Posted On 27 Apr 2010
What is being philosophical and what is its importance? The answers may surprise you.
Mastery of anything valuable requires disciplined, focused, persistent training of the right kind.
Etymologically, a philosopher is a lover of wisdom. Since to be wise is to live well, a philosopher is someone who lives well or seriously seeks to live well. It’s the serious attempt to master life.
It’s really that simple: being philosophical means being wholeheartedly committed to mastering life.
It’s not obvious how to live well. You are on the right track if you make the uncomfortable admission that you are ignorant about how to live well and resolve to cure that ignorance.
What philosophers have in common is that they live examined lives. They seriously question life. They are determined to live well or to die attempting to live well. They believe, as Plato puts it, that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
Living well never happens accidentally. If you don’t commit yourself to living well, you never will live well.
Common misunderstandings about philosophy abound. For example, it’s a mistake to equate being a philosopher with doing well taking courses in philosophy or even being a professor of it. Yes, it is an academic discipline known for asking fundamental questions; however, the purpose of questioning is wisdom, living well, rather than mastering some obscure texts or theories.
Being philosophical is a way of living. Successful philosophers are sages; you cannot merely read, write, or think your way into being a sage.
It’s certainly true that some good thinking is necessary to practice philosophy, but, if it detracts from living well, becoming a master thinker is actually detrimental to living well.
The values we adopt determine how we live, and every coherent set of values is grounded upon an understanding of reality. Therefore, the ideas that are fundamental to a philosophical life are value, reality, and understanding. These are the subject matters of axiology, ontology, and epistemology, which are the core philosophical disciplines.
Which values should I adopt? What is evidence? What is real? How is it possible to apprehend what is real? How is it possible to make consistently good decisions?
All normal people, especially when they are children, do wonder about life and at least occasionally, especially in times of crisis, examine it. In this sense, it’s natural, at least for literate humans, to be philosophical.
If you are not a philosopher and if your life isn’t working well, if you are suffering too much, then you should consider becoming more philosophical in order to liberate yourself from dissatisfactions and discover how sages live.
It’s important to avoid thinking that you understand what living well is like without experiencing it. Wisdom is not merely a matter of theoretical understanding; it has immense concrete value.
Understood correctly, instead of having the least value of all the academic disciplines, it is the most relevant!
Sages are the only masters of living well. They are the only wise humans, the only ones who lead blissful lives without suffering, liberated lives of detachment, peace, equanimity, and lasting joy.
My belief is that that is an option for all of us. It’s difficult to do, but it is certainly possible.
My own philosophical hero is Master Gotama, the Buddha. If you are interested in living better, a good place to start is to learn about the life of The Great Sage of India.
His view is that we are all innately “awake,” but we don’t realize it. We are all naturally sages, but it is necessary to quiet our distractions and still our minds to realize that. With continued practice, the tranquility realization involves infuses all aspects of our lives.
Here’s what I suggest you ask yourself: “What if he’s right? Why not decide that I may really be a sage and do what it takes to realize that? What could be more worth doing?”