Wait! I know you read the dreaded “p-word,” and you’re about to toss the magazine in the trash. After all, what has philosophy ever done for you? Has it ever lent you a hand as you stand unsteadily along the crumbling precipice of depression?
Well, I’m not talking about highfalutin philosophical meanderings where you need an entire afternoon and the guidance of a college professor with gray, unkempt hair to understand what the hell the author is writing about.
I’m staring at you, Hegel. How does his convoluted dialectic help me lift the veil of the unknown? What was I before I was born? Is death mere oblivion? How do I imagine oblivion? What’s the bloody point of it all?
“Philosophy’s power,” wrote Seneca to his friend Lucilius, “to blunt all the blows of circumstance is beyond belief.” Born in 4BC, the Stoic philosopher made some extraordinary claims about philosophy, arguing that “without it, no one can lead a life free of fear or worry.”
Seneca had plenty of reason to be fearful and anxious his entire life. He had the misfortune to be the tutor to Nero, one of the most notorious emperors of Rome.
Yes, the same Nero who burned people alive as torches in his garden. The same Nero who had his own mother and brother executed. The same Nero who sent a centurion to the doorstep of his former tutor in 65AD with orders that Seneca commit suicide.
But Seneca, who struggled with suicidal ideation himself, took it all in stride and even asked some of his weeping students where their philosophy had gone — while taking a knife to his veins.
I have used philosophy as a hammer to shatter chains of expectation and disappointment, forged by a world that offers material goods as the cure to boredom and unhappiness. After all, where does the value of a material thing come from?
“Shall I tell you what philosophy holds out to humanity?” writes Seneca. “Council.”
He adds how we are all vexed with illness, poverty, and suffering at hands of other men and at the hands of the gods, tormented by the fear of death.
Philosophy revealed to me how not only to endure such calamities, but how to live content through those hardships while questioning man-made values and ideologies.
“Tell them,” he instructs Lucilius, “how simple are the laws nature has laid down, and how straightforward and enjoyable life is for those who follow them, and how confused and disagreeable it is for others who put more trust in popular ideas than they do in nature.”
Philosophy has shifted not only how I view the world, but how I interact. Changing the way I think throughout each day has had an impact on how I feel throughout each day.
“The wise man needs hands and eyes and a great number of things that are required for the purposes of day-to-day life; but he lacks nothing,” writes Seneca, “for lacking something implies that it is a necessity and nothing, to the wise man, is a necessity.”