The True Value of Philosophy in Life…

For a lot of people, ‘Philosophy’ is a dirty word; conjuring feelings of boredom, images of dry dusty books, and memories of long forgotten classrooms.  It is a term that a lot of people file in the: ‘not useful’ and/or ‘not interesting’ section of their minds.

This is potentially, one of the gravest, and most dangerous of errors…

Why on earth would I say this?  And how could knowing anything about philosophy improve, not only your life, but also your experience of it?

These are some Good Questions.  To answer them, let me talk to you about…

Philosophy

Some people believe that they do not have a personal philosophy, but this is simply a matter of terminology.  Put simply, philosophy is: an internal framework of ideas about what is true. This includes: beliefs, values, and thoughts.  It is one of the 2 main things that determine:

  • what you do, and
  • why your life is the way it is.  

(The other being: your state of consciousness in the moment.)

This framework acts as a filter, thru which: every decision, every action and every behaviour passes.  In this way, in a very real sense, the shape of your life is really determined by the shape of your personal philosophy.  Imagine life is like icing on a cake, and the shape of your philosophy is the nozzle thru which it passes.  Change the shape of the nozzle, and you change the icing on the cake.

Where do the ideas that make up this framework come from?  All over the place.  Things we read, things we hear, things we think, things we see.  Something someone we respect tells us as a child.  They can literally come from anywhere.  Our own personal philosophies are a hodge-podge pile of best-fit ideas that seem to be true to us, culled from any and every source available.

And why do they stick?  Well, it’s part of the way we are built.  We crave certainty and we are always looking for mental shortcuts, (which is all an idea is, really).  If something is true for us, then we don’t need to continually think it thru every time we find ourselves in a relevant situation.  We can just ‘act as if’ and forego the thinking process.

Is this a bad thing?  Well, not necessarily.  In fact, it can be pretty useful.  It only becomes problematic if: we begin to believe that our ideas are objectively rather than subjectively true.  If we stop questioning them and allow them to crystallize into rigid internal dogma.  This is dangerous territory.  Because if we believe something is objectively true for all time, then it opens the door to some really wacky choices, decisions and behaviours.  If history shows us anything, it shows us that: human beings are willing to do some crazy shit, even to the point of harming other human beings, in order to defend an idea that they have decided is objectively true, in order to protect a fragile sense of internal integrity.

So, why is any of this Important?

Well, the double understanding that: a) each of us has a personal philosophy, which: b) is a framework of ideas that we believe, rather than know to be true, creates some fairly major wiggle room for growth and evolution.  This is a good place to be.  Philosophy should be ever-evolving and fluid, like life itself.

Some ideas are obviously more useful than others.  Interestingly, I have found in my own life that: the ideas that make me happiest, improve the quality of my life the most, and improve the well-being of those around me to the greatest degree, are often the truest ideas

This is something which, I believe, warrants deep consideration.


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148 Replies to “The True Value of Philosophy in Life…”

  1. Hi James
    Loved what you wrote. I think ultimately it comes down to something as simple, as to what each person believes, how they treat themselves and others, how they connect with the physical world and spiritual world without imposing their beliefs on anyone. We can read books, blogs, have discussions – learn new ideas – keep opening our awareness of what is around us – never to be closed off but ultimately making our own choice for ourselves. Being true to who we are and therefore we can be true to others.

    Like

    1. Couldn’t agree more.
      You seem to have a very fresh, open and inclusive view of life. Something which I thoroughly applaud. ;-)
      Never closing oneself off, seems key to sustaining continual growth. And being true to oneself, is there any higher aim? ;-)
      I wish you well my friend,
      – J

      Like

  2. OK. I disagree with several of your premises. Philosophy is not one of the two things that determine what you do and they way your life is what it is. I would say that there are other factors, more powerful factors: genetics, the natural history of the species, the individual’s environment come to mind. The desire for knowledge, the love of knowledge, seems to be a sort of icing on the cake. Myself, I like to eat the icing together with the cake – with a cup of good coffee of course. There would also be a distinction between a personal philosophy and a philosophical system such as Kant’s.
    A provocative post, though. Thanks.

    Like

    1. Hey there,
      That is really interesting. So you don’t think that people make choices based on their values and beliefs, coupled with how they are feeling at that particular moment (which doesn’t preclude genetics and environment), which then translate into actions, which ultimately influence the results in their life? Which part don’t you agree with? If you read the post, then you’ll see that I don’t define philosophy as solely a love of knowledge, and neither have the majority of philosophers throughout time. Maybe you are thinking of the greek meaning of the word Philosophy? ‘Love of Wisdom’ – which is a little different from knowledge.
      And if you read Kant, you’ll see that his ‘Catagorical Imperative’ is, in fact, nothing more than his best attempt at forging the highest personal philosophy.
      Thanks a lot for your comments. This is already a Very Stimulating post. ;-)
      Glad to have met you,
      – J
      Side note: I also like coffee. But generally not with cake. ;-)

      Like

  3. Thanks for the like earlier, philosophy is what propelled me to continue my fight for Spiritual Freedom and the true definition on how this world was put together. One of my Favored Philosopher is Marcus Aurelius. ” The Mediation ” is a Powerful book.

