can’t even begin the process of philosophizing without accepting that we come to it with preformed ideas. When Descartes began his explorations of a “first philosophy” by invoking the procedure of “radical doubt” he was presupposing the value of certain knowledge as the ultimate yardstick. He did not start by demonstrating that it is actually possible to know anything with certainty, nor did he take the time to argue that knowing things with certainty was a good and useful goal. He just assumed that his reader would already agree with him on these points. So even a “first philosophy” does not begin in a vacuum, but rather occurs in the context of a fully-formed culture. I cannot begin to overemphasize the importance of this point.

Before launching into the development of a philosophical position (strategy and tactics are both required to form sound arguments), one must have a fully developed sense of what is important in life (i.e., wisdom) even if the goal is to expand and refine those values. It is a cyclical process that feeds back into itself. What is often missed is how radically different the resulting philosophies are which started from different cultural contexts. And it explains a lot. That is why there can be a philosophy of chess, a philosophy of science, a philosophy of law, a philosophy of gender, etc., each with different emphases and ethical implications. Being able to construct a well-formed argument to support a solid philosophical position is what makes you a good philosopher. Knowing which presupposed values should undergird your philosophy is what makes you wise.