This was my first major introduction into the study of philosophy, and I can honestly say that it has had a major impact on my belief system. Many of my views have been changed and my overall view on life is much different than it was five months ago. To me, the two most interesting works were the Tao and The Mind’s I. The Tao describes a really interesting way of life. Of all the philosophies we’ve read, it is the simplest and most beautiful.
Instead of scanning for hidden meanings and analyzing all parts of life, Laozi just tells us to live life. Do no more than you have to do, but do everything you have to do. He tells us not to worry about death and just live life. I honestly think very simple and peaceful way of living can bring us much more happiness than we have now in our current society.
However, the only way it can be implemented is if everyone follows the Tao, and that is nearly impossible in our current society. We should honestly try to live simpler lives and see the beauty of everyday things.
The other work that really impacted me was The Mind’s I. I’m not sure if it qualifies as a single work, but there were several important themes that really interested me and changed some of my views. The section that really interested me the most was the section describing intelligent machines and animals, and their relationship to humans.
I had always considered humans superior to animals due to their intelligence and ability to communicate. I never thought too much about the idea of intelligent animals and even machines and their relationship to humans. An intelligent machine or animal that can communicate definitely would be on the same evolutionary level as humans, and thus there could be no way to justify creating an intelligent robotic servant or helper without harkening back to the ideology that prompted slavery.
Also, destruction of this machine or animal would be equivalent to murder. However, I still so no moral objection to creating an intelligent robot, as long as we give it its own freedom, just as we would to one of our children. Its may be considered playing God, but if we are his greatest creations, we should have the right to test our limits. Only through a recreation of consciousness done and understood by us can we begin to understand our own consciousness as well as ourselves. I had never really thought about technology in this way and never seriously questioned the origin of my consciousness, so the Mind’s I really forced me to think about life in a different way.
Throughout the term, I not only changed and reconsidered many of my views; I discovered things that I subconsciously believed without really thinking about it. My beliefs not only changed, I discovered beliefs that I never knew I had. Some of these views surfaced when reading certain works like The Mysterious Stranger and Nietzsche. Although these two works didn’t change my deep-set views that much, it was interesting to see my instinctual beliefs get challenged. I discovered I was a pretty moderate thinker, but these readings caused many of my views on life to change. However, I still disagreed with many of the views expressed in class discussions with certain works, like the Tao. But then I realized that the Tao is designed to have different meanings to everyone who reads it so they could find their own way of life and thus doesn’t lend itself well to class discussions.
I saw that the way philosophy has evolved over the years mirrors the way society has changed throughout history. The older philosophies that we’ve read, like the Tao and Plato’ work, seem to try to tell us how to live our lives to get the most happiness and satisfaction out of it, and how to find the way or see the light. The more modern philosophies seem to disregard the idea of a true path and tell us how to live in the best way, but they don’t guarantee happiness from it. The most interesting pieces for me were a mix of the modern and older philosophies, like Nietzsche and Socrates’ Apology (I guess because he lived in a ancient but modern society). Even though they were completely different and I completely disagreed with one of them, they were much more compelling to me. One important thing that I learned is that I hate reading about something that I agree on, I dislike having my views “proven” by another writer and rather read new ideas and opinions.
From all the texts read and discussions we’ve had this year, it’s hard to highlight just three things that I learned. One of the most stimulating texts to me was The Circular Ruins. Especially when read right after Is God a Taoist, this simple story made me reconsider all my beliefs on existence and God. Just like the main character was, we are kept in the dark about our condition, where we came from and how we exist. We claim an all-mighty God as our creator, and call ourselves superior beings in his image. However, whose to say that we are not just insignificant nothings, created by another being of no importance. Would that make us less real and important? From this story I learned to stop attaching importance and purpose to everything I do. Maybe there is a reason we don’t know where we come from; perhaps we don’t want to know.
Another important lesson came from Reservation Blues. The main characters all had to deal with finding a cultural identity while trying to escape the trap of the white man. The only ones who made it out were the ones who had a strong cultural identity. They knew themselves and identified with their past before they attempted to escape the reservation. Victor and Junior either tried to ignore their past or couldn’t come to terms with their heritage. They tried to escape before they were ready, and couldn’t cope with the failure. The book’s point, despite the suicide and Victor’s destruction, was amazingly positive, it showed that if you come to terms with your past and yourself you can overcome any obstacle set against you, but you must have this understanding or you will destroy yourself.
From The Razor’s Edge I learned a lot about the purpose of life from each of the vastly different characters. At first, it seems like the point of the story is that there is a difference between what we want and what makes us happy and fulfilled. Suzanne, Gray and Elliot all got what they wanted yet all seem to live unhappy, unfulfilled lives. Further inspection showed that they all are living the life that they fully wanted and expected to live, and they are perfectly content. Isabel wanted both Larry and high society type of life, and thus is disappointed with her life because she couldn’t have both. Larry didn’t know what he wanted out of life, so he took basically a timeout from the real world, went into seclusion and discovered what he wanted out of life. Now he, knowing full well what he wants, is the most satisfied of all the characters. The lesson to be learned is that happiness is completely relative, and thus you cannot call anyone a failure unless he considers himself one. Also, it’s all right to take some time out of the real world and relax, take a step back and see what you really want to do next.
In the end, this class really has changed my views on the best kind of life. I still believe that you need to live the type of life that will make you the happiest and most satisfied, but I don’t think that most people know what type of life that is. If you don’t have a passion, don’t force yourself into any profession. Explore the world and find something that really interests you otherwise you will get forced into a miserable life that you hate. If you have a passion, you have to follow it. You have to come in terms with who you are; understand and remember your past and childhood.
We have to examine our lives to discover what we really want, then try to find it. We must simplify our actions, and we have to stop overanalyzing other’s actions and words. We have to lose our ego and sense of shame, and stop caring what people think of you. This is the simplest way to live and live happily, without having to adjust your actions to fit what other people expect from you. We have to stop fearing death and keep on living life in the happiest possible way. This will be the happiest, simplest and best life for everyone.