The Examined Life
For philosophers one of the fundamental questions is how one should live their life. I think I have come to a tentative answer to my own personal mode of life. “Dare to know,” is the loose translation of sapere aude and I am appropriating it as a personal maxim. Considering all the possible ways of life, and the malleability of the human character it seems there is only one substantive answer in how I should live. There is so much differing views on what one ought to do, so much debate it becomes a glut of information; I become paralyzed by indecision. That is why I am going to exercise some courage and choose for myself the course of my future actions.
Dare to know seems fitting because it reflects my own personal inquisitiveness, which is accommodating to both my secular, skeptical attitude and my belief in Enlightenment values. For some skeptics I have known, they come to embrace solipsism or nihilism. I reject both, and I choose to hold the belief that people are free agents whom are able to shape outcomes (at least in some regard); I don’t believe in fatalism.
I believe in utilitarianism and personal axioms of ethics, I don’t need religion to tell me what I should or should not do. I think sapere aude is a good symbolic reflection on this, so much so I am considering getting it tattooed someday.
In the historical context the term is generally associated with Immanuel Kant, a famous German philosopher. The reason I mention him is he described what enlightenment is, which is a definition I feel aligns with my personal sensibility. Enlightenment in a nutshell is taking responsibility once you come to learn something. The problem generally is what does it mean to take responsibility? In my case it entails obligation or at the very least, integrity and character based on congruence with a set of beliefs and one’s actions.
I have decided to start living with this intention: my actions will have meaning or purpose; I will use my effort to remain aware of the present moment and my actions; I will act according to a set of personal principles.
For me these principles will derive from the eight-fold path of Buddhism, as it is something I have some knowledge of already. Specifically the Zen variety, as it is the middle-path without all the bells and whistles. In other words Zen Buddhism is a religious practice without the ritual (outside of meditation).