Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Usefulness of Philosophy

       So often Philosophy, and therefore philosophers, get a bad rap.  They are considered egotistical, strange, and foolish for spending their time on something so frivolous as philosophy.  However I have discovered that this is not the case, that in fact we all use philosophy and that it might be the most important exercise we can do in our lives. Much of what I will write revolves around the ideas of Plato (just so you all know I'm not smart enough to come up with it myself).  I would also like to add, that I do not believe myself to be a philosopher,  for I am much to foolish and selfish to be labeled as such.  I just study philosophy which is much different.
        Philosophy: The rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.
       There are two types of power, first is worldly power.  Worldly power is the power to persuade; this persuasion gives the allusion of well being without the 'wellness' actually existing.  It's roots are in ones selfishness.  For instance, one can alter there visage to appear a certain way without actually being as such.  I saw a commercial the other day for a 'corset' for men.  A tight shirt that prevents the extra belly fat from hanging over the belt line.  So the worldly power is all about appearance, whether it is truthful or not.
        The second type of power is Philosophy, getting to the truth, and being virtuous.  We have both implicit and explicit associations.  Many times these two things do not line up.  For example, I can claim to not be racist.  However, if I were to take a series of tests, matching faces with adjectives, I may find out that implicitly I actually am racist.  In the same sense one can claim to be just, even appearing so on the outside; but inside there is very little semblance of virtue.  When our implicit associations conflict with our explicit associations, meaning we hold two beliefs that contradict one another, we are unbalanced.  We are not in harmony with ourselves and therefore we are not happy.  What philosophy does, is it helps us align our associations so that we become balanced.  Our implicit and explicit associations become the same. Once we are true to ourselves and to others, only then will we find contentment and happiness.  
       This is called the Appearance versus Reality Distinction.  This can be taken into account when caring for two things, our bodies and our souls.  When we care for our body,  we have two choices.  The first choice, which uses worldly power, is that we can appear as if we are fit, using cosmetics, or plastic surgery.  We can eat food that appears, or seems good for us, which is junk food, but in reality it has negative effects on our well being.  In regards to caring for the soul, the worldly power causes one appear good without actually being good.  Again this leaves the individual to be unbalanced, unhealthy, and therefore unhappy.
      The second choice we have is to use philosophy.  If we want to be fit, philosophy says, exercise and eat right.  For exercise and health food choice give us the conclusion we desire and balance our implicit and explicit associations.  To care for our souls we need legislation and justice.  Philosophy tells us to strive for virtue, and to strengthen our character.  This second choice is clearly the better of the two, even though it is harder.  The 'real' is unpleasant but helpful', wheres the 'appearance' is pleasant but not helpful.  The 'real' is very similar to medicine.  It may not be pleasant but the outcome is well worth it.
      For many the appearance may seem to be enough, but here is the problem with that.  Aristotle draws up a theory of our soul; in which we have two parts.  Our souls contain an irrational and rational side.  Our irrational side also has two parts; the vegetative which pertains to growth (just like plants), and the appetitive.  The appetitive side of irrationality has to do with seeking satisfaction for our bodies.  This kind of soul exists in all living things, for all living things seek to please their physical needs.
      On the other hand we have our rational soul.  It is here that we are set apart from all other animals.  We have the ability to reason, and to use this reason to guide our actions.  It is in our reason that we are set apart, and by using our reason we can find happiness and balance in our lives.  The best situation is to have our Rational side control our irrational/appetitive side.  An easy example to illustrate this is in regards to food and hunger.  When we are hungry our appetitive side demands food.  However, also in our appetitive nature we want satisfaction.  If we are controlled by our appetite, we will eat junk food, and things that are not actually good for us.  Why? To sake the yearnings of our irrationality.  This of course leads to unhealthiness, and even earlier death.  Clearly it is not beneficial.  Using the same example we control our appetitive nature with our reason, we satisfy our appetite while eating good, healthy, wholesome foods.  Not only is this more beneficial but, actually will become more enjoyable, and will elicit the most happiness in the end.  This pertains to all aspects of our physical needs, and can be exemplified in a like manner.
      If our appetitive nature controls our reason, we become enslaved by our desires.  We become little more than animals, because our sole purpose revolves around satisfying our cravings. Most people will claim to want independence/self-sufficiency and freedom.  Therefore we must utilize philosophy to gain freedom from ourselves.  "The proper function of man, then, consists in an activity of the soul in conformity with a rational principle (Aristotle)."

      The pleasures of the mind are much better than the pleasures of the body, especially when the mind controls the bodily pleasures.  For the pleasures of the mind are substantial, long lasting, and fulfilling; while the pleasures of the body are insubstantial, brief, and unfulfilling. Philosophy is important, in fact, it is essential.  It is utilizing philosophy in our every day life that brings us true happiness; not perceived or imagined, but actual happiness. This can be taken too an extreme, whereupon our emotional capacity shrinks and we are become stoic to those around us.  "Wisdom ceases to be wisdom when it becomes too proud to weep, too grave to laugh, and too selfish selfish to seek other than itself." -Gibran

"To know is the best, and this will bring happiness. To know that you don't know is good. To not know that you don't know that you don't know, is the worst, and results in unhappiness." --Idea of Plato

"A useless person is one who cannot see the truth for himself nor can he learn it from others." --Aristotle

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Awe and Wonder

            Have you ever felt wonder, or a sense of awe? I have, and it is ethereal.  For me it transpires the most in nature, when all of my senses are being used to experience the moment.  The smell of pine, the swish of tall grass, the chirrup of crickets, the rough feel of bark beneath my fingertips, the feel of the sun, and the taste of fresh air; together, in harmony, elicit a sense of wonder and awe in me.  What is this phenomenon of wonder and where do these feelings come from?
           Kant has a theory, mainly in regards to beauty, but I think it can just as easily be related to wonder.  When we are struck with the beauty of a place, experience, or situation, wonder is born.  This feeling almost detaches us from reality.  In fact we can only experience true awe and wonder when we have no purpose for the thing which produces our wonder.  Using beauty as an example; if I view a flower and see it as beautiful, it means I have no desired purpose for that flower.  However as soon as I decide to pick it and bring it to someone, it loses its beauty to me, and I lose my sense of wonder along with it.  For wonder is elicited with purposefulness without purpose. We perceive that the flower has a purpose, but one that is not to our own ends. 
           True wonder then exists completely within the individual.  It actually is a moment when we are free from ourselves.  When have no immediate interest in the object of our attention, then our desires have no place in our experience.  Normally we are enslaved by our desires, but when we feel wonder and awe we step away from our selfishness for just a moment.  After the experience one can reflect and analyze the feelings that transpired, but by this time our reflection only pertains to the memory of what we felt.  In order to feel a sense of awe, to become awful as it were, we must try to experience without purposeful intention.  This is very hard to do, and that is why wonder strikes us unawares.  We can be completely focused on the task at hand, look up, and be completely wowed by what we behold.  That again, results because we didn’t expect it, and we didn’t use it; we just experienced it.  
           Wonder plays an important role in our existence.  It helps us realize that there is something more to our world then our independent lives.  When we are struck with awe, we bare witness to reality in a new and profound way.  We catch a glimpse of how everything and anything reflects God's glory and majesty.

"We need a renaissance of wonder.  We need to renew, in our hearts and in our souls, the deathless dream, the eternal poetry, the perennial sense that life is miracle and magic." -E. Merril Root