Valuable Philosophical Life Lessons


I’m often asked—by non-academics, natch—if anything in my philosophical education has been of value to me in the conduct of my lived life. I have found this question hard to answer in the terms my interlocutors demand, largely because is because posed to me in what I call ‘lock-key’ form: is there a lock you have been able to open with a philosophical key? The locks and keys of our lives and education do not quite match up in the way that is imagined here.

That is Samir Chopra (Brooklyn College, CUNY) in a post at his blog. He continues:

Still, if pressed, I will say that one philosophical lesson whose value and import seems to me to be considerable, and one which I have with only limited success tried to integrate in my daily conduct is quite simple. Its basic form can be found in the following lines often attributed to the Stoic, Epictetus: “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them. It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

It would be interesting to hear from other philosophers what “life lessons” they’ve gleaned from philosophy—ideas about how to live that you take seriously, or aspire to live by (or would like to aspire to live by), or even—whoa—succeed at following.

For me, there are a lot of contenders, but I’ve always tried to keep this in mind:

And what kind of man am I? One of those who would gladly be refuted if anything I say is not true, and would gladly refute another who says what is not true, but would be no less happy to be refuted myself than to refute. (Socrates, in Plato’s Gorgias)

I’ve found this is useful not just for my interactions with other philosophers, but in everyday disagreement, too, where a constructive attitude demonstrating a receptivity to learning can do a lot to defuse tension and foster camaraderie. You?

an overflowing violin (from the Danish Music Museum)

an overflowing violin (from the Danish Music Museum)

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