How to Live
How to live?
Why do we talk most about what matters least? And on what's truly meaningful we spend such little time and thought?
What is it then that you think matters most?
How am I supposed to live?
Good question, I think it's perhaps the most important question you can ask. It’s another way of asking ‘what is the meaning of life?’.
But in order to answer ‘how to live’ you have to first answer ‘what is life’. Meaning comes last, don’t worry about it until you have a firm understanding of the world. Then you’ll give it meaning.
Trying to decide what the proper way to live is without first having a deep understanding of what life itself is, is a bit like asking for driving directions without first knowing how to drive.
So what is life?
How would you go about answering that? You’re lucky to live in the 21st century. That question has a much more solid answer now than it ever has thanks to science. So first you should study science and philosophy. Each is just a different way of approaching ‘what is life’ and both are vital to understanding it.
Why do philosophy?
Why do philosophy? Why not just study science?
Philosophy teaches you to ask the right questions. For example, we've just seen that before you can answer 'how to live' you have to answer 'what is life'. But perhaps our terminology isn't clear. What do you think philosophy is?
It’s like a theory of what you believe, a way of thinking about things you can’t prove with science.
That’s a common modern view of philosophy as some sort of theoretical construct. That’s not the way it started however and perhaps it makes sense to go back. Philosophy is a way of life, it's not just a theory. You have to practice it. You have to live it.
In the ancient world, philosophy was seen as a certain way of living, a way of living that involved questioning things a lot and discovering or proving to yourself what the right way to live is.
Antisthenes, one of the great students of Socrates, was once asked what he had learned from philosophy, and he replied “the ability to converse with myself”.
How do I do philosophy then?
Study, reflect, practice. To do philosophy means to decide to live your life in a state of constant questioning, never accepting anything as proven, always debating yourself and others in order to learn as much as you can. It means studying the world, contemplating it and carrying out a dialogue with yourself in order to give the world meaning.
That sounds a lot like pretentious ramblings, no different from other nonsense that claims to provide answers. I want concrete results, what will I gain from philosophy?
Philosophy provides questions, not answers. No one can teach you anything but you yourself.
The ultimate goal of philosophy is happiness. Ignoring perhaps certain neurological conditions, I think we can both agree that all humans fundamentally want to be happy. This is the starting point of philosophy. The question ‘how to live’ is really asking ‘how to live a happy life’. If you think this assumption goes too far, then philosophy has nothing to offer you. But if happiness is your ultimate goal, then the best way to achieve that is in fact through philosophy.