Being practical. Being philosophical.

by phil on Tuesday Apr 11, 2006 1:54 AM

I'm making a connection between my amateur interest in philosophy and how it relates to things I enjoy in life. One thing that seems to continuously give me pleasure are life hacks. By life hacks, I'm referring to tricks to make life easier. For example, when I was in high school, I picked up The Memory Book that taught a simple mnemonic system for memorizing things. With a minor initial investment, I was eventually able to breeze through subjects that depended largely on memorization. While my peers were studying 10 extra hours a week with flashcards, I spent 30 minutes.

In other words, on some level, I'm a very practical person. The example I gave is fairly low-level, but I think this practical attitude, for me, extends to trying to solve life's problems. Everywhere I see people who've been unhappy for long periods of time. I ask myself, "Why haven't they figured it out?" Why haven't they hacked their life into a happy narrative versus a sad one? Life is complicated, and fortune throws us many curve balls. How do we navigate with wit and efficiency? Philosophy comes into play because that's life-hacking on the highest level. If you understand the universe, in some ways, can you not then master it?

This site is named philosophistry to contrast with straight philosophy. Philosophy is Greek for "love (philos) of wisdom (sophos)." Philosophistry is Greek for "love (philos) of rhetoric (sophistry)." The sophists, in Ancient Greece, were practical philosophers who insisted on everyday usages of philosophy. They also accepted payment for their teaching, which labeled them—in the eyes of their peers like Aristotle—as "sell outs." My attitude to philosophy is to be practical on the highest level. Understanding the really high-level issues, "why are we here?" "who am I?" "what is reality" will lead to more effective solving of those problems. It just makes me feel more secure and competent having a deep understanding of universe.

I became more aware of my practical attitude toward philosophy when taking philosophy classes. I quickly discovered that there was a particular angle of philosophy that I was interested in that not all the students cared about. In particular, I always liked the small quotes that the professor would put on a slide at the beginning of the class. These quotes were like little keys that were now in my pocket. Or I also liked stories, parables, and vignettes. These became impressions, like little polaroids that I could quickly refer to to refresh myself on the topic. As a result, I loved the lectures. Just sit there for one hour, open your ears, and voila, instant upgrades to your life. The parts I didn't like were the essay writing and the critical discussion sessions. It wasn't my concern to analyze these issues to death.

For example, Plato's Allegory of the Cave. A philosopher walks into a cave and sees prisoners forced to stare at the shadows of performers. Instead, the philosopher sees the original performers. This Allegory has two levels of meaning. The most basic level is that things aren't what they seem. But the higher level issue is a metaphysical argument about the nature of substance and Objecthood, i.e. what does it mean to be real? To me, I'm more concerned with the former, with the practical lesson that everything is not what it appears.

It may seem like I'm looking at philosophy as merely nuggets for self-development. However, it's more sophisticated than that.

In my post, "Religion, Faith, Spirituality as a priori motivators," I allude to how your philosophy will trickle down to the rest of your life. If, for example, you feel that the universe is rife with meaning, then it will instruct your attitudes, values, and belief systems. You will form more serious relationships, for example, because you feel that it fits into a larger, important picture. Or you may have a greater sense of optimism because you retroactively assign meaning to otherwise unfortunate incidents. What you grasp philosophically affects your social life and your psychological coping strategies. All very practical, life-affecting stuff.

As a result, when I dig deep into philosophy, it's only to refine my models of understanding about the hard questions. It's not so important to me to be so precise or 100% sure about these things. I'd rather get a rough sense that orders things better. And besides, to spend time wracking my brain to butcher a particular thesis would just make life miserable.


JD said on April 11, 2006 11:13 AM:

A great college application essay!
I need some time to brood what you said.

Kiran said on May 7, 2006 5:39 AM:

Jus surfing net and saw ur posting.. It was good.. But what does being practical in a real sence means..

poopie said on November 1, 2007 5:21 PM:


katie said on April 29, 2008 10:47 AM:

I was just thinking about being practical, how close am I to that goal? What you said actually struck a cord in me. I had to change my way of thinking in order to grow. I went about life for the last twenty years and could never understand philosphy. Today I could relate because of changing myself from the inside out. Thanks.

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