Practical philosophy

Files found in a scrapbook:

Back in another century I had a newsgroup for philosophy students.

They could ask questions about course content, rant about most anything,
and communicate any time of day or night. The first piece comes from
the newsgroup for existentialism:

I don’t wanna make a long talk even more drawn out, but I feel compelled
to relate my story. 1’11 keep it brief.
Towards the end of the semester last year I was diagnosed with a sinus
arrythmia and premature ventricular contractions -layman’s terms: a
funny heart beat that sometimes beats backwards. Fortunately these are
relatively benign conditions and since there’s no underlying heart
disease I’m gonna be safe. However, it was during the first week or so
of my diagnosis when I was completely terrified that I first discovered
aloneness. It was the oddest thing, during one episode of a tachycardia
(a racing heart beat) all the people in the room and everything I was
watching became something akin to a TV screen. It was as though I was
just watching actors on a screen, that they really weren’t people and
that there was only me, for if my vision did fade and I fell into that
black hole that I’m constantly struggling against those people I saw
would be gone away from me and no longer BE THERE. I was alone. I wish
I had to words to explain it, but there I was alone. Everything else
was just a fiction, the only thing there was for me was me, waiting for
my heart to explode. Scary stuff . However, when I came home to my
girl friend, and saw the worry, pain, anguish and everything I felt
reflected in her face, and then when our eyes met and I realized that
those feelings she had were because of me, I realized I was not alone,
and that everything I do is connected with her. A deep and touching
moment. I do now believe that if there is one saving grace in this
lonely world, it is love and with love you don’t need to be alone, for
love transcends words, consciousness, all that love says what words
can’t. In other words, I’ll never die alone as long as my girlfriend is
with me, I’ll just be alone after I die.

Deep stuff huh?

The following exchange is from an email discussion:


I just wanted to thank and congratulate you on “The Absurd Hero” which
I just finished reading from the Internet. Camus is my hero, really, and I
find him, among all, the most courageous and honest of humans in his frank
confrontation with life. Your essay is timely. I have a heart disease which
which is progressive and can only be treated by transplant sometime in the
next few years (whenever my condition reaches the point of end-stage). My
problem is: being a follower of Camus, and agreeing with him that life is a
struggle of Sisyphus’ proportions, why get a transplant?  It seems to me
that he’s right about suicide, and that, like William James, the passion
and the struggle to do the right thing make it worth it, to seek to extend
it 15 years (by transplant) when one is given by nature an “out” is
another, more tormenting, choice. At present, I’ve “gone along” with the
intent to transplant me (I’m seeing transplant clinic doctors every other
month), purely on the pretense that when I am in a hospital bed, and the
only thing that can save my life is a transplant, I’ll see things
differently. However, I am tormented by my lack of authenticity here: I am
not making a choice that I would make if I were going along with my real
desires, which is to let nature take its course and quit the struggle. I’d
welcome your observations. How would you, or Camus for that matter,
respond to my plight?

Dr. Richard ****,
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.


Thanks for the message. I appreciate your comments on my paper, and the
description for the tormenting problem you are facing. Your description
of your situation is moving and the torment sounds genuine.

Observations? Let me start with my favourite quote from Camus: ‘To
breathe is to judge” – whether taking the next breath is valuable or not
is a judgment you must make; no one can make it for you. Just remember
that although Camus starts with that provocative sentence about suicide,
his essay is really an argument against suicide. Part of the struggle
may indeed be to have a heart transplant which, I’m sure is a struggle.
As you indicate, the real torment comes from your attempt to be
authentic, by which, I take it you mean to match your desires and your
actions. But you don’t, I take it, have the necessary information to
make any final decision now. Nor can you predict’ with anything like
certainty, what your decision will be as you approach the O.R.

I wonder also about your notion that you should let ”nature take its
course” – which ‘seems to presuppose that nature has a course. But as
Camus would say, nature has no particular course, she just IS. We’re the
ones who make decisions, have a program, look for value.

As Koheleth says: ‘Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is
to behold the sun.” As long as that is possible, celebrate it.

