Can doing a little Philosophy make your life better? Make you happier or smarter?

 (~10 Minute Read)
    Most of the people I speak to seem to have very narrow and conflicting pictures of philosophy. As a matter of fact, it comes in a vast array of shapes and sizes, but the form most people seem to know it by is the one found in universities, i.e. ‘academic philosophy’, which is typically seen to be inaccessible and only for, or of interest to, ‘intellectuals’.
    Yet really, whether we acknowledge it or not, we all have our own philosophy and we all have at some point philosophized. Whether you believe in the conclusions of modern scientific models, the history and meaning present in the bible, a flat earth governed by a secret ruling class of lizard overlords, or any combination thereof, you have done philosophy to get there.
 
    In truth, the majority of modern/academic philosophy is to philosophy’s original form and intentions what rocket science is to fixing the kitchen sink: loosely related, directly descendant, far more complicated, and yet much less ‘useful’ in the general sense of the word.
    The original definition of philosophy, as coined by its pioneers the Greeks, was Phylos Sophie, meaning the love of wisdom, and it’s only really in the last 100 years or so that those weird enough to pursue philosophy began to recognize just how far from its origins it has strayed. By the turn of the 20th century (roughly 2600 years after the term was defined), the pursuit of wisdom had been ossified – dried, frozen, and packaged – by the intellectual demands of humankind, with the centuries-long battle between science and religion causing it to lose sight of why it came into being in the first place: to form a structured process out of our natural human inquisitiveness, and thereby to attempt to find ‘answers’, universal or individual, to the questions so natural to all of us.
    One of the late, great philosophers of the 20th century, Bertrand Russell, describes philosophy’s true strength and purpose far more eloquently in the beginning of his awe-some compendium on philosophy, “History of Western Philosophy”:

“Philosophy, as I shall understand the word, is something intermediate between theology and science. Like theology, it consists of speculations on matters as to which definite knowledge has, so far, been unascertainable; but like science, it appeals to human reason rather than to authority, whether that of tradition or that of revelation. All definite knowledge–so I should contend–belongs to science; all dogma as to what surpasses definite knowledge belongs to theology. 

But between theology and science there is a No Man’s Land, exposed to attack from both sides; this No Man’s Land is philosophy. Almost all the questions of most interest to speculative minds are such as science cannot answer, and the confident answers of theologians no longer seem so convincing as they did in former centuries.”

    Yet, with this in mind, it is also worth noting that both science and theology find much of their structure and definition from philosophy, for while humankind have been questioning their place in the cosmos for as long as we have had language to do so, it was philosophers who sought to make this process more consistent and ‘constructive’. Many a scientist I have met has talked of philosophy like a fanciful pass-time for humanities students, yet revealed how naive they are of the philosophy that holds up their beloved reason and rationality— the scientific method, critical thinking, and all the glue that allows them to justify their models and beliefs. Similarly, religious believers have flippantly discarded any rational philosophizing over their beliefs, without acknowledging the work of centuries of religious philosophers in defending their ideas against other beliefs and inherent human doubt.
    My point is not that philosophy is any more special or important than science or theology, only that it is more universal, more fundamental than either and essential to empowering our thoughts, whatever they may be. Real philosophy, in my eyes (and experience), is like a special form of mental kung-fu, the kind that you climb a misty mountain to learn off of an old white-haired Chinese man. It’s the kind of knowledge and awareness that binds together all the rest, and helps you steer your rickety old boat through the maelstrom of events we call ‘life’. More specifically than that though, it’s something anyone can master, and something that the pursuit of which can only ever benefit those doing so. Just like martial arts, even if you feel like you never use it for its basic purpose, learning it still strengthens you and benefits you in ways that surprise you.
 
    So, I want to make it clear before anything else, that the philosophy of this site will not be ‘academic’ philosophy; you need not run in fear/boredom right away, because we will not be talking in circles over the topics far detached from everyday life that academia has become so obsessed with, such as ‘do words carry truth values’, ‘normative ethical theory’, or even whether or not God is able to be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent. While these concepts are obviously derived from our daily lives and desires, and I will do my best to bring in any that may be relevant to a topic, (I believe) they have become esoteric to the point of being counterproductive for the world at large.
 
