Introduction to the theme – Or an eternal truth about human existence
Recently I was reading about the history of monasticism and science fiction. Though quite different readings, both converged into the same problem, I was recently wondering relentlessly. Though I strive for perfection through reason, a classic philosophical understanding of human endeavor already explored in the blog, I also questioned myself on why this should be worthy. This short post will address the problem of life as an open-ended act of creation due to its ultimate unsolvability.
Because life is unsolvable, it is open to any solution compatible with a very abstract understanding of human nature as dominated by reason. I know I cannot offer the reader something as new as already stated by many, such as Aristotle and Spinoza. However, considering that the best role of any rational being is to be the voice of truth, being truth eternal, there is nothing wrong in restating what is already well known, though imperfectly uttered or formulated.
Philosophy and ordinary thinkers
In absolute terms, I have already ruled out Bertrand Russell’s argument against the ‘practical man.’ As written in the post, Russell was right considering philosophy of value. Philosophy is valuable for anybody who is already in the position of thinking through thought, as proved continuously by experience and history as recorded through time. To be even more precise, as any theoretical endeavor of understanding any reality in general terms free from a case-to-case approach, philosophy is a favorite tool for any rational being that is intellectually developed enough to have models of reality and wants to check their validity.
Philosophy is a form of meta-theoretical research whose aim is to introduce merciless, systematic attrition to the theories to test their validity in the face of uncertainty. Philosophy is the way to introduce artificial selection through an intentional act of aggression toward a specific piece of our vision of the world. Not every rational being, man or woman, is sufficiently intellectually sophisticated to elaborate models of reality, and even fewer have the intellectual instruments ready to challenge their models. Therefore, philosophy is born from a minority whose goal is to test anything anybody claims to know or understand. No wonder it lives and survives in the margin of society.
Russell’s mistake is the intuitive misconception that the ordinary or practical man has any argument at all. As outlined, the ordinary man/woman tacitly accepts to live under the veil of ignorance created by the fog of life, and he/she only understands power and fear or any basic needs that are only misleadingly apparent to him/her. When the ordinary man/woman is challenging philosophy, he does on the only ground that he/she is not interested in thinking. He/she does not see why it should be otherwise. Engaging in that sort of non-debate is a sterile waste of energy. There will always be plenty of naïve philosophers who will try again, arguing for values whose audience simply falls too short to see. Since Socrates, there was no case for such an endeavor, and there is no point in sacrificing life in the name of such a lost cause, the cause of refusing the non-arguments of the ordinary man. Not philosophy, the ordinary man and its crass ordinary thinking is the lost cause, and the proof is, in fact, showed by its existence so change-resistance to overcome any further experiment in social engineering.
About extraordinary lives and their examples
Moving on from this recognition, I was always curious about others’ extraordinary lives, those who wanted to showcase that life, or thinking, can be different. As it is impossible to divide thought and life, I don’t draw any neat boundary between the two spheres. For this reason, I devoured many philosophers’ biographies, such as Immanuel Kant‘s, Baruch Spinoza’s’ and René Descartes‘. No one is substantially comparable to another, and there is almost no point in searching for a common answer to how to survive as extra-ordinary man/woman. Sure, there are a few common points. They all believed their life was justified only by a greater cause, mainly philosophy in their case. But this wisdom is common to all major intellectual figures. For instance, Beethoven sacrificed his life in the name of music, and, in fact, though his life was a mess, his music rescued an otherwise broke existence. Even clearer is Shostakovich’s experience, destroyed by the war and Stalin’s personal dictatorship, a broken soul whose gold was inside himself. As far as I can see, they did not advocate for rescuing life from life; they survived because they recognized that they were embodying an idea, a greater vision, a higher scheme. They were the instruments, the executioners of something that, through them, was finally inserted into the world, crafted as facts. In my personal, humble philosophical conception, they were the free creators of the eternal truths. Essentially, through them, being comes into language(s), expressed as a true proposition, which restates better and better something already known: what makes those statements true is something beyond any specific time and space.
