Monday, August 24, 2009

In Pursuit of a Meta-Philosophy

Note: The ideas presented in this post are far from fully worked out. Comments are particularly encouraged.

"Live in such a way that will make the world a better place. Do good to others."

"Live an authentic life by following your heart's desire. Don't give up on your dreams."

The above is my rather crude attempt to summarize two very different approaches to the question of how best to live one's life. I think they are the two dominant approaches in our culture, and possibly other cultures as well, past and present. Certainly I can feel the presence of both within my own psyche. What's more, I believe in the Truth of both.

What follows is an attempt to reconcile them.

I said that these are two very different approaches, and they are, but they are not necessarily contradictory. I think they may illustrate two paths to the same destination: living a healthy, productive, and joy-filled life. Those who have arrived at that destination are both living out their heart's desire and doing good to others. Indeed, in a fully enlightened state, the two may be the same.

The hard part, of course, is getting there. If I live solely according to our first philosophy, I may easily neglect myself, or fail to discover and make best use of my unique gifts, so that I fail to do much good in the long run. If I live solely according to our second philosophy I may neglect those around me, fail to take responsibility for my actions, and as a result never find the bliss I was searching for.

Now, one following the first path might eventually realize that in order to really do good, he/she must also pay attention to him/herself. The converse holds for someone on the second path. In either case, it is at this moment of realization that spiritual growth occurs.

So I think that each path can work. Joseph Campbell spoke of a "right-hand path" and a "left-hand path," and I think he had a similar dichotomy in mind.

What I'm trying to figure out is whether it's possible to pursue both paths simultaneously.

And with that goal in mind, here’s my first attempt at a meta-philosophy:

Strive to place yourself in situations where you will want to do good.



  1. There's so much in here, Castlerook, but it's the sort of thing that occupies my mind frequently, so I'm gonna jump in with some thoughts.

    I'm more than halfway along my "life path" (unless I live to be at least 107) and I think the longer you've lived, the more likely that you've hit your stride, as they say, and have figured things out enough to do both.

    I absolutely believe that if you can find your way to your heart's desire (and I don't think that's limited to just one thing, either) what will naturally follow is the "making the world a better place" part.

    People who put others completely before themselves to the point of self-neglect are not whole, happy people, I don't think. I think they're "people pleasers" because of an unhealthy need to be needed...

    As far as the second choice, an "authentic life" is the key part of the phrase... it doesn't say a "self-centered life", and the two couldn't be more different. I think of an authentic life as being one where you seek self-knowledge, and through that develop a connectedness with your own spirituality which in turn tunes you in to your connectedness with a higher power and all that is.

    This reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with a dear friend. He is a born-again Christian who truly lives his faith every day. He's traveled to third world countries and helped build medical centers, gotten doctors to volunteer - really "big" stuff.

    We were discussing the difference in his belief about "doing good" and a typical Catholic's belief. He said, "Catholics believe they earn their way into heaven, that doing good deeds will be rewarded - like bonus points. We believe that by simply accepting Jesus as our Savior, we will go to heaven, and we perform good deeds just because we want to."

    Anyway, I think it's very possible to pursue both paths simultaneously.

    Sorry for such a late response - I forget about this place sometimes.

  2. You forget about this place? You mean, you don't regularly check a blog that only gets updated about once a month?

    No apology necessary--your response came at just the time it needed to. Thank you.

    "I think they're 'people pleasers' because of an unhealthy need to be needed..."

    Describes me to a T, sadly.

    I quite like your description of the authentic life.

  3. Now see, if you'd replicate your blog over in livejournal, I could set it up so I'd get an email reminder every time you post. I do that with favorite writers.

    And, I could introduce you via a post to my lj friends and maybe you'd get a couple of them to read your stuff as well. And, you could go through your stuff here and re-post some of your favorites a little at a time, so you wouldn't even have to do any new writing.

    AND (are you feeling the pressure yet?) you might even find that there's a chess community where you could cross-post the chess stuff.