The latest episode of 91 Days inspires this topic, especially in light of what happened at the end of that episode. Angelo has lived without purpose for the seven years following the murder of his family. He exists in a cheap apartment with no signs of individuality and makes a living through theft. He constantly thinks about his one great treasure, his deceased family, and has no desire to really live. This makes him easy to manipulate as Angelo becomes embroiled in the power struggle within the Vanetti mob. While he shows himself resolute, resourceful, and tough, he soon becomes a pawn barely able to exercise his own will.
The above shows the importance of having a personal philosophy and of being true to oneself. Indeed, one cannot ever be true to oneself without some personal philosophy. The most warped mindset is that of relativism, and the relativist stands as the most miserable of all men, because his stance changes with the zeitgeist. In terms of mindset, a racist imperialist is superior to a relativist. Sure, it’s an awful thing to judge other men purely on external characteristics and to support a program of conquest for the benefit of the fatherland. But, the relativist can morph from a classical liberal to a socialist to a monarchist to a democrat depending on what the majority prefers. In England, the relativist abhors female circumcision; in Indonesia, he deems it a cultural practice worthy of toleration. Contention and ostracism are feared above all. At least, the racist imperialist has objective standards which he is willing to fight for. Also, because he has objective standards, the racist imperialist can be convinced that his objective standards are not true and be brought closer to the truth. The relativist blows with the winds of expediency.
The first step to developing a consistent personal philosophy is to decide what is the highest goal for man. Once one decides on the ultimate goal of living, one can conform all intermediate goals and beliefs according to this. Another name for the ultimate goal is happiness, as Aristotle contends. Happiness (eudaimonia or “good spirits” in Greek) is the ultimate goal precisely because we intend to gain nothing else by happiness except to be happy. People differ as to what produces true happiness, but it is paramount to know what one considers true happiness and to always strive for it.
It is possible for one’s ideal of true happiness to change as more information and experience come along. Sometimes what we strive for is not actually true happiness, but an intermediate good. Many people treat an intermediate good as the final good. For example, a man might go to college so that he can get a good job, and the attainment of this job is his final goal. Yet, we only work for the sake of other things: the necessities of life, self-sufficiency, support a family, support a hobby, etc. The man who places happiness in a good job will wind up disillusioned.
We tend to get our ideas of happiness from friends, family, experience, culture, teachers, thinkers, writers, and history. Friends and family, however, may be as prone to the zeitgeist as anyone. So, we go to philosophers, theologians, heroes, and stories to learn what constitutes the good person, the good society, and the highest good. All that is weighed by experience and reason; one must exercise both. Reason might lead us to believe Marxism offers the best possible world, the experience of history shows Marxism causes bloody revolution, enslavement, destitution, and the loss of free thought. Personal experience may lead us to become Epicureans, but reason tells us that man is more than matter–living according to a moral compass of pain vs. pleasure instead of right vs. wrong leads to depression and longing for death.
You might describe your humble blogger as a Catholic, Aristotelian, Romantic, Neoconservative, Free Market Capitalist, Traditionalist, Patriotic American. I think those philosophies encapsulate my thoughts concerning the final end, the good person, and the good society. Yes, I know that Neoconservative and Traditionalist are considered exclusive, but I don’t fit neatly into either category. Just like how I’m not completely Romantic, but I am more of that philosophy than a Realist. Often, one’s personal philosophy is eclectic. If it’s not, that might indicate insufficient time spent thinking things through.
So, I believe that the ultimate goal is the attainment of the beatific vision in heaven, which is attained by a life lived responding to grace and exercising the theological and cardinal virtues–but with greater weight to the theological. To that end, one must “give to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” One owes loyalty to the Church and one’s country. It’s better if the Church influences moral laws made by the state, but not to be heavy handed: the punishment of certain sins should be left to God. The state ought to set rules for fairness in commerce and to prevent crime, but the state’s power should be limited for the sake of ordered liberty. To further American interests, countries abroad should be encouraged and assisted in creating governments espousing liberty, preferably constitutional republics or constitutional monarchies. (Either one possesses the Aristotelian concept of mixed government.) The best models for human behavior are found in the saint and the knight or the lady, with Our Lord and Our Lady as the highest exemplars combining the best of both in themselves. In general, the moral vision provided by medieval culture is far superior to morals advanced in latter centuries, and moral progress can be measured in terms of a people’s progress in chivalry and sanctity. One for all, and all for one!
That’s my example of a personal philosophy. Go forth and discover your own!