Facing the limitation of life, they all managed quite mundane, though different, lives. This is true basically for all great philosophers before the XX century when philosophy was enrolled once and for all in the state bureaucracy. And, quite sleeplessly, philosophers started to be equated to the professors of philosophy, the only ones in the position of power and economic prowess to exert a sense out of that useless thinking. Certificates, not ideas, socially identify the philosophers, finally encapsulated within manageable boundaries. And then their lives started to be perfectly uniform, ordinary. Here we must consider that a quiet existence could be conducive to the wildest inner life, such as those of the greatest thinkers. Though invisible, that counts as an extraordinary, wild-life. For instance, Descartes wrote inflamed letters to all possible audiences to prove his theories’ validity and even more so Galileo. But both had quite a simple existence based on habits and study. Professors of philosophy, instead, usually live ordinarily based on solid payment, a relatively clear career, and possibly a sound marriage. Out of an ordinary life, it is difficult developing extraordinary ideas. It was from Dante, a man in exile and an outcast, not from his rival professor, the origin of some of the greatest works of the middle age. Spinoza and Kant lived almost monastic lives. Nietzsche and Schopenhauer essentially self-destroyed themselves. Hume was perpetually exhausted. Athens refused Plato, and killed Socrates. Both fought in war and enjoyed thrilling existences. Cervantes enjoyed the prison, as so many, too many, other thinkers some of them before being used as coal in the public square. Many other examples would only Diversity of experience is called into the most uniform of all possible worlds, the world of universal pre-planned world order.
Curious about others’ lives and struggling with my existence, I started searching for greater wisdom. And as far as it is difficult to believe in the present, I found a natural companionship with mentors of the past, the only one I had the luxury to have. That’s how I arrived to read about monks and monasticism, recognizing that I am not so far from their experience. As few silent readers know, philosophers before the XIX century argued for a marriage between perfection and happiness, essentially solving the latter with the former. I called this the fable of classic philosophy, the only fable meaningful for a rational being. And the bet was that perfection is achievable through reason and, therefore, happiness. Far from being an emotional act, happiness is the result of an act of reason, whose execution is based on the body’s capacity to act according to intention. That’s why I also argued that efficiency is a moral value: efficiency is the measure of the capacity to translate an abstract state of mind into an action, the cause of a real change in the world. A rational idea made real is perfection in human terms, and efficiency is the property required by the action to be well executed. However, at the same time, this form of perfection is merciless, as it asks for a very clear link between the mind and the body and, essentially, the capacity of both to elaborate the right solution for a specific problem. Now, if this conception could be enough in general terms, there is an open question. If this argument is correct, then why so few individuals in the history of life found this path congenial? It could be that the argument is flawed, but an easier explanation is that, as it should be apparent, it is quite a demanding existence. And any notion of ‘demandingness’ is alien to the animal who managed to survive, saving energy for later, for the moment of action, possibly dying without doing any good or anything at all. Though I still think that this is true, I also think this is a too easy answer. It is just solving the problem of understanding a person labeling him/her as ‘dumb.’ Instead of solving the issue, it freezes it for later (why is that person not wise, then? Why is his/her behavior stupid indeed?)
First, let’s start with the general recognition that there were always forms of monasticism. With ‘monasticism,’ I generically define the need of a few, a minority, to leave out their current society. They are proof that another life can be, in fact, possible and, naturally, it is better, for whatever reason. Monasticism is defined critically by this deliberate choice of a different or divergent lifestyle. I said ‘whatever reason’ because, as we shall see briefly, reasons can widely vary, but the logic beneath monasticism is the same.
Explicit historical monasticism was born out of early Christian tradition, even before a clear and robust Christian philosophy was elaborated, mainly two-three hundred years after Christ was born. The common vision lay in the replication or emulation of the very specific Christ’s experience, basically those that brought him far from the pagan lifestyle. Self-isolation, dietary constraints, radical sexual restraint, and extreme poverty were all part of the story. The basic idea is simple to grasp. Anything conducive to an ordinary existence planned for an ordinary individual is intrinsically flawed. This intuition is within ordinary individuals, as they often suffer from the self-recognition of their flaws and fears, ultimately described by Joseph Kafka: contradictions of all sorts, a perpetual sense of inadequacy, general impotency, and aggressive opportunism toward others. That’s why monks were born out of ordinary religious needs, not from deeper forms of thinking. Instead of rejecting pain and social loneliness (one of the main enemies of all societies), they were embraced as instruments for an exemplary life. However, interestingly, whatever the version of Christianity, there was its form of monasticism because the need to have such a lifestyle is more primordial than the idea that justifies it. Living a purer life, a cleaner existence, and being safe from the fear of living with other human bests is far more fundamental than the shape of the lifestyle of choice. This is true then as it is true today.
