How do Philosophies and personalities converge? If it is true that you need certain qualities in life to be happy, for example, does that not also have to do with the personality? In other words, is personality a limiter on all forms of philosophy? Can logic overcome personality or does philosophy belong to a personality? Okay, so it's not well put but I think you might follow me. I hope so.
I have considered what I think are similar questions in the past. On holiday in the beautiful Wildschoenau valley in the Austrian Tirol last summer, I asked myself: "Can philosophy only appeal to certain temperaments?" I am keen on the idea that philosophy should be made accessible to as many people as possible, but in the Gatwick departure hall, my parents and I sat and watched a group of people eating McDonalds food and drinking beer for breakfast, and smoking in the non-smoking area. "So," I declared; "can we introduce philosophy to all these people?" "I shouldn't think so!" retorted my mum. Interestingly enough, the people at the Gate waiting for the flight to Salzburg looked more likely to be converted to philosophy than the general mass of humanity in the departures hall. Tongue-in-cheek, I wrote that I thought this was because "They look quieter and more educated!"
I certainly believe that philosophy does in fact only appeal to certain kinds of people. It is harder to say exactly what personal qualities might dispose you towards philosophy, but I think you have to have a reasonable level of intelligence and be interested in educating yourself. Some people appear to think that learning is boring or unfashionable, and it is hard to see how they could ever become interested in philosophizing.
It's good that you are expressing your thoughts about philosophy, even though you feel you haven't done it well. Putting your thoughts, feelings and ideas into words takes practice. It helps if you can discuss your ideas with another person face-to-face; then it's much easier to check with them whether they have understood what you were trying to express. They may put their understanding of what you said into their own words and you can see if you still recognize it!
Still on the subject of character and philosophy, I am still trying to get through a book that Geoffrey Klempner recommended to me several years ago. It is quite long, and has very small print, but tells about the lives of some famous philosophers, and suggests how their life and character influenced what they thought. The book: The Philosophers their lives and the nature of their thought by Ben-Ami Scharfstein, published by Oxford University Press.
If I understand you correctly, what you are saying is that, for example, if you are an optimist, you are not going to produce a pessimistic philosophy; if you are a pessimist, you are not going to produce an optimistic philosophy and so on.
The metaphysician F.H. Bradley sums this up nicely in the Preface his treatise Appearance and Reality (1893):
Metaphysics is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe upon instinct but to find these reasons is no less an instinct.
Well, that just about scuttles the philosophical enterprise! You're never going to get at the truth because on this view, what 'the truth' is for you depends upon your 'instincts', your gut feelings, your emotional outlook, your personality. Whatever reasons you put forward will be 'bad' reasons: not only will they not be your real reasons, but they will be less persuasive reasons than the reasons you already have, prior to doing any philosophy, for holding the belief in question.
So, why bother?
It is a paradox. I believe that my philosophical theory is the true theory, and that the other theories are false. I believe that my arguments are good arguments, valid arguments, and that the arguments for the other opposing theories are invalid arguments. But, being me, I would believe that, wouldn't I?
How can I believe that and also believe my own theory?
This is a very interesting question, and one which I'm not going to answer philosophically, really. There is a lot of work going on right now on the interactions between the emotions and our reasoning processes. Damasio's book, Descartes's Error, was one of the catalysts for that work, and I highly recommend it. This area, really, is best answered by looking at studies of this sort, in the field of cognitive science, I believe. It turns out that when someone has prefrontal lobe damage, one can, if the damage is slight enough, score basically as well on IQ tests as previously, yet be unable to cope with life. Why? Because one has lost one's emotional biases in guiding one's decisions and actions. In other words, we can function like computers, using logic, reason, etc., but in doing so, we reach decision points where choices must be made on the basis of what are really emotional biases. In Damasio's studies, he found people who worked extremely hard at absolutely trivial, very difficult, tasks, who were unable to tell the difference between trivial and important work because our judgment of "importance" is relevant to context, to society, to our beliefs, to all those emotional biases that we take as background but which are absolutely essential in making decisions about general courses of action.
