We have always tried to understand the world around us with perspective and thought. We evolve in the way we live, in the way we think, and in the way we communicate. While there were ideas that we were asked to follow blindly, there were also thoughts that have been inspiring humans for generations. This search for a better understanding of the idea of existence is what defines the core of philosophy. There are numerous times in a day when we stop for a minute and think to ourselves, “why am I doing this?”, “Is this really making me happy?”, “Am I doing something worthwhile?” This is what philosophy stands for—the idea of questioning everything and engaging in thoughts that eventually change the way we live. Be it life, morality, human nature, or knowledge, we have always attempted to find answers to our questions using reason and logic, and the people who have been successful in doing so are called philosophers.
Let us take you through the teachings of five such philosophers who revolutionised the way we look at life.
Renowned linguist Noam Chomsky once proposed an idea that shook the world: “We are all born with an innate knowledge of grammar that serves as the basis for all language acquisition.” Chomsky believed that language was a human cognitive capacity, like walking. That would mean that humans are born with a basic instinct towards language. He believed that humans were born with a basic understanding of language, which doesn’t come to light unless guided properly. While this was criticised back then, recent studies have shown that Chomsky was right
Epicureanism as known today is the school of philosophy established based on the teachings of the Greek philosopher Epicurus around 307 BC. Epicurus preached that the state of tranquillity could be found in the simpler pleasures of life and through gaining knowledge on the workings of the world and limiting desires. A modest way of living was the way to true happiness. He taught us that pleasure could be obtained through knowledge, friendship, and imbibing important virtues of life.
Jean-Paul Sartre’s theory of existentialism needs no introduction. He always believed that humans live in a constant state of anguish. Not because we lead sad lives but because we are ‘condemned to be free’. He taught us that we can’t control how we are brought up but our choices as adults make up our ‘essence’. His theory of existentialism says, “existence precedes essence”. To put it simply, if we mean to add meaning to life we must act in a certain way. He always preached that there is no one way to live and that the responsibility of changing our lives rests only on us. He also said that every choice of ours is a reflection of our inner selves and our idea of an ideal society. This responsibility and freedom of choice are what condemn man to constant misery.
“What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others” is an idea made famous by Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, teacher, and political figure. One of his main philosophies was “ren”, which means loving others while practising self-discipline. Confucianism presents guidelines for thinking and living focussing on the essence of love, humanity respect, discipline, etc.
Swami Vivekananda was instrumental in the growth of Indian nationalism in the late 19th and early 20th century. He had also participated in many of the major movements against the British. He was highly influenced by his teacher Sri Ramakrishna. One of his most powerful teachings was, “Like me or hate me, both are in my favour. If you like me I am in your heart. If you hate me I am in your mind.” With this moving statement, he explained that when you are disliked by someone, it shouldn’t bother you at all, because how they feel towards you is beyond your control. They can’t be avoided. These people should always be seen as motivators to do better in life. If you get bothered by haters, then you will end up demotivating yourselves.
These are but a few of the many profound philosophers who have changed the path of philosophical discourse and have influenced and transformed the lives of many. These important life lessons and ideologies are what shape us into the kind of individuals we wish to be in the future. They steer us in the right direction helping us reach our goals with a well-developed character and attitude.