True philosophy doesn’t involve exotic rituals, mysterious liturgy, or quaint beliefs. Nor is it just abstract theorizing and analysis. It is, of course, the love of wisdom. It is the art of living a good life. As such, it must be rescued from religious gurus and from professional philosophers lest it be exploited as an esoteric cult or as a set of detached intellectual techniques or brain teasers to show how clever you are. Philosophy is intended for everyone, and it is authentically practiced only by those who wed it with action in the world toward a better life for all.
Philosophy’s purpose is to illuminate the ways our soul has been infected by unsound beliefs, untrained tumultuous desires, and dubious life choices and preferences that are unworthy of us. Self-scrutiny applied with kindness is the main antidote. Besides rooting out the soul’s corruptions, the life of wisdom is also meant to stir us from our lassitude and move us in the direction of energetic, cheerful life.
Skilled use of logic, disputation, and the developed ability to name things correctly are some of the instruments philosophy gives us to achieve abiding clear-sightedness and inner tranquility, which is true happiness.
This happiness, which is our aim, must be correctly understood. Happiness is commonly mistaken for passively experienced pleasure or leisure. That conception of happiness is good only as far as it goes. The only worthy object of all our efforts is a flourishing life.
True happiness is a verb. It’s the ongoing dynamic performance of worthy deeds. The flourishing life, whose foundation is a virtuous intention, is something we continually improvise, and in doing so our souls mature. Our life has usefulness to ourselves and to the people we touch.
We become philosophers to discover what is really true and what is merely the accidental result of flawed reasoning, recklessly acquired erroneous judgments, well-intentioned but misguided teachings of parents and teachers, and unexamined acculturation.
To ease our soul’s suffering, we engage in disciplined introspection in which we conduct thought-experiments to strengthen our ability to distinguish between wholesome and lazy, hurtful beliefs and habits.
The Art of Living
By Epictetus, Translated by Sharon Lebell