I’m not ashamed to admit I am neither a student nor a fan of extended philosophical discourse or writing. I admire people with the ability to engage in such pursuits, but both generally make my head hurt. So if you ask what I think of “philosophy” I might roll my eyes and then give you a wink. I am, however, enamored with questions. And from the perspective of writer, lecturer, workshop leader and philosophy and religion professor Sam Keen, that may just make me (and most everyone I know) a philosopher. Keen calls himself a “skilled explorer” rather than a philosopher. He states, “The practice of philosophy is a way of life that results from falling in love with questions—the great mythic questions that can never be given definitive answers.”
Perhaps the basic misconception that often elevates the words “philosophy” and “philosopher” into the realm of some esoteric endeavor that most of us don’t the inclination for these days—is that it takes a great deal of study and thought. Who has time for all that studying and thinking? But when you boil it right down to something as fundamental as remaining curious, most of us can handle that. Most of us already ask ourselves and each other the “questions” that have been around since man first scratched his head in puzzlement. The famous Descartes quote “I think therefore I am” is seldom quoted in its entirety “I doubt, therefore I think; I think therefore I am”, but it certainly illustrates that the questions are always there, always pushing, prodding, and propelling us to something new. What would life be without the questions?
So what are the “great mythic questions” to which Keen alludes? There are a number of “Top Philosophical Questions” lists to be found online, some tongue-in-cheek, others quite serious. I am rather fond of this rather simple, but profound list promulgated by Pricipia Cybernetica Project (PCP), an international organization with the mission to “…develop a complete philosophy or “world-view”, based on the principles of evolutionary cybernetics, and supported by collaborative computer technologies.”
Eternal Philosophical Questions
Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why is the world the way it is?
Where does it all come from?
Where do we come from?
Who are we?
Where are we going to?
What is the purpose of it all?
Is there a God?
What is good and what is evil?
What is knowledge?
What is truth?
What is consciousness?
Do we have free will?
How should we act?
How can we be happy?
Why can’t we live forever?
What is the meaning of life?
PCP offers some short answers on their site (http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/eterques.html),
in the form of an FAQ with links to longer discussions of each topic.
Keen offers up the following more personal questions on his website, Philosophy for Everyday Life (www.samkeen.com):
How can I find a meaning, purpose, vocation for my life?
What can I know?
What ought I to do?
For what may I hope?
Is there life beyond death?
Whom do I love? Who loves me?
What curtails my freedom?
How can I escape from the constricting social, political, sexual, and economic myths that were imposed on me by my family and culture?
To what cause, ideal, faith may I surrender without destroying the integrity of my self?
What does it mean to experience the sacred?
How can I live a spirited life in a world dominated by a secular-technological-economic vision of reality?
How can we create a more just and peaceful world?
No doubt, these questions have arisen for most of us in some form, at some time in our lives. Does just entertaining them make us all philosophers? You be the judge. Cicero said “Philosophy, rightly defined, is simply the love of wisdom”, and for me, to love wisdom is to remain ever-curious and questioning. I’m still working on my personal list of the philosophical questions that have defined and continue to influence my exploration of this life. And just out of curiosity, what would your list look like?
Sam Keen on the Stories We Tell