Do you ever look out on the world scene and ask yourself why it is that humanity seems to always be at odds with itself? It may hearten you to know that our struggle to agree on how we should conduct and organize ourselves, indeed, how to even think about our place in the ‘order of things,’ is not a new story. Humankind has been sorting itself out since our early beginnings. Across cultures and over centuries, we have talked about the conundrum of being human in a variety of ways.
So what is philosophy? Simply put, philosophy is the study of reality (how one knows what is real), the nature of humans in that reality (logic and the metaphysical), social order (cooperation), the correct conduct for achieving self-awareness and obtaining happiness (excellence, value judgments, ethics, and aesthetics,) and the study of how to maximize ‘good’ in the world (virtue, morality, courage).
All philosophical theories have grown from different premises and approaches, and each was profoundly influenced by the cultural conditions in existence at that time. Many philosophies, particularly religion, politics, and socio-economics, reflect basic attitudes about human nature, both pessimistic and optimistic. They are, in fact, dynamic and their influence is present in everything we believe, how we understand and explain the world around us, how we justify our personal world view, and how we organize ourselves socially. This is why philosophy is important. To understand its prevalence is to realize those schools of thought that circumscribe, direct, and lay the foundation for our interpretation of the world and our place in it.
We live in changing times and transitions provide opportunities for new political, economic, and social ideas and theories to be promoted. We have entered what David Korten called The Great Turning, in his book by the same name. Enforcement of the status quo is impossible to maintain during times like these. As old stories and authority decline, new ideas have the opportunity to emerge without the threat of reprisal. And those ideas and opportunities are springing up as I write this (check out www.futurecrunch.com, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, TED Talks, TEDx, et al).
There is much that divides us these days. That has always been true. It is, therefore, helpful to recognize that we ‘see’ the world through a highly personal lens. By changing that lens, what we see changes and so do the stories we live by. Fundamentally, underneath all that divides us, we share a common humanity. Discovery and the quest for well-being motivate all of us. We have always sought relief from the difficulties of existence, and in so doing, we change the world, hopefully for the better.