The need to prove that a different life is possible is reinterpreted differently according to different epochs. For instance, Spinoza was not a monk, but he lived a very simple form of existence, along with many other philosophers. The reason is that that simple, essential lifestyle was conducive to the elaboration of deep thoughts and philosophical ideas; those are the reasons for them to live a monk-ish existence, here to be intended metaphorically as in the distance with what is usually considered the prize of the ordinary man. Today, the same need shapes the life of those who, for instance, castrate all social needs and a comfortable existence for work. Work was always an instrument of the monastic rule(s) and general monastic lifestyle exactly because usually draining and alien to the average need of the people who constitute the ordinary multitude. The best examples today are clearly manifested in those American billionaires that choose to live eating one meal per day, so they can work more, possibly without two or a maximum of four hours of sleep per day. Monks embodied the acceptance of death and pain for the afterlife to showcase how life is ultimately meaningless compared to God. In the absence of such meaning and in a world of ultimate rejection of any value, work is the reason of choice for today’s monk-ish existence. In a sense, the means of the monks is the end of the otherwise quite empty existence. But, as far as I can see, the idea behind the lifestyle is not irrelevant as long as a meaningless ideal determines a waste of human existence ipso facto. Therefore, I am not able to conceive why work per se could be of any sense if not for a greater reason, exactly for the same argument already brilliantly formulated by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics. There is no need to restate it here.
Solving the unsolvable – How monks prove their own contradiction
The reality is that any form of monk-ish existence is born out of the conviction that there is one right way to solve the problem of life, which is the problem of death. Once we know what death looks like, a solution to life is easily found, moving backward from death to life. For instance, a monk believes in the existence of a very specific God who laid out a set of rules to enact into concrete actions, whose will and whim determine the ultimate value, which is to be found in the afterlife. Knowing that God loves the most those who are in poverty and isolation solves any question about what kind of life is more valuable in absolute terms. You simply have to embrace poverty and isolation as life; otherwise, life is playing against you in reaching the ultimate goal. The substitution of God for another form of ultimate value outside human existence produces a different definite solution to the problem of life. For instance, if work and capital enterprise are assumed to be the God-like ideal, then shaping a body able to undertake more work is a good instrument for achieving the ultimate goal. Life is solved through the same logic, which is the unilateral exclusion of any other alternative in the face of the God-like ideal.
“Tell me, Genry, what is known? What is sure, predictable, inevitable – the one certain thing you know concerning your future and mine?” – “That we shall die.” – “Yes. There’s really only one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already know the answer… The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.” This beautiful passage of The Left Hand of Darkness is the exact definition of one crucial statement about human existence; it is, as I call it, a formulation of an eternal truth. This truth is independent of the way in which it is formulated, though its formulation is captured in time. Time is what makes the truth possible as an act of language. However, its truth-value, once determined, is indeed eternal as it does not change. Now, what Ursula K. Le Guin was arguing in one of the most ethereal chapters of all science fiction is the uselessness of any sort of prophecy or foretelling, as the only answers we can have to any question are pointless exactly because we can only know what is already possible to know. As Ludwig Wittgenstein said differently, we must be silent toward any question that cannot be answered (in the language of science, to put it simply). And we know they are both right because they capture what we know since humans started digging graves into the ground for the dead. They realized that they only know one thing: it is better to be alive (as Kubrick let it say to Private Joker in Full Metal Jacket). And it is better to be alive because nobody knows anything beyond, as Kant tried to prove definitively, nobody will ever know.
Any unilateral solution to life is similar to monks’ attitude and practice. They are ‘unilateral’ because they destroy through an act of will any sort of contrary proof to alternative existence. Unilaterality is born out of a deliberate exclusion of any opposite evidence. Once monks’ God is defined and Christ’s existence used as an example, everything must follow, whatever the evidence and knowledge that comes after. We can be thrilled by their strong conviction and amazed by their resolution of the will and body’s suffering for an alleged greater good. But I don’t see it. In fact, monks were not as perfect, at least in the sense that, ultimately, they were not beyond ordinary life. They were at their extreme, not beyond it. They had a negative reply to mundane existence only to reaffirm it differently. They subverted the order; they did not revolutionize it. In fact, far from being a different form of existence, they required the doomed society to exist, at the very least religiously to prey for it, if not for simple need of food supply – monks cannot even be thinkable without a society in which their choice could be understood. They organized themselves around communities whose imperfection often resembled the good, old world: they were divided by means of subsistence, interpretations of Christ’s example and conception, and often unable to live their own example. They took part in politics, the most mundane form of problem-solving activity anybody could imagine. They wanted to live another ordinary life, just with other means. Ultimately, their existence is a form of prolonged euthanasia. Providing that the world is evil, the only reasonable solution is to delay the end only for God’s sake, whatever the God and lifestyle of choice.
