Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Ethon Lowe | Philosophy and learning how to live

Published:Friday | June 23, 2017 | 6:03 AM
Ethon Lowe

Should a person who lives in a $250-million house in Beverly Hills be lionised for his success or feel ashamed of himself for displaying so much extravagance while people are starving and children dying because they can't afford life-saving operations?

Surely, the occupant of this palatial home has worked hard and deserves every penny of his earnings. Shouldn't he be allowed to spend his money as he chooses? Or should he be forced to give some of his money to help the poor"? The answer? It's all a matter of philosophy, says Ian Boyne in his article, 'Why philosophy matters' (Sunday Gleaner, June 18).

Montaigne, the French essayist, is of the opinion that "to philosophise is to learn how to die". His message, that the inevitability of death must not create despair, must surely warm the hearts of Christians, who espouse death and the rewards of the afterlife.

Atheists, agnostics and freethinkers, more to the point, adopt another stance. To philosophise is to learn how to LIVE. They know there is only one life, the here and now. There is no afterlife, so make the most of it.

Every day, we are confronted by philosophical questions. From the mundane: Is it wrong to lie to children about Santa Claus? Do well-endowed males get more girls? To the more profound: Does God exist? If there is no God, is all morally permitted?

 

DETERMINING HOW YOU LIVE

 

How you live your life and what kind of person you become depends, of course, on what you believe. It entails an examination of oneself, and, one's manner of living (the Socratic answers - know thyself and the unexamined life is not worth living).

The human world is not run by gods, but by human beings. The forces that make you stumble in trying to find answers are not demons, but rather demons in your own mind. It may require ruthless thinking that may be painful. It is a process and effort, and you may have to wrestle with them.

Your quest for the good life entails philosophising to acquire knowledge and wisdom. But does knowledge and wisdom make you happy - happiness being, arguably, the main goal in life. Cicero claims yes. But Montaigne points out that man's knowledge cannot make him happy.

Wisdom, no matter how pleasing, can only moderately affect emotions (which are crucial for happiness). John Stuart Mill, the English philosopher, believes, however, that it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied. It is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. Wise words that few would dispute, except perhaps fools and pigs.

Our relationships to the world and to one another are often bafflingly mysterious. Fodder for philosophy is everywhere. If philosophy is not for the brilliant, but rather, simply for the thinking person with questioning minds, it will have accomplished something valuable.

- Ethon Lowe is a medical doctor. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ethonlowe@gmail.com.