The other day, someone asked me if I had a philosophy of life. I pondered this very seriously for several moments before answering, “Hey, buddy, just ring up my groceries — I don’t want to miss the beginning of Dancing With the Stars.”
At home later, two thoughts occurred to me: One, that I really had no philosophy of life. And two, that my Famous Amos cookies were nowhere to be found, even though I’d been charged for them. As to which of these irked me more, I’d have to call it a draw.
But it got me thinking: Maybe I should have a philosophy of life, or at least know something about philosophy, or at the very least, go back and demand the cookies that were rightfully mine.
As was my custom, I chose the “at the very least” route and retrieved the cookies. But something was still gnawing at me. After dislodging my dog from my leg, I found myself drawn to the library, which had tons of books on philosophy. The choice was simple, though, as only one of the books had color illustrations and an order blank you could send in to get Philosopher Trading Cards, the rarest of which was a limited edition of Jean-Paul Sartre hand-waxing his Corvette Stingray.
Delving into the book, I learned that the word “philosophy” comes from the Greek philo, meaning love, and sophia, meaning knowledge. Love of knowledge. There was also “philanthropy” — love of man, “Philadelphia,” — city of love, and “Phil Rizzuto” — love of Yankee shortstops.
Because philosophy is defined as a technical study of human thought and knowledge, and is concerned with almost everything in the known universe, its practitioners have found it necessary, not only to come off as annoyingly self-important, but also to break philosophy down into a number of smaller studies or branches.
After having studied the branches, I still haven’t settled upon my own personal philosophy, but I now feel much more qualified to speak pretentiously at social gatherings. Here are eleven of the philosophical branches I could nearly understand before developing a splitting headache:
ASSOCIATIONISM: A philosophical theory of the mind which holds that all mental states can be traced to ideas found in the songs, “Along Comes Mary,” and “Windy.”
TABULA RASA: A Latin phrase, meaning “blank slate,” used by Locke to describe the state of the human mind at birth — or the state of a Civil Servant’s mind while on a coffee break.
CYRENAICS: The belief that the good life is one that maximizes pleasure derived from satisfying one’s bodily desires. Also known as Hugh Hefnerism.
ONTOLOGY: A branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence or reality — at least until the members of the branch can find an actual paying job.
EPICUREANISM: The philosophy that pleasure and happiness should be man’s supreme goals, unless the man is named Richard Lewis or Woody Allen.
PANTHEISM: The belief that God and the universe are identical. As opposed to Pantyism, which postulates that God and Scarlett Johansson’s panties are identical.
ESCHATOLOGY: The study of “final things,” such as death, resurrection, immortality, and an adult’s first visit to Chuck E. Cheese.
ELEATICS: A school which denies the reality of what is known to the senses, holding that the ultimate reality is an undifferentiated and unchanging “being.” This school apparently did way too much Lebanese hash in the Sixties.
META-ETHICS: A branch of philosophy that analyzes ethics. It is concerned with such issues as, How are moral decisions justified?, What is the foundation of any ethical view?, and How is it possible that Snookie became a star?
MYSTICISM: Any philosophy whose roots are in mystical experiences, intuitions, direct experiences of the divine, or an attempt to make sense of George W. Bush’s election to a second term as President.
ASCETICISM: The view that attention to the body’s needs is evil, an obstacle to moral and spiritual development — though, oddly enough, co-ed hot-tub parties are allowed.