To Be or Not To Be
A little kingdom I possess,
Where thoughts and feelings dwell;
And very hard the task I find
Of governing it well.
-- Louisa May Alcott.
...........hmmm....that more or less describes my situation !!
~A Wise Man Said~
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
~When in Lancaster~
Life as PhD Student
Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
OK. I am in the mood for an argument. Actually, I am always in the mood for arguments and since not many like to engage in the sport with me, I argue with myself. I happened to be a bit under the weather one of these days—as the great Wodehouse would say, if not actually disgruntled, far from being gruntled. It may seem like an odd kind of thing to do during these times—sort of like drinking cold water when you’re suffering from a cough—but I like to read up some good old philosophical ‘stuff’ when I am not exactly feeling jolly. It cures whatever little jolliness is left in me but when you know you’re in great company, you don’t mind so much.
Well, so this time I thought I’ll chew on a bit of existentialism—‘existence precedes essence’ being a central tenet. In short, your life has the meaning that you choose to give it. You are the architect of your life. You have complete freedom to act but you are completely responsible for the consequences of your actions. This freedom can be exhilarating but also frightening, for example, when you’re standing on the edge of a cliff, you fear falling off, but you know that nothing and no one stops you from jumping off. Which creates anxiety because of the realisation that ‘you are on your own’ and you are free to make choices concerning ‘you’—choices whose ultimate responsibility no one else can shoulder but you.
This brings me to my argument. I cannot say I relate with existential philosophy. Not because I am uncomfortable about the fact that I might throw myself off a cliff in an unguarded moment and there will be no God to save me (though that’s there). But because, when one says you’re completely free to choose, are you? When one says I can define my own life with my actions, can I? and when one says I undertake a certain action with the knowledge of the responsibility it entails, do I always (I may not have full knowledge)? Yes, I am free to “act” one way or the other but am I “freely choosing” those actions—is my life a series of actions and consequences of those actions, or is it a series of actions and reactions and actions that are further modified by the nature of those reactions and how those continuous actions and reactions define my ability to respond to situations or the manner in which I respond to situations. For example, a woman whose marriage is arranged for her, how free is her choice given that she did not “choose to be born in that traditional society”? What about the context in which I am placed—my actions are not independent of context surely? If I was born in a palace with a golden spoon in my mouth or born in a poor man’s house, wouldn’t my “essence” in some way be predetermined even before I was born or “existed”? And wouldn’t it have not some but a lot of weight on how my “essence” is shaped finally? That is about birth but what about “what happens to you along the way”. What if you, say, lose a parent early in life—you cannot have “chosen” to lose the parent and yet this loss may have a bearing on most of the seemingly “free decisions” you will be making through life. Can you be said to be “responsible” for those decisions that were in some way “predetermined” by the event that happened in your life—and not by yourself.
You know where I am going with this. But, no, I am not discounting freedom and responsibility; in fact, I think one must be extremely conscious of both otherwise you run the risk of bobbing around the ocean of life unmindful of where it takes you and maybe drag other people along the way in an irresponsible manner, because, hey!, someone up there is taking us wherever he chooses to. I very much believe in acting consciously and responsibly. What I am saying is that no matter how conscious I am or responsible I am, I cannot necessarily take my life to the destination I want to take it to or shape its “essence”. I can steer it as best I can through bad weather and veer it along with whatever knowledge I have, but, my best efforts and decisions may not be equal to what gets thrown my way. There is something in nature that has to allow me to navigate my course… and if it doesn’t, I won’t.