Sunday, October 25, 2015

Philosophy to bring joy

Epicurus said: "Philosophy is useless if it does not drive away the suffering of the mind."

What will end suffering and bring joy? Is it a final analysis, or is it the process of thinking itself?

First, we may need to begin with reverence, as Sir James Baillie wrote: "The final and supreme destiny of the scholar is to unite wisdom with kindness, knowledge with love, care for truth with love of man – and without reverence that is not possible." We may also need curiosity, as St. Augustine wrote: "We learn better in a free spirit of curiosity than under fear and compulsion." We may need to accept our humble limitations and contradictions, as Johannes Climacus wrote:

"That which makes understanding so difficult is precisely this: that he [the learner] becomes nothing and yet is not annihilated; that he owes him everything and yet becomes boldly confident; that he understands the truth, but the truth makes him free; that he grasps the quilt of untruth, and then again in bold confidence triumphs in the truth."

And we may need to resist assumptions, conclusions, labels, and roles that are given to us, as James Baldwin wrote:

The world's definitions are one thing and the life one actually lives is quite another. One cannot allow oneself, nor can one's family, friends, or lovers – to say nothing of one's children – to live according to the world's definitions: one must find a way, perpetually, to be stronger and better than that.


Epicurus, quoted by Alain de Botton, The Consolations of Philosophy, Vintage Books, 2000. p 55.

Sir James Baillie, Reflections on Life and Religion, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1952. Title page.

Augustine, Confessions, I:14

Johannes Climacus (Soren Kierkegaard), Philosophical Fragments, ed. and trans. by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton University Press, 1985. p 30-1.

James Baldwin, quoted by John Stoltenberg as an epigraph to Refusing to Be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice. New York: Meridian, 1989.

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