Life Philosophy: Step 4 | See the Interconnections
This is the Fourth Step in the series, "How to Rethink Your Entire Life: Foundations of a Life Philosophy"
4. See the interconnections
When it comes to The Big Questions of life, we often try to tackle them one at a time.
We often ask, “How should I live?” for example.
We often answer, “Well, you should do X, or Y, or Z.”
And why? Well, we often reach for the best answer nearby that makes sense – or, if we can’t find one, we might delve into philosophical ethics to try to find answers.
But this is often frustrating. We either wind up just moving the ball a step or two down the field. (“You should do X.” “Why?” “Because of Y.” “But why do Y?” “Not sure.”)
Or, if we go in the other direction – delving into philosophy – we can often wind up confused, navigating what seem to be endless complexities of ethical problems and moral systems that seem to have no good solutions (at least, according to philosophy professors.)
But why do we run into these difficulties?
The problem is often that philosophical problems are "Everything Problems."
This illustrates the process of taking us from the specific to the general. It connects specific questions up with broader disciplines, which are the record of humanity’s efforts to answer those questions.
We often ask the Big Questions one at a time. (After all, we can usually say only one thing at a time. We talk in a way that’s linear, one word after another.) But life doesn’t come at us one single topic at a time. It often thrusts us into facing a whole world of things, all at once.
These questions don’t exist “one at a time.”
An analogy to this might be a student learning about steering wheels on a Monday. Then they learn about combustion engines on a Tuesday, exhaust pipes on a Wednesday, gas pedals on Thursday, mufflers on Friday, and so on.
They might be much better off if they starting learning – from the beginning – about cars.
If they approach each component separately (a month studying steering wheels, another studying gas pedals, and so on), they could later piece together how all of these separate pieces interconnect. But a much easier approach might be something along these lines: “I want to learn to be a mechanic. I want to understand how cars work.” They approach the problem with a clear view that all of the separate components eventually interconnect.
It’s the same with philosophy.
The pieces interconnect.
So, how do they interconnect?
Here are just a few examples.
Ethics is connected with metaphysics and psychology. How we should act (ethics) is connected with who and what we are (or, psychology and metaphysics.)
For example, if we are essentially animals (a metaphysical and psychology question), that will guide our ethics. It would mean that we act like animals, and we have no other choice. Why? Because that’s what we are. (“What we are” = metaphysics.) Animals will act like animals.
Epistemology (how we know) connects to metaphysics and psychology. For us to know anything, we would have to be the sort of creatures that are able to know. You wouldn’t criticize a toaster for not understanding calculus, for example. Toasters just aren’t the sorts of things that can understand calculus. (They just aren’t that kind of “being.”) But human beings are the kinds of things that are able to know things. (Or not.) The point is, what we know depends on what we are. Our ability to know depends on us being creatures with the ability to know. In this sense, epistemology connects up with metaphysics and psychology.
Teleology depends on metaphysics. The purpose of something depends on what it is. For a pencil, the purpose of it (most often) is to write or draw. The purpose of a light bulb is to shine. The “purpose” of a human being – if there is one – depends on what it is, which leads us to asking what we are, which leads us to metaphysics.
Ethics also depends on epistemology. Our ability to do the right thing or live well depends on our ability to know what the “right thing” is. If we can’t know anything (epistemology), that means we can’t really know right from wrong, or what we should do versus what we shouldn’t, which would undermine a great deal of what we argue about. But if we can know things, then that means we potentially can know what we should/shouldn’t do or what actions are right or wrong, and in that way, ethics depends on epistemology.
But our epistemology also depends on our ethics. What we know depends on what we do. If we study math, we’re much more likely to know some things about math. If we spend all our time watching soap operas, we’ll probably know a lot about dramatic human relationships on steroids, but we probably won’t know much about math. If we spend our time doing heroic, before too long, we probably know about much that doesn't involve heroin.
And so on.
Mapping these interconnections could go on for quite a while.
We could visualize it as a massive web.
Every thread connects. These ideas aren’t separate, disconnected islands. No topic is separate. They all intersect in multiple ways as part of a dynamic system.
We can observe these sometimes as chain reactions. Once one decision is made, other pieces click into place automatically. Like in wars, engineering, and computer programming, mistakes early in the process can lead to big problems later. Or, on the other end – strong foundations can sometimes make things nearly crash-proof.
Understanding this can help give us a tremendous advantage. It can simplify things tremendously.
Now that we know and understand this, we can try to follow this all the way down to its most basic, simple, starting point.
We can boil all of this down to one question.
This question will serve as our starting point or axiom for constructing a life philosophy. It can be phrased in three words.
That will bring us to Step 5.
> Next: Step 5: Boil it All Down to One Question