The Good Life
Sooner or later, life makes philosophers of us all.”
You can’t live any length of time at a place like Little Owl Gully and not, every now and then, think about ‘the good life’. Many of us baby boomers have fond memories of the British tv show, ‘The Good Life’, and this has meant that fellow boomers often associate our way of life as having a lot in common with the life of self-sufficiency portrayed in that programme.
Up until now, I’ve assumed that that was broadly what was meant by ‘the good life’. So, it came as a surprise to look in the dictionaries and see the phrase also used to describe, firstly, lifestyles of the wealthy, and secondly, the sort of moral, satisfying and worthwhile life aspired to by many of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers.
I began to wonder what it would be like to have lots of money! Dream on! No I didn’t! Instead, I began to wonder whether I’d get something worthwhile out of widening my ‘good life’ horizons. Could I successfully apply to my own life some of the suggestions philosophers have come up with in their attempts to answer the question: “How do you live a good life?”
The average Joe’s impression may well be that modern-day philosophy departments are full of pointy-headed oddities spouting forth jargon-laden abstractions that are unintelligible to all but the select few.
It came as a breath of fresh air to hear of philosophers who are out and about and sincere in their hell-bent desire to engage in conversations of a philosophical nature with Jane and Joe Bloggs. And ‘the good life’ looms large in these discussions: they’re interested in how you might go about the business of actually living one. After all, they argue, that’s the only way that philosophy outside of academia can be of any practical use to the vast majority of people.
They’re keen on letting the masses know that philosophy doesn’t have to be:
… the quintessential example of an utterly useless academic field. Students who decide to major in philosophy in my department at the City College of New York are often asked by their peers, not to mention their parents, ‘What are you going to do with that?’ (Insert appropriately snarky tone and facial expression.)”
(from an article titled, ‘Philosophy as a Way of Life’, by Massimo Pigliucci)
They’re also keen on letting us know that philosophers can do work that is helpful to people in general:
[Professor Jacob Needleman] earned a PhD in philosophy. He still recalls the first time he was introduced socially as ‘Dr Needleman’ in his mother’s presence. She interrupted to point out, ‘He’s not the kind of doctor that does anybody any good, you know.’
Needleman spent the rest of his life proving her wrong. … always eager to reach a wider audience.”
(from The Socrates Express by Eric Weiner)
I can’t get my head around the philosophy that’s taught by academics in universities, but I do like reading books about philosophers and philosophy that anyone of modest intelligence and an interest in the subject can comprehend. Over the course of the last few weeks, my interest has narrowed somewhat, and I find myself searching for a fresh take on ‘Philosophy as a Way of Life’.
I came across a couple of articles that expressed my current predicament very well. The first quote is from Professor William B. Irvine, and the second one is again from Massimo Pigliucci:
A growing number of people have realized that they lack what the ancient philosophers would have called a philosophy of life. Such a philosophy tells you what in life is worth having and provides you with a strategy for obtaining it.”
Whether we realize it or not, we all have a philosophy of life. Often it consists in whatever religious creed and practices one has been raised with. At other times it is the result of a conscious choice. Even those who don’t think about philosophy or religion still have a certain understanding of the world and how to act within it – which means that they have a (implied) life philosophy.
If this is the case, we may as well be conscious of what kind of philosophy we practice and why. And at least occasionally we may want to question whether such philosophy is really what we want. If the answer is yes, good. If it’s no, then perhaps the time has come to consider possible alternatives.”
As of now, I couldn’t clearly explain to somebody else my current philosophy of life. But I am beginning (in the words used by Pigliucci above), “to question whether such philosophy is really what [I] want. … the time has come to consider possible alternatives”. Assuming I do find something of a philosophical nature that’s a good fit, it would add a refreshingly new dimension to the commonly held notion that we’re living ‘the good life’ at Little Owl Gully,
In a post riddled with other people’s words, I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, and finish with a sentiment that echoes, in a way that’s better expressed than I can muster, where I’m at for now:
I am hungry, too – more than most, I suspect, owing to a persistent melancholy that has shadowed me for as long as I can remember. Over the years, I’ve tried various means of satisfying the hunger: religion, psychotherapy, self-help books, travel, and a brief, and ill-fated, experiment with psychedelic mushrooms. Each method slaked the hunger, but never fully nor for long.
Then, one Saturday morning, I ventured to the underworld: my basement. … I unearthed Will Durant’s 1926 book, The Story of Philosophy,
… Something kept me reading … It was not so much the ideas embedded in the book as the passion with which they were presented. Durant was clearly a man in love, but with whom? With what?
‘Philosopher,’ from the Greek philosophos, means ‘lover of wisdom’. The definition says nothing about possessing wisdom any more than the Declaration of Independence says anything about obtaining happiness. You can love something you don’t possess, and never will. It is the pursuit that matters.”
(from The Socrates Express by Eric Weiner)