Philosophy is a good tool to get a better understanding on how we as people and as a society are moving operating. L’histoire se répète, so I will look back to some of the most famous philosophers from history as they have great insights and reflect a wisdom that shows us what the most important issues in life are. Why are we here on earth? Who and what are we? What is driving humanity? Is there a purpose in all of this? I will also look at topics such as space time, consciousness, quantum biology and new scientific approached to look at all of this.
Why are we asking these big questions? We are – at least here on earth – the only beings that can ask questions about our own being. We need them to place ourselves in the world we live in and to make sense it. This is the basis of ‘knowledge’, knowledge comes before philosophy and the resulting questioning of these big issues. So, it is interesting to investigate how did we come to knowledge.
Just thinking of these issues, however interesting this is, is not enough. As Hannah Arendt mentioned, it is action what counts. In the end we can’t just philosophise ourselves out of the many issues that we investigate, discuss and think about, in the end we will counted for the actions we have taken based on our learnings. Hannah Arendt strongly argues that philosophy has to be action oriented and I fully agree with her.
It were philosophers – all the way back to the Greeks in the 6th BCE – who first started to ask some of these questions. This formed the basis of what became known as empirical science. In the 18th century, this science became a faculty in its own right (as in distinct from religion and metaphysics). Separately from fact-based science, philosophers continued to concentrate on the many unknown elements. Interestingly questions such as the meaning of life and its purpose remain unanswered from a scientific point of view ever since they were first brought up, more than 2500 years ago.
Some definitions used in philosophy:
- Ontology (metaphysics) – what is – study of beings or their being
- Epistemology – how we know – study of knowledge
- Logic – how to reason – study of valid reasoning
- Ethics – how we should act – study of right and wrong
- Phenomenology – how we experience – study of our experiences
- Existentialism – based on personal responsibility and free will
As an amateur philosopher I am fascinating by all of this and I love the intellectual pursuit to delve deeper in these issues. Of course those great thinkers of the present and the past are much better in formulating thought and philosophical expressions than me, but for me it is important to digest their thoughts and translate that in a way that this makes sense to me. Often their language is very hard to read and I need teachers that can assist me in better understanding these often rather academic thinkers. I can easily tag on to those philosophies with the assistance of good teachers (such as my teacher Dr Kerry Sanders).
I also like to apply philosophy to every day life . In making sense of what is happening all around us it also becomes possible to better understand what the options are to move forward. As technology plays such an important part in our modern societies the link between philosophy and technology is also fascinating and I am touching on those aspects as well.
Here is an example based on a quote from British author Karen Armstrong
“ … human beings fall easily into despair, and from the very beginning we invented stories that enabled us to place our lives in a larger setting, that revealed an underlying pattern, and gave us a sense that, against all the depressing and chaotic evidence to the contrary, life had meaning and value”.
This made me pondering……
The pagan era was based on myth. This was followed by the Middle Ages and Early Modern times with an era of religious belief – based on faith. With religion in decline, and modern science and materialism on the rise there doesn’t seem to be a new trusted source that many people need. This lack in trust is exploited by some politicians and some commercial media who can use fear to win votes or to monetise it. This provides fertile grounds for populism, fake news and conspiracy theories.
I think that this is the crux of many of our modern-day problems, especially at times of increased complexities in our society, economy and environment. Many people find all of this very hard to understand and process.
Despite all of this there is the notion of ‘ultimate concern’ from Existentialist Paul Tillich. Ultimately humanity does believe in something greater than the limits of materialism, science, ego and pure instinctive behaviour. While Tillich does link this to religion and faith. I see that as something deeper, rooted deep in our consciousness, linked to our existence as human beings.
The Meaning of Life
This is the age-old question asked by philosophers for over 2500 years and the question has never been answered. I think that it cannot be answered scientifically as human life is part of a much larger cosmic system that we do not yet understand. The value of the Meaning of Life is external to us, we don’t know what that value is.Why was there a Big Bang, where did the Big Bang come from are there more universes and if so why and where do they come from. More Big Bangs? Why did we go from stardust to intelligent beings and what will be next? And so our questioning goes on.
