while reading through the text

The Story of Philosophy

Philosophy is often viewed as a field of isolation, or the literal ivory tower. The word is seen as a big word, a fancy word, used by the elite, arrogant, and out of touch.

That’s not what I’m doing here.

Philosophy is the story of humanity and the history of ideas, and it’s meant for everyone.

This page is my attempt to answer three basic questions about philosophy.

what is philosophy

object, and subject

As above, so below. Looking forward, and backward. Exploring the unknown, and examining the known. Either or, this and that. And on and on.

This painting is called “The School of Athens” and was completed by Raphael in 1511. In one painting, an artist, not a philosopher, encapsulated the history of philosophy. Different groups, different ideas, different factions and perspectives, all of which fall in line under a duality. The duality is represented in two figures, both center stage – Plato (left) and Aristotle (right).

Plato is pointing up, Aristotle is pointing down.

We must both look above, and keep our feet planted firmly on the ground.

what is philosophy

the line, and the glue​​

So much of life is like art – it begins by drawing a line. Philosophy is constantly drawing, redrawing, and redrawing lines around all ideas and actions.

But a line implies what it divides – so what does philosophy draw a line between? This could be said in many ways, but my answer is simple: Science and Religion. 

Science and Religion are both tools, excellent tools. But they speak different languages, or rather, have very different operating systems. Philosophy allows us to communicate between these systems so we can get the best ideas from both.

In this sense, philosophy is both the line, and the glue. The line that separates the entire field of human understanding, and at the same time, holds it together.

what is philosophy

letters and representation​​

Now of course philosophy must be read, or heard, or spoken, or represented, at the end of the day. 

Reading is possibly the most effective way to learn a lot, and learn it very quickly. Fortunately, this is all free, because philosophy is not new, but old. Any great philosophical text that is old, is free on the internet. If you are reading this… that is.

Anyone making you pay for great ideas from philosophy is trying to rob you. This is why all my work is free, and why websites like project Gutenberg and Open Culture exist. 

It is accreditation that is expensive, but education is free.

what is philosophy

if it is not anything...

It is not this.

Of all the books in the world to teach you what philosophy is, the dictionary is the worst source. Philosophy, categorically, does not have one definition. This and this alone will be the only definitive statement I can make about the field of philosophy.

I apologize, in part, for that. We like easy definitions, all of us. We like clarity. But if life teaches us anything, it is that clarity is rare, and fleeting. Certainty always needs new information. Knowledge is always incomplete.

Philosophy is constantly telling us how little we know and how little we can be certain of, and that’s hard. But it is the best enemy to ignorance, and our mind is free to choose our allies.

how is philosophy useful

we always face this choice​​

Either, or. Left, or right. Do this, or do that. Do something, or do nothing. And on and on.

This is a permanent condition in life, the burden of choice, and the responsibility this places on us. No matter who we are; no matter how clever, skilled, rich, poor, young, old, great, or small. If we are doing one thing, we aren’t doing another, and there is no escape from this.

Philosophy helps us work through this challenge. 

All choices contain regret, loss, pain, and suffering. Yet we still must make choices, and hopefully we pick the ones that contain most of the joy, bounty, freedom, and peace.

how is philosophy useful

yet we exist in two worlds​

We are this, and that. Subject, and object. Master, and slave. Full of dread, and full of dream. And on and on.

This is a permanent condition of life, the burden of being, and the responsibility this places on us. No matter who we are; no matter how clever, skilled, rich, poor, young, old, great, or small. We exist both as, and in, a world of subjects and objects, and there is no escape from this.

Philosophy helps us reconcile this challenge. 

Life permanently contains regret, loss, pain, and suffering, as well as joy, bounty, freedom, and peace. We can never quite square the circle, but we somehow manage to fit into both of them.

how is philosophy useful

recurrence, and rise​​

We choose either, or; and we are this, and that. Yet we grow and change. Most of it happens without our input and occurs beyond our control, but, not unlike a video game, we have a few buttons we can push and levers we can turn.

