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Philosophy in Your Personal Life: an eriched life experience and autonomous individual

As a distinguished American philosopher, Williams James put it: "A man with no philosophy in him is the most inauspicious and unprofitable of all social mates." Fortunately, all rational human beings have the seed of philosophy in their hearts. Philosophy is often thought as an extremely esoteric, abstract, and specialized subject that has little to do with the rest of our lives. This is simply untrue. In reality, each one of us deals with philosophy everyday. Philosophy begins with wonder. We have all been touched and moved by the feeling of wonderment from which philosophy drives:

Philosophy tries to answer those wonders, which shows us that the basic ideas of philosophy are familiar to all of us, even if we have not yet formally confronted the problems. In this sense, every rational human being is a philosopher to a certain degree. Watch yourself in a crisis, or listen to yourself in an argument with a friend. Notice how quickly abstract philosophical concepts like "freedom", "mankind", "self-identity", "human nature", "reality", "truth", "morally right", "human rights", etc., enter our thoughts and our conversations. We all have some opinions about God, about morality and its principles, about human nature. Philosophy, in other words, is not just in philosophy books. Your personal life is saturated with philosophy.

The goal of philosophy is autonomy

Although philosophy begins with wonder and questions, it does not end there. The reason why you are not a philosopher yet is that you have not questioned most of your beliefs. They are merely the assumptions of your thinking. You believe many things without having thought about them, merely assuming them, sometimes even without evidence or good reasons. Philosophy tries to go beyond the conventional answers to these questions that you often take for granted. Philosophy examines these beliefs, not necessarily to reject them but to learn why we hold them and to ask whether there are good reasons to continue holding them. What the study of philosophy does for you is to make your ideas explicit, to give you the means of defending your assumptions, and to make alternative suppositions available to you as well. In this way, your basic beliefs about reality and life become your own beliefs. You thus gain a kind of independence and freedom, or what some modern philosophers call “autonomy”. The goal of philosophy, then, is autonomy: the freedom of being able to decide for yourself what you believe by using your own rationality.

Here is an example. Suppose you have been brought up in a deeply religious family and have had a strong belief in God. After you enter college, you are immediately confronted by fellow students, some of whom you consider close friends and admire in many ways, who are violently anti-religious. Your first reaction will be almost like physical illness; you feel weak, nauseous, flushed, and anxious. You refuse to listen, and if you respond at all, it is with a tinge of hysteria. You feel as if the foundation of your life, one of its main supports, is slipping away. But slowly you gain some confidence; you begin to listen. You begin to ask yourself how you came to believe your religion in the first place, and you may come up with the answer that you are “conditioned” by your parents and society in general. After you look into both sides of the arguments for and against God discussed in your freshman philosophy class, for the first time, you can weigh their merits and demerits against each other without defensively holding onto one and attacking the other. After your reflection, you may remain a believer or become an atheist, or you may suspend your judgment for further investigation. Whatever you decide, your position will no longer be naive and unthinking. You have confidence that your position is secure. You gain your autonomy!