WHY MEASURING A LIFE PHILOSOPHY IS PRETTY TRICKY
Foundations of a Life Philosophy (1.5)
Note: This article is one part of a series, "How to Rethink Your Entire Life | Foundations of a Life Philosophy"
So, how do you measure a life philosophy?
If a life philosophy is profoundly important in life, to put it mildly – and if profoundly important things are good to get a handle on – then we face a big next step: how do we measure it?
The answer here might seem simple.
Sure, it’s not like measuring a shoe size or a tablespoon of sugar.
But still – at first glance, it might seem like an easy task. If it makes sense, it’s good. If it’s absurd, it’s bad. If it leads to success, love, and happiness, or the “life well-lived,” it’s good. If it leads to misery and failure, it’s bad. If it makes me a better and stronger person, it’s good. If it makes me a worse, weaker person, it’s bad.
And so on.
So, it might seem pretty simple at first.
But it soon gets a little trickier.
After all, how do we define what “happiness” or “misery” is? How do we define “success” or “good” or “the life well-lived”? How do we know what really “makes sense” or what’s “absurd”?
Our life philosophy is what we typically use to answer those questions.
We might say, “well, if you want a good life philosophy, then just avoid all dumb ideas and stick to the smart ones.” But again: how do we know which ideas are dumb and which are smart?
Our life philosophy tells us these things. And our life philosophy is what we’re trying to figure out here.
There are many answers to these questions. There are also several different ways to approach the process of answering them. Even further, there are also many different ideas about how to pick that approach.
It can make our minds spin. Amid this whirlpool of questions, how do we decide which of these ideas are “correct” or “accurate” or “helpful,” or not?
We have to reach even further back.
This gets to the heart of this problem.
Our life philosophy is usually the yardstick we measure other things by.
But what we’re trying to measure is the yardstick itself.
How do you measure a yardstick?
How do we measure the measurer?
The referee in a football game has the job of making calls – “fair” or “foul.” But who determines whether the referee is right or not? Who makes the call on the call-maker?
The judge is the final authority in a courtroom. But who judges the judge?
How do we know what time it is? We can look at a clock. But if two clocks show two different times, how do we know which is correct? How do we tell a clock the time, when usually, it’s the clock’s job to tell us the time? What does it even mean for a clock to be “correct”?
It’s easy for things to get slippery here.
This matters here because we can easily arrive at this: “My life philosophy is wonderful, according to my philosophy of life.”
"But how do you know your life philosophy is 'wonderful?'"
“Because my life philosophy is great, and it says it’s great. Therefore, it’s great.”
The difficulties and bad logic in this business can become pretty clear. Our thinking can quickly become circular. “Why do you think X?” “I think him so, because I think him so.” (Shakespeare)
At this point, we might think we’ve reached territory where we just have to throw up our hands and make a leap.
That’s the challenge.
But blind leaps can land badly. There might be better approaches.
Hopefully, this clarifies the task at hand: while our life philosophy is typically the yardstick we use to judge, measure, or make calls about things in life, our challenge here is to measure the measurer, make calls on the call-maker, “judge the judge.”
It’s like trying to wake up your own alarm clock. To get a job, you need experience. And to get experience, you need a job. Again, the thinking seems circular, and so the problem can seem impossible to crack.
When our thinking becomes circular in a narrow way, it creates blind spots.
With blind spots, we aren’t able to see certain things.
And if we don’t see them, we don’t know about them, so we don’t bother to look for them.
We don’t know something, but then we don’t know that we don’t know. Like repression: we forget, and then we forget that we forgot.
If someone is ignorant but knows they’re ignorant, they’re better off than someone who is ignorant but is ignorant of their ignorance, which means they can think they’re wise.
Mental gymnastics along these lines might seem like a pointless goose chase.
Socrates used to drive people crazy by exposing their blind spots, until they killed him. (We then spent the next few thousands years studying him.)
Some doors can only be unlocked from the inside. There are some blind spots only we can discover. Otherwise, we can risk closing ourselves up in self-imposed caves of illusion – a Matrix of our own making.
The idea of a comfortable illusion might seem appealing to some.
But all too often, life comes along and rudely shatters our comfy, self-made illusions. It pops our bubbles and exposes vast new areas of life that we were previously blind to.
A good life philosophy can work in a similar way to reveal all of this, but with a smoother ride. That is to say, it will actively work to deliberately discover blind spots until they no longer exist. The result will be seeing more clearly.
It’s a steep challenge.
Thinking it through like this might make it seem more difficult than it is. It can be true that we often need experience to get a job, and a job to get experience. But people get jobs all the time. What seems intellectually impossible can be solved in other ways.
And also, there’s the small fact that we have no choice.
We can’t choose not to choose. Choosing not to choose is still a choice. The idea that we shouldn’t worry about the ideas we live by is still an idea. (And a bad one.) A philosophy that claims it isn’t a philosophy is still a philosophy.
We have to do something. Life doesn’t let us press the pause button to give us time to “figure it all out” first.
So, since we must have a life philosophy, we might as well get to work on making it a good one.
But what does "good" mean here?
To know, we have to measure it somehow.