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Why You Should Study Philosophy

Applying the wisdom of the ancient thinkers to the everyday problems of modern life

Ryan Holiday
Jun 21 · 23 min read
Photo: seksan Mongkhonkhamsao/Getty Images

If you told someone you had discovered an operating system for being a good human being — how to solve the problems of life, how to manage our tempers, where to find meaning, and how to think about death — most people would perk up and lean in. Of course they would. Who isn’t interested in being a better person and living a better life? That’s what we’re all struggling to do, day in and day out, with this random quirk of existence we’ve been given.

If you told that same person that what you’d discovered had a name, and it was “philosophy,” all the excitement and possibility that perked them up initially would leave their body like air out of a balloon. They’d almost certainly turn back to whatever they were doing before you interrupted them. And who would blame them for this aversion? Almost anything is better than talking about philosophy.

I mean, look at the lead paragraph on the Wikipedia page for philosophy:

Philosophy (from Greek φιλοσοφία, philosophia, literally “love of wisdom[1][2][3][4]) is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.[5][6] The term was probably coined by Pythagoras (c. 570–495 BCE). Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation.[7][8] Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it?[9][10][11] What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust (if one can get away with it)?[12] Do humans have free will?[13]

I’ve written multiple bestselling books about philosophy and even I’m like “WTF?” The crowd of editors and PhDs who took ownership of this important description had thousands of years of wisdom to draw upon to help us understand what philosophy is… and that’s the definition they came up with?

The good news is that real philosophy is the opposite of that nonsense. The truly wise philosophers didn’t waste time with those questions. They were real people, in the real world, trying to make their lives better.

Needless to say, that’s not the philosophy any of us have time for. Nor, frankly, unless you’re getting paid by an Ivy League university, should you even bother. You have kids or a job or bills to worry about. You have a life. What good does it do you to debate the existence of free will or whether we live in a computer simulation?

The good news is that real philosophy is the opposite of that nonsense. The truly wise philosophers didn’t waste time with those questions. They were real people, in the real world, trying to make their lives better. As Thoreau wrote in Walden, “To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school. […] It is to solve some of the problems of life, not theoretically, but practically.”

Boom.

So let me show you why you should study philosophy (and what you will get out of it), since that’s really the only argument worth making. And hopefully, as a byproduct of this examination, you’ll find some philosophers whose books and ideas you might like.

Because so much is out of our control

Epictetus, the slave-turned-philosopher, said that the first job of the philosopher was a simple one: to separate and distinguish between what is in our control and what isn’t. As the Greek saying goes, “ta eph’hemin, ta ouk eph‘hemin” — what’s up to us, what is not up to us. In Epictetus’s case, he faced slavery and a life-long disability which resulted from it. That wasn’t up to him. How he responded? What he did after? That was.

There’s no use in being angry at what we can’t help. And a philosopher certainly isn’t going to get angry at what they can help.

A wise person knows they don’t control other people’s opinions, they don’t control traffic, they don’t control the weather, they don’t control the fact that we are born mortal, they don’t control the economy or the rude remark that just left someone else’s mouth. They don’t control the past and they don’t control the distant future. But they do control their own choices and their own responses to all those things that are out of their control. Everything else they ignore.

In this way, philosophy is not just a form of wisdom but a resource allocation hack.

As Martha Nussbaum, one of the most renowned and respected philosophers living today, once said, “To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control.”

In this way, philosophy is not just a form of wisdom but a resource allocation hack.

Because we want to know how to live

From our teenage years onward, many of us feel like we are groping about in a dark hallway. We are confused. We are lost. We are scared. We hunger for direction and clarity. “You’ve wandered all over,” Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations, “and finally realized that you never found what you were after: how to live. Not in syllogisms, not in money, or fame, or self-indulgence. Nowhere.”

If philosophy is anything, it’s an answer to that question about how to live. “Would you really know what philosophy offers to humanity?” Seneca asks in his Moral Letters, “Philosophy offers counsel.” It gives us advice. It consoles us. It explains.

