Philosophy off the rails and how to get back on

May 15, 2015 by Joshua
in Awareness, Education, Perception

The following is half-baked, but I’d rather share half-baked thoughts, take criticism, possibly embarrass myself, and learn than keep quiet and not learn.

Since before Plato a major goal of philosophy has been to figure out how to make yourself happy, to understand what makes for a good life, and how to make one’s life a good life.

I haven’t met many philosophers, but they don’t seem the happiest people. The field seems to have become academic and intellectual—in other words, on the mind and thinking over the body and behaving. It seems to me that anyone pursuing philosophy that hasn’t figured out how to make yourself happy has lost sight of the main goal. I find a lot of philosophy intriguing, fascinating, enlightening, and all that, but not necessarily helpful in improving my life. In fact, I find it counterproductive, at least relative to things that I find consistently effective, like exercise, cooking, SIDCHAs, sports, time with friends, and other simple things, as removed from a university philosophy department or intellectual book.

Experience tells me more studying and reading don’t help as much as self-reflection following behavior and interaction. What behavior isn’t necessarily obvious.

I try to teach through exercises to give people practice with behaviors to create meaning, value, importance, and purpose (MVIP) for themselves and people they interact with. I call the latter leadership because it helps you lead so much, but the word doesn’t capture the practice perfectly. In any case, I think my MVIP is close enough to the pre-off-the-rails philosopher’s happiness so as not to have to differentiate them.

I don’t think MVIP or happiness comes from reading or writing papers. I don’t think anyone can, through transferring information and knowledge, make you happy. I don’t think intellectual discourse is an effective path, at least not in the proportion philosophy handles it today.

I find guiding people through experiences—experiential learning, coaching, and the like—more effective. I see the set of exercises I’ve created for my course as a new direction representing an advance that I haven’t known taken (am I just ignorant of history?) since the ancients. I think of Buddhism’s Eightfold Path as suggesting behaviors to get out of misery, but it still relies on supernatural concepts of enlightenment and reincarnation. Plenty of traditions guide behavior, but through describing principles, not specific behaviors creating learning experiences to make it easy. I’m not saying my exercises are perfect, but I think their specificity and method help develop the skills to create happiness and MVIP, which lead to understanding intuitively what philosophers try to communicate verbally and intellectually.

Does anyone reading know of other traditions that promote simple, specific exercises that develop skills to create happiness and MVIP? I can think of many areas with simple, specific exercises that develop skills in those areas, like learning to dance, play a sport, play a musical instrument, sing, and other behavioral skills. I’m not aware of any that teach you how to create happiness and MVIP deliberately and predictably. I’m creating them. Or at least trying to, and they happen to teach leadership as a side benefit.

Am I crazy to think I might live when we first develop them and they take root? And that I might be part of that progress? One thing I learned in science is that you make more progress not thinking you’re special, like people who thought the Earth was at the center of the universe, or that the sun was, or that humans were specially created, or even the pinnacle of evolution. In other words, I expect I’m ignorant of relevant traditions, though thinking I’m not motivates me. Either way, I’d rather know of successful traditions of teaching people the skills to create their own happiness and MVIP than not.

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