Many of us are asleep. This isn’t stating the obvious, this is stating that even when ‘awake’, many of us are still asleep, not really aware of where we are or what we are doing. We are the products of millions of years of evolution. Millions of years of toil and suffering has produced you and me. Not only that, but our lifespan is completely negligible compared to the time spent evolving before our existence began. If you’re not careful, life will pass you by without you realising, you’ll have wasted years of time, filled with regret, and you’ll be old, near to death. The cessation of life is a reality we all have to face, and it is perhaps the most important of all realities, and perhaps the only one. Yet in spite of all this, we remain where we are, asleep and half-conscious, dazing through life like a zombie-doing, but not really living. Nietzsche had this idea, that life is usually rejected, and rather than striving for greatness, we settle with mediocrity. His idea was to create an Ubermensch, an overman. This target is a target of greatness and of evolution-to make something better of ourselves, parting from ‘herd instinct morality’, and simultaneously becoming life-affirming, in essence-waking up. And once we do wake up, asleep will never appeal again. We just have to fight ourselves if waking up is what we really want.
Immanuel Kant was born in Honisberg in 1724, and was brought up in a Pietistic family. His earliest influences were Newtonian physics and his philosophy professor, Professor Knutzen. He is know to have first formulated the nebular hypothesis (that the universe was at one time a primitive cloud), but it is debated that it was in fact Emanuel Swedenborg who first proposed this. Kant was a believer in the natural law, an idea he took from Aristotle, and used the idea that humans are logical and rational by nature in his philosophy. To the questions he thought were out of reach and unanswerable, he called this the use of ‘speculative’ reason, a part of our reason which desires to know that which is not knowable, so speculates about answers without any real rational argument to support them. Kant described his Critique of Pure Reason as the ‘Copernican Revolution’, since he set out to show that the mind is like a solar system.
Kant rested upon the assumption that truth is stable, and that logic is perfect and complete. He took the Platonic idea that concepts are greater than what is physical and built on it. A lot of his work rests on the concept S is P. S is the subject, and P is the predicate or quality (e.g. the sky is blue). This will be developed later.
Kant rejected empiricism, a philosophy made famous by David Hume, which proposed that causality does not exist, and that it is our own subjective minds which make the mistake of assuming cause and effect: aRb where R is psychological and subjective, and represents the idea of causality. Kant rejected this, as well as Locke’s idea of a ‘tabula rasa’, arguing that logic and rationality are imprinted into us before we are born. This too will be developed later.
Kant is perhaps most famous for his development on Hume’s ‘relations of ideas and matters of fact’. Kant formulated the idea of analytic and synthetic judgements. Analytic judgements don’t tell us anything new (e.g. a bachelor is an unmarried man)-they are true but uninformative. All analytic judgements are a priori. Synthetic judgements are informative and can be either a priori (universal, necessary, and before experience-7+5=12) or a posteriori (after examination-sky is blue). Kant’s idea of S is P is resurrected here. S=intuitions, and are experienced through the faculty of sensibility. P=concepts, and the faculty of understanding is responsible for concepts.
Life has never been straightforward. In some ways life has become easier, yet it feels as if we, humanity, as a species, are coming to a standstill. Yes, we are still developing economically, technologically and scientifically, but it seems to be, for the most part, that society is not really going anywhere. We’re advancing, yes, but achieving? Questionable. It has come to a point where it is extremely difficult to determine where society is headed next. Obsessions with social media, gender complications, and popular culture do not appear to be enhancing the human race. The increase in smart-phones, televisions and technology that ultimately dulls the mind and is binge-consumed passively does not seem to be supporting any evolutionary progress. Perhaps we have made things too easy for ourselves that we have become so idle and lazy that little genuine progress in subjects such as philosophy, music and literature. Our societies seem to be founded on repetition, but is all this repetition good for progress that requires intense creativity? Maybe. Maybe not. Is our world hindering creativity?
We are programmed to find comfort. It’s natural. We seek pleasure and avoid pain because that’s what our brain is trained to do, through years and years of evolution. Putting ourselves through exhaustive or exertive circumstances is a fight against ourselves. Everything our brain has been programmed to search for savagely is at hand-food, water and (potentially) sex. It’s easy to sink into a state of doing nothing, since all our needs, says our brain, are fulfilled, and so we don’t need to do anything else. Our brains are right, but they’re also wrong. All our survival needs are met, but that does not mean we, as people, are satisfied. The things which we want to achieve are usually hard work to attain, and this involves a battle between your will and what your brain wants. Your brain wants comfort and pleasure, but you want to push yourself, to experience hardship now for the sake of gain later. This is what you must do then-fight yourself. Battle against your brain’s instincts and if your will is strong enough, you will win.
The opinion of others is something that is usually heralded as crucially important to any sane person, and what others think about us has become the reason for acting in certain ways-for getting that job, for posting that photo on Instagram, for buying that car, or for keeping quiet when we should speak up. We value others’ opinions highly, and what other people will think about us influences our decisions heavily. It’s not that other people’s opinions do not matter (they do), but it may be the case that we value what other people think too highly. It is a problem when we do not act in the way we should or the way we truly want because we fear what other people will think. It is a problem when we act solely so that people will think good of us, regardless of what we genuinely want to do. We make the mistake that if people have a good opinion of us, our power will increase, as will our satisfaction. This kind of deluded thinking has the opposite effect, since relying on the external for power and satisfaction usually means the opposite occurs, since most people do not care what you think or do. With this kind of thinking, whether we are satisfied is up to other people-we are completely powerless. Acting how you think you should, and realising true power comes only from within will result in more control, and, most likely, more satisfaction. We need to stop caring about what other people think. It makes us powerless and weak, stopping us from speaking when we should, doing what we truly want, and being the person we want to be. Ceasing to care what others think will result in liberation-liberation from anxiety, as well as liberation from the mask that we all wear around each other, a mask that prevents us from being ourselves. Take off the mask, and be free.