    Instead, then, the interest of this site is much closer to philosophy’s original intentions, of the pursuit of wisdom: of using every and any tool at our disposal to examine our lives, our daily existence, to try and understand it; to learn life, so that we may better place ourselves in it. I hesitate to say ‘to make our lives better’ or ‘happier’, because my own pursuit of wisdom has taught me that pursuing happiness, or believing life can be somehow ‘improved’, is simply a vicious circle, since what comes up must go down, and by obsessing over pleasure and achievement we only exaggerate the contrast in their inevitable loss. 
    That is a truth I have learned, but it is only my truth (or ‘veritas’ in Italian; my version of truth)– which is another essential aspect of what has been buried within philosophy today: that the pursuit of wisdom is personal, not absolute or universal; there are infinite ways to react to what life presents us with, corresponding to the infinite perspectives that experience it. As I’ve hopefully made clear elsewhere on the site, I don’t believe that philosophy should be a purely linguistic pursuit; our individual experience of existence and our responses to it are likely never fully encompassed by words, but rather consist of feelings, creative expressions, open suggestions, and require interaction and connection, instead of static statements.
 
    That is not to say, however, that philosophy is just about having an opinion or wanting answers. Philosophy is a skill, as it involves learning to take responsibility for your opinions, allowing for many different perspectives on truth but maintaining a standard by which they are considered. This is largely what academic philosophy has been distilled into, as a crash-course on critical thinking. Yet critical thinking transcends just evaluating the merits of different arguments, as it is also the art of seeing the loopholes in one’s own logic; of respecting other’s opinions and giving them due consideration no matter how wacky they may sound; of learning to see through deception, be it as words or even body language or actions; of mastering the balance between remaining open and inquisitive, while having the courage to stand by your own ideas… and so much more, that cannot be summarized in a few words, but that hopefully our journey through this project may help elucidate!
 
    Ultimately (and lastly!), the real essence of philosophy, at its murky and mysterious core, is an innocent inquisitiveness.
As Russell implied above, philosophy is for ‘speculative minds’, and as such must always remain unfinished and open. Which means, as Plato so well understood, that the questions are just as important as the answers. You can smell a bad philosopher a mile off, by the tang of arrogant certainty and the insistence that they have the answers– why? Because there can be no truth without the possibility of falsehood; no right without room for wrong. Questions, and a questioning spirit, are how we stay open to growth and prosperity; answers, are how we find the way to new questions. On this, I’ll leave you with Russell’s account of the sort of questions that affect all of us, and drive Philosophy:
“Is the world divided into mind and matter, and, if so, what is mind and what is matter? Is mind subject to matter, or is it possessed of independent powers? Has the universe any unity or purpose? Is it evolving towards some goal? Are there really laws of nature, or do we believe in them only because of our innate love of order? Is man what he seems to the astronomer, a tiny lump of impure carbon and water impotently crawling on a small and unimportant planet, or is he what he appears to Hamlet? Is he perhaps both at once? Is there a way of living that is noble and another that is base, or are all ways of living merely futile? If there is a way of living that is noble, in what does it consist, and how shall we achieve it? Must the good be eternal in order to deserve to be valued, or is it worth seeking even if the universe is inexorably moving towards death? Is there such a thing as wisdom, or is what seems such merely the ultimate refinement of folly? 
To such questions no answer can be found in the laboratory. Theologies have professed to give answers, all too definite; but their very definiteness causes modern minds to view them with suspicion. The studying of these questions, if not the answering of them, is the business of philosophy.”

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    Do you have any questions about life, be them kooky or severe? Any answers to the questions above? Have I committed sacrilege in dismissing academic philosophy? Or do you agree that wisdom is its heart, and belongs in the hands of everyone? Whatever the case, get involved! Participate in life! Share your opinions below, contribute to this month’s topic (the love of wisdom) by using the suggestion box, and if you want to help spread the love or even have your own philosophical expression on the blog, join the Patreon community!

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