Sunday, October 4, 2009

After Theory - Terry Eagleton

The book “After Theory” by Terry Eagleton, is a great read. At first glance it appears to be a book about Cultural Theory but on closer inspection you could make a strong case for describing it as a philosophical self help guide. He is urging his fellow cultural theorists to look past the fetishistic intrigues of our incredibly diverse 21st century culture and to examine what is really important and fundamental to leading a fulfilling human life. Today when even an idle glance at our modern living gives the feeling that things are out of balance it is not so hard to imagine that we have somehow divorced ourselves from what is truly important, that we have lost our way and just as cultural theory has moved away from examining these questions perhaps, collectively so have we all.

This book is written very much from the western philosophical perspective surveying the ideas of key thinkers, such as Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein among others.

He points out that, while it seems obvious that most people seek happiness and most seem to be working and searching for it any attempt to define what we actually mean by “happiness in life” is surprisingly difficult. Certainly it is hard for us to believe that happiness should only mean idle contentment. Most of us feel that our lives should have some kind of meaning, and we periodically check our lives for it and demonstrating our egocentric flare for the dramatic we ask ourselves more generally “what is the meaning of life?” We do this despite the fact that all other life here on earth seems totally fine without having to attach any meaning to it all and is perhaps even looking at us with faint bemusement at our inability to “get it”. At least I am sure the cat gave me such a look today.

Eagleton argues that we need to return to the greek notion of flourishing. Aristotle had the idea that we are not born human but rather we learn to become human. Likewise someone is not inherently good they learn to become good. (Funnily enough Aristotle was also a silly git who didn't question slavery). These qualities like goodness or generosity get reinforced with practice. In this way virtue is a skill or technique which is based on the knowledge of the qualities we deem human. When we master these we flourish and that is the true source of well-being. Of course with this idea we now must answer the question what are these virtuous human qualities.

However the thought that our well-being might stem from the cultivation of skill is a very interesting one that is also present in eastern philosophy. Any discussion of well-being should not get locked to the western philosophical tradition alone as this would be to ignore some very valuable insights into the human mind and what existence could be and might mean. But this is the subject for another post.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The beginning.

In a way it seems a very narcissistic thing to do to create a blog. I place in a public space my thoughts and in so doing afford them some kind of importance. In opposition to that notion, I begin this Blog with some kind of disclaimer; I blog not because I believe that my ideas have any real importance (nor do I think them unimportant), rather I do this for my own self discipline to try to collect the various strands of my life and my thinking and to play with making some kind of sense of it,(yeah right!!) And if someone finds even a fraction of this interesting then it makes the sharing of it worthwhile.

I named this blog the existence project because I am. That sounds weird that last sentence but I am interested in the fact that I am here at all percieving this mad world, that I am, that I exist. I don´t expect you necessarily to be interested in my existence but funnily enough I am. I like too this idea of project. I think of life as something to be worked on, not necessarily mastered, it is an ongoing project. The whole being thing is one weird paradox. I know nothing of my beginnings and I know nothing of where ultimately I maybe going (if anywhere.) All I really know with some kind of certainty is that I am here, and that it is a temporary state of affairs. Of course this situation is one we all share. Sometimes I find having so much of the puzzle representing an unknown amusing and at other times frightening. What kind of affect does that have on our sense of place in the world? I suppose we all create strategies for dealing with it. It certainly is a bizarre place to find oneself. If I were to design an existence project from scratch I would get rid of those pesky unknowns. I'd make us conscious from start to finish. How secure we would be with the knowledge of where we came from and where we are going and probably, in doing so, ruin it for everyone. Perhaps the mystery is what keeps the thing interesting. Perhaps we would take the whole thing even more for granted if we were dealt a more certain hand.

I am interested in how other people deal with this conundrum and anything I find of worth, any thought gems, I will post here.

I will start with one idea a friend shared with me. She described existence as being one of value assignment. What is important in one's life is merely what we choose to be important. And it can be anything and so the selection process itself seems maddeningly arbitrary. Though of course there are a myriad of possibilities that are arrayed before us that are societal, biological, political, historical. Anything with an "-ical" at the end is probably a potential pressure of value assignment, advertisingical, familiaogical!). I suppose what is important to determine for oneself is that whatever we choose to value we feel somehow we have come to choose it for ourselves and not what someone else considers valuable. Easier said than done, (and presuming we are of course free to choose.) I could select anything to be of value. Personally I love meeting people who place value on something I haven´t at least not yet, people who get exited by crazy things and devote their entire lives to it, infusing their life with passion. like a friend of mine who gets excited by fossilised rock and ends up getting me into it also.

To conclude this post I wish you good luck on your "value" assignment, your existence project and please feel free to share something of it with me, maybe you will help me with mine as I hope I might with yours.