Columnist David Worboys: Some light reading for the beach

Columnist David Worboys: Some light reading for the beach

In my forties, when I could still remember my father’s name (it was “Dad”) and whether I still had a car, I took a course in social psychology. And, as we approach summer, I thought I could offer a little light holiday reading for the beach.

The course introduced us to the musings of the great German philosophers Kant, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. And to this day, I am still fascinated by the similarity of the conclusions among these celebrated thinkers.

In their different ways, they all exhort us to achieve our full potential through discovering our true selves and thus becoming free.

Immanuel Kant’s philosophy was transcendental idealism, meaning that your concepts of what exists arise from impressions formed by the senses. Everything you see and sense are mere appearances. The good news, therefore, is that Putin and Boris Johnson don’t actually exist. Kant also believed that universal personal freedom is achievable through the simple practice of human rights. Suffering punishment for sin or crime is justifiable if proportionate to the wrong. And that, to fulfil our maximum potential, we should live not to make ourselves happy but to make ourselves worthy of happiness.

Arthur Schopenhauer maintains that the purpose of our existence is to find ourselves in solitude. We should be prepared to remove the causes of suffering by sacrificing most relationships, and, while we need to be compassionate, the more sociable we are, the less we can develop our intellectual capacity. We need to reflect more on the meaning of our existence. He regards happiness not as joy or ecstasy but escape from boredom and negativity. Schopenhauer would hardly have participated in a beach party in Benidorm and I respect him for that.

Friedrich Nietzsche, the father of existentialism, warns against following the herd, dwelling in the comfort zone and resisting change. Only by being individual, and taking responsibility for who we are can we find our true selves. This can mean the difficult choice of being a loner but, only by confronting the unknown and embracing suffering as part of life, can we be truly free and thus achieve our full potential. We should accept – even embrace – suffering as part of life, as the price for avoiding living in a social prison imposed by the control of society´s maxims.

This does not mean rejection of all accepted standards of society but it does mean questioning them. Such standards declare it unacceptable to gun down defenceless children and teachers in a school or to enslave vulnerable young girls into prostitution. But society can and does also dictate the subsumption of individual characteristics and beliefs into the herd mentality.

More recently, the conclusions of these distinguished thinkers has been further developed by Albert Camus (one of my favourite novelists of my younger days) and, of course, Eckhart Tolle, about whom I have already written.


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