Modern(ised) Philosophies for Living

I have a love-hate relationship with contemporary philosophy. I’m in the love with the need for it, the idea of it, the concept of it. But contemporary philosophy mostly annoys me.

Life is for living, and I want a practical philosophy of life, not reinterpretations of what Husserl thought that Kant thought about noema. I once read a description of modern philosophy and it went something like “Nature has cursed them with feeble bodies, and they take revenge by creating artificial systems.” And I think this is somewhat unfair, but not totally unfair.

Yes, thought, yes considerations, yes thinking, yes reflecting. But not to the exception of all else.

Plato means “broad shoulders” – Plato was, besides a philosopher, a champion wrestler.

Sure, we got through scholasticism in which we wasted our best philosophical minds to the study of theology.

And yes, sometimes ontology and metaphysics seem to be too far from real life to be of any use and I think they matter a bunch, and yes we need philosophy to examine our presuppositions. Sure. But not to the exclusion of all else.

And maybe I’m strawmanning all the way to Hell, but maybe not.

Modernised Philosophies for Living

On the difference between analytical and Continental philosophy:

“The heart of the analytic/Continental opposition is most evident in methodology, that is, in a focus on analysis or on synthesis. Analytic philosophers typically try to solve fairly delineated philosophical problems by reducing them to their parts and to the relations in which these parts stand. Continental philosophers typically address large questions in a synthetic or integrative way, and consider particular issues to be ‘parts of the larger unities’ and as properly understood and dealt with only when fitted into those unities.” (p.10.)

So analytic philosophy is concerned with analysis – analysis of thought, language, logic, knowledge, mind, etc; whereas continental philosophy is concerned with synthesis – synthesis of modernity with history, individuals with society, and speculation with application.

Neil Levy sees this methodological difference as well; in Metaphilosophy, Vol. 34, No 3, he describes analytic philosophy as a “problem-solving activity,” and continental philosophy as closer “to the humanistic traditions and to literature and art… it tends to be more ‘politically engaged.” Hans-Johann Glock remarks in  The Rise of Analytic Philosophy that “analytic philosophy is a respectable science or skill; it uses specific techniques to tackle discrete problems with definite results.”

So maybe philosophies for living would not be found in philosophy anymore and I’m just looking in the wrong place (1). It seems like therapy might be a place where to find them.

Scott talks about his field view on CBT: “I was taught the following foundation myth of my field: in the beginning, psychiatry was a confused amalgam of Freud and Jung and Adler and anyone else who could afford an armchair to speculate in. People would say things like that neurosis was caused by wanting to have sex with your mother, or by secretly wanting a penis, or goodness only knows what else. Then someone had the bright idea that beliefs ought to be based on evidence! Study after study proved the psychoanalysts’ bizarre castles were built on air, and the Freudians were banished to the outer darkness. Their niche was filled by newer scientific psychotherapies with a robust evidence base, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and [mumble]. And thus was the empire forged.”

CBT seems to be all the rage in rationalist circles because it is evidence-based. (It certainly is not because of how it appeals to the idea of “Change your thought patterns, change your life”, which of course is what debiasing appeals to.)

And CBT is mostly a rebranding and refashioning of Roman Stoic Philosophy.

Stoicism being, obviously, a philosophy for living:

  • If thou art pained by any external thing, it is not this that disturbs thee, but thy own judgment about it. And it is in thy power to wipe out this judgment now. (VIII. 47, trans. George Long)
  • Never regard something as doing you good if it makes you betray a trust or lose your sense of shame or makes you show hatred, suspicion, ill-will or hypocrisy or a desire for things best done behind closed doors. (III. 7, trans. Gregory Hays)
  • Not to feel exasperated or defeated or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human—however imperfectly—and fully embrace the pursuit you’ve embarked on. (V. 9, trans. Gregory Hays)
  • […] As for others whose lives are not so ordered, he reminds himself constantly of the characters they exhibit daily and nightly at home and abroad, and of the sort of society they frequent; and the approval of such men, who do not even stand well in their own eyes has no value for him. (III. 4, trans. Maxwell Staniforth)
  • Take away your opinion, and there is taken away the complaint, […] Take away the complaint, […] and the hurt is gone (IV. 7, trans. George Long)
  • Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be good. (IV. 17, trans. George Long)
  • Of the life of man the duration is but a point. (II. 17, trans. C.R. Haines)

So maybe the least resistance path is to modernise old philosophies for living? Paint them in the modern color and use those as scaffolds to build off? (As this attempt at painting a rational, scientific, naturalistic take on Daoism)

Modernising Philosophies for Living

As far as I can see this idea of “philosophy of life” is reduced to a profile detail in dating websites. I also understand that to question worldview in such a way you need to reach a certain ego level. But I think this is very much a necessary project.

Religion has provided guidelines for years, and with the death of god fast approaching this project will be increasingly needed. (Most people that stop being deistic keep up remnants of Christianity – the case I know – once they leave it. Belief propagation isn’t automatic, it is a painfully long process. European society is built on Christianity. I don’t know what will happen when this particular Schelling point for morality and social behaviour is gone. Maybe just fundamentalism and consumerism. Hopefully.)

And I think the thesis above is great and that it needs to get out of paper and be acted upon and distributed. And I think CBT is great, but that the barrier of having to seek out therapy and find it is too high for it to be distributed.

But there is something that is not too high, in fact, that has a low barrier to entry, given the way humans are built: religion.

And this is why I’m so excited about Chapman’s effort to naturalise Buddhist Tantra. Tantra is for living, and life is to be lived.

Tantra is “an attitude; a stance; a way of being. It is the attitude of passionate and spacious engagement with this world. It is an ecstatic and agonizing love-affair with everyday reality.” “The excitement starts when you realize there is a whole religion built on this attitude. There is a system for putting the vision into practice, for intensifying and developing it, for making everything you do consistent with it.”

Yes, please.




  • Philosophy can’t deal with these earthly concerns because the sociology of intellectuals is such that you gain attention by being more abstract and reflexive, and lose it by being less
  • Why was there an explosion of schools go philosophy for living in ancient Greece, China?
  • on post-atheism
  • secular solstice



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