How is philosophy related to life?

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Philosophy is related to life because it is the study of human existence and the best way to life ethically. Moral philosophy is especially relevant to people seeking to live a better life. All of philosophy is derived from human experiences and insights.

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Philosophy is related to life in a general sense in that it takes its raw material from life as it is lived. At its best, it carefully examines certain aspects of human existence to better understand them. To be sure, philosophy isn't in the business of providing answers to life's most burning questions. But in encouraging us to examine our lives and how we interact with others, it can make us stop and think about who and what we are. It also prompts us to consider and plan how we can achieve the kind of life we want to lead.

Moral philosophy is especially useful in this regard. The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living, and this in itself is a classic expression of moral philosophy. It relates to the fundamental question of the good life, a question that preoccupied Socrates for most of his life.

For Socrates, philosophy wasn't an academic subject to be studied. It was a way of life, an activity, something you did. Socrates lived his philosophy, heading out into the streets of Athens on a daily basis to question and challenge people about their understandings of concepts such as justice.

He also died by his philosophy, stoutly defending himself before a jury of his peers over trumped-up charges of blasphemy and corrupting youth. Even after being sentenced to death Socrates continued to live by his philosophy. He refused to escape despite having the chance to do so. Instead, he chose to accept his punishment—death by hemlock—and was resolute to the last in his deepest moral and philosophical convictions.

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Many people believe that philosophy is not related to life. They see it as an obscure intellectual activity in which professors solve problems which ordinary people do not recognize as problems at all, and do not understand when presented with them.

Part of this disconnection is undoubtedly the fault of philosophers, and the academy more generally. Part of it is also unavoidable. There are large areas of philosophy, particularly in the mathematical analytic tradition, which have very little to do with everyday life and are barely comprehensible to people outside the field. At the same time, many American and British philosophy departments in universities do not recognize continental philosophy as an important area for study, so philosophical ideas like existentialism, which are applicable to every day life, are neglected in the academy.

With all this said, there are many philosophical fields and traditions which are directly applicable to life, and without which life is arguably much poorer and less meaningful. This is true all over the world. In fact, Chinese and Indian philosophy have never been separated from more simple "wisdom literature" in the way that has occurred in the West, and have therefore been more central to their respective cultures. Even in the West, the tradition of philosophy as an exploration of how to live goes back millennia. Socrates was probably its greatest early exponent. Plato and Aristotle both have much to say on how one ought to behave and what one ought to value. The great schools of Stoicism and Epicureanism offer systems of thought and action for a life as useful, enjoyable and painless as possible.

Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, an ambitious claim for the vital importance of philosophy in life. One might think of an analogy appropriate to our mechanized age, by imagining a sleek, shiny, obviously complex machine. You are presented with this machine, which could scarcely fail to impress anyone, and all your family and friends admire its splendor. You give it pride of place in your house. It cannot, surely, be long before you ask the most obvious question: what does the machine do? What is it for? The machine, of course, is your life. The purpose of philosophy is to tell you, or help you decide, what it is for.

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