Here are some philosophically inspired resolutions for you to adopt in the new year:
1. Become a sage. Chuang Tzu once said, "The sage looks at the inevitable and decides that it is not inevitable. The common man looks at what is not inevitable and decides that it is inevitable." Recognize that what appears to be inevitable is not and take one step to become a sage.
2. Improve the quality of your thoughts. Marcus Aurelius recognized that "The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts." So, resolve to take this step towards becoming happier in your life.
3. Find time to sit still. Blaise Pascal once said, "Most of the evils of life arise from man's being unable to sit still in a room." Take some time to be still, meditate, or just relax with no distractions. It's good for the soul.
4. Take some risks. Paul Tillich once said, "He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being." Don't be a failure, try something new!
5. Examine your beliefs. David Hume pointed out that "A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence." Take some time to examine your beliefs and the evidence for them.
6. Spend some time with good friends. Epicurus recognized that "Of all the means which are procured by wisdom to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends." Re-connect with friends.
7. Be mindful. The poet Tagore observed, "The greed for fruit misses the flower." Remember to stop and smell the flowers on your journey.
8. Be satisfied with what you have. Epicurus once remarked that "Nothing satisfies a man who is not satisfied with a little." Focus on and appreciate what you have.
9. Identify your purpose. As Nietzsche once said "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost anyhow." be sure you are clear about the meaning and purpose of your life and strive to live accordingly.
10. Be a prepared observer. Louis Pasteur once remarked that "chance favors the prepared observer. Be ready to take advantage of new opportunities that arise this year.
Life is limited but this does not negate its potential for value or meaning. The very limit to life is what enables us to give our lives value and meaning.
If no one ever died, there would also be no particular value to one’s life or individual moments in it. After all, you’re going to live forever. So, why treasure any given moment? Why think that there is anything particularly special about any given moment?
More than that, there would be no urgency or even very much reason to do anything if no one ever died. Knowing you had an infinite amount of time would likely lead many people to do nothing figuring they could always do whatever they were thinking about doing later. And, they could. But, this possibility would lead to many negative results. Among them: boredom, loss of motivation, loss of interest in friendship, love, life itself. After all, there’s just so much of it!
On the other hand, the fact that you are going to die and the fact that you only have so much time to embrace life means you’d better do something with it while you have it. It’s the only chance you have to: experience, love, wonder, think, ask questions, learn, build friendships, embrace others, experience nature, and on and on. But, there is an end to it so it makes sense to get to it now.
The biologist Richard Dawkins offers an interesting, and perhaps helpful, perspective in his book Unweaving the Rainbow: "We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born." You have been fortunate beyond belief in being alive. Also, you have been fortunate to be alive in a time when so many things are possible. But, your time is limited.
Questions like this about death implicitly seem to be questioning the very possibility of meaning in life which makes me think of the work of Viktor Frankl. He was an Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor who wrote extensively about the importance of meaning. His approach, called logotherapy, is based on the idea that the central feature of human existence is the quest for meaning.
According to Frankl “We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering" and that "everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances.” (Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy)
It is up to you to discover the meaning in your life. This can be done despite death and suffering. It can only be discovered in light of these things. Perhaps it’s a paradox but that is how life is.
Perhaps this Alan Watts video will help:
A2A on Quora:
Many colleges and universities are either eliminating or thinking about eliminating philosophy departments on the premise that the major is not very practical and does not include a direct job pipeline. For several reasons, this is very misguided.
First, not everything about life is or should be about your job. Being human involves more than working at a job. It involves thinking, contemplating, finding, and creating meaning and value. All of these things involve philosophy.
Second, living in a diverse community requires an understanding of such philosophical connections and tolerance, diversity, fairness, equality, and justice. Understanding these concepts requires a philosophical study of them.
Third, being an active participant in the civic life of your community entails contributing to the politics of that community by engaging in dialogue and voting. Both of these require critical thinking which again is a philosophical endeavor enhanced by the study of logic and argumentation.
Fourth, living in our diverse world requires each of us to have some understanding of the basics of morality and ethics. While a study of philosophical ethics won’t in and of itself make one a moral person it can engage one’s understanding of important moral concepts and how they are related to many of our most pressing problems.
Lastly, philosophy is indeed quite practical in the job world. Law schools have recognized for years that philosophy majors are uniquely qualified to succeed in the law and many law school graduates are successful philosophy majors. Other careers can be enhanced by a strong background in reasoning, problem-solving, critical thinking, and conceptualization all of which you receive excellent training in by studying philosophy.
If we are open to them, many philosophers have useful lessons to teach us that we can apply to our everyday life. Here are just a few examples:
With Valentine's day a day away my philosophical thoughts turn to love. There's more to the concept than meets the eye. A good book on this topic which outlines the various distinctions philosophers have made regarding the concept is Christopher Phillips Socrates in Love.
In the book, Phillips outlines the five Ancient Greek concepts of love as follows:
In a recent discussion with a friend, we were talking about doctors who treat patients by just giving out prescriptions and not treating underlying causes. Many doctors do this because that is what patients want.
This started me to think about how many areas of life we focus on what we want and ignore what we need.
Doctors give patients prescriptions to relieve their symptoms because that's what they want. But, what patients need is for doctors to address the causes of their ailments and treat those.
But, doctors are not the only ones.
Teachers give students A's because that's what they want. But, students need to be challenged and taught to value lifelong learning.
Food manufacturers give customers food loaded with fat, salt, and sugar because that's what they want. But, what we need is healthy real food.
Can we blame them for giving us what we want? Only partially.
So, you get what you need. So what? You are harming yourselves and others by ignoring what you need.
Ask yourself what you really need and focus on that.
“One should count each day a separate life.” So says the philosopher Seneca. The Stoics encouraged us to cultivate the proper attitude towards death as they did towards life. The implication of Seneca’s quote is that we should take note of how we live our life each and every day. And strive to make our answer a resounding yes each and every day. It has been said that the study of philosophy is a preparation for death. This is not a morbid sentiment but rather one to encourage us to make the most of our life and to appreciate each day and consider each day an opportunity to accomplish something so that we can say the world was a better place for our having lived.
Much of the stress we are under is the result of a confusion of wants and needs. Many people believe they need things when really these things are merely wants.
The philosopher Epicurus distinguished these and discussed the problems in confusing them long ago. There are three categories of desires. The first are natural and necessary and include the basics: food, clothing, shelter, as well as friendship, freedom, and thinking. We require these in order to be happy. And, for Epicurus, these are all that we require in order to be happy.
Discussing controversial ethical issues can be difficult for many precisely because they have a strong emotional content. While no one suggests completely ignoring one’s emotions when addressing these issues, it is beneficial and constructive to be able to distinguish reason from emotion and to allow reason to guide and inform our emotions. This may sound like an impossible task but it can be done. There are several useful philosophical insights that might make this task easier.
Aristotle writes extensively about happiness in his book the Nicomachean Ethics. In it he says "what is always chosen as an end in itself and never as a means to something else is called final in an unqualified sense. This description seems to apply to happiness above all else: for we always choose happiness as an end in itself and never for the sake of something else." The rest of the work considers the best means to achieve this ultimate end and Aristotle ultimately concludes that a life lived according to the virtues is the best means to this ultimate end. Given this analysis the question becomes how does joy differ from this?
KEVIN J. BROWNE
Philosopher / Educator
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