What to Do About This Thing Called Life

Over the years, I’ve come across certain resources that have definitively shaped the way I think and who I am. I’ll share them here in a few broad categories that are not necessarily mutually exclusive but provide a preliminary grounding for explaining why I think each resource is valuable and in what kinds of context I’ve applied each. I hope you like this list and feel free to share your thoughts!

1.     Why do we exist and what should we do with this thing called life?

Personally, I would be unable to do anything significant with my life if I didn’t understand why I do what I do. Here’s a sort of guide for how I went about things:

  • Read a lot of Ancient philosophy including:
    • Plato’s Republic, the Meno, Phaedo, Phaedrus and Symposium. Plato thinks that there is a thing called the Good, towards which we all strive. This Good is an abstract reality. In essence, the goal of life is to become virtuous and lead a good life to get to know the good. This will lead to blessedness and joy.
    • Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, On the Soul, Politics and Organum (his treatises on language and logic). Aristotle develops a theory on how things come into being and become other things. His theory on the goal of life is more appealing and coherent than Plato’s (simply because he didn’t write in dialogues, whereas Plato says contradictory things because his ideas are set down in dialogue form). Essentially, Aristotle says that we are able to understand what our nature is and become virtuous according to our nature. This entails practicing becoming virtuous: courageous, truthful, just, prudent, etc. The key difference between Plato and Aristotle is that the former thought virtue came out of knowledge, but the latter claims it comes out of practice.
    • The Stoics: Marcus Aurelius is probably one of the best examples of this philosophy.
    • The Epicureans: Read On the Nature of Things by Lucretius.
    • The Academics: the best way to get an understanding of what these intellectuals taught is to read Cicero’s On Academic Skepticism.
    • Probably one of the best works that sort of deals with all of these questions in a more succinct matter is Cicero’s On the Good Life.
  • Read more philosophy:
    • Augustine’s Cassiciacum dialogues, including: Soliloquy, On Order, On the Good Life, Against the Academics. Also, profoundly affecting the way I understood the world was On Free Choice of the Will.
  • Read some more philosophy:
    • Kant;
    • Hume;
    • Hegel;
    • Marx;
    • Nietzsche;
    • Heidegger;
    • Sartre;
    • Foucault.

The key takeaway for me from philosophy is that life is complicated, that the mind exists and can learn concepts that are true independently from itself through great effort, and that the best way to live life is to examine it, learn the truth about self and the world and pursue it relentlessly.

I will follow up on Friday with resources that deal with other, more mundane but equally important aspects of life 😊

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