Why Personal Philosophies of Life Are Becoming Rare

The Cosmos Fascinates Us

Einstein had his cosmic religious feeling, but today’s preference for emotion at the expense of reason represses or impairs the urge to work out a personal philosophy of life. (Photo: S. Brunier/ESO)

What Einstein referred to as the “cosmic religious feeling” is a drive, like sex, hunger, thirst, and so on. Fear exists to make one run when flight is necessary. Anger makes one fight when struggle is necessary. Thirst makes one drink to avoid death by dehydration. Hunger makes one eat to avoid death by starvation. Lust makes one copulate to ensure the survival of the species. The cosmic religious feeling makes one quest for answers – the purpose being to advance the cause of Man’s ever-growing consciousness and to enhance our scientific understanding of the cosmos. The tools of this quest or task are introspection and intellectual striving. One of its interesting by-products is art.

Einstein saw the cosmos as an orderly whole designed by a deity who played by an understandable set of rules. God does not play dice with the universe. The idea is clearly an externalization of Einstein’s preferred reality. However, we humans have evolved in a cosmos that verifiably does have a set of scientific laws. We all observe, albeit imperfectly, that cause precedes effect. These causal realities unite with the human effort to control (or at least understand) the environment, and by so doing, prosper. Out of this union comes the drive to benefit from making sense of things as a whole – the cosmic religious feeling. Both practical knowledge and philosophy accrue from the attempt to plumb the vast universe around us.

Einstein’s cosmic religious feeling was his personal philosophy. Regrettably, the current Western preference for making emotion our primary concern while relegating reason to the status of party-pooping nuisance has, for most of us, largely repressed the urge (or clobbered the ability) to forge our own personal philosophy of life. Philosophy may mean love of wisdom, but acquiring wisdom requires thought. Being little more than feeling hulks, we are no longer in a position to emulate Einstein’s acquisition of a more sophisticated vision.

Psychology must shoulder a lot of blame for our loss. The practitioners of this one-sided belief system ramble on endlessly about emotions and their importance yet have precious little to say about rational thinking skills and their usefulness in forging a stronger personality. Negative thinking is treated as psychopathology largely because it is viewed as a source of emotional distress. The profession aggressively promotes a near obsessive preoccupation with feelings, as if wisdom could somehow come from the mere oozing of hormones. Out of this bias arises the risible proliferation of grief and crisis counsellors and our constant unwholesome absorption in sob-story charity cases, wounded animals, and people with serious illnesses and disabilities. Individuals enticed into this emotional quagmire are unlikely ever to develop an intelligent coherent personal philosophy of life.

Other factors also repress the urge to form a personal philosophy of life. Foremost among them is the pampered risk-free nanny-state lifestyle “enjoyed” by so many in the West. Getting benefits from the government of a socialist country (instead of providing for ourselves) is a “no brainer.” Who needs to work anything out? We allow others – mostly leftists – to do our thinking for us. Leftists, of course, always eager to get control of everything, welcome the chance to spread their standard slate of beliefs: the welfare state, feminism, multiculturalism, cultural relativism, pacifism, world government, and so on. All we have to do is swallow the hogwash whole, make like a good parrot, and await the arrival of our lovely “entitlements.” (Oh, I almost forgot. We must all pretend not to notice that virtually every welfare state on the planet is in the throes of impending national bankruptcy. See what I mean about reason being a party-pooper?)

When the majority of people in a society abandon the search for some kind of personal philosophy and instead unthinkingly adopt some pre-packaged claptrap like leftist ideology (or any philosophy worked out by other people) that society rapidly becomes unwise indeed. Unlike uniform ideology, personal philosophies vary immensely. They are by their very nature individual, so things can get a bit strident, but with a variety of unique viewpoints always in play, some outstanding solutions for current problems would emerge. Individuals holding personal philosophies of life make a society both wise and strong.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

4 thoughts on “Why Personal Philosophies of Life Are Becoming Rare”

  1. Hello Thomas

    I would first like to express my gratitude for writing all those articles. They are meaningful and insightful for people like me walking on their own way.

    But something is bugging me about the last part of your article. You seem to be against some sort of standard thinking induced by governments. When they are extreme or get in the way of finding our own way in life I totally agree they are unecessary and sometimes dangerous. But on the other hand is the absence of standards really that good?

    You list feminism for example. In a world where some women are denied the right to exist is it really bad to force some minds to treat them as equals? I agree that sometimes the idea gets too far when it claims women must be treated differently.

