Perspectives on Philosophy, Old & New

The best conductors of philosophy are those that bring it down from the abstract, into the day-to-day. Marcus Aurelius, somewhere around 150 AD, articulated the landscape surrounding, as well as the ever-present need for, philosophy:

In the life of a man, his time is but a moment, his being an incessant flux, his senses a dim rushlight, his body a prey of worms, his soul an unquiet eddy, his fortune dark, and his fame doubtful. In short, all that is of the body is as coursing waters, all that is of the soul as dreams and vapours; like a warfare, a brief sojourning in an alien land; and after repute, oblivion. Where, then, can man find the power to guide and guard his steps? In one thing and one alone: Philosophy. To be a philosopher is to keep unsullied and unscathed the divine spirit within him, so that it may transcend all pleasure and all pain, take nothing in hand without purpose…accept each and every dispensation as coming from the same Source as itself – and last and chief, wait with a good grace for death, as no more than a simple dissolving of the elements whereof each living thing is composed.” 

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

A few millennia later, Sharon Lebell offers a different angle on the same purpose of philosophy:

Philosophy’s purpose is to illuminate the ways our soul has been infected by unsound beliefs, untrained tumultuous desires, and dubious life choices and preferences that are unworthy of us. Self-scrutiny applied with kindness is the main antidote.”

– Sharon Lebell, The Art of Living (2013)

It’s probably no accident that Lebell’s book is an interpretation of Epicurus’ philosophy, which itself greatly influenced Aurelius. A neat line drawn through a few thousand years across timeless articulations of how to live.

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