New year expectations always seem to be somewhat unrealistic. We seem to want to change ourselves so much over such a short period of time that when we realise that our hopes and expectations are not becoming a reality in the time we wished, everything collapses and we fall back into the old habits we so desperately wished to remove or replace. Heraclitus, one of the most notorious pre-Socratic philosophers, wrote that everything is in a state of change except change itself. We ourselves will change, whether we will it or not, and so it is not whether we change, but how we change. You can never become the person you once were, yet what is possible is that you begin to become the person you want to be, yet to do this it is necessary to start directing change in a positive direction at a pace that is realistic and attainable-‘once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed’ Schopenhauer. A sprint will not get you to the top, but a steady jog will, and once you reach the summit, things will become easier and easier.
‘Every human activity is a tack for killing time.’ Thomas Ligotti
Time passes inevitably. Change occurs whether we like it or not. That is what time is-a measure of change. The way we use and manipulate time determines how our lives turn out. Time, then, is the greatest resource for a human life.
Ligotti’s idea is one of existential nihilism, that everything is essentially useless, and that human activity leads to nothing. Objectively this may be to some extent true: time does pass and eventually all human endeavours will come to nothing. But that is not all. While the human race exists, our endeavours are still meaningful. They still affect ourselves and the people around him-what happens now and the effects that current events and actions have, must not be overlooked. Everything becomes redundant at some point, but human activities still have meaning while they are around to be experienced. Life is not merely killing time, it is using time which is passing and perishing in the best way you think.
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.
We always ask ourselves how we should live, how we should act and what we should do with our time. Rarely, if ever, do we find a right answer. It’s one of those questions which we can’t just look up online or find in a book. Yes, other people can tell us how to live, but that doesn’t mean that’s how we should live. Is there, then, any way of finding a right answer?
Many things can be used as examples which tell us how to live: advertising, the Bible, various philosophies of life. Yet are they correct? In some places we may find right answers, but not the right answer. The external may be able to help us recognise the truth about how to treat others and act in certain situations, but the fundamental thing is that each recognition comes from within you. It has to be you who accepts what you read or watch, and as soon as you do, it has become part of your way of life. It is part of your theory of ‘how to live’. As we constantly go through life from one second to the next, we are not only living but also simultaneously acting out how we believe we should live. The answers do not come from the external, they come from the internal, and from the reflection of our own life as we have lived it so far. Sartre is right in the sense that one cannot say to another ‘this is how to live’, yet I believe that how we should live has been figured out, by ourselves, for ourselves and for ourselves only. Only you yourself can truly figure out how you should live. Christopher Hitchens used the example of Socrates’ inner daemon– a guiding, internal voice. Perhaps the only way we can ever know we should live is to listen to this daemon, and to review how we act in certain situations. How we act in a certain situation reflects our thoughts on what we should have done in that certain situation. There are no variables here, and what we do is what we think we should do at that moment, even if in retrospect we realise we should have done something different. To figure out how to live, first, we must live. It is up to yourself, nobody else. There is no right answer, only right answers, and as long as we truly listen to ourselves, to our inner voice, we will know how to live.
Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who lived in the third century B.C., and was a massive influence on the Roman philosopher/poet Lucretius. Epicurus was an atomist, who believed everything, including the mind, was corporeal. One of the greatest questions Epicurus asked was ‘how do we live a good life?’ For Epicurus, living a good life also meant becoming happy, yet what was it that Epicurus believed consisted in the good life?
One of the crucial acts in the art of happiness is, according to Epicurean philosophy, the renunciation of the gods and no fear of death. It is fear of death and fear of the gods that keeps us from becoming happy. Epicurus wrote that because death is without sensation, it is nothing to him, simply because it is without sensation and so cannot truly mean anything to him-the fear of death is irrational.
Pleasure is the absence of pain. The limits of pleasure go as far as pain can be removed, both mental and bodily and so this is a negative view of pleasure. Moreover, Epicurus believed that bodily pain is not continuous, and bodily pain is not usually greater than bodily pleasure, and if it is, it is uncommon and does not generally last for more than a few days. No pleasure is bad in itself, yet pleasure may at times cause disturbances much worse than the pleasure itself, so we must be careful.
To live pleasantly, we must be sensible, noble and just. Likewise, to be sensible, noble and just we must be living pleasantly-they are dependent on each other.
Is death our final end?
What if death is the end? What if there is no afterlife, we die, and that’s it, we cease to exist? If death is indeed the end, then life is no doubt, objectively speaking, pointless. We live until we die would be the case. Can there even be any true justice if death is the end? No, it seems there cannot be such a thing.
But what if there is life after death? Immanuel Kant thought that due to practical reason, there must be a God, and an afterlife, if there was to be any real justice. If there is life after death, then there surely must be some kind of objective purpose to existence, even though we may not be able to know or perceive such a thing now. Could there be, however, an afterlife, yet life here on earth still remains meaningless? Perhaps, but we cannot know for sure. Nevertheless, it seems that even with an afterlife, many of the trivial things we do every day and take seriously and view as important may not be so. One thing we can almost say for certain is that material possessions will have no value if such an afterlife exists. It appears to be the case that who we are, rather than what we own, will matter. How we treated others, not how ‘successful’ we were, will matter. Sometimes, it seems, we need to remind ourselves that one day we will die, and that little things, like whether we own the latest gadget, do not really matter.
If death is the end, then we must make life on earth, it seems, more just and we must remind ourselves frequently how short our lives really are, so that we can seize the moment and make a difference in the brief period of our lives. The problem with this is that one may take the view that nothing is worth doing or nothing is right or wrong. However, just because there may be no life after this one does not mean this life here and now is not worthwhile. Our lives on earth being worthwhile is not dependent on whether there is life after death. Furthermore, acting virtuously merely for reward after death is not really virtue after all. People are treated as means, rather than ends, and so acting out of fear of punishment, or for reward from God is not a worthy reason to be ‘good’. What is a worthy reason is another question altogether, although I will mention the thought of Jean-Paul Sartre here, which may be likened to Kant’s idea of a Categorical Imperative. Sartre said that when we choose to act upon something and make a decision, we are choosing for humankind also. If we choose to get drunk on a Saturday night, we are effectively saying that we think this is the way everyone should spend their Saturday evenings. Kant taught that we should live ‘as though your every act were to become a universal law.’
It is clear that life would have no intrinsic meaning if this life is the end (although an afterlife may not mean this life was in fact meaningful), but this does not mean that life is not worth living, or that we are unable to create purpose for ourselves. Regardless of the fact that there is an afterlife or not, one should, it seems, act as if deciding for mankind, and to focus one’s life on what really matters. When you die, people will not care about the things you own, they will care about the person you have become, and the difference you have made. With an afterlife or not, surely this must be what matters.