    About the state welfare, the extreme like Communism is definitly a step too far but at small dose I don’t see the problem. Civilisation has advanced way past the need for humans to hunt tigers to feed themselves. Is it not ok to ensure that we share even just a bit so everyone can live decently or at least ensure their survival? The opposite such as total liberalism looks on the other hand quite primitive to me. Telling people that no one will be there for them and that they must take care of everything by themselves is not an advancement to me. Modern slavery isn’t raising everyone cousciousness more than the leftist ideas.

    “Individuals holding personal philosophies of life make a society both wise and strong.”

    But thinking is for the strong like you said. What happens to those who are not strong enough. Should they be left by the side of the road? Most people won’t undergo the journey to find themselves and I don’t think they should be doomed for that. They contribute to humanity in their own way. People can be precious even if they do not know themselves. Their inner unique qualities can still bloom from time to time.

    After all, does society or government matter that much? The journey to find your true self is just between you and yourself.

    Sorry for the long post, I do not mean offence, but the way your wrote the end of your post felt a bit harsh and too “black and white” towards the leftist to me. English is not my native language, sorry if it’s hard to read.

  2. Hi Dany,
    Thank you for taking an interest in my blog, and many thanks for the thoughtful comment. I will try to elaborate a few points for you.

    Let me start by saying I am not against standards, I am just against government-imposed standards. Each individual has his own standards and should have the right to live by them (within reason). In the past, this right was a pillar of the Western value set. Socialism, with its emphasis on deliberate social engineering (as opposed to natural social evolution) has toppled the value. Conservatives such as me are not happy with the direction being steered and would prefer to see things worked out by individuals in the rough-and-tumble of everyday life. Reality should provide the steering mechanism, not theoretical ideology.

    When I say everyone has his or her own standards, this is not to say that everyone is fully aware of their standards; yet we all have them nonetheless, and when we are hard pressed, they do manage to surface. This emphasis on interiority is the corner stone of my thinking. Conservatives refer to this as taking personal responsibility for our values and actions. We do not blame the government, or poverty, or other people for our behaviour. We blame ourselves. Surely, this is the essence of being free while allowing others the same privilege.

    You raise the important issue of feminism. I have no problem with treating women as equals in the sense of having the right to vote or to own property, etc. I have a big problem with failing to recognize life’s limitations by promoting careers for women to the point where the fertility rate has dropped to extinction levels. Take Italy as a typical example. With only 1.42 children per woman (indexmundi.com), the generation size looks like this: Starting generation 100%; next generation 66%; next generation 44%; next generation 30%; next generation 20%; and so on, with each generation being one-third smaller than the last. Note that when the ethnic Europeans are gone, the Muslims will remain; and how many rights will women have then? Are we sure that our government-promoted standards and values rest on solid ground?

    As for government-managed social benefits, I do agree that a certain amount of this is inescapable. However, your position assumes that societies consist entirely of individuals and governments. What about the old-fashioned social safety net—the family? What about having friends? What about having children to look after you when you get old? (I look after my 89-year-old mother, for example, and helped her care for my father during the last illness-plagued year of his life.) Surely, depending on impersonal government entitlements makes you more of a slave, as you put it, than looking to your family and friends for some help during hard or difficult times.

    When I say that thinking is for the strong I am mostly referring to the solitary life required for total dedication to the process of delving deeply into philosophical questions. Discovering your personal values and identity does not require such a rigorous approach, although it can still be quite challenging. However, passing over the inner journey does not mean you are “doomed” or will be “left by the side of the road.” Most people go through their lives without ever achieving a full and honest understanding of who they are. If this lack of self-knowledge does not trouble you, it does not matter. Many false-persona people do just fine in life (look at our movie stars and politicians!) Lacking authenticity does not block you from high achievement or financial success. (Whether or not these people get what they truly want is another question, of course.)

    The psychological and philosophical posts on this blog are for those who feel troubled by their lack of genuineness (self-alienation) and who seek some small measure of guidance or enlightenment as they explore their painful situation.

    I agree with you when you say, “After all, does society or government matter that much? The journey to find your true self is just between you and yourself.” I would add that this is true once the journey has begun, but the beginning of the path is more easily found without the distractions of pre-packaged ideologies and heavy-handed government attempts at social engineering.

    Thanks again, Dany, for a most engaging comment.

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