Meditation #1: What is Philosophy?

The person who has practiced philosophy as a cure for the self becomes great of soul, filled with confidence, invincible, and greater as you draw near.
— Seneca

How can we see these benefits Seneca speaks of through our own practice of philosophy?

Philosophy is not a truth to be taught but rather a perspective to be looked through. It is a lens that can help us make sense of the world, emphasizing certain thoughts and ideas and encouraging us to ignore others. Philosophies come in many shapes and sizes, each with a unique take on how to make sense of the world. Once we can better understand the world around us, we can more effectively influence it.

By practicing, or even attempting to practice, various principles we can grow beyond our baser selfish instincts and anxious emotions. Philosophy can make one’s soul great by “curing” it of the nagging trivialities that plague it when it gets too caught up in wants and needs of the ego and self.

Philosophy then is something which helps us realize universal truths outside of ourselves, instructs us how to use knowledge and wisdom for the collective good, and shields our souls, in time, from the neuroses of modern life. It is NOT a collection of lofty ideas abstracted from life, it is the very armor and the lens between one’s true self and the world, the prism through which we process all stimuli.

One’s philosophy is what governs how he or she interacts with the world, and the underlying algorithms, conscious or not, which determine the decisions one makes. If you want people to be kinder and more altruistic, you must show them a kind and altruistic philosophy to live by. This is how we act from a place of purpose, as opposed to momentary whims. A philosophy can be like a religion, only it doesn’t exclude people for arbitrary reasons or, better yet, any reasons at all. One either practices the philosophy, or they do not. It is the effort and intention to practice one’s philosophy that counts, not the ultimate result.

Economics can be philosophy too. For example, one might say the world’s philosophy is currently Capitalism, so naturally most people act from a capitalistic mindset, unless they’ve put conscious effort into developing a different philosophy. Capitalism drives our ideas of global progress and nearly all business models in any industry. Capitalism places supreme value on monetary profit, rightly or wrongly, and, thus, so do we. If a ‘bad’ idea can make more money than a ‘good’ idea, it is declared the “better” idea to move forward with and praised accordingly. This is the lens through which the world is seen in this mindset, the filter through which all ideas must pass. We become a society no longer driven by ideas, per se, but rather by the singular notion of which ideas can make more money.

If you react strongly, positively or negatively, to the previous sentence, it is because of your philosophy, whether you know what it is or not.

How does one change a world philosophy? What should it be changed to? An authentic meritocracy, with a robust welfare state, based on a communal commitment to seeking truth and defaulting to kindness whenever possible? Is that a world we can all happily live in, and look forward to raising children in?

Is it a radical philosophy to think there’s no good reason we can’t live like this, other than that a few people wake up too mad every day to give it a try, and too distracted to find a better philosophy?