A Life of Virtue: An Introduction (with audio)

We are living in a society that has access to an abundance of knowledge, but we lack wisdom.

We have been connected to the globe online, but we feel more isolated and lonely.

We live in an age of tremendous economic prosperity and wealth, but we are never content, never satisfied.

A life of virtue is a blog about exploring questions that have concerned us since the birth of humanity. Questions that cannot be answered in a lab or solved by corporations. These are philosophical questions central to human existence:

– How can I live a good life?

– What is the purpose of my life?

– How can be we build prosperous, moral and ethical societies?

In our modern age we have been so focused on economic and technological progress that we have abandoned these philosophical pursuits. Individualism and consumerism are now the predominant ideologies in the West, and this has had immense repercussions for our society. Division and polarization have increasingly become a threat in our politics fracturing our sense of community and social cohesion.

The answers we seek to these questions have been debated throughout the centuries. They are not black and white, but require exploration – a vigorous pursuit of the truth. They require us to engage in rational dialogue with others, to view different perspectives and find areas of convergence and common ground.

This is philosophy as a way of life, come join me on this journey

A Life of Virtue: An Introduction A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life

The objective of A Life of Virtue Blog

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East Versus West: A Look at Two Minds  

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The paradigms, world views and ideas which we inhabit shape how we perceive and interact with the world. They impact our ideals, relationships, and values. That is, who we are and who we aspire to be.

It is the task of philosophy to step back and critically examine the dominant frames and driving forces that influence culture. Exploring other value systems can open ourselves up to different ways of being in the world.

It is not my intention to argue that a certain worldview is superior to another. Rather, this analysis aims to make us aware of the benefits as well drawbacks of a particular mode of thought. In this article I want to compare the dominant ideas in the West with those prevalent in Eastern philosophy. This requires me to make broad generalizations, but the objective nonetheless is to provide a broad overview of the different traditions on a macro level.

Our Place in the Cosmos

The Western tradition places a high degree of significance on the importance of the individual.  The ‘good life’ is one in which strengthens one’s self-determination and control over the external environment. It is concerned with realizing one’s potential and talents as a human being.

Further Western thought emphasizes the separateness and superiority of human beings from the natural world. It grants us the jurisdiction to manipulate and control the environment. This way of thinking is embodied in the Enlightenment philosopher René Descartes who claimed that science and technological advancements could make us “masters and possessors of nature.” In Tao: The Watercourse Way, Alan Watts reflects on the negative consequences that result from the excesses of individualism,

Western science has stressed the attitude of objectivity—a cold, calculating, and detached attitude through which it appears that natural phenomena, including the human
organism, are nothing but mechanisms…… We feel justified in exploiting it ruthlessly, but now we are belatedly realizing that the ill-treatment of the environment is damage to ourselves

In contrast, Eastern cultures emphasize the need to live in balance with the natural world. According to this view, we should strive to live in accordance with the rhythms and flows of the environment. Human beings, like all other living beings, are a part of nature. We are deeply connected to the world around us. Our wellbeing is contingent on that of the welfare of other species and their respective ecosystems. Despite our tendency of boasting our self-importance, the East views the human being as just one component in the natural order of things. The goal is therefore to live in harmony with nature.

In addition, Eastern thought claims that the ‘self’ is an illusion. Who we are both on a biological level as well our temperament, beliefs and character is in constant flux throughout life.  Spiritual practices in the East seek to transcend the self. As life is characterized by constant change, clinging onto our egos is bound to leave us dissatisfied. Freedom and peace can be found through rising above the self-centeredness of our personal identity.

Happiness

In the West, our ideas of happiness are based on satisfying the desires of the individual. Happiness is associated with the attainment of external things – status, trendy purchases and luxury products etc. Subjective wellbeing, pleasure and personal fulfillment are the main priorities for the individual.

Eastern philosophy encourages us to engage in spiritual practice to attain a sense tranquility and freedom. The goal is not to satisfy desires or obtain more things, but rather to attain inner peace. This is achieved through attaining a degree of detachment from the impact that external pleasures have on our wellbeing. As the Zen scholar D.T Suzuki writes,

The basic idea of Zen is to come in touch with the inner workings of our being, and to do so in the most direct way possible, without resorting to anything external

In this view, pleasure is temporary and the constant craving for more is the source of our unhappiness.

Balancing the Two Worldviews

Comparing and contrasting these two different worldviews, we can identify the benefits and shortcomings of each. While the ideas of the West have encouraged rapid technological advancement, the excesses of individualism have alienated us from our connection with others and from the natural world.

On the contrary, Eastern ways of thinking help us find peace and freedom within, but neglect to make any progress on advancing our material wellbeing.

It therefore may not be a matter of choosing one way of thinking over the other, but rather finding balance and avoiding the excesses of each worldview.  The philosophies of both the West as well as the East can help us make improvements in different aspects of human existence – namely our external and inner life.


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Opening Ourselves to Different Ways of Knowing

One of the key themes that I have been trying to get across in A Life of Virtue blog is that ideas matter. How we perceive and look at the world has an impact on our thoughts, relationships and actions. Furthermore, ideas act as the foundation shaping our values, beliefs and aspirations.

Therefore, if we wish to hold agency and realize a sense of freedom in our lives, we must continually question and examine the societal norms and worldviews that we take for granted.

In this series I want to examine different worldviews, paradigms and ways of knowing. The ideologies of individualism, which have become so pervasive in modern society, have allowed us to achieve great technological progress.  Indeed, we have attained dominance over nature. We can now examine the properties of microscopic bacteria to the vastness of the universe.

However, despite our longings for absolute control, we still feel a deep sense of lack. Meaning and fulfilment become more illusive in our mechanized industrial societies.

Why is this the case?

Well, perhaps it is because we have acted in a way that treats the world around us as something to be manipulated, controlled or exploited. We consequently feel a sense of disconnection, alienated from others and the world around us.

However, this way of thinking hasn’t always the case. In fact, many other traditions and cultures see us humans in close interconnected relationships with nature . We are not isolated separate beings. We only can thrive if our communities thrive, and we can only live healthy lives if we actively take care of the natural world.

In this series on Different Ways of Knowing I want to asses the following topics in more detail:

  • The differences in the Western and Eastern thinking;
  • Ian McGilchrist’s model of finding balance between the left and right hemisphere of the brain; and
  • Indigenous wisdom and worldviews.

If we are able to examine unique perspectives, we can begin to rigorously evaluate our unquestioned assumptions and gain a glimpse into the unique possibilities and experiences that life can offer.

We can gain a degree of autonomy over our lives and live more deliberately.

We can then truly be free.