The way we see the world, the amount and type of interest we take in our surroundings, other people, various intellectual interests, has almost nothing to do with rationality... and this is, in my opinion, one of the most unfortunate aspects of the human condition. Colin Wilson was very concerned with this also; you might look at some of his early books. The question is, why can't we just will our emotions to change; why can't we just decide to become interested in, say, baseball, or philosophy, or home decorating, or just decide, as Wilson puts it, to always have the attitude we have when we are "on holiday", and take interest in delight in what we would usually consider the most absurd trivia; and then have our emotions follow our decision? The science-fiction writer Poul Anderson wrote an early book, Brain Wave, about the same kind of thing. What if we suddenly had the ability to shape, to tailor, our personalities as we wished? What kind of person would you want to be if you could shape your personality as easily as you decided which direction to look or to walk? Why can't we just decide to be continually motivated to learn, or to do sports, or write poetry, and then, just as we turn our heads when we decide to perform that action, "turn" our emotions, interest, motivation, to those ends? But we can't, at least not without tremendous effort, and this is, in my very strong opinion, one of our great tragedies, and Wilson concurs.
Consider, also, the effects of drugs and mood swings. This is what antidepressants do, to a certain extent; and why people who are manic-depressive do not want to be cured. Because when the drugs are working, or when the person is in the manic phase, everything is interesting, fascinating, delightful. Unfortunately, it's quite a general effect; drugs won't allow us to change details, nor sculpt specifics of our personalities... and even more unfortunately, there are virtually no drugs of this sort that do not have fairly severe long-term side effects. Prozac (fluoxetine), for example, seems to be strongly addictive if given long-term; "ecstasy" (whose actual name I forget offhand) destroys much of our serotonin systems after one or two large doses; the damaging long-term effects of the antipsychotics are well-known; and so forth. Caffeine seems the most innocuous physically, and it is also extremely non-specific.
In addition, as we age, our brain chemistry changes, usually for the worse. We are not as motivated, not as enthusiastic... I'm speaking on the average, of course. And these changes are due, in large part, to factors like the degeneration of the serotonin system, which is involved very strongly with emotions, enthusiasm, pleasure, and thus motivation. Can we compensate? Again, to a limited extent. I just had an encounter, a few weeks ago, with a women in her 60s who, in order to help her stop smoking, was put on mild antidepressants. From a person whom I was not too friendly with, and found not to pleasant to interact with, she changed virtually overnight into an interesting, lively, fun person with whom I enjoyed chatting for a couple of hours. Amazing, right? What changed, aside from her attitudes toward life and other people? Why couldn't she, alone, without drugs, have made those changes? Well, perhaps she could have... but given what one sees normally, this does not seem likely. At any rate, I'm not advocating drugs nor insanity... the opposite, in fact. The way to go, I think, is through a combination of sheer force of will and behavior modification, but that force, and the formation of new habits, needs to be tremendous and fairly long-term to effect significant changes.
This kind of motivational boost, is, in my opinion, what makes religion so attractive to so many. People are "given" a reason to live, to work, etc.... but why do we need to be given that? Why can't we create it for ourselves, motivate ourselves, generate from within our directions, goals, and impetus for actions? Well, some people can. But no one, that I know of, can direct that generation with any facility. We need to be made aware of that, and to work to change it, and that is extremely difficult. The "self-help" books one finds more or less work toward that end, similarly to religion. But they suffer from the same problems; they tend to be extremely superficial, "cookbook" remedies, and in addition do not question themselves. In other words, one is exhorted to follow a particular guru, system, or whatever, without question, in order to effect a change... but one is not taught to be flexible and to be able to self-generate one's own changes and directions; or to be able to change those motivations further. to something radically different, if necessary or desirable.
