Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An Unexamined Life

Why do you do what you do? In a multi-verse of infinite possibilities, are you doing this because it is what everyone around you is doing, or because this is the choice you would genuinely make, even in a vacuum? I often ask myself this question when I see a woman with a really ugly purse. Does she really like that purse, or did she buy it because the fashion magazines declared that purse to be the "it-bag" of the moment and she is trying to squeeze herself into other people's perceptions of cool, trendy and popular? Of course, this question is not just handy in identifying stupid fashion trends. Applied on a broader scale it helps us understand our own behaviors by making us confront how we make decisions. And this, my fellow LIFEers is the basis of philosophy, a subject we had a teasing glimpse into by Professor Mark Thorsby this week.

"The unexamined life is not worth living." So said Socrates, in Plato's Dialogues, Apology. Professor Thorsby took us through his views on how 3 famous philosophers would address that statement. Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher in mid 1800s, focused mainly on the ideas of the subjectivity of truth, and faith. Kierkegaard would argue that an unexamined life is ultimately an ignorant and dogmatic life, because the person never questioned the world around them and accepted the "truths" given to them by society. Next, Karl Marx, a German philosopher in the mid 1800s, applied philosophy to socio-economic struggles and determined that working classes are alienated from their true nature because they don't own their work. Marx would have responded to Aristotle by saying an unexamined life is an alienated life, that until you realize you have no ownership over your work (your ability to transform the world) you are removed from your true potential. Lastly, Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher in the late 1800s, who believed that morality evolves with society. Nietzsche would say that the unexamined life is a common life, one lived with the herd, never challenging the social norms. The examined life is radical, untethered from assumptions.

"So what should we do?" you ask. Are we supposed to question our every action? Why do I brush my teeth, why did I buy a blue Honda Odyssey, should I obey this stop sign if no one is coming the other way? The answer is "yes". No, there is no ultimate answer, and the answers that do come will be as varied as the people who ask the questions. But if there is no ultimate answer, why bother asking the question, and isn't saying there is no ultimate answer an ultimate answer itself? And if the answer varies by the individual experience, then truth is completely subjective, thus negating the idea of "truth" at all, right? Uggh, my brain hurts from all this heavy thinking. I think I'll watch some TV. Now which channel should I watch? Wait, should I even ask that question? Does the fact I'm asking that question have any meaning? Arghhhhh!!!

2 comments:

ken said...

Nice summary of the meeting! Words are one of our tools that can both empower and bedevil us. As the Eagles sang, 'don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.' Not all questions have answers any more than all paths have an end; the journey is the reality as the question is the answer. Great class on a confounding subject.

ken said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29language-t.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=homepage

This article questions how our language infuences our thoughts and is a good fit with the subject of the class. Thinking with out words is a related subject about which people do not talk.