A question most of us, if not all, ask ourselves at some point. We seem to lose track of why we’re doing something: why we are working this job, why we are reading this book, why we are alive. We are human-we cannot help but question the reason for doing what we do. When we begin to lose sight of what the purpose of what we’re doing is, we must stop and revise the reasons for our actions. Why? Because meaning is perhaps the greatest motivator, and if we have meaning to do something, then we will find a way to do it. If there is no purpose or good reason to do something, then one must re-evaluate the path one is living. Meaning is crucial, and without our own meaning we will have little, if any, reason to do anything.
Aristotle was a pupil of Plato, the teacher of Alexander the Great, and he wrote extensively on many various subjects, including logic, biology, music and rhetoric. Aristotle’s work on logic was a great foundation for human logic, and the work he recorded was the work used by philosophers who lived thousands of years on, such as Immanuel Kant. Aristotle’s logic is based on the syllogism, which is, at its simplest, one conclusion from two premises:
P1 All men are mortal.
P2 Socrates is a man.
C Socrates is mortal.
This is deductive logic, and if one accepts both the premises, then one must accept the conclusion that follows. To therefore attack the conclusion, one must attack the premises. There is so much that one could potentially say about Aristotle, so I will mention only a couple of his key ideas.
Aristotle believed that everything has a nature and a ‘telos‘ (end or goal) to fulfil. His idea was that ‘essence precedes existence’-something’s nature is defined before it exists. He argued that, like all other beings, humans also have a nature and a telos. For Aristotle this was eudaimonia, or flourishing, and this is attained by using all one’s talents and becoming balanced through the golden mean, avoiding excess and deficiency. To attain this, we should enhance our practical reasoning as well as our intellect. ‘What is the meaning of life?’ Aristotle asked himself, to which he answered, ‘To do good and serve others.’
Aristotle had a certain idea of excellence, and it was that it is attained through training and habituation. Like all virtues, Aristotle believed that to become excellent took time, and required consistency and balance-we cannot hope to be something if we only act in that way rarely. Rather, we should act that way as much as we can, and through this repetition we will train ourselves to become what that virtue is.
The influence of Aristotle is magnanimous. He influenced many, including Thomas Aquinas, Martin Heidegger and Immanuel Kant. To the foundations of logic and to the influential ethical and political theory we owe Aristotle a great deal.
The concept of the will to power is more apparent today perhaps more than ever before. This is clear from the prevalence of social media. The majority of social networks are founded upon this principle of will to power, and social media taps into our will for power-it is what draws us in. Power is the reason photos are posted on Instagram and why videos are posted on Snapchat. The question is not whether social media appeals to people because of the supposed power it claims it brings (that is obvious), but whether we should partake in it or not. Another question is whether it is possible to avoid our will to power-is, for example, the denial to use social media just another form of the will to power because one believes that abstaining from social networks brings power with it? We must ask ourselves whether we want to fight for power, to (perhaps pointlessly) strive for attention and recognition. No, it cannot be. It is not that we should try to abstain from the will to power, for this may not even be possible, but to come to realise the best way to attain power-from within. Social media fools us by baiting us to look for power from people other than our own selves. By posting photos and videos with the hope that people will see them and think better of you or be jealous of you, that is not a sign of power, it is a sign of weakness. Social media relies on you relentlessly caring about the opinions and thoughts of others. Power can be attained, but not through the external. Real power comes from within, realising that we don’t need the recognition of others to remain in a serene state.
Let’s face it. Most of the things we do every day, if not all, are arbitrary. Most of the apparent tragedies that happen to us-we’re late for work, we’ve lost our car keys, the internet isn’t working properly-are also arbitrary, things which we become anxious about for no good reason at all. Most people believe that things like these are not worth getting stressed over, but what if it didn’t just apply to the tiny things, but to almost everything, or perhaps even everything? What if what we take seriously is absurd, and not serious at all? Deciding what is serious and what is not is up to you, yet it may be necessary, now and then, to distance oneself from the world to once again remind oneself of the absurdity and comic nature of our situation. All I can say is this: taking things less seriously makes life less of a burden, less stressful, and a whole lot more fun.
Plato was a student of Socrates, and is notorious for his work, which features Socrates discussing ideas with friends, politicians and various other people in the form of Socratic dialogue. Although many of Plato’s dialogues contain the ideas of Socrates, it is believed that the later works of Plato, such as the Republic, express Plato’s own ideas.
Perhaps the most unique idea of Plato’s is that of the theory of Ideas, explained best by the allegory of the cave. This is the idea that the world which we experience through the senses is not the ‘real’ world, and it is in fact the body which restricts us from this greater world which is immaterial. This material world is only a ‘copy’, and the world of concepts is ‘genuine’; the former is changing, the latter is permanent. Moreover, the allegory of the cave is used to describe Plato’s idea that only ‘philosopher-kings’ are fit to rule, since there are only few people who have come out of the cave and have seen the world as it really is-only the people who have exited the cave are fit to rule. There is no doubt that Plato has had a huge impact on western philosophy, and was the first person to set up a school of philosophy-the Academy. We owe Plato, and a long line of philosophers from him, a great deal.