Religion basically says, “Do this or don’t do that because God says so.” At its best, philosophy says, “Do this or don’t do that, but don’t take my word for it. Here is why this is logically the best course of action.” Are there some nihilist philosophies that justify or excuse horrible things? Sure. But they are the exception. Most philosophy, particularly ancient philosophy, arrives at the same moral conclusions as all the world’s religions — and usually with less judgment and false superiority. Take the Marcus Aurelius quote I opened this section with. His answer as to how to live is lofty yet simple: We must live by principles. What principles? In Meditations, he explains, “Those [principles] to do with good and evil. That nothing is good except what lead to fairness, and self-control, and courage, and free will. And nothing bad except what does the opposite.”

Because we need to know how to act (in the moment)

What’s the best way to act in this situation or that one? Isn’t it confusing that so many virtues — like courage, love, or telling the truth — can become vices if taken too far? It’s some comfort to know that this was a struggle even for the ancients, and that finding the right balance continues to be an essential question in philosophy. For Aristotle, the key was knowing how to do the right thing, in the right way, in the right situation, and in the right amount.

Easy to say, but how do we decide?

Aristotle’s answer came in the form of what he called the golden mean. “Virtue is the golden mean between two vices, the one of excess and the other of deficiency.” In other words, we should look at every situation and split the difference. For instance, in war, a soldier without fear is a danger to himself and others, while a soldier crippled by fear is equally bad. But courage and bravery rest right in the middle of these extremes. It’s surprising how many virtues fall into place the same way. Between parsimony and profligacy is generosity. Between meekness and arrogance is modesty. Between indecisiveness and impulsiveness is self-control. Between apathy and avarice is ambition.

Immanuel Kant — one of the foremost thinkers of the Enlightenment and one of the most powerful and influential in all of contemporary philosophy — had a good rule in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals: “I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law.”

The ethics of nuclear weapons wasn’t some academic discussion to him — it was life and death.

We’re all looking for help in knowing how to do the right thing… and Aristotle’s golden mean and Kant’s categorical imperative offer their guidance.

Because it’s practical

Despite our stereotype of the philosopher as a sheltered academic, the reality is that history’s most famous philosophers have always been doers. Marcus Aurelius was the emperor of Rome. Seneca was a famous playwright and powerbroker. Socrates was a soldier. Thomas More was an advisor to the king and a lawyer. Michel de Montaigne served as mayor of his town and a diplomat. Bertrand Russell was an activist who managed to insert himself into the Cuban Missile Crisis. The ethical implications of nuclear weapons weren’t just part of some academic discussion to him — it was a life and death conversation.

The point is, philosophy at its best is practical, not theoretical. The Israeli General Herzl Halevi told the New York Times in 2013, “People used to tell me that business administration is for the practical life and philosophy is for the spirit. Through the years I found it is exactly the opposite — I used philosophy much more practically.”

An even better line comes from the French writer Charles Peguy in his Notes on Bergson and Descartes: “Philosophy does not go to philosophy classes.” Philosophy is too busy living, too busy doing.

Think of Socrates. He didn’t write anything down. He left that to his students and his acolytes. He was too busy learning, thinking, and being out in the world. The same is true for Cato — the Roman senator who led the opposition to Julius Caesar in the last years of the Roman Republic. His philosophic proofs were in his behavior and in the sacrifices he made trying to save Rome from tyranny. Epictetus was another philosopher who never wrote anything down. He was a “professor,” sure, but the exact opposite of the stereotype. This was the lesson he left his students.

Eat like a human being, drink like a human being, dress up, marry, have children, get politically active — suffer abuse, bear with a headstrong brother, father, son, neighbor, or companion. Show us these things so we can see that you truly have learned from the philosophers. — Epictetus, Discourses 3.21.5– 6

Because we want to feel balanced

Too many people are unhappy. Their lives are a mess. They are stressed. They are overworked and at the mercy of their urges and the opinions of the mob. What we need to cultivate is a kind of bulwark against this.

The Zen Buddhists were after inner peace — a respite from the chaos of the work — and they believed this was essential whether you were a Samurai warrior or a monk. The Stoics and Epicureans called it “ataraxia” and believed it was the first step to happiness and contentment (to say nothing of its necessity in leadership). Basically every school of philosophy and religion has its own word for stillness — and teaches its own ways to be steady while the world spins around you.

