Philosophy as Undermining a Beautiful Life

Christian was most confident in his self-identification as a “philosopher.” His high school had incorporated ancient philosophy and some theology into its curriculum. Philosophy was his makeup and every discussion with him was Socratic. He forced me to appreciate pre-19th Century works and to prefer the Philosophical to the merely Theological, beginning to draw up a union of the two fields into the sort of practice Plato would have encouraged. Philosophy as the entirety of inquiry and academic philosophy (in the current fashion) as a narrow subset. I became a philosophy major through paperwork but a young philosopher acquainted with the field through his pestering me about “the good life.” Philosophy is a pursuit of the good life—the good life arrived at via inquiry; the discovery of the good life through reasonable proceedings (ideally) molding our characters.

Danny was later to the game. While Christian was prepared by his influencers in high school, I came to be through intense religious and existential doubts. Danny felt these same pains and largely groomed himself, but decided to take up English as an undergraduate, and later finished his MA in Ethics. I knew Danny from high-school, and we were very close, producing and recording our first two albums together. None of us were ever into the “scene” of academics: we didn’t really fit in, and had many interests outside our respective niches. Danny was driven to music and art; Christian to military strategy. I enjoyed photography, music and the freedom that comes from camping. Strangely, Christian actually did not like music. This still strikes me as odd. Danny and his constant criticism of my music, and my criticism of others’, formed in me a conception of aesthetic worth that I can’t give shape to, but which I employ daily.

The three of us united behind a battle against naïve, destructive, evangelical Christianity, in favor of seeking a refined (yet Orthodox) Christianity that could be faithful to its origins while being Philosophically defensible. We rebelled against our anti-intellectual bullies and received our A.A.’s from the same community college. Along the way I was asked “are you sure you’re a Christian, if you study philosophy?” There was a goal between us—we had problems to work on, and academics were never a sort of ‘game.’

I married and moved to Oklahoma. Christian continued in Southern California, and Danny, for his MA, moved to New Jersey. I lagged in completing my BA—Danny would end his MA prior to my graduation. I could not manage a chronic illness, anxiety, and more than 12 units per semester. We fell out of touch while remaining very close. After all, we were all engaged in the same cosmically important pursuit, for our own benefit and that of others: you cannot sever that bond easily. Danny to theology, ethics and the literary strains of philosophy (he was the most well rounded), Christian to philosophy of language, logic and ancient philosophy, and I to epistemology, confirmation and philosophy of religion.

Just as my identity as a “philosopher” was settling, Christian called me. He was engaged and joined the army as an intelligence specialist. In his final year of his MA, Danny decided to take up comedic writing, and seeking any available job that would provide. They wanted to work, raise families, and die simply. Both were either convinced that this would be more conducive for their “good life” than remaining as academics, or were so unimpressed with professional philosophy that they were forced to look for other routes to the good life. For Christian, most academics were engaged in a ‘game.’ Both had a falling out after the weakening of their prior bond; I remained close with them individually.

I am left. Do not read resentment into my tone. But I am the only one left, and my convictions remain, though substantially more tired than before. I took it as my task to correct the wrongs of the Church, and remain in that. “You’re a polemicist, not an apologist.” The pursuit of the good life has divided us.

I’ve come to suspect that beauty and goodness, as those concepts appear in value judgements, are really the same property or entity under distinct names. The good life, at least, seems most clearly to be a beautiful life. The Christian tradition clings to God’s proclamation that creation “is good,” and most commonly grounds goodness in the nature of God. Beauty, rather than the vague property of “goodness,” is, at the very least, a pragmatic and anthropomorphizing tool: it allows us to get a feel for why God thinks creation (or an individual life) is good via an analogy to the assigning of “beauty” to a work of art.

There are several problems within philosophy I focus on—my religion, and the hope that staves off dread, relies on their being worked out. A beautiful life depends on their consolation, I suspect, in that my working on them is necessary for my life being individually beautiful, and to ground the worth of the beauty in every beautiful life whatsoever.

