#2 Philosophy is needed for good living
What is the meaning of life? This is often posed as an unanswerable question, one that philosophers waste their time discussing. But the reality is that we all have an answer. When we get out of bed and go to school or work, it’s because we’ve answered that question in some way. But did we ever really think about it? For most, the answer is ‘no’. Most people accept the answers given to them by others who have thought about it. This is often unconscious; it diffuses into a person’s mind slowly over years. Hearing a thousand times in a thousand ways, in lecture halls, textbooks, and conversations that “God is dead,” and “Life has only the meaning you give it” you will slowly drift in that direction if unhindered. Of course, you don’t have to choose, but, in the words of Rush, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
We are fiercely individualistic in almost every other way. We like to believe that our thoughts are our own. We dress uniquely. We listen to unique music. And we are our own person. But we all think the same. And we resist any conversation or thought in ourselves that might expose and thus endanger this homogeneity. I often hear, “I don’t spend time talking about philosophy. I’m a practical person.” If that is you, you are an efficient slave to a master not of your choosing. Indeed, we are all slaves to some worldview or other, but why anyone would take pride in his blind obedience is baffling. We value ‘practicality,’ but fail to see that the same trench can be dug for Hitler or for the Allies; the goodness of the digger is not in his speed but in his master. If we asked a Nazi soldier, “Is Fascism a good form of government?” he could respond, “I don’t spend time talking about philosophy. I’m a practical person” as he continues digging. Should we leave our goodness in the hands of the society into which we happened to be born? We can transcend our present time and place with an ancient and mystical art: reading. If every German had challenged the assumptions of their society and read even the first chapter of The Republic, they might have realized that “…it is not the work of the just man to harm either a friend or anyone else…” (335d).
Philosophy deals strongly with living a good life. Of all the time we spend, don’t you think we should figure out what exactly a good life is? If we get that one wrong, then pretty much everything else is in vain. There are things that I would take on authority: unimportant things upon which there is much agreement. The functioning of physics. The existence of a city called Boston. I trust that I’m not being lied to. Even if I was, it wouldn’t matter that much to me (sorry Harvard). But some things are important and there is little agreement on. These are the things I don’t want to have to trust anybody about. What is Justice? What is the Good? Does God exist? How do we think about pirating music? Is the present system of education well-founded? I don’t want to entrust these answers to a social lottery of influences; I want to have reasons that I myself understand.
It is often true that being able to think about the basic elements of a thing help with planning. If one truly understands what a community is, or what a human is, or what education is, then the plans to bring about changes in those things come more easily. For easy things, knowledge of physics helps with building a bridge. But knowledge of what helps with building a government? And what is the process by which such complex things are developed? Philosophy is essential for these questions.
One more thing. If you actually think you have a good answers for important questions, share them. In the Republic, Socrates’ says of a man who wants to leave the discussion without fully sharing his opinion, “…you have no care for us and aren’t a bit concerned whether we shall live worse or better as a result of our ignorance of what you say you know” (344e).
So getting stuff done isn’t good enough to be Good. It’s what you’re doing it for that matters (a good Worldview or bad one). And that decision should be one you make, not one you are assigned. And to make a decision on these matters requires study and discussion.
Part 1; Part 2; Part 3