If we are to come to reason well in our lives – come to reason and walk away with something resembling our truth – then we must establish the boundaries of our journey. I am not speaking of being so rigorous in our demarcation that we draw a detailed map of where we all should exactly go and how we all should exactly get there. No. I am saying that we must agree to calibrate a compass so that we all understand the directions we have available to us. Where you go from there is up to you.
In the spirit of coordination, I have taken the 10 rules of philosophy, that came from American philosopher Louis Pojman, and I have expanded upon their meaning and related them to my experience of exploring practical philosophy for personal enrichment. These are flexible rules that beg to be bent, but they offer a starting point for our interrogation of the universe and the pursuit of philosophy as a practical way of life.
Allow the spirit of wonder to flourish in your breast.
Wonder is a perpetual state of childlike inquisitiveness and sustained amazement at the world. You must become that child – constantly curious about all the things you see and hear and feel and do – to properly do practical philosophy. You must not be satisfied with the answers that have already been told to you, but defiantly prying into the whys and how’s and what’s of your experience. You must keep a sense of naïvety so that you might approach things as if you had never approached them before and you must investigate them as if you had never investigated them before. That is how you begin philosophy and maintaining that wonder is a means to never stopping philosophy.
Doubt everything until the evidence convinces you of its truth.
A suspension of judgment is a traveler’s gift. A gift for wanderers who are searching for the very deepest things that they most want answers to. It serves you on the road of life, as the freedom to doubt fuels the freedom to further explore and find your reasons. You will come across so many possible answers to the questions of living and a healthy dose of skepticism will help you pull the disguised weeds growing alongside the flowers. A hesitation to believe something leaves you open and vulnerable and never so entrenched in dogma that you might miss a deeper truth because you could not be bothered to see it. Doubt is not uncertainty, it is a healthy certainty that you cannot be entirely certain about anything. Live in doubt until you have dug deep enough in an idea to hit the truth.
Love the truth.
Do not love the truth because it is a high mountain to summit – a pulpit to throw shade down upon the truths of others. Love the truth because it is a safe haven in a yawning morass of unknowns. It is a tiny piece of sturdy land that you have claimed for yourself. It is not necessary for others to see it or appreciate it or know it. Love is a personal thing, after all, and falling in love with the truth is a personal romance. But no matter how much you come to love the truth, do not expect your truth to love you back by staying true and loyal to you through the rest of your life. Truths are fickle lovers. Because of that, you must learn to let go of the truths you once loved, and have now outgrown, for the truths that you lust after now. Never stay too long with a truth that you don’t love. You will always regret it.
Divide and conquer.
Every great problem – philosophical or otherwise – needs to be deconstructed. Pulled apart to its manageable pieces and investigated in that way so that it can be put back together, understood. Philosophy is a lived thing and, just as in life, we take the parts of our problems and we break them down to be able to make any sort of forward progress towards a solution. The big, burdening problems that seem incapable of being solved are usually begging to be broken so that the pieces can be used to understand the whole. Philosophy is a puzzle – find the edges first, the boundary pieces to frame your image of the truth, and then come into the hard to place pieces in the middle. Let the picture develop slow but detailed and confident.
Collect and construct.
And how do we rebuild our deconstructed philosophical problems so that they are strongly fortified, well-reasoned truths that we can come to love and rely upon? We go out into the world, and into the ideas of those that reasoned before us, and we begin to collect and construct our own theories about the world – about life, about love, about politics, about happiness, about everything. We are not gathering dogmatic, unsubstantiated, arbitrary opinions. We are making sure to gather up the facts that seem more true, despite our wish to believe otherwise. We rely upon careful investigation and deliberation to collect and sort. We seek to create a core of well-reasoned beliefs about the world and our place in it and we work to construct ourselves from that beating, burning heart of truth, however small the pulse of it.
Conjecture and refute.
Prove yourself wrong. Find out why what you believe is not the right way to believe. Look for the subtle flaws in your reasoning, question your logic, take the position opposite yours and reason through the faults of your path. If you are doing this whole philosophy thing right, you will be declaring bold things – things that will be contentious and scandalous and challenged. You should find the flaws in your arguments first in order to plug the holes, or jump ship to a different belief should you find the argument is able to hold water. I am not saying be fickle in your belief, I am saying be flexible, and understand that there is always at least one damning argument against whatever it is that you believe to be the truth. Make your way to the enemy’s gate and face it boldly. Do not be scared to be wrong, be scared to not accept that you are wrong. That is the worst sort of mistake a person can make.
Revise and rebuild.
And after all that division and construction, destruction and defeat, you will take all those shattered things and you will rebuild and rewrite your beliefs. Using the remnants of old thought and the hearty planks of new ideas, you can rebuild your beliefs into something more resembling your newly discovered truth. Something sturdy and seaworthy. And it is OK that your truth should change as you go along philosophizing in the world. Truths are not for holding on to so tightly that they cannot be discarded. They are temporary things that see us from point to point and when they lose their worth they are cast aside. Be humble enough to recognize that you hold many false beliefs and be gracious to the ones who show you your errors and turn you towards a deeper, stronger truth.
When all else fails in your reasoning, and you are teetering on the precipice between two potential solutions – one complex and the other simple – approach the path of simplicity. Favor the answers that are the most reasonable and the easiest to believe. The ones that require the fewest leaps of faith. I am not saying there are not times where fantastic answers are the only reasonable response to a question. I am saying that, given the choice between the fantastic and the simply reasonable explanations for a thing, err on the side of simplicity. It is a more fortified position to continue to inquire from. Always continue your inquiry if you are still undecided or unsatisfied, but rest comfortably in simplicity when it is the best available option.
Live the Truth.
It is not enough that we should find the Truth. We must live it. I think there is no choice, actually. You are changed when you stare down the abyss at life’s big questions and stumble through the darkness to find a light of truth. You have no choice but to move then, in a direction dictated by the truth you have found. So we are not thinking just for thinking’s sake and we do not philosophize just for philosophizing’s sake. No. We think to act and to act rightly. We wonder and wander to find – and come to love – the truth so that we can walk beside her, live with her and be the better made for it. We come to be transformed by the truth and surge forward being that much closer to the meanings of our lives because we have another piece of our puzzle put into place. Don’t just desire the truth for truth’s sake, desire it for living’s sake.
Live the Good.
And to be transformed by the truth in this way means to embody the ethics and morality of wisdom and reason. To live a life that reflects the deepest virtue and value that you have found as you searched for the truth. To live in a way that you would expect others to live so as to create a world that is livable at all. We are all walking, talking examples of our implicit desire of how we wish the world would be – how we wish the world would act. We are responsible for creating the direction that we would have the world go by simply acting in the manner that aligns with what we find true and good about the world.
And that is it. That is where we start from. A few simple guidelines to help you begin your practical philosophy journey. Where you go with it is up to you.