Director, Institute of Practical Philosophy

Many, many thanks for your observations. This is precisely what I
needed and conforms to my intuition about things. What I am feeling right
now, is, I wish I knew this Bob Lane. I very much admire the handle you
have on the greatest philosopher I have ever read.
Thanks again, Bob Lane.


Richard ****,
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

4 thoughts on “Practical philosophy

  1. Two moving stories about the importance of communication and of love. As an aside, I remember those news groups that you had set up. Just think, now we have WordPress and Facebook!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The student with his heart condition brought back a couple of my own slap in the face experiences. I had asked my wife to wait in the car while I went up and talked to my surgeon. (Great and funny man for being so young, cocksure, and arrogant).
    “Well, I have some really good news for you. Yes, it was cancer. But the news is really good. It was caught at stage 1, blah blah blah”.

    I nodded my head and heard nothing after the word ‘cancer’. You remember the old Charlie Brown movies where Snoopy is listening to people talk? “Rurrh rurh na blahna rurr rurr”, and so on. It was like that. (Apparently this is a very very common reaction.) Add to that the immediacy of it. It was like being on stage, with a spotlight flooding down.

    In a daze I walked out to the car, climbed in and said to my wife, “Well, I have some news. It was cancer”, and with that the floodgates of everything opened, for many years ago I was at my Dad’s side while he took his last breath and died of cancer. It all just comes back, unbidden, and overwhelming.

    What I have found most interesting, especially now that I have ostensibly been cured and no longer face any treatments or even monitoring, is that no matter how good, exciting, charmed, and well-fed our lives might have been, eventually, shared and common human experiences bring us all down to a plane of shared circumstance of being human. Obviously, my tale nowhere comes close to a child being sick, or a young man talking to his girlfriend about maybe dying too young, nevertheless, the eventual fate for all of us is the same….just the details will vary as well as the pain and level of tragedy. But, we’ll get there, by and by. 🙂

    Some days, a person can stand only so much existensialism. I also believe that nature does not take a particular course, but just is. It is neither fair, nor unfair. Some days it is just shitty. But humans are often quite heroic in their daily struggles and choices. Like the virtually blind aquaintence of mine who struggles to put together a simple bank balance statement over the course of a week. When you or I might go online and complete it in seconds, she persists, first locating this file then that, needing this receipt and that one, only to chide herself for feeling impatience or anger. Who was she mad at, finally? Herself.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. More words on existentialism:

    On the existential view, to understand what a human being is it is not enough to know all the truths that natural science — including the science of psychology — could tell us. Nor will it suffice to adopt the point of view of practice and add categories drawn from moral theory: neither scientific nor moral inquiry can fully capture what it is that makes me myself, my “ownmost” inner self. Without denying the validity of scientific categories (governed by the norm of truth) or moral categories (governed by norms of the good and the right), “existentialism” may be defined as the philosophical theory which holds that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to grasp human existence. The major existential philosophers wrote with a passion and urgency rather uncommon in analytic philosophy, and while the idea that philosophy cannot be practiced in the disinterested manner of an objective science is indeed central to existentialism, it is equally true that all the themes popularly associated with existentialism — dread, anguish, alienation, the absurd, radical freedom, commitment, nothingness, and so on — find their philosophical significance in the context of the search for a new way of doing philosophy.
    Sartre’s slogan — “existence precedes essence” —  serves to introduce what is most distinctive of existentialism: the idea that no general, non-formal account of what it means to be human can be given, because that meaning is decided in and through existing itself. Existence is “self-making-in-a-situation” (Fackenheim 1961:37). In contrast to other entities, whose essential properties are fixed by the kind of entities they are, what is essential to a human being — what makes her who she is — is not fixed but always becoming, by choices she makes herself. The fundamental contribution of existential thought lies in the idea that one’s identity is constituted neither by nature nor by culture, since to “exist” is precisely to constitute such an identity. It is in light of this idea that key existential notions such as facticity, transcendence, alienation, bad faith, and authenticity must be understood. Because existence is co-constituted by facticity and transcendence, the self cannot be conceived as a Cartesian ego but is embodied being-in-the-world, a self-making in situation.



  4. Pingback: Practical philosophy | Episyllogism | Episyllogism

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