We grow and develop. It is as if we are meant to, if we are meant to do anything. Why not grow in the best way you can?

We still face those same either or choices. We still exist in those this and that conditions. Yet we can rise, ever higher. It is that rise alone that makes the seemingly endless repetition of life bearable. The rise is the greatest happiness.

Philosophy helps us understand that ascent, and gives us tools to measure that climb despite the fact that so little of life really seems to change.

why is philosophy important

if why, then anything

Vision, purpose, mission, reason to live. The why is what we live for, and what is guiding us. Our beacon, our north star.

If there is anything in life worth doing first, it is finding that why. A why by which you are willing to live and die.

Make it a good why. Good to you and for you. It is this principle that invents, saves, creates, builds, and, ultimately, changes the world.

With a good enough why, the how and the what become things to do, rather than mere obstacles or unknown entities.

why is philosophy important

a foundation​

The why is a big question, and one that will likely be updated many times in your life. But before we pluck our why and go change the world, we must begin. 

Where do we begin in philosophy?

That’s pretty easy. Plato and Aristotle. I’m not going to explain why here, because their names are immortal and their work is their best defender.

Rather, here I will say why they matter. Wherever the ideas of Plato and Aristotle have been brought into an individual, a city, or a nation, development followed. Whether the environment was in anarchy, authoritarianism, or the dark ages, this set of ideas is the closest thing we seem to have to a miracle drug.

Try it. Make note of your life today and check back six months from now. Remember, education is free…

why is philosophy important

time...​

We are time bound. We consider this reality through philosophy.

Now as I type this it is Saturday, 6:08 pm, July 21, 2018. But time is more than fixed, but relative. Relative to space, to speed, and to me.

At the time of typing this, I am also 29 years old. That means I’m roughly 1/3 through my life.

Relative to my peers, in time, I could be argued as educated, or not, successful, or not, well off, or not.

“Things you must do by age 30” is the article the internet wants me to read.

We exist in time, and most of these questions are questions of philosophy.

why is philosophy important

...and space

We are space bound. We consider this reality through philosophy.

Now as I type this I am sitting at my desk, in my house, along the Ping river in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I am at once both a dot on the map of the universe, and the center of it.

We live on a physical plane. On the one hand, it is simply something we are a part of. We are not a subject, but an object in it. It’s not our world, it’s not even our body. Here, we are renters.

On the other hand, it is something we move within, with us as the permanent center of it, at least in so far as how we experience space as a subject. Here, we are owners.

We are physically here, or there; and we are physically in a state of war, or peace; heaven, or hell. We are physically moving forward, or backwards, or nowhere.

We exist in space, and most of these questions are questions of philosophy.

why is philosophy important

the road to heaven...

Goes through Hell.

It is a heavenly cause alone that guides us through that journey. 

The story of the Lotus flower describes this perfectly. Beauty comes from the depths, and the Lotus flower reaches down to the depths of its body of water, through the mud, through the darkness. The result of this is the flower.

Is it worth it? The Lotus shows that it is.

why is philosophy important

so look down

Keep your feet planted. Exist in this physical, temporal, square, bounded reality.

And expand outward. Grow, build, create, develop, choose a path and walk, forward. Who knows how far you could go.

why is philosophy important

and look up

Imagine the highest, best version of your life. Exist in this metaphysical, timeless, circle, boundless reality.

And go upward. Grow, build, create, develop, choose the highest target you can imagine and shoot, and keep shooting. Who knows how high you could go.

why is philosophy important

vine, and fig tree​

This is the story of philosophy, abridged… 

This story isn’t grand in the modern sense, but what is grand, really? That’s a good question for philosophy. A life with enough food, water, shelter, companionship, and security, is grand enough.

After all, we all want to sit under our own vine and fig tree, and to not be afraid.

What else should we do with our lives than to seek that, and ever greater versions of that; first for ourselves, and second, for as many as possible?