But philosophy (and most other fields worth the effort), even at the undergraduate level, is disgusting. I should not be so imprecise, says Philosophy herself, and so I mean that the practice of philosophy narrowly is disgusting. And again, I do not mean that the pursuit is itself, nor many of its practitioners, but the actual practice of it in 21st century American universities. Graduate applications, rather than being an exciting opportunity to move past the undergraduate level, are miserable: they are an opportunity to whore your mostly pathetic CV in the name of funding. But whoring implies that the applicant be paid—however, applications to just ten schools (a small amount) cost around $1000, and the applicant is still likely to be rejected. This awful experience, met with mostly denial of many talented and passionate students, follows at least four years of slavery to institutions which do not care about you. Slavery—how extreme! But slavery it is: the undergraduate philosopher spends most of their time (unless they are lucky) engaged in non-philosophical work, meant to please instructors from outside their field. These instructors often do not seek the best for the education of the student, but have (often through no fault of their own) burnt out badly. Professors within the field do not take the undergraduate seriously. Student debt, stress, illness and a blow to a healthy social life are the undergraduate’s reward—this imbalance becomes an insult when the paper you receive proving years of pain have been suffered faithfully are handed out to other students in fields which are much less difficult, and much less important. Even between institutions, one program will be much more difficult than another: at my small, public university, the faculty have made an amazing program attainable for all. The kid who went to the “better” school will not only have an (undeservedly) easier time, but a worse education. Still, they are given preferential treatment due to the name of their institution. The young philosopher is pushed aside in favor of sophistry, capitalistic considerations of worth (ie is this football field more important than the liberal arts building?), and “transformative learning” principles.

I developed Lupus while working on my BA. Years of my life were, and continue to be, dominated by a vauge set of pains. There is no future, depite my immune system remaining somewhat well checked. There is no prediction with confidence. Stress may suddenly take proper organ function from me. I do not know how long it will be, or if it will be. Whatever I seek to accomplish is immediate, and this is true for everybody—I have just felt it more painfully than some.

The university, when taken seriously, is a conduit for imbalance, especially in the analytic philosophical tradition (which I happen to belong to): much is left to the side in order to focus on fulfilling university work. Every assignment taken on is a payment of present time for a dubious future good. Yet the good life requires a sort of proper balancing. I resent the absence of composing from my current state of affairs, and camping has become nearly impossible during the semester. Of course, any focused research detracts from other activities—but detraction from the short time available, forced for insufficient reason, is wasteful.

Is this conducive to living a beautiful life? No—it is not even optimally conducive to becoming a philosopher. Only in a marred sense of conducive may one judge that the life of academia is so. I have remained in it—this marred conductivity is the only opportunity I have to work with my philosophical passions, and make my life (as much as I can) beautiful. But the beauty of my life is constantly undermined by the filth lying in each corner of the collective “academic” institution.

The beauty of my work, even, is, when not met with hostility by the masses, greeted by apathy—from within the institution and without. I feel I have sacrificed, and will sacrifice, much of my life to pursuing philosophy—sacrifices which should not have been necessary. The world of the undergraduate transitioning into the graduate level (or attempting to, at least) ceases to be a solipsistic terror only due to the shared pain of applications. There was, in my department, a camaraderie arising from passions, a lapse due to the unnecessary grind of our educations dulling those passions, and then a reinvigoration stemming from the angst in deciding whether the waste of life and destruction of beauty in our lives (incurred by pursuing what is most sacred) was worth being able to work on the philosophical problems we desired to work on.

We are tasked with estimating whether the wrongfully incurred stressors outweigh the potential benefits of studying philosophy. For most the answer is unclear, and many find the scales so slightly tipped as to be indiscernible. The pursuit of truth itself has taken on a overly-sacrificial nature at the hands of those who claim Socrates as their founder; those who run universities and poison their programs are evangelicals who, hailing Christ as Crucified, in turn crucify those who seek Him. Bastardized Western Culture has already stripped dignity from many—the most desirable jobs and profitable interests are non-productive, and the freedom to live and die meaningfully is tied together with maximization of profit. I choose to remain in philosophy, as I do in the Christian tradition, but know a significant portion of my life is about to be lost.

The discipline of consolation has become a brute.

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