Six Ideas from Western Philosophy
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‘What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.’ - Seneca.
This dark remark gets to the heart of Stoicism, which says we get weepy and angry not only because our plans failed, but because we strongly expected them not to. Seneca thought the less we expect, the less we will suffer. Seneca was trying to spare us the kind of hope that inspires bitterness and anger.
St Augustine was deeply interested in finding explanations for the evident tragic disorder of the world.
Augustine contemplated the idea that human nature is inherently damaged because, in the Garden of Eden, Eve sinned against God by eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Her guilt was passed down to all people. As a metaphor for why the world is in a mess, Augustine implies that we should not expect too much from the human race.
‘Kings and Philosophers shit, and so do ladies’. This is a blunt phrase of 16th-century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne.
He wanted to let us feel closer to and less intimidated by people whose life might seem very impressive. Montaigne attempted to free us from uncertainty and shyness from thinking too much of others and too little of ourselves.
We should learn to become better friends with ourselves. ‘All our unhappiness comes from our inability to sit alone in our room.’
The 17th-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal pointed out that instead of staying undistracted with ourselves - appreciating small pleasures, thinking before we act, examining our minds - we are tempted to crave excitements. We meddle in the affairs of others but fail to help them; we seek fame and end up being misunderstood.
Translated from Latin, 'under the aspect of eternity' is a phrase from philosopher Baruch Spinoza.
For Spinoza, philosophy teaches us to look at things, such as our own suffering and disappointment, as though we were looking from high down at the earth. From this high perspective, our troubles no longer seem so insurmountable.
'Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.' - Immanuel Kant
Kant urged us to recognize that nothing that people do can ever be perfect because we are creatures of passion and erroneous instinct as well as reason and intelligence. Accepting our crooked nature is the birth of generosity. Kant added that crooked beams could make beautiful floors in the hands of a talented carpenter.
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