Aristotle’s Ethics – Happiness and the Good Life

“Happiness depends on ourselves.” More than anyone else in the early canon, Aristotle wanted to understand how we can live and good live, and how we can know we are living a good one. So, what do you think? Are you living a good life? Are you aware of what you are doing to gain and maintain that life? I would like to think so, but I have always believed that being happy with our lives and loving ourselves is the hardest thing we can do.

Often within philosophy, we seem to want to ask the most cliche question of “what is your purpose?” To wit, we almost always never have a satisfactory answer. In fact, four thousand years of philosophy from all cultures and belief systems have deigned to answer the question at hand. So, what is the meaning of life? Is it virtue over vice? Is it living in a oneness with nature? Is it something much more esoteric?

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) wanted us to look at happiness as a life lived for the cultivation of virtue, or one living in conjunction with what we know to be right and good. This is not simply doing the right thing, but living the right way, questioning what needed to be questioned and thinking through all our situations. This is difficult and presents a problem because we do focus on in today’s society through the concept of “doing good” as a notion of doing one thing right at a time. The problem I see is that we don’t focus on the nature of how we live a good life, as much as how we can somehow do good here and there. Those instances of “good” are supposed to add up to a good life or a habit of good, but how do they translate?

One example that I like is the notion of “pay it forward”. On the whole, this is a wonderful idea. One pays for their own bill and the person in line next to them with the assumption that somewhere down the line, there is someone who deeply needs the break over the bill for coffee, or a sandwich, or whatever.  It’s hard to find fault in this, right? I think what Aristotle would have done with this is question why people behind the first ‘forward payer’ give at all. Is it out of joy that we are paying for others, or is it guilt at not being the person to break the line of payers, which can become quite staggeringly long. On top of that, how many people walk out of line with their coffee and then adjust their mentality of life to help others? Certainly, it has happened. I may be a cynic, but I am not so much so that I think no one is affected. What Aristotle would want of us is to make that good act a habit, and I think that I have not seen it become a habit in this world.

How do we make doing good a habit? Aristotle thought we were a blank slate or tabula rosa when we were born. That made us uniquely able to mold our lives to whatever aim we wish to achieve. We are able to start over, not necessarily through knowledge, but through good acts toward each other coming from the soul, or in other terms, organic experiences. If happiness depends on what we do coming in from ourselves, then we would need organic and authentic acts of good to help us be happy. Think about that next time you are encouraged to do good. Does the act come from yourself, or outside yourself? Can you encourage those habits of simple acts of kindness to bleed into you and become the norm from which you exercise judgment?

I am going to use Aristotle’s notions of good and the good life in a series because he had lots of thoughts about it that are still relevant today. Keep your eyes peeled. Though not too much, at the rate that I get these out, your eyes will be quite dry if you keep them open.

Plato’s Ideal

We all have ideas of things that sit in our minds and captivate us. It may be the perfect Christmas where it is snowing, you are inside with a roaring fire crackling with dry douglas fir wood, making the house smell like evergreen and light wood smoke. The dog is by the fire, and it is cold outside. Everyone is reading and all is right with the world. This, by the way, is my ideal of a Christmas day. It is what I see when I close my eyes and think about what I want.

Though it is a simplistic form of Plato’s idea, it stands as a working example. Plato, while trying to understand the world around him in a pre-scientific world, came to understand, or believe that all things are modeled after a single ideal version of the real. That, by extension, means that all that we know to be real are nothing more than the shadow versions of things and poor fakes for the real and ideal versions that exist in a real and ideal world.

It is kind of an interesting concept. We all have a referent for objects and items that we have experienced, or in some cases, fantasize about. The perfect trip, the perfect wedding, the perfect life, and while those are mostly abstract, we are fed a version of the ideal that we may never actually get, though we strive for. Thanks, Hollywood. all joking aside, I want you to consider an object, in class, we discussed the ideal tree. It seems silly, but consider what you view as the ideal form of a tree. What is a tree to you? What do you see? It may be based on a real-life tree, but is somehow more than real, it embodies all trees, it is the model that all trees are based off. Plato would have called this the ideal if it existed for real. It is your ideal, but ideal none-the-less.  Yours is different than mine, and mine different than anyone else, but they are all trees be they maple, cedar, fir, palm, or ironwood. Somehow we all understand that trees are modeled off of something greater than what we see when we see a tree.

Understand that this thought was proposed 2,500 years ago, and the world felt different than what we would recognize. In some places, the only writing that was meant to be kept was carved into clay and baked. That was writing, not cell phones, not tablets, not even that letter you get from your grandma at Christmas lamenting the fact that no one writes in cursive anymore. Later, Aristotle would happily debunk his former master’s ideas and come up with his own understanding of forms and the understanding of nature, but Plato’s ideas were very tempting to those who mostly lived a hand-to-mouth life. Living was very uncertain and a concept that considered something higher and better lay beyond was and remains quite tempting.