You see what I mean? We just don't, by and large, have this kind of control over ourselves, and that's unfortunate because it limits our flexibility and adaptability, our interests, the depth and kind of our investment in life. When such changes can be made, and I believe they can to some extent, it is with great difficulty and over time. So our "philosophies", as you put it, are indeed limited, and severely and tragically so, in my opinion, by our personalities.
Steven Ravett Brown
My intuition. Giving life is the same as killing someone. Meaning, the power to bring someone new to this world involves as much violence as taking someone's life. I was never asked if I wanted to live that is the idea.
I have read some of Nietzsche's considerations, but from the suicide point of view. Here, my concern is to fundament or not my belief.
My take on this question, and this issue, is first, that you are confusing two things, violence, i.e., roughly speaking, negative, usually harmful, actions taken on a person without their consent, and obligation, i.e., what someone does or does not owe another for an (un)asked favor or hurt. Is an unasked-for, but (purely beneficial, for the sake of simplification at this point) beneficial, action violent? I do not think this is a normal or useful conception of violence, given what violence can be. Thus, I do not think that only and simply your being conceived, and even being born, is the same as violence toward you, because, first, you did not exist (before conception, certainly and I'm not going to get into the debate here as to when afterward you start to exist) to have action taken on you, second, I am going to take it as given in my discussion that your life is something of value. That is, you benefited from being conceived, carried to term, and born.
But the question of whether you are under obligation, or the reverse, whether your parents are under obligation to you, for your being conceived, then for being carried to term and born, and then for being raised, is quite another issue, and a very interesting one. The usual take is that a child is under obligation to their parents. This is pretty much universal cross-culturally, as far as I know. But what is its justification? Well, the rationale is that you owe them your life, in some sense of the term "owe", i.e., you wouldn't exist without their act of conception, and your existence is a "thing" or state, of value, which they have "given" you without (at that point) your giving anything in return.
Another way to ask this is to ask what an obligation is, and why it has force, and what kind of force it has. It's easy enough to see that, in general, where contracts are concerned; with contractual obligations both parties agree to something under some conditions, and the honoring of that contract is an ethical "ought" because keeping a promise is more ethical than breaking it, all other things being equal, and second, because the loss incurred by one party in fulfilling their end of a contract is compensated by their gain when the other party fulfills their respective end, all other things being equal. Straightforward stuff, in this general sense. But is there such a thing as a non-contractual obligation? There are certainly non-contractual "oughts", ethical actions which need to be done in particular situations: not stealing when the opportunity presents itself, stopping violence, if possible, etc. Are those therefore "obligations"? Perhaps so, but not in the former sense of the term. The gray area concerns actions benefiting someone which were not incurred through contract. Let us categorize those.
If someone acts through (what they understand to be) an ethical imperative, an "ought", and that action benefits another, does that other owe the first a return, in effect a contractual return, although there was no contract? What of the case in which the other, although they did not initiate the action, could have refused it? In this case I believe that an argument could be made for an implicit contract, an implicit obligation, since if refusal was possible, then the recipient of the benefit, even by not acting, took an action, in effect. By not taking the action of refusing the benefit, they effectively took the action of accepting it, one might argue.
Next, let us consider the case in which refusal is impossible. A person takes an action which benefits another, and that second person not only does not enter into a contract with the first, but is not able to refuse the benefit (e.g., a child is conceived and born). That second person, then, cannot act on any contract, implicit or explicit. Although they might have refused the benefit, they could not; they did not have that choice available to them.
Does a person receiving this type of benefit have any ethical obligation at all toward their benefactor? Suppose that you fell into a river, became unconscious, then were rescued by someone. Do you have an obligation towards that person? Usually, we feel that if, for example, someone rescued in that manner did not at least thank their benefactor (a type of repayment), then they are remiss; they "owe" them at least an expression of gratitude. But why? Suppose it cost the benefactor nothing to perform the rescue; you fell into their fishing net that they were hauling up at the time anyway, or something like that. We could still argue that the benefactor could have let you drown... but that rescue, we are assuming, cost them nothing; either letting you drown or not was identical in terms of effort, time, cost, etc. In that case, would we feel we owed them gratitude? Given absolutely no extra effort on the part of the benefactor, I do not think that anyone would assume they owed that benefactor anything; they were rescued by chance, as it were. Both you and your rescuer would perhaps breathe a sigh of relief, wonder at your luck, and feel good; but there would be no debt. So again the sense of "owing" or "gratitude owed" is, in effect, contractual: the benefactor, in other cases, expended effort in rescuing you, and you are obligated toward them and repay them, with thanks and gratitude, at least, for that effort expended, but not in the case where they expended no effort at all.