    Thanks Again
    Casey Marshall Enterprise
    C.M.E

    Like

    1. You are most welcome. ;-)
      I love that book too. You may also like ‘Letters from a Stoic’ by Seneca, they are both powerful reads.
      I am glad to meet you, I hope you are well. Thanks for taking the time,
      – J

      Like

  4. Mmmm philosophy is some down right groovy shit in my view ;) have I bored some people delving into it? Probably ;) But that’s ok – blessed are we who find kindred spirits to explore it with.

    I love how you say it is fluid as life itself because I find this to be true, so true. As we grow creatively and spiritually, our philosophies expand.

    Brilliant and lovely post, dear James ;)

    Peace, always ~

    Allison

    Like

  5. Great post. Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “Any genuine philosophy leads to action and from action back again to wonder, to the enduring fact of mystery.” — Henry Miller

    Like

  6. “The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.” Now this tidbit of knowledge is from Oxford (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/philosophy) though I’ll bet you’d get a similar response if you asked Cambridge.

    Philosophy is a discipline. At the university I attended as an undergraduate, majoring in Philosophy makes a student pre-med, pre-law, and pre-business. It’s practical brain exercise, not really a subject. When someone studies philosophy, they read the works of other Philosophers, which are the various classes, and if Classical Studies are taken with it, the student gets to read the Philosophers in Latin.

    It’s not for forming a belief system, it’s more for thinking clearly.

    Like

    1. Hey there, first, thanks for your comment, it is good to meet you. ;-)
      Yeah, I studied Philosophy as my major for 5 years, full time in London, before gaining my degree. In the 10 years between being awarded my degree and now I have kept up the study, so I have a little experience.
      The word itself is actually from the ancient greek, meaning: ‘Love of wisdom’, which encompasses a lot more than just a ‘practical brain exercise’. If this were in fact the definition, then sudoku would qualify as philosophy. (Which it blatently doesn’t). ;-)
      In my experience, there are many ways to study philosophy. Reading is certainly one way, but you have to ask yourself how much reading on philosophy someone like Socrates would have been able to do. Certainly it would have been limited to his time, yet I think most people would still agree that he qualifies as quite a significant philosopher.
      I think if you read any of the major philosophies, you will see that they are all systems of belief. They all claim truth, yet many differ. If this is the case, doesn’t that make every philosophy a system of belief? If you’ve studied philosophy, I’m not really sure how you could have missed that, it’s kind of fundamental…
      Well, hope that’s cleared a few things up for you,
      Have a great day, ;-)
      – J

      Like

      1. I’m trying to think of the best way to put it… sudoku can no way be construed as philosophy… even using a simple expression as brain exercise I remain within its description… thinking clearly is an action, it is an exercise, philosophy is thinking clearly. It is a discipline that requires energy. As a discipline I may like the way a philosopher thinks but appeal to authority is appeal to authority, though, some we accept as “yeah, that’s right.” Just because a philosopher babbles on and winds up with belief doesn’t make it philosophy. If s/he continues pushing philosophy as belief, s/he never really knew. There are others who use philosophy to prove a belief system. Again appeal to authority is appeal to authority.

        You can brush me aside as no one important. That doesn’t make me any less who I am.

        What you’ve done is defined philosophy using your limitations. You haven’t transitioned from the textbook. “9 out of 10 philosophers run the philosophical gamut full circle to belief and remain proponents of belief.” Yeah, that happens. Philosophy isn’t real for you. It’s a subject.

        Philosophy can’t be defined. That bit I quoted is a description, an action, a lifetime practice of thinking clearly.

        All best!

        Like

        1. Hey there,
          Here, you seem to be defining philosophy as ‘The Action of Thinking Clearly in a Disciplined way’. If that was the case then Thinking Clearly in a Disciplined Way about my shopping list would be philosophy, which it, clearly, isn’t.
          Do not misunderstand me. I am not brushing you aside. I value your input and energy, but your point(s) are a little unclear and contradictory.
          For example: At the end of this comment you state that ‘philosophy cannot be defined’. Yet you opened your previous comment by giving your definition of philosophy, and in this comment you give another (different) definition. This seems more than a little inconsistent to me.
          I agree with one of the points that (I think) you are making, namely: that you should not accept something just because it has been stated by someone in a perceived authority position. But this point really belongs in a discussion of social psychology, influence or politics, it’s not really relevant here.
          I am sorry if that seems harsh, but there are some major discrepancies in what you are saying and I would be remiss if I didn’t at least draw your attention to them. Maybe if you read the article again, you would gain a clearer understanding of my meaning.
          I am glad that you were moved to contribute to this discussion,
          I sincerely wish you well,
          – J

          Like

          1. I’m not defining philosophy. It cannot be defined. It can only be described. It is
            “The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.” (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/philosophy)

            “The use of reason in understanding such things as the nature of the real world and existence, the use and limits of knowledge, and the principles of moral judgment” (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/british/philosophy)

            The use of reason in understanding the principles of moral judgment – principles – not moral judgment – not belief – is a path of thinking clearly.

