It’s Not True That Philosophy Is Impractical

The rap on philosophy is that it’s impractical. But as in Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest, so too here: you’ve got the wrong man.


  • Philosophy starts from one’s actual experience. In a Big Think interview, I state, “I think that philosophy begins with a convulsive experience, an experience that shakes you out of your own certainties, out of your way of being in the world. Philosophy comes on the scene to illuminate that convulsive experience.” In this respect, “it is not a merely intellectual affair.”
  • Any genuine philosophical question implicates the questioner. Every philosophical question, then, reaches beyond the questioner just as it turns back toward him. To ask about the nature of death is also to be concerned, ultimately so, with one’s own death. To ask about the power of courage is to be concerned with becoming more courageous. And so on.
  • At the very least, philosophy helps us to avoid disaster. Whatever is unthought is for this reason likely to be a matter of conditioning. When we neglect, overlook, or pass by something, we increase our risks of facing disaster. Philosophy is, apart from other things, the art of looking around the next corner to see what is there and to discern what it means for us. Philosophy’s companion is courage.
  • Philosophy is gripped by the pursuit of wisdom. And if wisdom means anything, it means that one’s right conduct is based on one’s right understanding. I define philosophy as (a) the activity that is fundamentally concerned with asking and seeking to answer the most basic questions of human existence; (b) the ultimate test of philosophy is that, through understanding, our lives become the best answer we’ve come to so far. The first part–that is, (a)–is about a right understanding of oneself and the cosmos, of oneself in the cosmos. The second part, (b), is where the rubber hits the road: all answers reach their genuine fulfillment in embodiment. Therefore, I say that wisdom is right conduct based on right understanding.

Hence, philosophy, insofar as it’s nailed to the question of how best to live, is as practical as it gets.

Let’s turn the tables around on my skeptical interlocutor: What, I ask you, could be more impractical than dodging the earnest, systematic, ongoing engagement with how you should live?

Total Work: Nihilism Is So What

Total Work is the process by which human beings have been slowly transformed into Workers and nothing else as more and more aspects of life have been transformed into work. This process began near the end of the Middle Ages and has picked up speed since the end of the Protestant Reformation. A conservative estimate, then, would be that Total Work has been taking over, while reshaping, the world for about 600 years.

So what?

There are three basic responses to this challenge.

  • First, we are living in the wake of the loss of the vita contemplativa, the contemplative life whose purpose is to enable us to contemplate, understand, and come into contact with ultimate things.
  • Second, we have come to believe that human agency is the only possible agency operating in the cosmos–certainly in the human world we inhabit.
  • And third, we are born into a blind faith in humanism, the view according to which human beings are the only source of provisional and ultimate concerns.

So what?

The results of this three-fold development can be seen in

  • our unexamined embrace of the vita activa in the form of work;
  • the sacrosanct status of the Worker as the agent exercising his will on the world;
  • the perpetual human dramas–the dramas with, of, about, and revolving around humans–that seduce and ensnare us.

So what?

What has been forsaken is nothing less than

  • the contemplative life which enables us to know who we are and why we’re here
  • the embrace of the relationship between human beings and the cosmos
  • the love of other nonhuman beings–be that God, Buddha-nature, other animals, plants, and so on.

So what?

Nihilism is so what. Bereft of contemplation. Beholden to acosmism. Existentially lonely.

Burnout Is For Us–Why?

As more and more people report experiencing burnout, burnout has become a growing societal concern. It is a growing concern, but we do not know what it is nor do we know what kind of thing it is. 

What it is? Is it, as some think, mental and physical exhaustion combined with distance from colleagues and professional inefficacy? Or is it something else? 

And, pray, what kind of thing is it? An “occupational phenomenon” as the WHO thinks? A “mental illness?” Or something else entirely?

We do not know what it is, and we do not know what kind of thing it is. What is more, we do not know where it comes from and why, just now, burnout has become so prevalent in the healthcare and tech industries.

Medieval peasants, colonial America farmers, Victorian factory workers, office workers living around midcentury—none of these reported burnout regardless of the number of hours they worked, the conditions they worked in, or the work they did. Burnout is for us—why? 

Because we do not know what it is nor what kind of thing it is nor whence it came, we do not know what it really means for us, what it is telling us, and what is revealing to us about ourselves. 

And what is burnout revealing to us? Burnout is a mirror; burnout is who we are. Looking within ourselves, we find it. Looking within it, we find ourselves. The meaning we seek through work, the identities we fashion through work: these are the conditions that give birth to burnout even as burnout discloses just far how we have been willing to go–and just how much farther toward complete exhaustion we may venture still…

I’m now giving public talks on the relationship between burnout and Total Work. Feel free to reach out to me if you’re in the healthcare industry or tech space and if you’re concerned about burnout.

This Could Be Axial Age 2.0

View at

In my latest Medium post, I explore the messy, often confusing status of religion and spirituality in the United States today. The article begins:

You can read the rest of the personal essay here.

The Weirdness of Nonduality #2: Can I Die


View at

My most recent Medium story begins:

“Inevitable to life is death and not inevitable to death is life.”

— Jamaica Kincaid

Is Kincaid right? Is death inevitable for those stamped with the gift of life?

For don’t we hold these truths about the human condition to be self-evident: that each of us is a human being; that each human being was born and shall die; that time in general and that each person’s time on this planet in particular is finite in nature; that most probably when the body perishes so too does consciousness; and that most probably there is nothing more to this sentient, intelligent life after the perishing of this body and the final darkening of this consciousness? We are enclosed by these truths, it seems.

Because of these apparently self-evident truths about the human condition, my death can hardly be anything but shockingly scary to me. Unless, that is, I seek consolation by some intellectual means or another.

You can read the rest of the story here.