The Conspiracy

Why Bother With Philosophy?

With the fall Jewish holiday season in the rearview mirror, I can’t help but miss the megillah we read annually on Sukkot and the epitome of philosophy, Kohelet, before it completely disappears beyond the horizon. For those of you that haven’t read it, Kohelet addresses big questions like does anything in life really matter? And why do good things happen to bad people? Or as the Kohelet puts it, “For what has a man of all his toil and stress in which he labors beneath the sun? For all his days are painful… This too is futility!” (Kohelet 2:22-23) Basically, what is the point of life if we all just die anyways?

“What is the point of life if we all just die anyways?” | [Public Domain], via Pixabay

These larger than life questions are what the field of philosophy is all about: What is love? Do we actually have free will? What if we are all reincarnations? What is beauty? Are things more than what we perceive them to be? Do things that humans don’t interact with even matter?

But before we even begin to answer these questions, we must first address the main question: what is the point of even discussing philosophy? Does it make money? Does it build bridges and make clockwork turn? No. It does nothing. So, why do so many people spend their lives pondering great unanswerable questions? And why do I want to write a Jewish philosophy column for New Voices?

There are many answers to this question. The simple one is philosophy is fun! I have always been interested in philosophy and discussing abstract concepts with my friends. Now I am simply expanding my definition (and range) of friends as I spend my gap year in Israel, contemplating life’s big questions.

The more complicated answer is that thinking about philosophy can impact how we act (if we even act at all). Dissecting these issues allows us to understand the roots of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. We may find ourselves questioning why we do certain things.

For example, if you subscribe to the fatalist argument, which is the belief that your fate has already been planned out, and therefore your decisions are irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, you might stop doing good things all together. Because why bother?

However, if you deduce that there is an afterlife or a God, and therefore all of your actions have consequences, you might be more mindful of how you interact with everyone around you.

Our worldviews can impact our actions.

Philosophy has been defined differently by different philosophers throughout the ages. Plato uses his allegory of the cave (which will be explained in later articles) to suggest that philosophy is the pursuit of truth  the one true reality, not just illusions that society and behavioral patterns might project onto us. However, Viktor Frankl  Holocaust survivor, famous author, and philosopher – has a different definition of philosophy. He argues that philosophy is the pursuit of meaning in life, and if you have a purpose in life, you can survive almost anything else.

This is why we need to ask and answer these seemingly unanswerable questions. So we know where we stand morally. So we don’t just blindly stumble through life acting in ways simply because they were implanted in us by those who raised us. So we can think for ourselves and understand what it truly means to think.

Through this column, I will attempt to discuss and answer the philosophical questions I ponder as a human being and particularly as a Jewish teenager. By the end, I hope that you will learn something from my writing, I will learn something from you through your comments, and both of us will come out with a greater understanding of the inner workings of the world we live in.

Netanya Abramson recently graduated from Robert M. Beren Academy, a Modern Orthodox day school in Houston, Texas. She is currently taking a gap year at Amudim, a seminary in Israel, and will be studying architecture at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn next year.

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