PHILOSOPHY, SELF HELP, AND WHY IT MATTERS
What is truth and how do we know it?
What is the nature of our human experience?
What is the good life and how should we live it?
If those questions make you feel like you stumbled into a Philosophy 101 course, you’re not wrong. These are fundamental questions that philosophers have been grappling with for centuries.
They’re ALSO the exact same questions that thought work gives you concrete tools to explore on a daily basis.
[record scratch] Yup. That’s what I said. Life coaching = philosophy.
Yes, philosophy has been revered by mainstream intellectuals for centuries, while self-help has been maligned as self-centered and frivolous since its inception as a field. But that’s some patriarchal bullsh*t. Let me tell you why.
There are a few different branches of Western philosophy. Since this is a self-help podcast and not a philosophy dissertation, I’m going to share four overall categories with you – and I want you to pay close attention to the questions that each category asks:
- Metaphysics: The nature of the physical universe and reality. Metaphysics asks questions like: What is real? How can we know what is real? Where did the universe come from? Etc.
- Epistemology: The nature and origin of truth and knowledge. Epistemology asks questions like: What can we know to be true? How do we know the things we know? How do we learn things? Why do we believe what we believe?
- Axiology: The nature of principles and values. This includes both ethics and aesthetics.
- Ethics is the nature of morals, and asks questions like: What is just? What is good? What is ethical? How do people come to ethical values or conclusions? How should we evaluate ethical principles?
- Aesthetics is the nature of beauty, and asks questions like: What is beautiful? What is pleasure? What is art? How do we experience these things? What makes them beautiful or artistic or pleasurable?
- Logic: The nature of human reasoning. There are two types:
- Deductive: Establishing a set or rules or principles from a general case, then applying those principles to specific instances. Some questions are: What are the rules or principles for how I want to make a decision, evaluate an outcome, or live my life? How can I apply those to specific instances?
- Inductive: Examining specific instances then and theorizing what general rules or principles may have caused them or can be drawn from them. A question in this philosophical branch might be: Looking at the decisions I have made that I am proud of in this area of my life, what are the values or principles I am living by here?
Eastern philosophy tends to take a different set of approaches from Western philosophy. That’s to the extent that “Eastern philosophy” even makes sense as a concept – as some people rightly point out, it’s only a “Western gaze” that would even think to lump them together because many of them have nothing to do with each other.
But like I said, we’re dealing in big generalities here, because this is one life coaching teaching and not a dissertation. So let me generalize for a minute:
One of the main differences between the Western philosophy and many forms of Eastern philosophy, the notion of the “self” is an illusion, created by our ignorance of the true nature of the world and human attachment to the stories that the human mind tells.
Eastern philosophies also tend to be more collectivist and focused on union and oneness with the universe. They also tends to be more associated with particular Eastern religious or spiritual traditions.
These various traditions tend to ask some of the same fundamental questions, like:
- What is the nature of reality or the universe?
- What is the nature of man/humanity?
- How do we know what we know?
- How should we act and behave?
- What are the values a society should be organized by?
In fact, some people argue all of philosophy can be boiled down to three big questions:
- What is knowledge? (How do we know what we know? How can we know anything? How do we decide what is true or what to believe?)
- How should we conduct ourselves? (What kind of people do we want to be? How do we want to act? What kind of results do we want to create in the world?)
- How should we govern ourselves? (What should our social and political organizations look like, given the answers to those questions above?)
Now, here’s what I want you to see: The kinds of questions that all forms of philosophical traditions engage with are the exact questions that thought work teaches you how to think about and answer for yourself.
- How do I know what’s true?
- How do I want to choose to think?
- What do I want to believe is true and why?
- How do I want to act?
- What would I need to feel and believe to act that way?
- How do I want to interact with other people?
- What are my values and how can I think on purpose so I act according to them?
- What kind of world do I want to create with my actions?
…Sound familiar? They should. Because if you’ve ever been coached by a thought work coach, you were asked some of these questions.
So why do we have endowed academic chairs in philosophy and not in self-help?
First, our society genders emotions as female, so any self-development work that has to do with feelings becomes inherently feminized.
Second, women aren’t socialized to believe they are inherently worthy or valuable, unlike men. So women tend to gravitate toward self-improvement and self-help in a quest to make themselves good enough, and so the field gets associated with women.
Third, philosophy is framed as being abstract, and men are assumed to be better at reason and logic and conceptual thinking, while women are associated with the concrete, daily, logistics of life.
So, take all of that together, and philosophy is culturally associated with men, and self-help is culturally associated with women.
But self-help is not selfish, frivolous, or silly, despite what society would have you believe. And any embarrassment or shame you feel scanning the self-help aisle of the bookstore is 100% internalized patriarchy.
Self-help is deep, powerful, transformative sh*t.
It grapples with the deepest questions in life. Questions like: What is truth? What is reality? What is the good life, and how do I create it? How do I want to exist in the world?
Thought work as I teach it employs not just modern cognitive science, but non-attachment and observation of the mind from Buddhist traditions, and radical questioning from Socratic and Greek philosophical traditions, among many other influences. It’s a long and storied pedigree. It may be navel-gazing, but the greatest thinkers of history have been navel-gazing for quite some time.
So the next time your brain tells you that you should already know all the answers, or figure it all out yourself, or feel silly to want support working through these things…
Just remember that every philosopher throughout history has explored the same questions you’re working on.
And most of them did it with the financial, intellectual, and moral support of institutions and peers, because that’s how philosophy gets made.
How to live your life on purpose and what impact you want to make in the world is the most important question you can ask yourself.
And that’s the question that thought work invites you to ask on a daily basis.
Move over, Socrates. Chicken-philosophers are the new frontier.
Go forth, think deeply, and cluck loudly, my chickens. I’ll see you in the Clutch.