BA, MA, PGCE
Greetings! A warm welcome to the
Philosophy Hub, a place where my
philosophical rantings are arranged
into neat little boxes. Some of my finest academic work is laid bare to
tantalise your existentialist craving. As well as a few jokes and taunts, I will be pondering over the meaning of life until your brain finally decides to give in and shut down. Is it really worth the trouble (some of you might be asking)? Indubitably, yes. We arrive in the universe barred from knowing why. Is anyone else frustrated?
Some of you may think you already have the answer. It is one that usually involves either religion, some form of happiness, perhaps a meaningful relationship, a destined hobby, work, survival, children, or a combination. All of these most certainly hold some kind of inherent value. But the same underlying question always applies - why, why, why, Delilah?
Fascinated since childhood about the mystery of existence, it unfortunately wasn’t until adulthood I realised that the questions I repeatedly were asking myself were all part of the subject that is philosophy. These include – what is the meaning of life, why is the world the way it is, and why is there something rather than nothing? At the age of fourteen I asked my teacher 'How can we be sure of anything?', to which I was shot down with the reply, 'You need to get out a little more Bobby'. Little did I know there was actually a subject that deals with this crap. I thought I was just going crazy.
Therefore to broaden my horizons I thought it would be quite the challenge to study at university, on everything from Plato to Pontius Pilate. And now I teach the subject to poor unsuspecting students. It is rather rewarding when it gets to the end of the year and they’re left with a permanent sense of melancholy. It was after my first year of teaching it became subliminally clear - these philosophical questions can’t be answered. That’s the point. It's a subject that contemplates what we don’t know, rather than what we do.
There are, delightfully, no boundaries. The subject inevitably rears its ugly head towards almost all facets of academia – art, religion, health, music, science, language, mathematics, the list goes on. My specialism and interest stems towards four fields - philosophy of religion (does God exist), existentialism (God doesn't exist), moral philosophy (what's right and wrong), and to a degree, epistemology (how can we be sure of anything). It is, admittedly, a messy collage of ifs and buts. And if we can never be 100% sure of anything, then what's even the point? There are some philosophers who believe they hold answers. Rather they believe their beliefs are justified with enough certainty to constitute some form of knowledge. I know, its all dubious.
Philosophy of religion is what I predominately teach, and it’s here I wisely take an agnostic stance. Not to say I don’t think religion is juiced up tradition, blended with superstition, culture, and a hint of wishful thinking, which would diminish as fact if people saw it for what it actually is (I don’t mean to offend, but there are many intellectuals that agree with me). The fact that thousands of different religions have existed and disappeared should be enough to raise suspicion. A deistic God certainly seems more plausible.
However, if there is something responsible for us, then that too would require an explanation (this is challenged in what's known as the cosmological argument. It argues that God is uncaused and eternal). For me, something uncaused doesn’t quite cut the mustard. And if something or someone did create us, the universe can be pretty selfish. My take on the Problem of Evil explores the issue at large. Richard Dawkins thinks there most certainly is no God, and informs us that “the universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference". It can't be denied that bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people, randomly.
The problem of course is that a world without God frightens people. Where is then the meaning? This is why I love existentialism. The work of Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus both abandon religion and offer refreshing new alternatives involving freedom and revolt. Sartre I am still grappling with, however Camus (and his fictional work especially) is brilliantly entertaining, as well as enlightening. So, how do we attribute meaning in a meaningless world? The general gist is that we create our own meaning. This may satisfy some more than others. However, amidst all of the philosophy, one thing I am certain of, is that morality and meaning do not necessarily cease to exist without God or religion.
Science cunningly cuts deep into philosophy and lets it bleed dry. Apparently it’s our first port of call into understanding anything. Therefore it isn’t surprising I have been swept under its spell, simply because it informs us of so much. Evolution explains a great deal. However, many of us still refuse to believe it, despite the overwhelming evidence. For those of you confused about it all, check out my article on Why Evolution is a Fact.
Going back in time is certainly useful in trying to understand why we are here, and again, science leads the race. Cosmology can answer, with complexity, general questions about the state of the universe, its evolution, and what it’s made of (ever tried reading up on Einstein’s general theory of relativity, my advice is don’t). But where is the universe, and what is it expanding into, nothing? Well, the universe is expanding faster than the speed of light which rules us from ever finding out (even a hypothetical spaceship could never reach the edge). Great! It’s probably just a sea of nothingness anyway. But wait, isn’t that still something?
So how did the universe even come about? Well, if we’re asking what happened before the Big Bang, our whole understanding of science completely breaks down at this point (known as the singularity), which is why the late Stephen Hawking, arguably the most intelligent human being, concluded that this is when time and space began. Confused? You should be. Be sure to check out my cosmogony inquisition in one of my most mind-bending papers Was There a Beginning? in which I ponder over infinite regression, the multiverse (with surprisingly strong evidence to back it up), and other theories on how we got here.
For those of you still reading, well done. I hope you are in agreeance when I say it is imperative we ask these questions, if not, then what’s the point? Why go on living like a zombie, or even worse – with a delusion.
‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’
My need for answers is an addiction, and I am not alone in my conquest. From Friedrich Nietzsche to Woody Allen, many philosophical minds have had their fair share of turmoil. However, tis not all doom and gloom. Stoic philosophy breaths optimism when it teaches us to cease worrying over things in which we have no control; this is the true path towards happiness. Buddhist philosophy teaches us to acknowledge and accept suffering in order to overcome it; really good for dealing with the problem of evil. And moral philosophy certainly has its upside with utilitarianists like Peter Singer; his work shines a whole new light on compassion and equality.
At the risk of undermining my academic status, I should confess I am an intellectual of the unorthodox kind. Growing up listening to rap music, enjoying Jack Daniels far too much, and delving in and out of rebellious behaviour, I battled with (unknowingly at the time) nihilism and other concepts of life without meaning. However, education has served me well and made me the humble, knowledgeable, thirty-something year old I am today. I am not just more confident as a person, but have more respect for the world and my place in it. And as for life itself, the sounds of EPMD and the occasional Jack on the rocks is enough to keep me content.
So what about the truth, will we ever know it? Probably not. But I still remain adamant in trying to find out, even at the price of disappointment.
Won’t you join me?