What is the fruit of these teachings? Only the most beautiful and proper harvest of the truly educated — tranquility, fearlessness, and freedom. We should not trust the masses who say only the free can be educated, but rather the lovers of wisdom who say that only the educated are free. — Epictetus, Discourses 2.1.21–23a

Don’t we all want to be freer, to fear less, and to achieve a state of peace? Well, how does one embody ataraxia? It’s not luck. It’s not by eliminating outside influences or escaping forever to quiet and solitude. Instead, it’s about filtering the outside world through the straightening of our judgment.

That’s what studying philosophy — reading and meditating on the wisdom of great minds — does. It strengthens our ability to remain steady in the chaos and rush of life. It takes the crooked, confusing, and overwhelming nature of external events and makes them orderly. And that, Epictetus said, is freedom.

Because we need to zoom out

The way to make all your problems, even the really vexing and painful ones, seem less severe? It comes from Seneca. All you have to do, he says in On Anger, is, “Draw further back and laugh.”

When you zoom out far enough, almost everything becomes absurd. Think about it: We are monkeys living on a space rock. We are a split second of the infinity of existence. If humanity survives long enough, people will laugh at us the way we laugh at Neanderthals. People used to have serious arguments about how many angels could fit on the head of a pin or whether the world was flat. They not only thought kings were a good idea, but they thought they had divine right! What do you think they’re going to think about the arguments we have today? Or about our cutting-edge science?

That’s why Marcus Aurelius talks about taking Plato’s view, of zooming way, way out and looking at things from above — how it was pacifying and edifying. Astronauts have confirmed he was more correct than he could have known. We call this the “overview effect” and anyone who looks down at Earth from space cannot help but feel their problems, their anger, and their anxiety melt away.

Draw back and laugh. Look up or look down. Feel better.

Because we are part of a larger whole

Marcus Aurelius basically was the center of the universe. He was the most powerful man at the head of the most powerful empire. He had wealth. He had influence. He had raw, military power. He could order life and death for almost anyone he wanted. This absolute power should have absolutely ruined him.

Instead, what we find in his famous Meditations are more than 80 references to the “common good” and an explicit identification with being a citizen of the world — cosmopolitanism— and not just the empire. Marcus Aurelius believed that humans were made for each other, and no one person is any better or more important than another.

The Stoics word for this is “Sympatheiaa connectedness with the cosmos. They believe we are all part of a larger whole. We all play an important role (even if that role seems small, even if it’s not the role we chose). We are all obligated to do and help each other.

Further, to harm someone else, or to abdicate our role, is a betrayal of our philosophical and human duties. “What’s bad for the hive,” Marcus wrote in Meditations, “is bad for the bee.” And vice versa.

It is imperative that we treat everyone we encounter with respect and kindness, whether they are a janitor or a billionaire. It means we must work to do good for other people… because to do good for them is to do good for ourselves.

This idea that we are all one is much more Eastern than it is Western. As Fritjof Capra wrote in his bestselling The Tao of Physics — an integration of the mathematical world view of modern physics and the tenets of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism:

The most important characteristic of the Eastern world view — one could almost say the essence of it — is the awareness of the unity and mutual interrelation of all things and events, the experience of all phenomena in the world as manifestations of a basic oneness. All things are seen as interdependent and inseparable parts of this cosmic whole; as different manifestations of the same ultimate reality.

It is imperative that we treat everyone we encounter with respect and kindness, whether they are a janitor or a billionaire. It means we must work to do good for other people… because to do good for them is to do good for ourselves.

Because it challenges you

Philosophy might be simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, it’s supposed to be really tough. It’s supposed to challenge you — even painfully so — in the pursuit of a better life.

Friends, the philosopher’s lecture-hall is a hospital — you shouldn’t walk out of it feeling pleasure, but pain, for you aren’t well when you enter it. — Epictetus, Discourses, 3.23.30

Plutarch is attributed the proverb that states, “The best things are the most difficult.” This is true of philosophy as well. What you study should not only challenge your mind — philosophy rarely makes for easy reading — but it should challenge the very core of who you are. It should make you question the most basic assumptions you have about the world and the decisions you most regularly make. Because you’re not perfect, and you have room to improve.

Seneca believed that philosophy was a tool with which we should scrape off our faults. That word “scrape” is operative. Because scraping is painful — it takes pressure and a hard edge. When finished, however, we’ll be healthier, cleaner, and in better shape.

