Quoted text from Seneca's 44 letter, On Philosophy and Pedigrees
The quality of our thoughts determines the quality of our lives. Our thoughts shape our philosophy; our philosophy shapes our world.
To the uninitiated, philosophy can seem daunting. Many hold the belief that philosophy is reserved for the intellectual elite or college classrooms. Often written with a complete lack of prose, and a fumbling and unnecessary complexity, the great works of philosophy can be intimidating. Take this sentence from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics:
“For every human being seems to have some relation of justice with everyone who is capable of community in law and agreement, hence [every human being seems] also [to have] friendship [with every human being], to the extent that [every human being] is a human being.”
Good God. It is sentences like this that deter many of us from such study, but we must remember that while some philosophies may be unintelligible, philosophy itself is for everyone.
“You are again insisting to me that you are a nobody, and saying that nature in the first place, and fortune in the second, have treated you too scurvily, and this in spite of the fact that you have it in your power to separate yourself from the crowd and rise to the highest human happiness!”
We are each philosophers and demonstrate our doctrine through our actions. Our “highest happiness” is available to each of us. There are no copyrights on ideas; philosophy is a free market. All ideas are at your disposal should you find them to your liking.
“Socrates was no aristocrat. Cleanthes worked at a well and served as a hired man watering a garden. Philosophy did not find Plato already a nobleman; it made him one.”
We tend to deify these thinkers and easily forget that these men were, well, men.
We may not have the intellectual horse power that these men possessed and many of the first thoughts have already been had. Nevertheless, the absence of original thoughts has nothing to do with living a life of virtue, an opportunity presented to each of us regardless of intellect.
“Why then should you despair of becoming able to rank with men like these? They are all your ancestors, if you conduct yourself in a manner worthy of them; and you will do so if you convince yourself at the outset that no man outdoes you in real nobility.”
Most of us do not study philosophy outright, but we all share the need for its practice in our lives. A sound philosophy allows us to most efficiently navigate our lives, frees us from unnecessary pain, and allows for the maximal enjoyment of our day-to-day experience.
Philosophy is the immune system of the soul, the white blood cells which fend off disease of the mind. Philosophy gives us the tools to slow down, calmly addressing the obstacles in our path.
That ability to slow down and act, rather than constantly react, is paramount. For, as Seneca warns us,
“This is what happens when you hurry through a maze; the faster you go, the worse you are entangled.”
No one will disentangle us. Few care if we disentangle ourselves. But we must.
If someone cannot see well, we prescribe them corrective lenses. There is too much beauty in the world to navigate this life with poor perception. But true perception cannot be found at the ophthalmologist.
And that is the value of philosophy.