The Gifts of Philosophy: What a Thinking Life Provides

March 3, 2017
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When I talk to people about philosophy the conversation is inevitably steered towards the practical value of it. Why does it matter if we engage in deep philosophical inquiry into our lives? What does philosophy offer us in our day to day living? And why should we put in the hard intellectual work of philosophical investigation into our lives?

I suppose I take for granted the power, joy, and discipline of diving deeply into the mind. I take it as a given that, should people ache to live and dream and be and love, that they know that it starts inside their heads – through their beliefs and values and thoughts about life.

So I have taken a step back from these assumptions and have made an effort to qualify the value of philosophy in the hopes that somewhere you can find a starting point for your own life of philosophy.

Remember that these are just a few of the wonderful gifts of philosophy. I would need to write a book in order to be comprehensive enough to give all the reasons, but I hope that in these five you find a reason that is good enough for you to take the intellectual leap.  

Philosophy initiates discovery and wonder.

“Wonder is the feeling of the philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.” – Plato

Think back to when you were a child. When every morning you woke up to a day that was filled with a freshness that fueled you. You did not yet cling to the jaded conceit that you knew everything about the world and every answer you were fed by others was followed with the question, why?

Children are natural born philosophers. They have a perpetual curiosity about the world and they have an infinite imagination for answering those questions. We lose that fascination as we grow up and begin to accumulate a sliver of understanding of the world and we cease to dig any deeper, content that the few rocks we have overturned in our minds or the few experiences we have had with the world have given us all the information we need to justify our assumptions about the universe and we cease our investigation.

As children, we had not yet become so jaded that we thought we knew everything and because of that, we entered into the world every day with an openness and a curiosity that fueled the fires in our bellies. We wanted to explore and discover and understand. Every new forest was a potential haven for magical things. Every experience a learning one.

Nothing is such a thief of joy and gratitude on our lives as losing our sense of discovery and wonder at the workings of the world and the people in it. As soon as we stop asking why of everything we become complacent to the multiplicity of vantage points that we can approach the world from.

Philosophy returns us to that childlike enthusiasm of discovery and wonder. It renews our interest in the world and helps us realize that there is so much of the world, of others and of ourselves that we do not understand and should not judge.

No matter how old you get, no matter how much you experience, no matter how much you think you know about the world and what it has to offer, never ceased to be surprised, amazed, and constantly curious about the wonderful everything we get to experience and investigate.

How the sun paints the sky in a million different colors when it moves to slumber for the night.

The curious magic of splashing in a rain puddle, with the warm drops of spring rain tapping its fingertip rhythm on your head and pulling from the ground the earthy fragrance of life.

The heart palpitating excitement of a velvet soft kiss shared between lovers.

The everyday, every minute, every second amazing experience of just being alive. Every part of it should fascinate you and you should be so incredibly grateful to be able to discover and wonder about it all.

Philosophical inquiry helps you question and pursue your true values.

“Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued.” – Socrates

For most of us, the things we have come to value are hand-me-down relics from the people that have groomed us for living. Family. Friends. Society. We have been given the worth of things by others and we have been tasked with fitting them into the vision of our lives, never stopping to ask if the values that others have given us fit into the vision we have for our own, personal idea of the good life.

Through philosophical inquiry and discovery we are able to excavate the many other values that are out there, and by unearthing them, give them meaning in our lives. We should not have guilt in discarding the outdated, outlived and unneeded values that others try to impose upon us. What works for one person will not necessarily work for another.

We are each responsible for defining and creating the value of our lives. No one can do that work for you. Philosophy gives us the tools and experiences to venture into our own discovery of the things we value and bring them into our lives so that we can approach the good lives that each of us envisions.

You have to ask yourself, honestly and frequently:

What should I value in my life?

What makes a good life for me?

What do I want out of life and love?

What beliefs are holding me back and what beliefs can propel me forward?

You alone choose the definition of your life and the meaning of your experience. And it should be a desperate search until you find the values you want to embody and then you should stop at nothing to make them a part of your being in every way.

It is only then that you will look at your life with joy and happiness. As something you created that fits you perfectly and not something handed down that droops and sags and trips you when you aim to move.

Philosophy brings us deeper into our relationships.

“Love is often nothing but a favorable exchange between two people who get the most of what they can expect, considering their value on the personality market.” -Erich Fromm

Philosophy is made for love. For what is true love if not the open, unabridged intermingling of our thoughts, ideas, values, and expressions of life shared with another? In that, philosophy provides the honest and true roots of love. The expressions of love that are not contaminated by the middling perversions of artistic and emotional interpretation.