What if your benefactor were forced to rescue you, even though it cost them resources? Someone stood over them with a gun and commanded them to fish you out of the water, even though they didn't want to... do you owe them anything? I do not believe so; you might feel sorry for them, but not grateful if they truly had no choice. The debt here would be toward the person who forced them to perform the rescue, if that action incurred a cost to that latter person.
Obligation, then, seems to be effectively contractual. Do you owe your parents anything for nothing more than being conceived and born? Given the above, to evaluate that question you would have to look at them and their circumstances. Was getting pregnant involuntary or voluntary? If voluntary, then they made a choice, independently of you, to pay a certain price, and for that, you owe them nothing. Did they want to, and was it feasible for them to abort you? If so, then your mother's carrying you to term cost her the effort of pregnancy. If they were so poor or disadvantaged in some way that abortion was not an option, then that cost was not a decision they could make; they expended no effort in keeping you that was not purely a consequence of her getting pregnant.
Do you see what I'm doing? Going through (thinking about going through, actually) every step from conception to birth and attempting to note where choices were voluntary; where those voluntary choices cost your parents; and what the motivations of that cost were. If there was no choice, then you are not obligated to them: to borrow from the analogy above, they had to rescue you, whether they wanted to or not. If there was choice, how much did it cost them? Were their motivations purely selfish: did they rescue you (going back to the above) in expectation of reward? That is, did they have a child strongly expecting that child would take care of them in old age, help them in their business, etc.? This is not a simple issue.
Further, I have not yet considered their raising you (which I assume they did). That cost them a great deal of resources; children are very expensive, in all senses of that term. Why did they do that? How? Were they forced to? This is a possibility, certainly... after all, in the West, killing and/or selling children is illegal... although giving them up is not, under certain circumstances. Did they raise you in expectation of reward or return (as above, where, for example, children are raised to work on farms or in the strong expectation that they will care for their parents in their old age), or because they wanted, even in part, to benefit you? Again, these are very complex issues that may not be possible to disentangle and analyze; I'm taking a pretty clear case when I consider someone drowning, after all. Did they put extra effort, beyond the absolute minimum, into raising you? If so, then they did, probably, go beyond what they were forced to do or what they considered their return would be. And so forth.
All in all, given normal circumstances, you probably do owe your parents something. It's unlikely that they were genuinely, totally, forced to have you, and that they raised you purely in expectation of reward, or for other purely selfish reasons, and/or that they did nothing more than the absolute minimum that society forced them to, in raising you. Human motivations are complex, usually. Of course, if you have been mistreated, then there has been cost to you, perhaps enough to compensate for their cost in raising you, perhaps not. I certainly can make no judgment about you personally. You must do your best to evaluate that, and to take, as best you can, the complexities of your particular situation into account when thinking about this whole issue.
Steven Ravett Brown
None of us asked to live, but we can make the best of it. You can't make the best of killing or being killed. Giving birth isn't an act of violence, nor is violence intended. Entry into consciousness and the realisation that you are needy and dependent is sometimes described as a violence, but that is simply one metaphor applied to coming to be by some continental philosophers and could simply mean "shock" and, in any case, doubts can be raised about its applicability.
This is different from killing someone. Levinas said "Thou shalt not kill" is not a commandment, but reflects man's phenomenological nature. When you come to the point of killing, you cannot kill, because you have lost the concept of a person. Sheer violence and an evil drive are all that there is. Others will call it killing, but it is not killing for the one who performs the act.
