Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Philosophy when it is personal

If I ask you what is your personal philosophy you might say that you would have to think about it. You might also say that it defies definition because it is based on experience and emotion as much as upon any fundamental beliefs or experience.

Some people have answered that they see it as a life's work to answer that question.  I think I agree with that.  Others have said, "That is simple: to love my neighbour as myself."  To that I respond, "A clear philosophy, yes; simple I cannot agree.  It sounds a profoundly complex injunction to me.  In some situations I would find it hard to recognise the other person as my neighbour, and even harder to love them."

Perhaps that is the whole point.  Perhaps philosophy is always going to be hard to put into practice.  Perhaps the strength of philosophy is that it forces us to look at our responses to all aspects of life, not just the easily learned lessons, or the intellectually stimulating questions.  A real philosophy would need to work in wartime as well as in peace, in times of need as well as times of plenty, in times of anguish as well as times of contentment.

Perhaps this is the reason that Socrates carried on asking questions rather than establishing a formalised philosophy like that of his pupil Plato.  Plato relied heavily on the teachings of Socrates,  as he remembered or interpreted them, in his earlier writings, and then seemed to develop more of his own ideas.  It is therefore easier to disagree with Plato's philosophy than with that of Socrates.  It is hard to deny the importance of the questions that Socrates asked.

Socrates asked such questions as, "What is Truth?", "What is Beauty?", "What is Justice?",  "What is Good?". Nicholas Fearn, in "The Latest Answers ToThe Oldest Questions", describes attempts to answer these questions as attempts to "divine the nature of universals".  He states:

"If we knew their intrinsic nature we would be better equipped to act in accordance with them - to behave properly, judge propitiously and reason wisely."

Well, I am still working on that.  All the philosophical guidance that I have received from my parents, from my teachers, from reading and from discussion has to some extent informed my understanding but has not answered the questions.  Each new experience brings new complexities to the questions.

Does that mean then that I have nothing firm to go on?  No.  I might not have a definite philosophy but I have several guidelines. One of these is to establish where my duty lies.  Another of these is to establish for myself an appropriate bottom line.  A third is to try to do no harm. There are several such.  Many of them come from my working life.  I rely on them in daily life as I continue trying to understand the nature of the universals.

How about you?  How far have you formulated your own philosophy?  Do you have guidelines or first principles or injunctions to follow?  Do you ever get yourself in a muddle with it all?

When I get in a muddle or feel that I have failed I have my father's philosophy to fall back on, "All we can ever do is our best."  I hope that you have something similar to fall back on as you steer your way through life.

1 comment:

  1. My first question would be what constitutes a philosophy?