Does Philosophy Help a Troubled Soul?

This post is in response to a question asked by Uni.

'Does philosophy help a troubled heart? Troubled mind too?'

Umm, what do you mean by 'troubled'? Troubled in what way?

And that's the sort of thing that happens when you approach philosophy: you face more questions. Questions arise about the questions to which you are seeking answers. So if you are going to study philosophy with the expectation that you would find ready-made and distilled wisdom for you to apply to your life, then you would be disappointed. Philosophy doesn't work that way.

To be honest, philosophy doesn't heal a troubled mind, at least not in the initial phase. Because philosophy encourages you to doubt, to doubt even your cherished beliefs and ideas which you had taken for granted. Moralities and views which you had wrapped around yourself like a warm blanket, philosophy would constantly force you to ask questions about them, exposing you to the coldness of reason. Deleuze said, "The use of philosophy is to sadden. A philosophy which saddens no one, that annoys no one, is not a philosophy. It is useful for harming stupidity, for turning stupidity into something shameful. Its only use is the exposure of all forms of baseness of thought. . . . Philosophy is at its most positive as a critique, as an enterprise of demystification."

The phase of critique is often difficult for people to handle, and i have personally seen many examples of people leaving their pursuit of philosophy out of the continual anguish of uncertainty, and having to doubt things that one is taught by society and religion to be sacred and beyond question. It is easy to just believe in beliefs handed over to you; it is harder to come up with your own answers after a process of honest questioning.

However, if you survive this phase, then there is hope for your troubled mind and heart. You would realize that even though you have not found conclusive answers to your questions, you are nevertheless one step closer. And in the process you have uncovered many other fake and false beliefs about the world and life which you had been harbouring in your mind. You would also have become more comfortable with uncertainty, mentally accepting the fact that some truths may never be found. Bertrand Russell wrote 'To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralysed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it.'

And then there is another sort of consolation that philosophy can offer. The consolation we find when we can truly associate with an idea, and let it guide our actions. For instance, here is what Russell wrote about Spinoza's ethics: “There are even times when it is comforting to reflect that human life, with all that it contains of evil and suffering, is an infinitesimal part of the life of the universe. Such reflections may not suffice to constitute a religion, but in a painful world they are a help towards sanity and an antidote to the paralysis of utter despair.”

So, the answer to your question is both yes and no. I hope i have managed to explain why it is so.


Uni said…
Oh my!! A post in the answer to my little question !! **awed** Thanks!

Point is, that I am looking, yes , for some answers. There are questions lurking around in my brain, which of course I wouldn't bore you with. Will try to find some answers myself, then comment.

My comparison was with religion actually. People turn to religion for comfort. I was wondering if philosophy can do the same :)

Some weeks earlier, I had decided NOT to go into this research, because I had seen this comment on your blog. Somebody had written to you, saying that you were responsible for "corrupting that person" or something on those lines :D

I did not want to be corrupted (and herein lies my arrogant assumption that i AM uncorrupted:P)

But anyway, I will embark on this journey.. will try reading your book. And if you don't mind, will bug you a little now and then, (any time you mind, you can just say SCRAM to me.. im good at running)

Thanks so very much for actually writing a POST.. Man.. still can't believe that.
Abdul Sami said…
good post... my best study at philosophy was a thorough one of sophie's world.. i kno it is not the best book to start off with, but it left me wanting...

and guess... my theory of 'challenge everything' does apply in philosophy!

it is interesting how u study too much of somthin and all subjects begin to intermingle...

i hav been relatin philosophy n physics in the last few weeks... !
Awais said…
@ Uni

You are welcome :) I thought it was good question, so i wanted to share the answer with everyone; that's why i wrote it as a post.

In constrast to religion, i'm afraid philosophy isn't as comforting. It can be for people of certain temperament, who are more bothered by religious issues, and can only find satisfaction in an agnostic/atheistic view. But i don't think you are that type. However, taking philosophy seriously is not incompatible with being religious. A person's philosophy can be religious, there is no prohibition about that.

Corrupting... lolz. I have no desire of corrupting you either. Kierkegaard said 'The crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, and to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.' So, if the philosophical method can help you find your truth, that's all it matters then :) What is truth for me may not be the truth for you, and i recognize that its everyone's right to find their own.

And you are welcome to bug me anytime. :)
Awais said…
Sophie's World is a great book for any philosophy beginner! Highly recommended!

@ Abdul Sami

Yeah, you are right. Actually, you know, 20th physics has largely taken the place of traditional Metaphysics, as it is dealing with the similar questions: the origin and nature of universe. So, it is not surprising to find links between the two. Quantum Mechanics, in particular, has so many philosophical implications, philosophers are yet to figure them out properly! It's an interesting area in development.
Abdul Sami said…
yea i went for it as it is the freshman's guide to philosophy !!! plus has an awsom way of tellin things!!!

hehe.. dat is my source actually... stephen hawkins led me to a path of philosophy rather than physics!!!

at such levels where u cannot quantify anythin.. u hav to approximate... and to do that.. u rely on philosophy rather than mathematics!