Practical Philosophy



This is about how we can try to improve our lives through perspective.  My sort of philosophical madness is a walk with Chinese, Greeks, Romans and even an Englishman or two.  Most of them dead but we shouldn’t hold that against them.


I love things that are practical and therefore useful to me in my daily life. Things like hammers and saws are terrific when building a house but to build a meaningful life you need a practical philosophy, the equivalent of any good tool. And you need to apply that tool to the job.


My first experience with practical philosophy began through my friend Tony MacNevin.


My positive prejudice towards Tony had its origin many years ago when he wouldn’t lend me a book. The book he wouldn’t loan me changed my life. The book was THE IMPORTANCE OF LIVING by Lin Yutang, and it was so precious to Tony that it was the only book in his large library that he wouldn’t loan out. I was intrigued of course and eventually tracked down a paperback copy with a broken spine published by the New English Library, and read it.


It changed my life. THE IMPORTANCE OF LIVING is a book of practical philosophy, rather than a book of clever rhetoric and Jesuitical argument based on semantics and logic. Briefly it recommends a simple approach to the problems of living and gave to me a love of applicable philosophy that has endured for my adult life.


Lin takes us for a walk with his friends, the gentle philosophers of China, Lao Tse, Su Tungpo, Mao Hsaing, Chaungtse, Walt Whitman and Will Rodgers ( okay he snuck them in ) and gives us a humorous and generous view of a simple  human existence that is obtainable by all. It advocates the small over the large, laziness over busy-ness ( or business ), the scamp as an ideal, the importance of the stomach, happiness is biological and appreciation of the miracle of conscious life. It acknowledges the pursuit of money and fame as primary causes of unhappiness rather than the solution to unhappiness.


Here lies truth that we can apply to our lives. It does not change our looks, our circumstances or our natures. It only changes our perspective.


But that of course is everything.


I have frequently recommended the book as a medicine for melancholia. Just letting it fall open and reading at random is a good way to feel better about the whole darn thing.


The Chinese, Lin tells me, have a wonderful attitude toward God. Basically it runs like this . . . Is there a God? Of course there is, but it is impossible ( and presumptuous ) for the mind of man to comprehend or understand the mind of the divine, so we best just get on with living and treat each other well. Rather than the ten commandments there is just one rule from these Oriental scholars, the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Treat people the way you would wish to be treated. That’s it.



Sometimes we will be told a thing, often many times over many years and then one day we will truly hear it, understand it and be affected by it. This happened to me some time ago when I was listening to an interview with Clive Robertson a broadcaster. He was asked if he believed in God and his reply was “ Yes because then it’s not all about me.”


Hardly seems earth shaking does it? But it was and it is.


If it is all about me then the world is a very small place. When I die the sun goes out and it is all over. It is only my gratification that counts. It is the perspective of the infant and cannot promote happiness or well being in an adult. Yet it is the recommended model of philosophical behaviour in our advertising and economic systems. And it does not work. If you follow it you allow your life to be stolen for a promise that cannot be fulfilled by those who make it.


There is a video titled It’s All About Me by 1 Giant Leap that I would recommend to you. It is a combination of music, dance and philosophy that takes on this important subject in a unique and accessible way. Wonderful wonderful wonderful.




Another philosopher I would recommend for his perspective is Epicurus. His belief was that we should seek out the good and avoid the bad. This became the dominant philosophy in Rome when the Christian era began and was denigrated by slogans into an excuse for excess, quite contrary to Epicurus’s beliefs.


A modern view on Epicurean philosophy is readily available from Alain de Botton’s THE CONSOLATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY. This book is a modern Penguin classic and deservedly so. Read it. It is a good hammer.


The other great source of material on Epicurus is from the Roman author Lucretius in his masterpiece ON THE NATURE OF THINGS. Written in the first century AD Lucretius knew that the world was round, that the universe was immense, the matter was made of atoms and that there was climate change happening in his time as the result of human activity. Quite a guy and an Epicurean.


These few books, and the insights they have provided me, may have some positive affect on others. I hope so. I would like to believe that you may find the riches there that I found and that they may make your life better, more understandable, more fun.


Because it is not all about me . . .



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