Oct 1, 2012

Of the Importance of Philosophy

Philosophical thinking is something I do in my spare time as well as while working with the young. I would like to share my philosophical insights more often with others but frequently feel people lacking the inspiration or motivation to think issues concerning us all, in depth at least.  It is not a rising trend either. We are more interested in practical matters than metaphysical contemplations, which is understandable to some degree. Who would want to question their whole existence or criticize the bases of our human understanding?  It would drive us mad to doubt all beliefs about reality or to cut ourselves off from the society we live in just because we happen to underrate its significance. But why do we feel such repulsion against philosophy in the first place? Maybe it has something to do with the assumption that people no longer need philosophy to build up their dream lives. In my opinion the self-aware and world conscious individual has turned into a myth. Today’s individual is a being without a true existence. It has lost itself and become an irresolute and disorientated nomad, a lonely soul, who searches peace and fulfillment finding only war and nothingness. Our communal values have been sold to the highest bidder and replaced by the ultimate freedom of choice. We can almost decide everything there is to decide – by ourselves. This includes moral issues as well as choices made in everyday life. We are slipping into nihilism just as Nietzsche predicted 100 years ago.

I feel that we have done everything but looked back. Philosophy is much about history, and history has produced ideas and theories how we should live and converse on the reality. History also explains how we have come to this present situation. In antique people used to think that public good serves also the good of the individual. Every member of the society played their role and did what was expected of them. Politics was a mean to improve the community’s rigour and increase its lifespan.  In Aristotle’s thinking individual´s main purpose in life was to seek happiness by being virtuous and wise. Afterwards many have seen in Aristotle a speaker for our time. Without having a telos, a purpose for one´s existence, life becomes vague, immoral and pointless.    

In the renaissance period man rediscovered himself and reason was raised as a ruling principle to conduct life and to find an absolute certainty in how things were. I consider a French Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) to be one of the most intellectual thinker in the history of philosophy. He believed certainty to be an illusion; instead he chose to be a skeptic. Montaigne saw only a little point in people´s constant desire to be right in everything they say. Because of this obsession Europe was in a state of turmoil that Montaigne despised. People want to believe that certainty is something veridical; our own impression is always the right one. Maybe this is also suits as a depiction of today’s views. People are not willing to admit that they are dim and in many cases just simply wrong; the world just isn’t how we want it to be.

In 1700s marched in the mighty Enlightment. Sapere aude (use your wit; dare to be wise) worked as a command to a man to release him from a self-incurred tutelage. Liberalism was also a prodigy born out of that time. Science and criticism were ways to replace constraining religious beliefs surrounding human condition. Political philosophy also started to create theories concerning themes like liberty, law, rights and property. Reason was a tool of power as well as emancipation from false truths.

1800s was a triumph of positivist reason – until it led to a crisis agitated by few strong philosophical figures, mainly German born Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. They hailed emotions and attacked verbally against reason claiming it to be feeble. Existentialism showed individual how to look inside one´s self and find a meaning (or absurdity) from within. It has given also a lot to me; expeditions to one´s own head are more than encouraged in order to truly know who this subject behind everything is. We have to courageously believe in our own judgment but at the same time accept our high probability to be stupid. At the same time at least for me is easy to understand that life is something delicate and it ends eventually. Life is an open concept and there are no compulsions. Sometimes the extremism behind true existentialism gives me a hard time because it can make things feel indifferent.

1900s brought us wars and demise but it also introduced us a whole new subject. This unique person is an individual in every sense of the word. There are no no-limits or ethical boundaries whatsoever. Many philosophers in 1900s think that crisis of mankind is an inevitable result caused by change in our thinking and behavior. It has also lots to do with the “progress” which many see as a normal evolution of man. Once a man on the radio said that progress is natural. It naturally is easy to go behind evolution argument. I personally feel that mankind is not necessarily meant to find all the answers or break all the barriers found in nature. Maybe we have already crossed our natural constitute. We cherish our glossy and petty lives and value our achievements by using perverted and usually materialistic indicators. And our self-centered life is everything there is, according to many; so we should make the best out of it. This has led to a western world where moral ideals have died and civilizations have turned into fiction, as Leo Strauss (1899-1973) points out. Our lives are more about ourselves than others; every man for himself!

I like to believe that philosophy has lot´s to do with our pursuit of happiness. But is our telos or goal for life twisted? We like to think ourselves as someone who makes a difference but the recent difference made has been for the worse. And because people have become less critical and more easily manipulated they feel that truth can reveal itself just by looking and not by thinking. Marx insisted that philosophy should always aim to change the world, not just to depict it. That is why philosophy will be important cause is never just about speculating; it is all about acting and living up to your values (supported by philosophical consciousness). In my life I try to maintain a philosophical twist - and it means that philosophy genuinely moves me.

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