The bounded unsolvability of life
Turning to Le Guin and Wittgenstein‘s point, though, we can try to formulate what it seems to me, another eternal truth. There is no ultimate answer for death. If there was one, there would be no point in any divergence in religious or philosophical terms. But we have as many religions as many human heads. Even those who say to believe in exactly the same principles de facto reinterpret them according to their own subjective position in the world. The simple fact that there is no universal religion is not simply a historical proof of divergence in the imagination of human production. It is philosophical proof that there is no universal recognition of what the afterlife and death are. As proved elsewhere, death is the unthinkable limit of human knowledge and understanding, and therefore reason just spins freely without any certainty as there is no evidence coming from death itself. So, we proved that life does not have a solution as we don’t know anything about its termination. This statement shows that there is no universal solution to life.
What I mean by ‘no universal solution to life’ is simply that there is no single way to live. Even accepting to be bounded within a sound moral life, there is quite a lot of space left to free action. The symptom of this being an eternal truth comes from the convergence and divergence of the solutions advanced by classic philosophy to this problem. They all seem to converge on the fact that, given human nature, and human nature specifically, there are clear lifestyles that are wrong or, to be more precise, against full human flourishing, again defined as the strive for perfection and happiness through the means of reason. Philosophers diverged in the definition of happiness, perfection, and reason, but they all believed that living unreasonably is, ultimately, morally bad and self-destroying, psychologically and physically. And even in recent times, when nobody could believe that perfection can be the cause of happiness, ultimately, there is still the untold hope that, after all, reason can somehow achieve perfection and happiness.
If the problem of life has no universal solution, it has restricted wrong answers. For instance, self-destroying the body is against human existence. Living in depression and without friendships with similar souls, for the moment, only human souls, is also conducive to a miserable existence. This is not by chance because we, humans, are grounded on our capacity to exert ourselves positively in the world, producing acts firstly imagined in our intentions and then performed through real actions. Morality and aesthetics are byproducts of our rational human constitution, which is able to transform what the world is in what could have been different, all things being different. We give meaning to the world through concrete, simple acts of will, which also include our lives. Life is not solved through our beliefs translated into actions; life is made meaningful to us through it. As with any work of art, human life is a progression of actions whose nature is free and bounded at the same time. Without boundaries, chaos and meaningfulness are intrinsic to the already discussed ordinary thinking. Without freedom, there is no way to be autonomous in the decision and, ultimately, genuine in producing the good, whatever it can be.
Conclusions – For a life of perpetual creation
If there is no way to solve life once and for all, we should admit and recognize that there is no single solution for it. However, there are boundaries of meaning, as not every thought and subsequent action is meaningful. This form of relativism is not due to the arbitrariness of the subject but to the different set of methods through which life can be lived. But there is no relativism in any specific determination of the best method possible for a given person at a given time. That is where perfection could also be found.
Once granted that perfection is somehow possible and happiness achievable, the result is to interpret perfection as we understand it, a deliberate performance of ourselves as rational human beings. Any variation of human existence with the aim of perfection is bounded to understanding, knowledge, and action but, nonetheless, open to all sorts of solutions. Therefore, what makes you happy and perfect in what you are is ultimately what defines you as an individual in your being different and uniquely defined in time, space, and means.
All we can say, as humans, is that we don’t know more than we have always known, which is that we are here and now alive, happy to be as perfect as we can be because that is the only thing left to us, human beings, in the face of all imperfection, ordinary existence, and absence of any definitive answer on what is ultimately unthinkable, death, the wall under which any speculation counts as good as any other.
 Any formulation, Spinoza’ and Aristotle’s included, are flawed due to the entropic nature of time. As we exist in time, there is no way we can formulate any truth eternally without it being subjected to systematic revisions in its form. For more on this, Pili, G., (2017), “La storia come libera creazione delle verità eterne,” Scuola Filosofica, https://www.scuolafilosofica.com/5915/5915.
 See Pili, G., (2022), “Sul Valore della Filosofia – Bertrand Russell”, Scuola Filosofica, https://www.scuolafilosofica.com/11086/bertrand-russell-on-the-value-of-philosophy
 History here must be intended as recorded information about the past, which is, in nature, an empirical endeavor. Therefore, sheer direct experience and history both sustain the proposition that philosophy has a value for a minority of individuals who turn out to be thinkers, whatever the notion of thinking here employed, naturally inclusive of any woman or man able to think freely.
