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Human Life, Philosophy and Philosophical Outlook

by Sanchita Bora

Man, being rational can consider how best he can live. Reflection is the basic character of man. Life is a fact and we naturally ask questions: What is life? What is its value and destiny? What is the proper place of man in the democracy of things? With an unusually strenuous effort to seek an answer to these momentous questions we become philosophers. What a person wants to get and what he wants to give will depend on his own philosophy of life. It is common that each person bears a philosophical system in his thought, because it is absurd to think of a rational being without philosophical outlook. Every normally developed person, if he lives reflectively, is in some degree a philosopher. 'Philosophy is neither accidental nor supernatural but inevitable and normal' (Perry). The word 'Philosophy' has a beautiful practical exercise. It is an active theory, a conclusive way to conduct our life. If we are not using any adjective, like political, economical, educational etc. in front of the word Philosophy, it simply means philosophy of life. The root of philosophy is the reflection upon life and the world. 'Man and his values are primary; their primacy has to be acknowledged by any philosophy'.[1] There is a common conception of philosophy that it is impractical, without any significance or utility. A little but minute observation will prove that it is a misconception. Actually philosophy springs directly from man's life and its needs. True philosophy is nothing but a general theory of human life and its environment.

'I believe that all life is sacred, and that every human being has a duty to preserve life, to promote life to raise to its highest value life which is capable of development...'[2] Every man has at least a dogmatic and superficial philosophy of life based upon his temperament according to which he moulds his activities. There is no choice between philosophy and no philosophy. Philosophy is the rational attempt to have a world-view. Philosophy springs directly from man's life and its needs. It endeavors to reach a conception of the entire universe with all its elements and aspects and their interrelations to one another. Philosophy is the criticism or interpretation of life. Philosophy is regarded now more as an interpretation of human life, its source, value, meaning and destiny than as an enquiry into the nature of the world, soul and God. It tries to understand the universe in relation to man. It seeks to give a rational conception of the reality as a whole, which satisfies man's deepest intellectual, moral, aesthetic and religious aspirations.

Philosophy is considered to be the ultimate enquiry about life and its existence. It is a pursuit of knowledge dealing with the principles, causes and laws regarding life, human nature, creation, principles of living and the conduct of human activity. 'Reflective thought is man's peculiar power and prerogative to think. Most of the real progress which the world has made in every field has come through the medium of reflective thinking, especially the thinking of the great men of all times. When it becomes serious, sustained and logical and directed towards questions of life and values, it becomes philosophy'.[3] Philosophy is the essential occupation of human life. Life and philosophy react upon each other. Thoreau said, 'To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live, according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity and trust.'

One's philosophy of life is connected to one's world view. Again the connotation of the term 'outlook' suggests the synthesis of beliefs and attitudes. 'Outlook is the life's implicit spiritual basis and assumption: life is its explicit form and expression'.[4] The outlook, to be philosophical, must express ones synoptic thought about world and life. A person can realize his concrete existence when he is able to develop a philosophical outlook. Sometimes philosophical outlook has been confused and identified with otherworldliness, asceticism, mysticism, theism etc. Therefore, we must be clear about the positive configurations and contents of the philosophical outlook in life. We find that this outlook consists of four constituents: 1) metaphysical, 2) psychological, 3) ethical and 4) religious.

The metaphysical foundation lies in the individual's deliberate views, beliefs and attitudes, regarding the nature of the universe and the place of human life in it. The main metaphysical questions are: Is the universe a mechanical interplay of material atoms? Or, is it the manifestation of some kind of purpose? Is the universe the manifestation of dead physicochemical processes, or the operation of a spirit? Is there nothing but matter and energy? What is life? What is death? What is Self? What is consciousness? etc. Every human being tries to fit suitable answers to all these questions. It proves that an individual is not the result of dead mechanism.

The second constituent of the philosophical outlook is the psychological basis of life. Psychology is the study of mind and of behavior as the expression of mind. Life must have a psychological basis in the form of belief, attitudes regarding the nature and functions of the mind that, directly or indirectly, shapes all human life and behavior. What is mind? What is its nature? And what is the practical bearing of all these on the conduct of human life? Every human being living meaningfully in the society tries to answer all these questions in his own way. It is the 'realization of the motivated character of the mind; and cultivation of a conscientious habit of truthful self-exploration of motives with a view to integration and harmonization of personality'.[5]

The third ingredient of the philosophical outlook is the ethical orientation of life. If life must have a metaphysical foundation and a psychological basis, it must further, also have an ethical orientation. This ethical foundation consists of appropriate beliefs and attitudes regarding the ultimate goal of human life. It is also about the nature and modes of life conducive to that goal. The study of ultimate goal of all our life's aspiration has occupied the human mind from the dawn of reflection. What a man ought to be or do naturally depends on what man is. The nature of ethical goal of human life can only be ascertained after having due regard to the nature of human existence (metaphysical foundation) and human nature (psychological foundation). Ethics determines the art and goals of good living.

Finally, there remains the religious coping. If man's life must have a metaphysical foundation, a psychological basis and an ethical orientation, it must have also the finishing touch and grace of a religious coping. It is the appropriate beliefs and attitudes regarding the nature of the ultimate ground and sanction of the moral obligations that devolve in his life. Morality and religion are closely connected with each other. Religious experience is as old as smiling and weeping, loving and forgiving. It is concerned with the elevation of human personality. Love for humanity and devotion are the genuine expressions of true religion. Religion springs from the spiritual constitution of man and we know that man is a composite being having mental, physical and spiritual aspects. This fourth constituent of philosophical outlook signifies that an individual has obligations not only for the society but also for the whole universe.

'Man is the common denominator with reference to which religions, philosophies, political and social ideologies and even science are tested'.[6] The common element that is associated with the above three-life, philosophy and philosophical outlook is the nature of human being. There are never ending controversies regarding man's nature. But it is clear that the change and development of an individual are physical, social as well as cultural. As he lives in a physical and social environment, he, at any rate cannot ignore others' individuality. With respect to the curiosity whether human life has any meaning W.H. Halverson has mentioned the theory of cosmic purpose. 'Everything that occurs in the world is part of a grand design, and that every individual human life derives its highest meaning from its participation in the whole.'[7] That's why the guiding force of each and every plan of individual life should be the philosophical outlook. To live as a real member of human society is ones duty and responsibility also.


1. George Thomas White Patrick and Frank Miller Chapman, Introduction to Philosophy, George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1961, p.8

2. D.D. Vadekar, A Philosophical Outlook in Life, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Souvenir Vol. (ed. ) Darshana International, Moradabad, India 1964, p.475

3. Ibid., p.486

4. W.H. Halverson, A Concise Introduction to Philosophy, Random House, New York, 1976, p.416

5. Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought, (New York and Toronto: Mentor Books, 1933, p.126) as quoted in A Concise Introduction to Philosophy, W. H. Halverson, Random House, New York, 1976, p.413

6. S. Radhakrishnan and P.T. Raju, (ed.), The Concept of Man (a study in comparative philosophy), Indus 1995, p.16

7. Ibid., p.23

© Sanchita Bora 2007

Department of Philosophy
Nowgong Girls' College
Nagaon, Assam