When we face mounting challenges and global crisis like we are now, we are tempted to see philosophy as a luxury item that we can no longer afford. It’s not! In fact, in the face of overwhelming difficulties philosophy, which is the pursuit of Truth, becomes more important not less.
Because what we believe is true dictates how we act, and how we act creates how the world is. This is a simple, irrefutable, unalterable and somewhat brutal truth that bears repeating. What we believe is true dictates how we act, and how we act creates how the world is.
If you recognize some part of yourself that protests this statement, look at it. It might be insisting that, “My actions are not dictated to me. I do what I want to do. I am a free independent person.”
If you do find this place in yourself, this protesting voice that insists in its independent and unconditioned freedom of choice, you are looking at the hubris of the post-modern self and the root cause of many of the world’s problems.
Most of us believe in our own free agency to a fault. We believe that nothing can dictate our actions to us – not even our own beliefs. What if it isn’t true? What if you were to discover that you could only ever act in accordance with what you believed to be true – that you were a prisoner to your own beliefs and always would be? How would you relate to philosophy and to your quest to examine what is true then?
I would not go so far as to say that there is no freewill. I would tend to lean in the direction that was explored by America’s first psychologist William James when he discovered that our freedom is not found in our ability to self direct our actions, but in our ability to choose what we believe. James also recognized that the world we create as a society depends on the truths we share. His words from the essay “The Will to Believe” have something to say to us today:
A social organism of any sort whatever, large or small, is what it is because each member proceeds to his own duty with a trust that the other members will simultaneously do theirs. Wherever a desired result is achieved by the co-operation of many independent persons, its existence as a fact is a pure consequence of the precursive faith in one another of those immediately concerned. A government, an army, a commercial system, a ship, a college, an athletic team, all exist on this condition, without which not only is nothing achieved, but nothing is even attempted.
If we agree that the world is created by the results of our individual and collective actions, and we know that the world needs to change, then we have to discover a new Truth – together. Philosophy, as the pursuit of Truth, is critical and must become a collective endeavor so that we can change the world by changing the way we think about the world.
Times of crisis, especially economic crisis, are certainly times when we do need to focus our attention and our energies. Some things that were important become luxuries that we can no longer afford. Philosophy is not one of these. Now more than ever we have to examine what we believe to be true and why we believe it, so that we can discover higher, deeper and more encompassing truths that will lead to actions that will change the world for the better.