Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why Have a Philosophy of Life?

Everything's coming up chrysanthemums
What is the meaning of life, besides something to do with the number 42?  Who am I and why am I here?  The ancient Greeks thought about these things and about 2,500 years ago several philosophical schools came up with one answer and multiple ways of understanding it.  Their answer was that we are meant to live the best life possible, experiencing "eudaimonia" often translated as happiness or human flourishing.

We are closer to an answer but not there yet, because what is human flourishing?  Is it pleasure in each moment?  The Hedonists certainly thought so.  Is it the highest pleasure possible?  That's the Epicurean's take.  Is it avoidance of definite beliefs?  Skeptics would assent to this, to the extent they are capable of assenting to anything.  Is it the pursuit of reason and virtue?  Plato and Aristotle agree that is part of eudaimonia, but other external goods such as friends and beauty are also necessary.  The Stoics go one step further, for them the pursuit of reason and virtue is both necessary and sufficient to reach eudaimonia.

So why bother with any of this?  Well, only you can decide if you want to live the best life possible.  But if it is your goal, it would be a good idea to figure out what it looks like and what you need to do to pursue it.  If you don't examine your life and your methods, you run the risk of blindly following conventional wisdom - the lowest common denominator of the culture you happen to live in.  If you're reading this blog, that means your culture is probably shaped heavily by advertisers, and they are not exactly known for their philosophical prowess.  Incidentally, forming a philosophy of life separate from advertisers can do wonders for your bank account, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

What then is the best life, and how do we choose the best methods to pursue it?  My answer will be the next post.  (Hint, it might have something to do with Stoicism).

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