Philosophy

For 2,500 years, humans have been trying to formulate ideas about how we should live, what constitutes a good liife, and how happiness may be reached. We have  considered material goods, the pursuit of duty, the application of pure rational thought, resignation, and a variety of other methods to reach a good life, as well as endless combinations of these ideas. We hope always to improve our lives and to become better people. But after 2,500 years, can we be said to have improved, to be happier? When one reads ancient letters, journals, and essays, one finds very much the same concerns and activities as those which occupy us now. What, then, is the purpose or point of philosophy? Is there one? Sometimes I feel that the point is to make the philosopher feel smarter or better than the general populace. It seems very much a pursuit for the benefit of an individual rather than society. In the 300s BCE, Epicurus told us that happiness could be attained with friendship, freedom, and thought, and that we habitually and needlessly purchased expensive goods to satisfy the needs of our souls; modern corporations still use this habit against us. In the first century CE, many Roman orators and writers described politics as being more about personal glory than the greater good; this appears to continue as it was. In the 1500s, Montaigne made similar observations about education as might be made today: that it teaches fact without teaching understanding, what to think but not how to think. Socrates himself told us to question every presumption, to apply logic and rational thought in all matters, and that a view held by a figure of authority or by a majority or for a very long time is not necessarily correct simply because of that fact. When you look around and see what we have done with such wisdom, one might be forgiven for taking Schopenhaur’s grim view of the world!

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