As we do not know any of this, we also do not know what the meaning of human life is external to ourselves, or if there is a meaning to human life at all? In other words, the question is meaningless until we do understand the bigger external picture and it does not look like, we are getting closer to those bigger questions.
As others have argued (eg Thaddeaus Metz in his book “Meaning in Life’), what we as humans can answer is, what is the Meaning in Life? We only must look inside ourselves to answer that question. Our innate human nature pushes us towards love, happiness, intimacy, and we find that in partners, family, friends, play, adventure, work and so on. Every day we do reach points that provides us with the Meaning in Life. Being aware of this makes us more alert to look for those points and enjoy them. It is also in this way or perhaps for this reason that we create our own story of our life.
The ‘Meaning in Life’ is an evolutionary element in human beings that we all in one way or another pursue, some more successful than others, and obviously circumstances can heavily influence that pursuit, but it is an innate part of human beings. So perhaps the Meaning of Life is simply ongoing evolution, we are just a cog in the wheel of evolution. We as humans have at least in this stage of the evolution little say about that and as such this makes us part of an external evolutionary force, not controlled by us.
So it is much better for us to concentrate on the Meaning in Life, as we do have at least some free will in this process. We can only ‘act as if’ we have the freedom to choose our own life and then we can ‘feel’ at least that we have given ourselves a meaningful way of being. This gives us at least the impression that we can live a meaningful life that delivers us more joy, happiness, love and so on. If Fortuna delivers us adversities we still have the option on how to react to that and as such make the best out of such situations.
Meaning is simply that what we experience through our senses, it is an integral part of our mind and body existence.
I also like the definition of Ludwig Wittgenstein “Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity”. I very much like philosophy as a key activity in my life. I am not necessarily looking for answers but I very much like the process of inquiry and learning. As Socrates supposedly have said – shortly before he was put to death:” The unexamined life is not worth living”. All humans have philosophical beliefs about things in life. Philosophy use reason as key tool in their quests for the truth. Reason is a critical element of today’s society with an overload of fake news, politicians that are plainly lying and all sorts of quacks and schemes being spewed out by social media.
Current populism is the opposite as it is based on emotions rather than reason. It is irrational especially in its disregard for pluralism, the rule of law and minority rights.
People like Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Seneca, Spinoza, Kant and Nietzsche and many others have greatly contributed to political, social, and economic philosophy. In my contribution I am concentrating on the nature of human, is place in the cosmos as well as ethical and moral issues.
It is interesting to observe that through the millennia people who had the time and had take the time did sit down to think. They than discussed the big questions in life with others interested in the big questions. Over the ages they have come up with very similar thoughts. Of over the last 2500 years new discoveries have been made. In particular with the arrival of empirical science further progress has been made but ideas about atoms, matter, time, politics, the cosmos, Nature, ethics have a very long history. At a basic level most of the thoughts from the more modern philosophers show great similarities with those from the Ancient Greek. Every age does need philosophers who take the time to think and to keep reminding people about the big issues as we far too often get swamped in the details of the day.
The following chapters that I have written are obviously a work in progress and will be updated and extended following my own journey in this fascinating world. Hopefully, I can show you how relevant philosophy is in our current times.
I also investigate early belief systems and religions as they have also contributed to philosophy.
At the end I look at transhumanism and other possible trends and scenarios of where we as humanity can move towards. But in that process, it is good to look at history and call in the wisdom of some of my favourite philosophers.
Philosophy is perhaps even more relevant now than ever before as we are more and more confronted with increasingly more complex global issues.
I must thank Dr Kerry Sanders for her insights to explain philosophy to me during the many lectures that I followed. Philosophy is sometimes very hard to understand and to read, and you need an expert like Kerry to assist you on that journey. Philosophy is also a discussion and she skilfully organised this during her lectures and during the informal ‘salon’ after the lectures at her house and since Covid online.