~Presentation to the Georgia Mountain Writers Club~
(August 8, 2007, Final Version)
As the twig is bent, so the tree is inclined. The following was written by a twig bent in 20th century North American culture for other twigs similarly bent.
“Philosophy” is the name given to the study of the problem of “What It’s All About”. The study appears to have originated in western culture in ancient Greece some three thousand years ago – though, of course, it goes back much further – we just do not have the records. It is the offspring of “religion” and the questions that children ask - though today it often refuses to acknowledge its heredity. It is the mother of mathematics and the hard and soft sciences - the father being tools/technology - the sciences were technology written down until the “discovery” of statistics and the formalization of logic.
The raison d’etre of philosophy is the examined life: as we see ourselves, as we see others, and as we see the world in which we live – see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Examined_Life. The study of the examined life collapses into the questions “what is the meaning of life” and “how should I live”. These have to be answered in regard to both the individual and the community.
Ambrose Bierce defined philosophy as “a road of many paths leading from nowhere to nothing”. Fortunately or unfortunately, there is truth in this definition: “philosophy” today appears to have no well-defined origin or end. This problem currently appears irresolvable – possibly due to the limits of our senses and mental abilities. (A variously attributed quote goes “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.”) Philosophy will continue to be the study of questions associated with the examined life not yet amenable to statistics and logic.
The remainder of this essay will document my opinions on the current state of the study of the examined life.
Vince Lombardi is famous for, among other things, saying something about his values:
- my first priority is to worship and obey my God
- my second priority is to nurture my family
- my third priority is to contribute to the health of my country
- my fourth priority is to make the Green Bay Packers the best American football team
“Meaning” and “purpose” at the moment have no definition outside the human context. So it is the human context that assigns “meaning” and “purpose”. These collapse into our values. The above are the values that gave meaning and purpose to Lombardi. Other people have other values, but whatever the values, they are what provide “meaning” and “purpose” to the life of the individual and the life of the community.
We derive our values from out experience. We share a common culture but have a unique existence. For the “sane”, our values are similar but to an extent unique – and they will change (generally slightly but sometimes not) as we acquire more experience.
My values as of 2007 are similar to those of Lombardi:
- nurture my family
- value my friends
- contribute to the health of my community
- seek new experience
Favorite Philosophers (as of August 8, 2007)
- Andy Clark
(Hobbes, Kant, Plotinus, Lucretius, Pascal, Schrödinger and Heisenberg are special cases)
- After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Third Edition by Alasdair MacIntyre (Paperback - Mar 1, 2007)
- An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume (Paperback - Jan 30, 2006)
- Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again by Andy Clark
- Complete Memoirs of George Sherston by Siegfried Sassoon (Hardcover - Sep 1980)
- Far Away And Long Ago: A Childhood in Argentina by W. H. Hudson and Nicholas Shakespeare
- Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics by Immanuel Kant (Paperback - Jun 1966
- History of Western Philosophy (Routledge Classics) by Bertrand Russell (Paperback - Mar 29, 2004)
- Honor: A History by James Bowman (Paperback - May 22, 2007)
- Idle Days In Patagonia by W. H. Hudson
- Leviathan (Penguin Classics) by Thomas Hobbes and C. B. MacPherson (Paperback - Feb 25, 1982
- Lucretius: The Way Things are: The De Rerum Natura of Titus Lucretius Carus by Lucretius. Translated by Rolfe Humphries (among many others).
- Pensees (Penguin Classics) by Blaise Pascal and A. J. Krailsheimer (Paperback - Dec 1, 1995
- Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science by Werner Heisenberg (Paperback - May 8, 2007)
- Quiddities: An Intermittently Philosophical Dictionary by W. V. Quine
- The courage of the early morning;: A frank biography of Billy Bishop, the great ace of World War I by William Arthur Bishop (Unknown Binding - 1966)
- The Enneads: Abridged Edition (Penguin Classics) by Plotinus, John Dillon, and Stephen MacKenna (Paperback - Nov 5, 1991) - Abridged
- The Prelude, 1799, 1805, 1850 (Norton Critical Editions) by William Wordsworth
- The Quest for Certainty: A Study of the Relation of Knowledge And Action by John Dewey
- The Time of My Life: An Autobiography by Willard Van Orman Quine
- The Uses of Argument by Stephen E. Toulmin (Paperback - Jul 7, 2003
- What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy (Very Short Introduction) by Thomas Nagel
- What Is Life?: with "Mind and Matter" and "Autobiographical Sketches" by Erwin Schrodinger and Roger Penrose (Paperback - Jan 31, 1992)