Because it values the right thing

We live in a world awash with corruption, with selfishness, with cruelty, and with pain. Our culture tells us that fame and power and money are what matter… and we see how chasing these false idols leads people astray.

Cicero, Rome’s greatest orator, had an expression: “Summum Bonum.” In Latin, it means “the highest good.” What was “the highest good” in the ancient world? What is it that we are supposed to be aiming for in this life? Philosophy gives us the answer.

The answer is virtue. If we act virtuously, as Aristotle, the Stoics, and even the Epicureans believed, everything else important could follow: Happiness, success, meaning, reputation, honor, and love. No one claimed this path was easy, or that it would be recognized or appreciated by those closest to us, only that it was essential. The alternative — taking the easy route or the shortcut (whether or not it was ethical or moral was beside the point) — was considered only by cowards and fools.

As Marcus Aurelius writes in Meditations, “Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter.”

Brilliant.

In a way, this is not that different than the golden rule: Do unto others as you would want others to do to you. There’s also John Rawl’s concept of the veil of ignorance, which asks: What would you do if your place in the world/society was fluid? If you could end up on the other side of your own actions?

The right thing.

Because we all suffer

Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychologist and philosopher who spent time in three different Nazi concentration camps. His life’s work was destroyed. He lost his wife, his parents, and years of his life. It’s not a surprise that a major theme of his work involved the inevitability of suffering. Every human suffers, and there is no way to avoid that, he said. But, he also believed that humans have the power to find meaning in that suffering. As he wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, of his time in the death camps, “the question that beset me was, ‘Has all this suffering, all this dying around us, a meaning?’ For, if not, then ultimately there is no meaning to survival; for a life whose meaning depends on such a happenstance — as whether one escapes or not — ultimately would not be worth living at all.”

Ironically, although philosophy can often be painful and challenging, it can also be deeply soothing, a source of strength in our toughest moments. Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations that philosophy is similar to the ancient treatment for ophthalmia — a painful eye condition. Philosophy was a balm, “a soothing ointment, a warm lotion.”

The Buddhists made no effort to hide the inevitability of suffering. That’s what the “four noble truths” were. But philosophy was the solution. In a way what Buddha taught was how to identify suffering and how to end it.

Because life is unpredictable

Isn’t it? There’s a reason Murphy’s Law is one of the most accessible and true of all philosophical concepts. To the Stoics, understanding life’s unpredictability was the essence of wisdom.

One of their most controversial exercises is “premeditatio malorumessentially, negative visualization. Positive visualization is fun, but negative visualization can save your ass (and your life). As Seneca wrote in Letters From a Stoic, “Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. All the terms of our human lot should be before our eyes.”

Seneca wasn’t a pessimist, nor was he was looking for an excuse not to try. On the contrary, this was an exercise in preparation, not accommodation. “What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect,” Seneca explains in Letters, “and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster. This is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events.”

By accepting some level of powerlessness over fate, but never ceding our power to respond to fate, we are always prepared. Never surprised. And always ready to move forward.

Because humility is key

Socrates had intellectual humility. He was willing to ask questions. He didn’t believe he had all the answers. He was hungry to learn.

Philosophy, like science, is moved forward only by the admission of ignorance. By accepting what we don’t know, we can learn and discover. Epictetus’ famous quote stands as a reminder to all of us: “It’s impossible to learn that which you think you already know.”

A philosopher knows that ego is the enemy. They know that in order to listen, to learn, and to love, we have to be open. We have to be willing to have our minds changed. We have to be willing to put ourselves out there and ask. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s frequently quoted observation about how every person we meet is better than us at something and we should be eager to learn from them essentially sums up what a philosopher does.

Because we’re doing the best we can

The Stoics didn’t think that anyone could be perfect. The idea of becoming a sage — the highest aspiration of a philosopher — wasn’t realistic. This was just their Platonic ideal. Still, they started every day hoping to get a little closer to that mark.

