Lovers of philosophy are often at pains to defend its relevance.
By “relevance” I have in mind something like “utility for a thriving career in the capitalistic marketplace.” It’s a narrow conception of relevance, for sure. The first draw of philosophy (for me at least) has always been deeply personal — the calm of clarity and perspective, the pleasure of elegant logic, the edification of edgy principles.
But those things are generally not in question. Rather, philosophy’s contested relevance seems to arise from a couple related facts: the best chance most people have to study philosophy is at university, and…
A working concept of “enough” can have potentially immense benefits on both personal and societal levels.
On a personal level, it can help us to distinguish between wants and needs, which in turn helps to limit the role of acquisitive pursuits in our lives. That creates room for us to pursue things of value beyond just economic value, and may support the very sense of peace some people try to achieve by acquiring ever more. …
The stakes are higher than just forgetfulness
We have forgotten more than we will ever know.
Places, names, faces, dates, relationships, experiences, causes for praise and blame, dance moves, math formulas, music scales, foreign words, niche words in languages we’d claim as our own — details of which, perhaps the very existence of which, have all faded from us like vapor against a warming sun.
Sometimes, they return like a drop falling back from the sky, summoned by a surprise association. Sometimes, they are simply gone.
A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine faced a momentous decision. She could continue to grow in her stable, decently-compensated corporate job. Or she could act on a longstanding desire to become a physician who serves populations in need, which would require the arduous — and costly — path of medical school.
As she was wrestling with the decision, she told me about an exercise that a well-meaning advisor had walked her through.
The fad machine that is the Internet occasionally produces some surprises. Cat videos — anyone could have seen that coming. But Stoicism, an ancient philosophy often caricatured as promoting an emotionless, Spock-like austerity?
Granted, Stoicism has not taken the world by storm quite like cat videos. (Sharing quotes by philosophers over lunch with your colleagues just doesn’t seem to elicit the same kind of glee. Believe me, I’ve tried.) But the current popularity of Stoicism is nonetheless impressive.
A friend recently confided to me that he’s been shaken by a fear of death. It isn’t that death is nearer for him than for the rest of us mortals. Nor is he especially morbid and brooding. He’s in his mid-twenties, healthy, decently employed, accomplished in creative pursuits, and surrounded by stable, loving relationships.
Yet the thought of death has begun to haunt him in the quiet of his solitude, the last waking breaths of a day, the interstitial moments that have nothing to fill them but churning thought. And he asked me for help.
One way of trying to…
Essayist. Erstwhile academic turned business strategist.