Study the great philosophers for insights for your life and you’ll see how philosophy raises all the right questions.
Why are we here? What is our purpose? What brings fulfillment, meaning to life? What leads to love and motivation to care for others?
Socrates (470 B.C.), Plato, Aristotle, and a string of other philosophers since then have searched for answers to life, for that reliable wisdom and truth that would be applicable for all humanity.
Author Peter Kreeft sees this quest for answers as valuable, not so much for what it can do for you, but with you:
“What can philosophy do with you? It can open you up, like a coconut, like an egg. You are designed to hatch, to open up. If you don’t, you get rotten. Philosophy, like your five bodily senses, leads you out of the dark little prison of yourself into a larger world.”1
The great philosophers of Socrates, Aquinas, Descartes, Hume, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Plato, Sartre, Kant, Kierkegaard and others provoke us to think about and question life in new ways.
Kreeft continues, “Even if philosophy makes you only dissatisfied and unhappy, it’s good. Being unhappy with Brave New World, with Plato’s cave, with your pigsty and mud pies [a C.S. Lewis’ analogy] — that’s progress. In fact, it is necessary.”2
The discontent we feel with unanswered questions leaves us wondering what we are missing. What might be the secrets to a fulfilling life?
Philosophers often struggle to satisfy our longing for meaning. Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre famously sought to find value in life itself, only to come to dismal views about it all.
Nietzsche and Sartre, both atheists, were certain that no God exists and therefore life must be viewed as random, without a plan. It “just is.” We exist with no inherent purpose. Our lives are irrational and hold no meaning. Nietzsche held that any honest person should realize that despair is the only logical conclusion.
Their logic is stellar, but it is accompanied with no helpful answers.
Should Nietzsche and Sartre simply be discounted? Absolutely not.
William Barrett, in Irrational Man, defends studying Jean-Paul Sartre, probably the most famous nihilist and pessimist in the history of philosophy, this way: “It is better to confront our own existence in despair than never to confront it at all.” Despair can be a powerful moment on the road to hope.
[A study of philosophy] can give you thirst for the greatest thing in the world. That greatest thing has many names and many attributes— wisdom, love, truth, goodness, beauty. All those things are [exact and perfect] attributes of God. So true philosophy is really the search for God, even if the philosopher doesn’t know that and doesn’t use that name — in fact, even if the philosopher is an atheist.
Augustine implies this divine anonymity when he says, in his Confessions, that his conversion began long before he became a Christian, when he became a philosopher by reading Cicero’s great exhortation to philosophy, the Hortensius (a book that has been lost to history), because he fell in love with eternal wisdom, long before he knew the true God personally…long before he knew that the thing he loved — wisdom — was to be found in its fullness only in God.3
Philosophers raise the right questions about life, but it is God, whose world this is, who provides the answers. It should not surprise us that God who created us would want to give us the wisdom, truth, insight beyond what we can muster.
As much as we would like to pretend we are self-sufficient, we are not.
Look at our bodies. We cannot stay alive using only what we already possess. We need oxygen, nutrients and water to live…substances all outside ourselves, none of which were created by humans, but instead given to us. Look at our atmosphere rich with oxygen, the abundance of plants/animals/fish that we eat, and water that is essential to life. All have been provided for us by our Creator on this remarkable planet that we find ourselves.
In much the same way, we need to look beyond ourselves for our understanding of this life.
How to live with wisdom, for how to find love and purpose, these too are offered to us freely by God, our creator. He never intended that we would go through this life without him.
Yet it is our choice to begin a relationship with him or not. When we find him, we begin to understand the truth about life in general and about our lives in particular.
We then can experience his love for us and find abundant answers to how life is best lived.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, clearly tells us, “I am the way, the truth and the life…I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”4
This is how life becomes intelligible, helping us avoid unnecessary pitfalls. He offers this, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”5
Augustine, Aquinas, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Dostoyevsky all said they found the truth, wisdom and love they searched for, when their inquiry led them to Jesus Christ, to God.
What exactly did they find? What brought them to this conclusion?
Augustine wrote, “I have read in Plato and Cicero sayings that are wise and very beautiful; but I have never read in either of them: Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden. [Jesus Christ]”6
Dostoyevsky, “All writers, not ours alone but foreigners also, who have sought to represent Absolute Beauty, were unequal to the task, for it is an infinitely difficult one…There is in the world only one figure of absolute beauty: Christ.”7
C.S. Lewis, “Human history is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”8
What did these philosophers and billions of other people find so satisfying about God as they searched for answers to life? See this brief article, What It’s Like to Have a Relationship with God.
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Footnotes: (1) Kreeft, Peter, Ask Peter Kreeft, Sophia Institute Press, Manchester, New Hampshire, 2019. (2) Ibid. (3) Ibid. (4) John 14:6; John 10:10 (5) John 8:12 (6) Augustine, as quoted here: https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/6819578.Augustine_of_Hippo (7) Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, as quoted here: https://juicyecumenism.com/2017/11/16/10-quotes-fyodor-dostoyevsky-god-faith-christianity/ (8) Lewis, C.S., as quoted here: https://www.kevinhalloran.net/best-c-s-lewis-quotes/