Is true happiness finding your one true love?
It is important to realize that different people may mean quite different things by 'true happiness' and 'true love'; such notions are notoriously difficult to pin down, which has led many philosophers to refuse to talk about them at all. One of my lecturers at Uni once said, "I never use love as an example because I don't understand it." If you want to answer the question for personal rather than theoretical reasons, what you decide will depend on what you think true happiness and true love really are.
My answer to the question would be that I do not believe true happiness can possibly consist in finding your one true love, because I do not accept that, for every person born into the world, there is one person out there and one person only who they could truly love, if only they could find them. I regard love as a much more haphazard business, in which the best meetings often happen by chance rather than design. The idea that my true love already exists somewhere strikes me as ridiculously deterministic. It is also a dangerously idealistic notion, setting people up with unrealistic expectations of their lover, only to be disappointed ("They weren't my true love after all...") On the other hand, lasting love and affection between two people can bring them very great happiness, and perhaps you could understand the question as being no more than an expression of this.
To answer the question more fully you could think about some of the following aspects of it:
What is 'true happiness'?
Are there other kinds of happiness that are not 'true'?
Does 'finding' imply you should actively go looking for your one true love?
Does everyone have only one true love?
Does everyone have someone to love?
Does anyone really have a true love?
What is 'true love'?
Are there other kinds of love?
Do some people have a true love somewhere in the world, but never find them?
How would you know whether this was true?
How would someone know whether they had found their true love, or attained true happiness?
Can you think of an example of someone who has found their one true love?
I find this is an interesting question in several ways. Not the least of which is that it raises several other questions in response to it rather than definitive answers and this possibly is one of the key features that distinguishes philosophical questions from other kinds of questions.
One aspect that I find particularly interesting is consideration of whether we can happily pair up 'truth' and 'value' expressions to form phrases like; 'true happiness' and 'true love' or if in fact by pairing them we introduce expressions that confuse meaning from one area of thought with another, i.e. science and mathematics with the complexity and richness of ordinary life and in this way mislead and take us down confusing byways or possibly to fields of thought as yet to be systematically explored. 'Truth' and 'false hood' are terms of evaluation that have relatively clear rules for use in science, mathematics and logic which stems from their association with matters of fact and definition. A simple definition of truth allows to us to recognise a statement as true if the object to which it applies exists. 'It is true that there is a pencil on the table providing that there is a pencil on the table and it is false if there is not a pencil on the table.' We can also assure the checker we have employed that they will not find anything that could be both a pencil and not a pencil at the same time. It is less clear how we could apply the terms true and false to happiness and love under the same rules of meaning.
If I say, it is true that I am in-love or have love-for someone or something we could devise rules by which my claim could be checked and shown to be true or false under the contemporary meaning of 'love' or 'happiness' but we could not attach the same degree of certainty, finality and well marked out borders to the object to which our claim applies. We can easily tell the difference between an object on the table that has all the features of a pencil and those that do not, so that we could tell the person we are sending in to check our claim about pencils how to tell the difference between objects that are pencils and objects that are not. It is less easy to give someone a clear set of rules or guidelines for finding 'object's they would recognise as 'love' or 'happiness' and never be confused about what it is they have found so that they are never left with the question; is this 'love', 'not-love', some of both or neither, is this happiness, not-happiness, some of both or neither?'Love' behaviour and 'happiness' behaviour could be characterised by time, place and role e.g. current perceptions of 'parental love of children in contemporary Britain' but not so that there is never any confusion about what it is we are witnessing or experiencing. We can experience and witness examples of behaviour that we could characterise as both love and not-love, happiness and not-happiness, many examples of which are produced by the manner in which differences of opinion or disagreement are expressed. So if we think that phrases like 'true happiness' and 'true love' will guarantee us freedom from confusion in the same way that we think we can be free from confusion in science and mathematics, the nature of the 'objects' to which the terms 'true' and 'false' apply applies guarantees that we will not.