The depth, color, meaning and beauty of our relationships is directly drawn from how we see and how we relate to the world. The expression of our values in the world will attract like-minded individuals and it will set us up for the depth of love we all seek. This is not to say that we should strive to attract people with similar deep thoughts, but we should always strive to find a partner that has the capacity to think deeply at all.

Philosophy requires us to dig deep within ourselves and to come to grips with that craziness that lives inside our heads. It is there. All of us have the bouncing, laughing, straight-jacketed thoughts of existence that terrify us and our reluctance to admit them, confront them and be gentle with them prevents us from doing so with the crazy that lives in others.

There is nothing so beautiful and liberating as sharing your mind with another. With undressing those deepest thoughts and lying mentally naked and vulnerable and exposed to one another. In those moments you find out why love is such a momentous, heart-palpitating explosion of emotions. We are not capable of exposing ourselves in such a way to every soul we meet, so when we find someone that we can give our crazy to, we feel relieved of the solitary burden of it.

Through our exploration of philosophy, and the deeper understanding of ourselves and others, we are also able to approach an intellectual honesty in our relationships that can sometimes be overshadowed by the emotional explosions that are prone to happen. It is a beautiful thing to feel the pulse quicken and the skin tingle and the spreading heat of bodies pressed together, but the true magic of love comes after that.

It comes from the constant exploration of another soul and heart and what lives in the soul and in the heart was birthed in the mind. When you get to a point where you are so comfortable with another that you can sit for hours and pour out the deepest questions and answers of your soul, then you will understand what love is and how it becomes polished gold by philosophy. 

Philosophy develops a strength of character and confidence of identity.

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” – Nietzsche

We frequently flounder in our self-identification and direction in life because we have come to accept the reasons and descriptions of life and living from others. We have sacrificed a great deal of our exploration of values, beliefs, and truths in order to play the roles that were handed by friends, family, and society.

Philosophical investigation has a way of emboldening you. It gives you confidence that the ideas that have been given to you by others of how to look at the world are not necessarily the right ideas. It instills in you a healthy sense of rebellious challenge towards the impositions of society’s values and encourages you to find the values that work for you.

Through this rebellion, you find an individual strength that is difficult for others to topple. You find a confidence of identity that is built from foundational stones that you yourself laboriously laid instead of building the structure of your life on the shaky, residual foundations that others tried to have you settle.

You have an obligation and a responsibility to interrogate life in such a way that you become comfortable with the answers. Be satisfied with the answers only after you have scrutinized them, applied them and found the value of them in your own life and your own vision for what you want your life to be. No other way of living will ever make you happy.

But the sense of identity and confidence you build from philosophy should be so strong that it does not require you to impose your beliefs on others. It is a strength and confidence that is open to new ideas, new thoughts and new approaches to living. It is desirous of challenges to personally held ideas and beliefs and is excited to be among others that are equally confident in themselves and ready to respectfully challenge all ideas; even the ones that hold our core together. It is that still, quiet, leisurely confidence of an animal of prey that is full and no longer needs to hunt or feed for the day but is ready for the playful wrestling that keeps it fit.

Philosophy brings us into the world and brings the world into us.

Be a philosopher but, amid all your philosophy be still a human.” -Hume

Despite what you might think, philosophy is not merely a personal, solitary activity. It is a constant engagement with the world at large through the action of living aligned with your beliefs and values. Therefore, it is an activity that requires a constant engagement with the world.

It is not enough that you should be a philosopher in this world. It is not enough that you should think deep thoughts and solidify yourself with deep beliefs and values. All of these things are useless if they are not given back to the world in a way that makes the world a human place; a place that you would want to live and a place that you would want to bring others into.

Each and every one of us has a unique philosophical perspective that we have taken from the world. A cobbled together amalgamation of ideas and beliefs and values that are uniquely and distinctly us. Only we could have brought it together in totality, as it is birthed from our unique experiences in the world. As such, only we can give that to the world as our great gift to life and living.

You have the opportunity to change the entire trajectory of your being by figuring out what your meaningful, memorable contribution is going to be to the future of humanity. And you figure that out by digging deep inside yourself and putting together and pulling out your philosophy of living, giving it to the world and letting the world give you its gifts in return.

Be it a small trickling of compassion that you give to a stranger or a torrent of love that you give to your child. Be it the justice you seek to uphold in your life or the forgiveness you give to the people that harm you. Whatever personal philosophy you give back to the world – in whatever way that you do it – that is your contribution to the universe and it will echo through the halls of humanity for longer than your mind can imagine. Be careful in your philosophy and make sure, above all, it is human.

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