DRMacIver's Notebook

How to use philosophy

How to use philosophy

Here's another draft bankruptcy piece that was from a longer post in which I was apparently trying to puzzle out the meaning of life. This obviously went as well as you'd expect, but here's a section from it that I liked.

I used to be part of a support group, where we got together as a group of four people every three weeks and talked about our problems. In one session I found myself saying "If I never solve the problem and continue this way for the rest of my life then I guess I would..." and I couldn't finish the sentence.

I know exactly why I couldn't finish the sentence, it was because the words that I'd intended to say were "be fine with that". I couldn't say them because as soon as I started I realised they would be a lie, and I don't lie to support group.

There's a joke I'm a huge fan of. It goes as follows:

A certain man was in quest of immortality. He read many occult books on the subject, but none of them gave him any practical advice on how to become immortal. Then he heard of a certain great sage of the East who knew the true secret of immortality. It took him twelve years to find the sage, and when he did, he asked, "Is it really possible to become immortal?" The sage replied, "It is really quite easy, if you do just two things." "And what are they?" the man asked quite eagerly. "First of all," replied the sage, "from now on, you must always tell the truth. You must never make a false statement. That's a small price to pay for immortality, isn't it?" "Of course!" was the reply. "Secondly," continued the sage just say, "I will repeat this sentence tomorrow." If you do these two things, I guarantee you will live forever."

(from The Gödelian Puzzle Book by Raymond Smullyan)

Sadly I haven't mastered the second step yet, but I'm still working on the first, and it comes with its own advantages.

After a certain amount of work (largely the sort of things I talk about in labelling feelings) you get to the point where it's really hard to unintentionally say things you believe to be false, and attempting to do so is often a good way to find out what you believes different things than you thought it did.

Philosophy is at its most valuable when combined with this sense, because you go through the philosophical argument, and you then identify which parts of it don't feel right, and you use that feeling to guide yourself to one or more of better self-understanding or better philosophy.

The result is not that you argue yourself into feeling differently, but that by paying attention to the argument and your feelings about it, you learn more about both the argument and how you feel about the subject. Sometimes this changes your feelings, sometimes it changes your philosophy, sometimes it changes both. The only way to fail is for it to change neither.