Philosophy Monday (7)

These are five more “philosophical questions about human nature and the human condition”. They are taken from the 205 questions found on

31. Would you want to know you are going to die before hand or die suddenly without warning?

There are a couple of ways this question could go, and it would be important to set it out on a logical assumption. Therefore, the supposition should be similar to the scenario in which you decide to wear a watch that ticked down the number of days, hours, minutes you have to live. Of course, if you took a peek at the countdown, you’d know how long you have left.

So, our question is pretty much on that plane. Thus, knowing when you’re going to die, you’d have no power to change the circumstances leading up to it. Consequently, we’d have to agree that nothing will be known about the manner of death, just the date and time.

I don’t think a doctor’s prognosis regarding a terminal disease would count as a direct example. Because, everyone who’s received a prognosis has a fighting chance. There are people who’ve made miraculous recovery from a disease they’d been told would kill them.

Usually, people who are diagnosed with terminal diseases are said to have a pure outlook on life, as they know to filter out the least important things in their lives.
They learn to cherish the time they have left, and try to set some affairs in order before departing. When people say yes to wearing the metaphorical watch, they usually give the same reasons as these—the chance to cherish the remaining time they have left, to set some things in order, maybe get an insurance.

However, as stated earlier, the situations are different. Even though clarity comes with dire diagnosis, I believe every sick person has a fighting chance, unlike a person who knows the time of certain death. The values we learn from an ill person are for us to employ in our lives, not after we are ‘gifted’ with a magical watch. Values such as the cherishing of our time and our loved ones, clarity of life, are not dependent on the foreknowledge of the time of certain death.

32. Is humanity headed in the right or wrong direction?

In question number 28, we alluded to an hypothetical observer on Mars, who happens to be watching human’s progress (into a bleak future). Here’s the quote by Noam Chomsky: “If there was an observer on Mars, they would probably be amazed that we have survived this long. There are two problems for our species’ survival – nuclear war and environmental catastrophe – and we’re hurtling towards them. Knowingly”.

With these realities, it is easy to state that we are in fact headed in the wrong direction. There’s also the subject of Artificial Intelligence to consider. The promises of AI for the future are exciting. But there are those who have expressed fear about the advancement of AI technology.

As pointed out by Klaus Schwab, “we must address, individually and collectively, moral and ethical issues raised by cutting-edge research in artificial intelligence and biotechnology, which will enable significant life extension, designer babies, and memory extraction”. And this leads us to the real issue, which is our humanity itself. The ethical and moral values that bind us, are they upheld?

33. Does the study of philosophy ever lead to answers or simply more questions?

With the quick progress made by modern science, it is easy to see philosophy as making little to no progress. Criticisms from popular scientists such as Hawking and Krauss describe philosophy as aimless and useless. “Philosophy is dead,” opined Stephen Hawking, in a rather philosophical manner.

Modern science, which has taken the world by storm since the 17th century, is actually a glorious offshoot of philosophy. Science, Richard Carrier wrote “could be designated natural philosophy, or physical or biological philosophy, or experimental philosophy, etc. But still, philosophy. The word “scientist” didn’t exist until the 1830s (and wasn’t popular until the 1890s)”.

It is also true that there are good and bad ways to do philosophy. Several criticisms against philosophy stem from ignorant assumptions, which rarely follow academic guidelines. Everyone, at one point or the other, will make an attempt at philosophy.

It is philosophy that makes us understand whom we are and how we relate to our world and other people. Trying to understand these issues are, however, not easy, as they mostly take on paradoxical forms.

Philosophers would take on this “nasty paradoxes” as David Papineau calls philosophical problems. Philosophy attempts the tough questions that are overlooked by science. Whenever there’s a dearth of data, philosophy jumps in.

Most answers that are arrived at in philosophy are most victim of the “spin-off theory”, as described by Papineau. “Whenever philosophy does make progress, it spawns a new subject, which then no longer counts as part of philosophy. In reality, philosophy is full of progress, but this is obscured by the constant renaming of its intellectual progeny”.

Even where philosophy still grapples with old problems like morality, there have been notable results. For example, we still refer to philosophical theories to inform our personal lives, and also to set standards for society.

34. What is the best way for a person to attain happiness?

Happiness is the friendliest state of being, and it is not surprising that everyone should desire it. However, because of our different backgrounds and experiences, we often have different expectations, and those things that may or may not constitute happiness will vary from individual to individual. Finding one single path that would lead anyone to happiness is hard. In the very least, it would be important to state what happiness isn’t.

Because of the challenges of life, it is normal to find ourselves feeling low sometimes. During these period, we can find ourselves searching the internet for the means to happiness. Fortunately, you’ll find no small number of articles to go. However, it must be noted that the fix we usually get when we’re having a tough time do not necessarily bring happiness.

First of all, we’re led on by our sadness or pain, and everything tends to look like a remedy in such situation. Secondly, we usually desire intense feelings in our low situation, which may end up robbing us of any little happiness we might have had.

Before it becomes a state of being, happiness first finds its way through our experiences and expectations. This subjective filters may also determine whether we’re happy indeed or just mildly insane. This is because we now live in a world where people are encouraged to find their happiness, however and wherever. Thus, we can see people doing bad things, just so they can feel the rush of what they would call happiness. Mark Twain quipped that “sanity and happiness are an impossible combination”.

While this could be considered a humourous statement, it also points to the reality that there’s only a thin line between happiness and insanity.
Happiness would ultimately rest in our ability to strike a balance between past experiences and present condition, so the future looks anything but bleak.

35. If you had to guess, what do you think would be the most likely way you’ll die?

Old age, I guess, satisfied with my achievements and also filled with great hope for a glorious afterlife. I think this question evolves with culture and belief. Likewise, answers may vary based on family history, health circumstances and, uhm, sarcasm. So, depending on whom you ask, there’s no limit to the number of replies you’ll get.

If you can conceive the question, then you have the ability to die well; whatever that means, right?  I believe, to die well, you need to live well. Be good to yourself and others. So, whenever and however death comes knocking, you can go on peacefully.

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