Getting a Clear View of our Basic Beliefs

After all these years of having philosophical conversations, I’m beginning to see something more clearly. Our everyday lives are built upon an elaborate edifice that itself rests on an unexamined basic belief or set of beliefs. We employ strategies, devise plans, create projects, and generally engage with others on the basis of this basic belief or set of beliefs, something that is always potentially visible yet usually lying just outside of view. Such a belief may animate us, our whole lives without ever having been disclosed.

It is interesting to discover that human beings create such dense complexity, such intricate structures on such a simple and often flimsy, incorrect, skewed, or false foundation. Philosophizing isn’t so much an act of “excavation” as it is a way of slowly and methodically removing the inessentials, of carefully removing the scaffolding in order to give a clear view of that upon which a whole life rests. One has to take one’s time as if the basic belief were always hiding itself (by being in clear view). That is breathtaking.

Consider examples:

  • Someone thinks that in all things he had better appear interesting. If not, no one will like him. Imagine a theatrical life emerging therefrom.
  • Another thinks that whatever happens she’ll find a way of figuring it out. Imagine an agental, highly pragmatic, and very optimistic view of life.
  • Another thinks that he must make the most out of his talents. His predilection for overwork inserts him into a capitalistic order that feeds off his predilection (to the point at which he dies momentarily of overwork).
  • Another presents himself as a very nice guy in order to be seen by others. One could imagine intricate structures associated with the desire for fame and for social recognition arising out of such a basic belief.
  • Another could place the centrality of work first and then go on to devise sophisticated plans, projects, and the like without being able to appreciate the world around him.
  • Another puts the needs of others before her own, and thus what could emerge (e.g.) would be someone involved in non-profit work, the caring professions, or social justice. (I once met conversed who went so far as to put the needs of others before her own that, committed to social justice, she couldn’t stand to be alone with herself.)

Listing in this fashion doesn’t do justice to what it is like to inquire and inquire for years, going through all these sophisticated accounts and byzantine thought-arrangements and life-arrangements and then to behold with the utmost simplicity–revealed to us–precisely that which animates a person’s life…

Once such a basic belief is revealed, fully examined, and well understood, then what? How is one to free oneself from it? Ah, that is a great question!