This, philosophy writer and best-selling translator, Sharon Lebell says is the path to true happiness:

True happiness, I think, is the meaningfulness that gratuitously happens, shows up, is revealed, or by grace discovered when we fully enter the project of directing our thoughts, words, and deeds toward the good and the worthy. It is in doing this clumsily, fallibly, and without a compass, but just doing the damn best we can that, in certain moments when our minds and hearts are not defended, we experience love, order, sense, beauty, justice, and all the other ineffable good stuff. — Sharon Lebell, The Art of Living

The humility that comes from knowing that we are flawed but trying to get better not only keeps our ego at bay, it also helps us understand and be more tolerant of others.

Benjamin Franklin advised that we should be strict with ourselves but forgiving of everyone else. This is only possible if you accept that everyone is doing the best they can. Which is really hard! Socrates believed that people don’t do things wrong on purpose. In his time there was no awareness of sociopaths or psychopaths, but generally, he was correct. People are usually trying to do what they think is best… they just aren’t always thinking about how “what’s best” might affect you. It’s important to keep that in mind before you take anything too personally, or get upset.

“Don’t go expecting Plato’s Republic; be satisfied with even the smallest progress,” Marcus Aurelius reminded himself, or you’re going to be disappointed. If you can keep your eyes open, remember that most people are trying their best, and be willing to forgive? You’ll find the world is not too bad a place.

Because it helps you find meaning

“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering,” wrote German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Although Buddha talked about the end of suffering, this is really what he meant. No one can eliminate suffering from life — but we can find purpose in it. And more generally, if we have purpose in our lives, suffering will be more endurable in the first place.

As one of the most profound modern thinkers on meaning and purpose, Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Frankl looked at how humans find purpose by dedicating ourselves to a cause, learning to love, and finding a meaning to our suffering. Perhaps his greatest contribution was to resolve the vague philosophical question: “What is the meaning of life?” His answer: You don’t get to ask the question; Life is the one who asks, and we must reply with our actions.

Because we live in a material world

Seneca was a real guy. A person who would fit in well in today’s world. He liked money. He liked having a good time. He liked power. He had a lot of all those things. So did many of his fellow Romans. What set Seneca apart was his willingness to sit down and ask himself what all this money and power really was.

It’s both ironic and fitting that many of the best writings we have on the meaninglessness of money come from such a rich man. “If my wealth goes away,” Seneca said in Letters From A Stoic, “it takes with it nothing but itself.” But a lot of people clearly live otherwise. “If my wealth should melt away it would deprive me of nothing but itself,” he said, “but if yours were to depart you would be stunned and feel you were deprived of what makes you yourself. With me, wealth has a certain place; in your case it has the highest place. In short, I own my wealth, your wealth owns you.”

To Seneca, wealth was something that was nice to have, provided you knew that it said nothing about you and that it wasn’t worth the price most people put on it. It was also worth being wary of, in the sense that it could corrupt and mislead us. In one of his essays, Seneca listed all the trappings of obscene wealth — things like a golden roof, purple clothes, and marble floors. He describes the life of someone who has been blessed mightily by fate and fortune. They have imposing statues, the most brilliant art, and teams of servants. They have country homes and fancy jewelry. What does having all these things teach, Seneca wonders, concluding that, “All you learn from this is how to desire more stuff.”

That’s the irony of material success; It’s a series of moving goal posts. You think having X will be sufficient, only to find that two times more is better and that three times is preferable still. “Prosperity is a restless thing: it troubles itself,” Seneca writes in Letters from a Stoic. Or perhaps it is better to say that prosperity propels itself — today just as much as it did 2,000 years ago.

Because shit happens

Nietzsche’s recipe for greatness can be described as amor fati, a love of one’s fate. “That one wants nothing to be different,” he explained, “not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.”

What does this mean? It means not just accepting what’s out of our control, it means not just not complaining, it means embracing it. Saying: I didn’t choose this, which means it was chosen for me. Saying: I am going to make the absolute most out of this. I am going to use this to be better.

Shit happens. But we can love it… and make the most out of it. We can use it as fuel.

The Stoics loved the metaphor of fire. Marcus Aurelius would write in Meditations that “a blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.”

So can we. Shit happens. But we can love it… and make the most out of it. We can use it as fuel.

Because we are afraid

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov came up with a beautiful prayer sometime in the early 1800s. In Hebrew, it is rendered כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד והעיקר לא לפחד כלל. It translates to: “The world is a narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid.”

Humans are naturally afraid. We’re worried about death. We’re worried about losing money. We are worried about war and uncertainty and what other people think of us. It’s understandable, but hardly a recipe for the good life.

