Philosophy’s main task is to respond to the soul’s cry; to make sense of and thereby free ourselves from the hold of our griefs and fears.
Philosophy calls us when we’ve reached the end of our rope. The insistent feeling that something is not right with our lives and the longing to be restored to our better selves will not go away. Our fears of death and being alone, our confusion about love and sex, and our sense of impotence in the face of our anger and outsized ambitions bring us to ask our first sincere philosophical questions.
It’s true: there is no obviously apparent meaning to our lives. Cruelty, injustice, bodily discomfort, illness, annoyances, and inconveniences big and small are the prosaic facts of any day. So what do we do about this? How do we — in spite of the pain and suffering in the outside world and our own wayward emotions — live ennobled lives rather than succumbing to a despairing numbness and merely coping like a mule with tedium and unbidden responsibilities.
When the soul cries out, it is a sign that we have arrived at a necessary, mature stage of self-reflection. The secret is not to get stuck there dithering or wringing your hands, but to move forward by resolving to heal yourself. Philosophy asks us to move into courage. Its remedy is the unblinking excavation of the faulty and specious premises on which we base our lives and our personal identity.
The Art of Living
By Epictetus, Translated by Sharon Lebell