Philosophers seek wisdom and truth. The word “philosophy” literally means the love of wisdom.
Retirement would seem to be an ideal stage of life for philosophical reflection. As we have grown up and moved through our adult lives we have gathered a lot of information about ourselves and the world. We have had to learn to deal effectively with others. We have had successes and failures and learned from both. We’ve been in control and sometimes not. We’ve faced issues of right and wrong and the gray in between. We’ve experienced a full range of emotions and their consequences. We have learned from the positive and negative examples of the behavior of others. Without belaboring the point, we have learned a lot, and not just information, but how to use that information effectively.
Our life experiences and learning have made us wise (at least in relation to our younger selves). This doesn’t mean we can’t make mistakes – we’re human, that’s what we do. But we have (or should have) more information and insight than at any other time in our lives. Which puts us in a good position to wrestle with fundamental questions such as:
What is the meaning or purpose of life?
Some folks might say our purpose is to achieve adulthood, reproduce and nurture our young so that they can repeat the cycle. This is certainly valid if we wish the human race to continue its existence, but it seems there must be more than just biology.
My childhood religious instructors told me with great authority that my purpose in life was to “know, love and serve God in this world and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” Other religious traditions have their own formulations. But couldn’t there be an answer that would have universal application without needing to reconcile religious differences (however admirable that would be)?
Aristotle (384-322 BCE) believed that our purpose is to achieve a state of happiness. Everyone wants to be happy (and avoid its opposite) so, in Aristotle’s view, we have our universal purpose. But then comes the question: What is happiness?
Aristotle saw happiness as “virtuous living” or living life as an excellent human being. His word for this is arete which many translate as “human excellence” with the connotation of always striving to achieve your highest potential. He saw virtue as a habit or capacity that we acquire by making good decisions – doing the right thing and viewing the wrong thing as unattractive. We should do the right thing even if it causes pain; we should avoid the wrong thing even if it offers pleasure.
Aristotle describes many virtues as means between extremes. Four of his main virtues are:
Courage: the mean between rashness and cowardice.
Temperance: the mean between self-indulgence and asceticism.
Justice: everyone should get what he or she deserves.
Practical wisdom: making right judgments about what to do (not simply following rules).
Aristotle believed that living with arate stimulates friendships because true friendships are built on virtuous behavior. A true friend is someone who likes another person for the sake of that other person.
Aristotle’s thinking may or may not resonate in your own life but reflecting on it may help you with your own thinking regarding what is your life’s meaning or purpose. One you have wrestled that topic to the ground you might move on to:
What is truth?
What is free will? Do I have it?
What is the difference between good and evil?
What happens when I die?
Where are we going? (And why are you carrying that handbasket?)
R. Kevin Price, January 2009
For more on Aristotle you could read his Ethics or visit this website: http://www.plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-ethics/
For more on activities to keep you intellectually, socially and physically engaged in retirement visit: www.successfulretirementguide.com
© 2008-2009 R.K. Price