A better recipe? It comes from the late French philosopher Anne Dufourmantelle, who wrote, in her renowned 2011 essay In Praise of Risk, that “fear shouldn’t pin us down, it should free us.”

There is a possible taming of fear by welcoming it. When one admits their fear, their finitude, a confidence can be reborn from this vulnerability. If we make fear something negative, we lock it in. The taste of freedom is very shared by the strength to bear the risk.

In 2017, Dufourmantelle died saving the lives of two children she spotted drowning while on a beach in France. That is philosophy. Bertrand Russell — renowned philosopher, logician, mathematician, and Nobel laureate — wrote in his book Unpopular Essays, that “to conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom,” because it means you’re seeing things clearly, that you’ve properly distinguished what’s in your control and what isn’t (if it’s not in your control, why worry?), and that you’ve gotten some perspective on what really matters.

Philosophy is really the study of truth and the cultivation of self-control, which is essential in the reduction of fear. As Seneca is credited with saying, “We are more often frightened than hurt, and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” In sharpening our minds and strengthening our sense of self, we can dull what makes us afraid.

Because we want to enjoy life

If we are to take anything from the fact that life is short and its length out of control, it should be that we must enjoy the present moment while we can.

It is Epicurus who is the patron saint of living for the now, but not the way you might think. To the uninformed, Epicureanism is synonymous with hedonism. But Epicurus’s life was actually quite simple. What he mastered was the art of finding pleasure in the ordinary and the accessible — time with friends, the beauty of an evening in the garden, a great conversation, and gratitude for being alive. Epicurus explained his philosophy well in The Art of Happiness, writing: “It is impossible to live the pleasant life without also living sensibly, nobly, and justly and conversely it is impossible to live sensibly, nobly and justly without living pleasant.”

Because you’re going to die (memento mori)

The one fate that all humans have and forever will share is that we are mortal. We will die. This hangs over us. Some of us deny it. Some of us quiver in fear of it — ruining perfectly good days of living in the process.

So it makes sense that philosophy would be designed to address this most universal of conditions.

It was Cicero who said that to philosophize is to learn how to die. But if that sounds dark, consider the flip side — to know how to die is to know how to live. Marcus Aurelius constantly reminded himself of this, writing in Meditations: “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”

Seneca wrote about how people guard their wealth more carefully than they do their time. But a person who keeps their mortality front and center realizes how silly that is — they understand how precious each moment must be, considering that we have no idea how many we’ll get.

“Don’t behave as if you are destined to live forever,” Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations, “What’s fated hangs over you. As long as you live and while you can, become good now.”

It’s time that we reclaim philosophy from the philosophers — from the people who use it as an excuse to use big words and start intractable debates

That’s the point of memento mori (translated literally from its original Latin to mean “remember (that you have) to die”), and ultimately, of philosophy itself. Life is brief. Existence is fragile. But we are here right now, so let’s make the most of it. Let’s be the best people we can while we still have the chance. Do not fear death — it is outside your control. Instead, embrace it. Use it to create urgency, gratitude, and most of all, meaning.

Because that’s all you can do.

It’s time that we reclaim philosophy from the philosophers — from the people who use it as an excuse to use big words and start intractable debates. It might seem interesting to debate whether we have free will or not, whether good or evil actually exist, and so on and so forth. But, seriously, what would you even do with that information? How would it affect your life? You’d still wake up, just as you do now, with shit to do.

Philosophy is for life. It’s for helping you live the good life. Not in the future, not in ideal conditions, but right now. Today. Before it’s too late.

Let’s close with a quote from Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic:

Philosophy isn’t a parlor trick or made for show. It’s not concerned with words, but with facts. It’s not employed for some pleasure before the day is spent, or to relieve the uneasiness of our leisure. It shapes and builds up the soul, it gives order to life, guides action, shows what should and shouldn’t be done — it sits at the rudder steering our course as we vacillate in uncertainties. Without it, no one can live without fear or free from care. Countless things happen every hour that require advice, and such advice is to be sought out in philosophy.

Ryan Holiday

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Bestselling author of ‘Conspiracy,’ ‘Ego is the Enemy’ & ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’ http://amzn.to/24qKRWR