            However it is described it is a life-long practice.

            You can go off sides all you like, but there is no argument it means this or it means that – it doesn’t mean anything. It is the discipline of thinking clearly. Therein is where man’s fears lie.

            Philosophy is a tsunami, the philosopher is the speck on shore.

            There is nothing more to say.

            Best.

            Like

  7. This post is incredible, and I completely agree and support this ideology. When I meet knew people, I love to find out what they are passionate about. In connection to your analogy, I understand that their passions are each individuals’ icing nozzle; shaped and perfected by a life long trajectory of failure and success. I am listening to your album now, and I will link you in to my next blog post. Good luck!!!

    Like

  8. I really like your definition of philosophy as an internal framework. In some of my classes I talk about our lenses–I uses the metaphor of these colored sunglasses I have. When I put the red ones on, I see the world in a particular way. When I put the blue ones on, the world looks different. I think it is important we are aware of our frameworks, or lenses, and learn to put different ones on. I wonder how much conflict in the world arises simply because two (or more) parties who are wearing different lenses are not a) aware of it or b) unwilling to change their lenses…

    Like

    1. I literally could not agree with you more. ;-)
      And I think the answer to your question would be: The Majority (of conflict).
      It seems that the closer you get to the truth of things, the less friction there is.
      When you get down to the basics, we are all incerdibly similar, but our lenses (to use your analogy) make us appear different.
      My gut reaction would be that most people are unaware that their lenses are not simple ‘the way things are’. That’s the main reason that I wrote the post. I think that, when you become aware that your framework is not necessarily the Absolute Truth, change happens naturally.
      Well met, friend. I am really glad that you commented. ;-)
      Hope you’re well,
      – J

      Like

      1. “My gut reaction would be that most people are unaware that their lenses are not simply ‘the way things are,'” you write. Totally. It reminds me of what the Buddha taught–that we are ignorant and deluded, that we do not, as you say, perceive “Absolute Truth.” As long as we remain ignorant, we will suffer. I think a lot of conflict stems from mutual suffering (of course that can take many forms). Unfortunately for us, this suffering will continue, according to the Buddha, as long as our desires and attachment remain in tact. I would say all this conflict will thus remain in tact as well. Unfortunate, I say, because our consumer culture and society rooted in philosophical materialism promotes desires in things, thus promoting attachment.

        Like

        1. i really agree with this.
          You mentioned in your previous comment that you teach. Do you then teach Buddhism?
          I think that ignorance is responsible for nearly all the suffering and evil in the world.
          Thanks a lot for contacting me, I am enjoying talking with you,
          Hope you had a great day,
          – J

          Like

          1. James,

            I am enjoying our back and forth too. I teach Religious Studies, and yes I do teach Buddhism. And while more complicated than what I can leave in a reply, but t the gist is this: as long as we are born (alive), that means greed, hatred, and delusion (ignorance) operate in our lives. These are called the three poisons and as long as they continue to operate (no matter how big or small, how aware of them or not I am) I will continue to be reborn and I will continue, thanks to my ignorance, desire things and form attachments to them. I desire things because I am ignorant of their truth…

            The Buddhist term that is translated into English as suffering is “dukkha.” Dukkha literally means “wheel off its axis.” So Buddha is saying we live our lives as if a wheel is off its axle. So while suffering is a part of what is implied in this term, so too is “unsatisfactoriness.” So we go on living unsatisfied with life, the world, ourselves, etc. And because we are unsatisfied, we desire things we thing will satisfy us. But of course they won’t, so we will continue to seek.

            And one of the “biggest” things we are ignorant about is ourselves. We cling onto the idea of a Self, of a soul–these too are just illusions of a deluded/ignorant mind and it is this we try to satisfy.

            So yes, ignorance is, acc. to the Buddha, responsible for the suffering in the world, but is often wrapped up with greed and hatred.

            Josh

            Like

            1. Hey Josh,
              that’s a very succinct and clear summary – you must be a good teacher! ;-)
              I agree with a lot of Buddhist philosophy. I see the 3 poisons as more: wanting, resisting and ignorance, but to be honest, this is probably me just splitting hairs over terminology. ;-)
              And the thing that I like most about Buddhism, where it really scores for me, is: it is not a system of belief that simply says: ‘you should Be This Way, and Don’t Do These Things’. Instead, it actually offers a path, with specific achievable practices, that helps you become happier and a better person.
              I like practical things. A lot. The ‘how’ is really important. ;-)
              Thanks a lot my friend,
              – J

              Like

              1. You’re right, it doesn’t say “you should be this way…” Even the Buddha said don’t attach to him or his teachings. If they don’t work for you, something else will. How different from say “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”–

                “Should” and “should not” are words and a mindset that, from a Buddhist perspective, only further perpetuate our ignorance.

                I like the way you are “splitting hairs” here, especially hatred with resistance…Mulling that one over right now. :)

                Like

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