Philosophy could very well be the oldest subject known to mankind. It is in our nature to question, and seek understanding. Socrates summed this up well when he said “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Given this inclination to philosophize, philosophy itself is a broad subject. Today, we often divide the subject between practical and theoretical philosophy, and the former, practical philosophy, seems to be growing in popularity lately. But what’s it all about?
Practical philosophy can be sub-divided into hundreds of different fields, including ethics, decision theories, legal philosophy, theology, aesthetics, feminist philosophy, value theories, reflective practice and philosophical counselling. It seeks to answer questions such as:
- What is the nature of wisdom?
- Who am I?
- What is our state of awareness?
- How can I be more mindful (present / on the ball)?
- What does it mean to live justly?
- How should I best use my energy and time?
- How can reason enrich my life?
- What is beauty?
- How can understanding, and cohesion, be found amongst the diversity of life?
- How can I find truth?
What’s significant about all these questions is that they are tools. Unlike theoretical philosophy, the focus is less on the learning itself, and more on how we can make use of philosophy in our day to day lives. In other words, how should philosophy inform and affect our decisions? Whether you treat decision making as computation, intuition, calculation, coherence, reasoned analysis, philosophy has a great deal to say about what decisions we should take. However, all too often there is an assumption made in these philosophies that the tough decisions are already known. Papers frequently begin with assumptions about the most difficult questions, like “whether you decide to get married, have children, get a job, go to university” blah blah blah. Are these the biggest, and most difficult decisions that we all have to make?
It is my opinion that the most difficult, and encompassing decision that we all have to make is one of how to achieve balance. The ancient Greeks understood that we all needed to strive towards a harmonious, balanced life. They had several words that sought to describe such a state: sophrosyne, isoropia, and others too. Today we often forget the need for such a balance, instead believing that we need to specialise as much as possible in order to “make our mark”. But nevertheless we do all strive for balance. Take the marriage example for instance. Should a hypothetical person have been proposed to at the age of 18, he/she would be naturally inclined to wonder if marriage would stop him/her from pursuing things in other areas of his/her life e.g. a desire to travel the world, or to socialise every night while young. Deciding upon what the most desirable balance should be, is constantly at the back of everyone’s mind when taking decisions, and right from when we are young to when we are old.
Do you agree? What do you think is the most difficult decision that everyone has to make?