 There are many causes that could be introduced to explain this phenomenon. There is no modally logical restriction on the access of philosophy to anybody is able to reason. However, there is no need to introduce sophisticated proof for this fact as it is simply sustained by ordinary experience. After all, philosophy is probably one of the least selected faculties in the humanities, in its so far from the apparent immediate utility, or so it intended to be.
 Being clear that here the argument is not against the ordinary person, meaning the one who is not a philosopher. The argument is against anybody who, without any sheer will to argue or think, does not even try to elaborate a positive model of reality, whatever his/her capacity, dimension, and space. Ordinary man is here a label for anybody who just lives the day of tomorrow as yesterday and, ultimately, by sheer chance. In Kant’s terms, he is who has no autonomy of thinking or, as Spinoza would have framed it, the one who has no ability to be free cause of his/her own actions.
 This is more proper for certain religious figures such as Jesus Christ. His story is all about rescuing the unescapable, meaning human existence doomed by primordial sin. Christ is indeed the rescuer by definition, the One without which all human existence would be pain and suffering without meaning. Christ did not save humans from their doomed nature; he gave the chance of giving that pain a face, a greater cause, so to sustain it. Though Christ is the best and most tragic example, being Him considered God, all prophets can be understood in this fashion, namely, the rescuers from afar of the human race.
 See Pili, G., (2017), “La storia come libera creazione delle verità eterne,” Scuola Filosofica, https://www.scuolafilosofica.com/5915/5915
 An interesting borderline example is John Rawls, who had an interesting life in comparison with many others of his age.
 Binns, J., History of Monasticism – The Eastern Tradition, London: T&T Clarke 2020.
 On the conception of happiness as a form of by product of perfection through the means of reason, see Pili, G., (2019), “Felicità e perfezione nella filosofia dell’età classica”, Scuola Filosofica, https://www.scuolafilosofica.com/7935/7935-felicita.
 Though I argued that fable is now discovered and conceived as such, I still believe in its ultimate wisdom, as it will be clarified later.
 This was true for all ancient philosophers, probably up to Kant, where a fundamental division between morals and practical philosophy was definitively drawn.
 See Pili, G., (2020), “L’efficienza è un valore morale”, Scuola Filosofica, https://www.scuolafilosofica.com/8753/efficienza-morale.
 See Brown P. La formazione dell’Europa cristiana, Milano: Mondadori 2011 (1995), and Binns, J.,History of Monasticism – The Eastern Tradition, London: T&T Clarke 2020.
 This is clear in Kafka’s short novels, including The Metamorphosis, where the subject is so castrated to be brought to a more superficial, and disgusting level of existence in the face of everybody else: See Kafka, J., (2015), “La metamorfosi – Franz Kafka”, Scuola Filosofica, https://www.scuolafilosofica.com/4847/la-metamorfosi-kafka-f
 There were obvious exceptions, but this is not the point here.
 Pili, G., (2020), “Aristotele ovvero la felicità come il massimo conseguimento della propria natura”, Scuola Filosofica, https://www.scuolafilosofica.com/9030/aristotele-la-felicita.
 Le Guin, K. U., (1969), The Left Hand of Darkness.
 See Pili, G., (2017), “La storia come libera creazione delle verità eterne,” Scuola Filosofica, https://www.scuolafilosofica.com/5915/5915.
 Wittgenstein, L., (1921), Tractatus logico-philosophicus. Quaderni 1914-1916, Torino: Einaudi 1998. See also: Pili, G., (2011), “Ludwig Wittgenstein e il Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus”, Scuola Filosofica, https://www.scuolafilosofica.com/585/wittgenstein-l.
 See Pili, G., (2019), Anche Kant Amava Arancia Meccanica, Pistoia: Petite Plaisance.
 Explicitly in the Critique of the Pure Reason, for an explanation, see Pili, G., (2020), “Capire la “Critica della ragion pura” di Immanuel Kant”, https://www.academia.edu/38740822/Capire_la_Critica_della_ragion_pura_di_Immanuel_Kant.
 See Pili, G., (2013), “Un argomento per l’impensabilità della morte”, Scuola Filosofica, https://www.scuolafilosofica.com/3241/un-argomento-per-limpensabilita-della-morte.
 Interestingly, this position seems to suggest that the freedom of the will here must be intended as arbitrariness, where instead, I elsewhere defended a neo-Spinozist approach to this specific problem, see Pili, G., “Libertà, volontà e legge morale: una posizione causale neo-kantiana della moralità”, Scuola Filosofica, https://www.scuolafilosofica.com/5538/liberta-volonta-e-legge-morale-una-posizione-causale-neo-kantiana-della-moralita.
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