In the spirit of questioning my beliefs and reducing the number of opinions I hold, lately I've been wondering about something I've always assumed: that everyone has a philosophy of life.
To start with, few people study and pursue philosophy or religion in a formal or systematic way. (For the purposes of this journal entry, I'll posit that a religion is a kind of philosophy.) This implies that for the vast majority of people, if they have a philosophy then it's implicit.
Yet what could it mean for a philosophy to be implicit? By its very nature, philosophy - the love and practice of wisdom - is a serious intellectual endeavor that requires a great deal of thought and reflection, well beyond merely accepting a predigested worldview. Imputing a philosophy to everyone seems to significantly dilute the meaning of the word.
Here's another question: if everyone has a philosophy of life, when do they acquire it?
Does it happen when you're a child? That doesn't make sense, because at that point you haven't yet reached what used to be called the age of reason - and, if nothing else, philosophy requires reasoned understanding and assent.
Does it happen when you're an adolescent? For some people, perhaps - after all, that's the time of life when you differentiate yourself from your family and culture, so forming your own philosophy of life might be part of the process of individuation. Yet it seems odd if your philosophy of life could be fully formed when you've had so little experience of life; that's a thin basis on which to generate something so momentous.
Does it happen in your early twenties? It's said that the brain doesn't fully mature until around age 25, and that might be necessary in order to define a philosophy of your own. Yet, here again, you've had limited experience in all the major domains of life (love, friendship, family formation, the workplace, community, etc.).
Does it happen in your late twenties or your thirties, after you've perhaps married, had children, started to build a career, and the like? This seems more plausible. Indeed, supposedly Plato discouraged the study of philosophy before the age of forty, and Aristotle states that it's a waste to introduce young people to philosophy because they haven't had the requisite experience yet. So this might be the time of life to give shape to your views on life.
Does it happen in your sixties or seventies, after you've seen and done most of the things you'll experience in life? This is a time for reflection and "putting it all together" in the search for greater wisdom, so your philosophy might still be changing and growing at this point.
Or consider this: does the task of formulating and refining your own philosophy of life never end?
Although the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, these musings might lead me in precisely the opposite direction of my initial assumption: that is, to the notion that very few people engage in the kind of earnest, lifelong reflection and self-examination necessary to articulate and consistently apply their own philosophy of life.
To be clear and for the record, I'm certain that I haven't arrived there yet myself!
(Cross-posted at philosopher.coach.)
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