The Big Questions – The Circle

Think about some of the most important questions human beings can ask: 1) What should we believe? 2) What should we do? 3) What type of people should we become?

Regarding the first question I am a Humean. We should proportion our assent to propositions based on reason and evidence. Fortunately we have a large body of scientific knowledge which does just this. Following the lead of science gives us the best chance of having our beliefs correspond to reality, thereby increasing our chances of living well.

The second question takes us into the realm of ethics, politics, career choice and other practical concerns. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to give a general answer to the question, how should we live. But we are probably best advised to look to the Buddhism, Stoicism and other profound philosophies of life for such answers.

The third question doesn’t demand an answer so much as a transformation. It is relatively easy to say, for example, that we should be rational, peaceful and loving, that we should study, meditate, exercise and do productive work. But transforming ourselves is difficult. If our first question was about theoretical knowledge, our second about practical knowledge, this third question is about putting knowledge into practice.

So there you have it. We should think scientifically, act so that we and others do well, and achieve psychic harmony. Still we can’t do any of this by ourselves. We also need a planet with air and water to sustain us, and a society that provides the chance to learn and the freedom to act and transform.  But we can’t have a good planet or environment or society without good people to care for those things. And we can’t have good people without a good society that produces good people.

So we are caught in a circle, hoping that it is a positive feedback loop. Hoping that our efforts will slowly transform both ourselves and our environment to increase the chances that we flourish. It’s a lot to wish for.

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