Philosophy can be so damn complicated sometimes.
I just feel like screaming “why?!” sometimes, why do some philosophers feel the need to question such absurd topics of our existence that literally add no benefit to us, if we have answers or not.
It’s because of complex ideas and theories like the mind-body problem, which is one of the oldest philosophical debates that tries to find out if the mind and body and one, or separate. Or maybe the existential philosophers who tried to grapple with nothingness and if there was something rather than nothing. Then there are philosophies like Solipsism. These all go way over my head.
Although this may seem very far from the present reality when philosophy originated in Ancient Greece it was meant to be a practical and straightforward endeavor. Ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Zeno, and others would have been severely confused at the idea of how philosophy couldn't be applied to everyday ordinary life.
The word ‘philosophy’ means a love of wisdom, not an impossible to comprehend intellectual debate. Here is the simple gems you need.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” — Socrates
To me, this is the foundation of what philosophy is meant to mean. The concept of the unexamined life and this quote, in particular, is definitely one of the most famous terms in philosophy and one of the most accessible for everyday people to understand what it means to philosophize.
I even wrote a whole article about this quote.
This quote is telling us that a life where you take no time to reflect on your existence and what it is you are actually doing on a day-to-day basis, is a life that is better left unlived.
While we shouldn't literally think of our lives as not being worthy of living, we can take one super simple and practical message from this. To be happy and truly comfortable with ourselves we need time to reflect, and time to evaluate ourselves. This can be done through journaling, reading, or long walks alone.
When we do this, we learn things about ourselves and can therefore contribute to living a happier existence. For me, that is what the core of philosophy is about.
“There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.” — Socrates
The core of effective and simple philosophical knowledge is to know the difference between good and bad. Because everything that happens stems from our belief that one thing is good as opposed to bad or vice versa.
We sometimes think we know what is good, and we also think we know what is evil. But in reality, we probably have the definitions of these terms misconstrued. Understanding what good and evil are from an Ancient Greek philosophical perspective will help us on a practical level.
As a human, I believe one of our only duties is to educate ourselves and fill our minds with knowledge about the world around us. This can be in any way you want, not just academically. Life knowledge is just as important. When one has the knowledge, they are less likely to choose evil, and like that we can be better people.
As for evil, to reject someone's knowledge and reject their worldview out of ignorance, is to reject the humanity of what makes it progress forward. Even understanding the simple premise that ignorance is the root of all evil is a potent realization for societal progression.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” — -Aristotle
Now is where we move on to when philosophy can become a genuine form of self-improvement. Right here we have a quote that I believe is quite literally one of the most fundamental beliefs in self-improvement and also one of the first.
This quote can pretty much summarise a huge portion of the self-help books out there in today's market.
You are the sum of your daily habits, it's as simple as that. If you eat like shit all day, spend most of your time slouched over in front of a computer gaming, watching videos, gambling, and doing bad things, you will be an awfully unhappy person.
The same goes for the opposite. If you are doing good things every day it most likely will transcend into you being a good person. The simple life lesson from this quote is that anything worthwhile that contributes to your ambitions, passions, and dreams, is the result of repeated action (AKA habit). Build your habits.
“Man is condemned to be free.” — Jean-Paul Sartre
What Sartre is saying is that as a human being, there is only one thing you can be sure you have. And that is freedom. You are free to do whatever you please and however, you please, even if you feel like you are trapped by societal or cultural constraints.
You are ultimately a purely free being. For me, this is a liberating idea that doesn't overcomplicate anything. Too many philosophers dwell on the meaning of life not understanding that we can never know if there is a meaning of life. This is too much of a mystical concept.
Instead, we should look to freedom. Our lives are determined by our freedom to create whatever meaning we deem necessary for our lives. The belief in man being completely free is one that has helped me the most in life in general.
“It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.” — Epicurus
Epicureanism as a philosophy is often labeled as a hedonistic pursual of pleasure-seeking wannabe philosophers. Well, this is wrong.
Epicureanism does in fact advocate for pleasure, but not in superficial gluttonous things. Pleasure is found in forming human connections and relationships.
From this we can understand the quote better, superficial material pleasures do not bring happiness, the more possessions we have the more unhappy we will be. This is another simple and fundamental lesson.
Therefore we must enjoy the things that life provides for us by nature. That being human connections, love, the beauty of nature, and more. Enjoyment comes from self-sustained happiness that has the capacity to find fulfillment and appreciation in everyday things.
Enjoyment can not and will not come from the amount of material baggage you collect over the years.
“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” — Lao Tzu
Now we move onto some Eastern philosophy; Taoism in particular. Taoism is one of my favorites for its practical simplicity that is unmatched by anything I’ve come across. Taoism is a 2,500-year-old philosophy from Ancient China that builds upon this premise of finding flow in life and achieving “The Way”.
Right here we can see Taoism flexing its beautiful effective simplicity in a life lesson that we should all know by now. When one door closes, you will feel pain. You will feel the abandonment of the past, like a piece of your heart, was taken from you with utmost unfair disrespect.
But when this door closes, it causes pain. We must understand that no door can stay closed forever. Another one must always open. That’s what experiencing a painful ending does. It takes us to a new beginning.
The pain in an ending such as a relationship is very hard to deal with, but maybe just holding the thought that it’s the start of a new beginning will help you mentally. It helped me after I got my heart shattered recently.
“Do not struggle. Go with the flow of things, and you will find yourself at one with the mysterious unity of the universe.” — Chuang Tse
If there is one quote that can sum up Taoism as a whole, it’s this simple gem.
Taoism is about embodying the flow of life. It helps to look at life like a current, and we should never resist the current of life. We need to let go, resistance-free, and flow along with the current of life.
Taoism uses nature as a metaphor for our life. Nature is the simplest and most effective model in which we should model our lives after. Nature exists freely and doesn't overcomplicate things. It just is.
I believe the universe as a whole is set in this way. The more you take things as they come and just flow, the more you will feel in place. The simplicity of this quote is to understand that all we have to do is flow, exist, not resist, and all will be well.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of the human freedoms — to choose ones attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose ones own way.” — Viktor Frankl.
This final quote comes from famous psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl, a holocaust and Auschwitz camp survivor. Frankl combines psychology with existential philosophy as he tries to make sense of the trauma of the holocaust in his book Man's Search For Meaning.
This quote is reaffirming a crucial premise, that is that the one thing that we will always have no matter what, is to control our attitude.
How we experience the world in our everyday lives is the result of how we interpret it through our attitude. If we choose to be happy about everything and have an enthusiastic attitude, our existence will be far more fulfilling.
This is why people in third world countries who are living in mud villages with no money to their names are more happy than some of us in the developed West, their attitude is superior.
Control your attitude, it’s what determines your quality of life. You have the freedom to do this.
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