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What do I do now?

So. Since Your Humble Blogger started reading philosophy, people occasionally look at me like I’m mad. OK, that started earlier. But now it’s at least partially because of the philosophy. Why the heck would anyone read Spinoza, or Shklar, or Santayana? Well, in part because I find it more interesting than fiction these days, but in part ... well, let me explain what I think philosophy is and why I want to know more about it.

If I may be allowed to pontificate, I’ll say the basic human question is “What do I do now?” To put it more pedantically, “Given the state of the universe as I perceive it, what should my goals be, and what actions should I take to achieve those goals?” That’s three questions, now: How should I best perceive the universe? What should my goals be? How do I work towards them? All of those are tough; ethics, metaphysics, psychology, history, politics, physics, all that stuff comes into it. But there’s more...

How do I go about answering the questions? How do I judge whether my answers are good, or are good enough? That’s where I find philosophy helpful. When I ask how I should go about perceiving the universe, I have to find criteria for judging possible answers. When I ask what my goals should be, I have to find some pattern for deciding whether one goal or set of goals is better than another, how to choose priorities among good goals. When I ask how to work towards goals (for instance, judging whether any action is helpful or harmful, or more importantly judging high-risk high-reward strategies against safer, slower ones), that too requires me to have in place a philosophic structure.

See, I think that humans are pattern-making critters; I think that we use patterns, stories, and guidelines to make all our decisions. I want to have good structures; I want to know what patterns I’m relying on. I also want to know what guidelines other people use to answer their important question. Many of the philosophers have written out their structures, or at least written out possible structures, and discussed their benefits and flaws. I don’t expect to move into anybody’s without alterations—heck, I don’t even expect to move out of my own, but seeing a few sets of blueprints has gotta help.

Ultimately, all of this is just an attempt to come up with a better answer to that question. What do I do now? It’s easy enough to keep asking the question, in an attempt to keep from answering it. But that’s no worse than answering it, and doing whatever it is, without knowing whether it’s a good answer. There’s a line attributed to Hannah Arendt to the effect that “under conditions of tyranny, it’s easier to act than to think.” Under some conditions, it’s easier to think than to act (else what’s a blog for?), but the proper balance of the two is also one of those philosophical questions I keep reading about.

All of which is to say, what I should do now is read more philosophy.

Redintegro Iraq,


"what do i do now" is possibly itself a point of view. "what do i do next" or "how do i integrate this new experience" are not the same, and i think both could encompass the first comfortably, declaring (as faiths tend to) that the aimless person's actions are only undirected from their (our) limited perspective.

nor does it mean the same to start with imagining "our" possibilities and then work toward the individual.

anyway it may be a mistake to start from the position that stories or narratives are neutral or arbitrary, or that only the aimless are yearnin' for learnin'.

Oh, stories and narratives are anything but neutral; in fact, they are what makes neutrality so difficult. Well, that sounded good ... now I have to figure out what it means.



Did I already point to this? SHakesbpeare in the Bush

Even the question "What do I do now?" may be irrelevant to some of our (human) cultures and philosophies. (About which I know nearly nothing, except that I'd like to learn more...)

Hurm. That would be me not proofreading. That italicized URL *ought* to have been this:

stories and narratives are anything but neutral

(As to that URL istelf, I've been trying to catch up reading http://www.livejournal.com/community/50bookchallenge, and that particular post mis-pasted has a book I added to my lengthy to-read list...)

Thanks for the link; I can't help thinking that the real problem here is that the author (if she's retelling the events accurately) is not very good at telling the plot of Hamlet. Still, I've never tried.


so, what did i miss?

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