Philosophising your way to a good life

Back when I was a spritely Year 13, naïve to what lay ahead and idealistic about University, I faced the choice we all made, where to apply on the dreaded UCAS, and for what. One of the sole reasons I decided to do Classics in the end, was because I didn’t want to give up History, Language – or, perhaps most importantly Philosophy.

When I’d started my Philosophy AS (and AS’ were still a thing), I had simply assumed it would be exactly like my GCSE Religious Studies. I took Philosophy as a fourth option, intending to give it up after the year, in lieu of anything else that took my fancy.

But honestly, AS Philosophy and Ethics opened my eyes to a whole new world of adventure. Never before, had I quite realised that the ‘overthinking’ I would so unhelpfully do late at night, could be turned into something constructive: A way to think about life.

The big questions that I’d always been asking, like what happens after you die, does God exist, how can I best use my time? All suddenly were safe discussion topics that we could explore together in a classroom and through our own independent reading.

No more did I feel relegated to pondering these questions in isolation, but suddenly I found myself asking them with others. Yes, we were approaching the topics on a relatively introductory level, but most of the philosophising we did back then, in our little class of 14 or so, has massively impacted the options I take now, as a wizened old third year undergraduate in Classics.

Plato and Aristotle were two of the first we encountered, and suddenly, the idea of a ‘good life’ and what it entails, became a revolutionary way for me to think about my life. Realising that my favourite topics of Ancient History, Language and Philosophy could all be combined is precisely why I chose to apply to Oxford. The idea of doing Philosophy not as its own subject, but in combination with my other interests, is the only reason I was interested in Classics in the first place.

Now, I’m happy to say that I continue that exploration, with at least four of my final eight papers in Philosophy.

I feel that often, Philosophy as a legitimate subject and use of time, gets undermined by people asking the question ‘What’s the point?’.

I like to think of it like this, if you get an answer to your question, then whatever started out as philosophy, has become its own subject.

At one time, physics, biology, chemistry; they all started out by people asking questions they didn’t know the answers to. As soon as they started getting those answers, they became something of their own branch, but the reality is, most what we consider heavyweights now, started out as Philosophy.

In fact, for want of a better way of describing it, it’s almost as if Philosophy gives birth to all these other subjects of discussion, and fosters them until they’re big enough to become their own independent entity. But if you trace their roots, they’ll head straight back to Philosophy.

Indeed, questioning things, asking why something is right, and analysing what we take as a given, never seems to me a bad thing. Its through asking big questions that we come to different moral conclusions. It is how society progresses and learns from its past.

Philosophy literally means ‘the love of wisdom’, it’s the enchantment with life and all the deep puzzling questions we have about it. These keep Philosophers enthralled, and will however long humans exist. It’s in our nature to question, and that distinguishes us from all other species on the planet.

As long as there are unanswered questions, there will be Philosophers, and we ought to value people who spend their lives questioning the assumptions most of us depend on. It opens a new way of thinking, that constant exploration.

My Philosophy teacher, Mr Bowman, used to call us his ‘philosophical kittens’. We all are really, ‘philosophical kittens’. My hope is that one day, I become a philosophical cat. But in the meantime, I’m more than happy to spend my time evaluating the questions of morality that have puzzled us for thousands of years, and I will be forever grateful to Mr Bowman and my Ethics teacher Mr Wells, for revealing to me this whole new world of wonder.

Image credit to Francesca Whitfield