A picture of a lion and the word Philosophy

Why You Should Study Philosophy in 2024

It’s almost 2024, and I’m practically a God; at least, I would have been in the eyes of ancient philosophers like Seneca, Plato, and Kant. That’s because I can use artificial intelligence to write full-length books at the snap of a finger. I can order food and have it delivered to my door within 30 minutes. I can fill my body with supplements, work from anywhere worldwide, and sleep in a temperature-controlled bed.

Despite the extravagance and ease of living, I wonder if it’s all for our benefit. We’re losing the art of doing hard things, knowing our true selves, and being resilient. We’re weakening as a people, and I can see it in my life.

In this essay, I aim to convince you there’s a way to live in the over-optimized world without losing your sense of self: by studying philosophy. 

There are three reasons for this. 

First, you’re not living freely. Every day, you’re tossed about based on other people’s decisions. Second, you’re living in a world of uncontrolled prosperity, which only promotes a “More is Better” attitude. Finally, you’re likely out of touch with your true nature, which is why you feel depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed at times.

I’ll reference Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic to make my arguments. If you have a copy, please follow along.

Study Philosophy to Live Freely

Seneca argues that we are not living freely. What does this mean? Consider why you’re in the career you’re in or why you choose to wear your current outfit. What about how you eat? Or the addictions that you battle.

You’re influenced at every level of your life, and when I say “You,” I’m including myself in the classification. Our lives have been directed by a marketing department, our parent’s beliefs, our boss, and our closest friends.

The degree to which we are influenced is proportionate to the degree in which we know ourselves. Unfortunately, many of us have not taken the time to understand who we are.

In Letter 37, Seneca suggests the following:

“How can I free myself? This way will be afforded you by philosophy. Betake yourself, therefore to philosophy if you would be safe, untroubled, happy, in fine, if you wish to be free.”

Seneca suggests that the questions posed by philosophy are questions everyone should face if they are to live according to their own terms. 

Consider some of the questions philosophy explores:

  1. Is there a God?
  2. What is the purpose of life?
  3. What are my values and morals?
  4. What makes a person virtuous?
  5. How can I know if something is true?
  6. What is justice?
  7. How should one spend their time?

By studying philosophy, you wade in the pool with some of the world’s greatest thinkers on these topics.

As a quick exercise, try #5 out right now. How can you know if something is true? Have you ever thought about that? If you can’t answer the question, you are more prone to believing everything you are told. Until you know what is true for you, other people’s views will govern how you live.

And that is the power that comes with studying philosophy. Technology and humankind are evolving way too fast. Unless you hit pause in 2024 and consider these questions, you’ll never be your authentic self.

The Soul is Ruined by Uncontrolled Prosperity

In Letter 39, Seneca suggests that our souls are ruined by uncontrolled prosperity. This is interesting advice coming from someone who lived in complete excess. He would have been the equivalent of a Bezos or a Gates during his time. Seneca was very wealthy due to his association with Nero, the Roman Emperor.

It’s one thing for a poor man to say that uncontrolled prosperity is toxic, but you can’t speak to the shadows surrounding excess unless you’ve lived it.

Today is full of uncontrolled prosperity. As I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, I’m essentially a God because I have unlimited power at my disposal. You’re the same. Credit cards allow us to buy now and pay later. You can live comfortably without roaming the lands for food or ducking into a cave at the sight of murderous opponents.

We’re comfortable. In fact, we’re too comfortable, and it’s starting to show. Our waistlines are growing, our attention spans are shrinking, and our ability to show compassion for other humans is being ground to a pulp. If someone doesn’t agree with your opinion, you’re digitally stoned to death.

Seneca gives us the following: 

“Too rich a soil makes the grain fall flat, branches break down under too heavy a load, excessive productiveness does not bring fruit to ripeness. This is the case with the soul also; for it is ruined by uncontrolled prosperity, which is used not only to the detriment of others, but also to the detriment of itself.”

Philosophy exposes us to ideas and beliefs we’ve never considered. It forces us to examine ourselves, our behaviors, and our origins. That examination process leads to the question, “What in the hell am I doing with my life?” That’s a powerful wake-up call that will bring you to your knees (in a good way).

You’re a Caged Lion

There is a lion in you. At your core, you’re filled with an unparalleled purpose. The problem is that you’re not living according to that nature. Instead, you’ve tamed your inner lion and taught it to do some cute tricks to gain public approval.

Seneca suggests the following:

“The lion with the gilded mane, in the process of being trained and forced by weariness to endure the decoration, is sent into the arena in quite a different way from a wild lion whose spirit is unbroken; the latter, indeed, bold in his attack, as nature wished him to be, impressive because of his wild appearance – and it is his glory that none can look upon him without fear.”

He’s speaking about a gladiator’s arena where some lions are trained to put on a show. They would guild their manes with gold and teach them tricks. Do you ever feel like this lion? Has your family, work, or community guilded your mane? That lion is no longer living its true nature. Compare that with a wild lion in the arena, which is terrifying and spectacular. You can’t take your eyes off it. Why? Because it’s a true lion living its values.

I’m not suggesting that you become vicious, and neither is Seneca. But you should be dangerous. People must understand that you’re not one to be taken advantage of in any situation. You’re not a pushover. A strong and independent man or woman is only concerned with living according to a set of values. Impressing others means very little.

Seneca explains what your true nature is. As a human, you exist on this earth with something no other animal possesses – the ability to reason. If you exercise this power by studying philosophy and asking the hard questions, you will reach your true potential. However, if you let reason go and allow the world to sweep you along, you’ll wake up one day feeling ashamed at having to perform tricks for other people.

Your ability to reason is what makes you human. Philosophy encourages you to think for yourself, which is needed now more than ever. 

List of Philosophers to Read

I’ve made my point. Philosophy is the best tool in 2024 to help you live freely, avoid uncontrolled prosperity, and discover your inner lion. Are you ready to study and ask yourself these challenging questions?

If so, then I’ve almost done my job.

Let me end by giving you a simple roadmap to start with philosophy. It can feel like a foreign section of the library if you’re new to these authors. 

Here are three books you’ll find helpful as you begin the journey. They’re well-written, inspiring, and accessible for the first-time philosophy student:

  1. Letters from a Stoic by Seneca (63 – 65 A.D.)
  2. The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell (1912)
  3. 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson (2018)

If you’re looking for an even more profound challenge, I would suggest the following three works:

  1. The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt (1958)
  2. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume (1748)

I also host a book club with a philosophical focus. If you’re interested in joining me online, you can do so at https://highlightish.com/book-club

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