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Wednesday, March 8, 2017


The curious thing about reading philosophy is that it makes of one a philosopher. Perhaps you must already have a philosophic bent to reach for that discourse on metaphysics in the first place. The philosopher attempts to grasp truth through reasoning, that is through the use of logic.

The philosopher can reason from causes to effects, which is known as a priori. If you are told that a bachelor is an unmarried man, you can say all bachelors are unmarried. You don't need to meet any bachelor and ask him if he has a wife.

A philosopher can reason from effects to causes. This form of reasoning, known as a posteriori, is when we gather the evidence grasped of the environment (creation, effect) by our senses to formulate some notion of the nature of the Creator, or cause. To use a mundane example, if you say it is raining outside, you are reasoning from the information gathered by your senses (wet ground, falling water, etc.) A famous a posteriori argument is the argument of design. This argument, stated so succinctly by Liebniz, tells us that "the works must bear the imprint of the workman, because we can learn who he was just by inspecting them." Because the universe seems so well ordered, we can infer that the creative force must be intelligent. Even if there seem to be so many knuckleheads around! Because even if all humans were dunces, that leaves a lot of inhuman life forms, and I've met a lot of animals that are pretty freakin' sharp.

Should we contemplate the nature of the universe, the purpose of life, and the properties of existence? Should the winged creature fly? Should the biped walk? Yes we should reason, because we can! And yet our reasoning capabilities are often confined to the practical world in which we attempt to solve problems. We employ reason in determining the shortest route to work, how best to seduce our coworker or negotiate the raise or how to convince our significant other that we are right. We reason as a means to an end. But reasoning is an end in itself. And neglecting the fundamental issues of truth makes you like the forest traveler who keeps his eyes fixed on the dusty road underfoot without taking a moment to gaze up at the heavens overhead! You simply must appreciate the stars! Because they shine so brightly, and we are all stardust!

But even if you don't care to understand why we're here, the role humans occupy in the grand scheme, or mankind's ultimate destiny, reading philosophy will make you a better communicator and problem solver. And it's a stimulating way to pass the time. 

So here are a few tidbits from the aforementioned Leibniz, who was also a mathematician and who lived at the end of the Renaissance, which was a great time for philosophy, birthing ripe minds such as the German's as well as Spinoza (who was Dutch) and the Frenchman Pascal. Read these maxims and see if they don't inspire you to try to understand the essence of existence. Then go ahead and formulate your own philosophy of life. Reach for the stars, I dare you!

"We are not well enough acquainted with the general harmony of the universe and of the hidden reasons for God’s conduct; and that makes us recklessly judge that many things could have been improved."

In other words, because God is perfect, the world is perfect, even though from our limited vantage point there seems to be a lot of room for improvement.

"Loving God requires a certain attitude to everything that happens to us through his will: not merely accepting it patiently because one has no alternative, but being truly satisfied with it."

Everything happens for the best, even though it may not seem ideal at the time. For instance, I always did not see eye to eye with my mother. How I wished we were more kindred in nature. But had we gotten along better than we did, her death would have left a void that may very well have been impossible for me to endure, resulting in my own premature demise. Instead, I live and I'm here to tell you so!

"Accept the past as perfect, but don't be quietists about the future, stupidly waiting with folded arms for what God will do." 

In other words, it is okay to accept whatever comes to pass, but don't be passive. Always try your best but be detached about the consequences of your actions.

"So far as we can judge what God wants, in a general way, we should act in accordance with that, doing our very best to contribute to the general good, and in particular to adorning and perfecting the things that concern us—what is close to us, within reach (so to speak)."

"But to know in detail his reasons for ordering the universe as he has, allowing sin, and granting his saving grace in one way rather than another, is beyond the power of a finite mind, especially one that has not yet attained the delight of seeing God."

"If I could command a clear view of everything that is happening or appearing to me right now, I would be able to see in it everything that will ever happen or appear to me. God alone, from whom all individuals continuously emanate, sees the universe not only as we do but also completely differently from them all."

So strive for the bird's eye view. Transcend your small self and expand your consciousness. You will see the world with greater clarity and your place within it. As well as realize that you are not who you think you are.

And have faith, because reason will take even the most powerful mind, limited by its individual perspective, only so far.

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