What do you view as an ideal of something, like a tree? What experience or reference do you have for that view of the world? What could change your ideal perspective of that object?

Rules -Kant’s Rationalism

This particular philosophy post is not going to be concerned with just a single philosopher, but more a few with opposing viewpoints. Since civilization was created, we have been looking at controlling ourselves as well as others to curb vice and excess. We, as a people, have always struggled with doing the “right thing” as often as possible, or always, depending on who you talk to.

So, how do we do the right thing? What is the right thing? Why do we value integrity as a high virtue and not, say, manipulation or guile? Beyond the point that integrity is focused on the people outside of ourselves, and manipulation is focused on ourselves, or our own gain, beyond the religious reasons for being a good person, beyond even the satisfaction we gain when we help others, some philosophers–such as ours for today–have debated the nature of morality and rational decision making.

We may rely on religion or society to tell us it is wrong to kill others, and the rules may prevent us, but what about if you were presented with the need to kill in order to save many? What if stealing from the rich saves the poor?

Or consider this: Our societal rules say it is wrong to commit suicide, but we glorify those who sacrifice themselves to save others. Even though they are committed for various reasons, we could argue that you are putting yourself in danger of death in either instance. Why do we demonize one, and glorify the other? Socrates, the Ancient Greek philosopher you will remember from earlier posts was condemned to death by his peers and drank hemlock which led to an unpleasant and long death. This suicide, instead of being demonized, was upheld as an act of humility and sacrifice, even though he killed himself.

If you say that rules we (and you) make are meant to be kept you may agree with Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804). He postulated through his noted idea called the Categorical Imperative (it’s important to realize that something that is categorical is something that happens in every instance. It is universal and stable. An Imperative is a command.). The categorical imperative (or CI from here on out) is a way to reason through our rules and laws. It states roughly that we should not make a maxim or rule for our lives unless it is a rule that you can follow no matter what, in every instance.

The CI is universal and impartial. It does not change according to different places and different customs but stays constant or categorical. Note: to Kant, he did not suggest that we do live this way, or our state laws are organized into these rules, but that we ought to live in accordance with our CIs that we set for ourselves. the ought is important here. For example, if you want to go to college, you ought to do well in school, if you wanted money, you ought to get a job.

While these if-then statements are technically called hypothetical imperatives that are dependent on you and your desire, the following of them is dependent on you fulfilling you CI obligations. Naturally, these imperatives are not frivolously made or imposed on the spot but are made with lots of thought and questioning as to possible outcomes.

Kant was a rationalist, meaning he tried to impose reason and order to all facets of life, which more often than not become confusing. It’s important to realize that Kant may or may not have been an atheist. I have not found any mention of a God in his CI, and religion is hard to tangle with when we are talking about rationalism and what we can prove. Religion, by itself, is dependent on belief which revolves around mystery and acceptance without specific evidence. Kant probably found this hard to swallow since he sought out an explanation for it all. After all, that’s how philosophy was back in the 18th Century. More than all this, Kant took morality and doing good to do good pretty seriously. He knew that if we left morality strictly to religion, those rules are going to differ quite a lot depending on what religion we subscribe to. He wanted something more and a constant.

Certainly, rule-following changes per person. Some of us just love breaking the rules of society, but few of us have no internal rules that we subscribe to. Few of us also have little concern for others. We may posture to try and look tough or like stuff doesn’t bother us, but it is the rare person who truly doesn’t care about others, at least in some way. We know we ought to treat people well, but, darn it, sometimes it’s hard to treat bullies and jerks like people, but we know we have to because they are people. This is a moral law. The fact that we avoid them rather than spend time with those bullies that hurt us is an example of a hypothetical, or ought to internal rule.

Before I am done, I want you to understand the two ways that the CI is understood. Kant wrote about four, but I think two are the most popular and easiest to understand.

  1. We should act in accordance to that maxim or law (or rule) which we can at the same time as doing the act will (as in willpower) that it should be a universal law without contradiction (or categorical). So, we have to consider the particular rule we should follow for the action we are about to undertake. For example, you forget your coffee at home and need some. When passing my classroom on your way your first-period class, you see I have tons of espresso and I am out of my room talking with students down the hall. It’ll be easy to pop in and make an espresso, and no one will be the wiser. So, whether you can get away with stealing is easy to answer, but the moral question surrounds stealing itself is that which you need to weigh. If you say that stealing is bad, then it is bad as a rule, categorically. Otherwise, you stealing my coffee means that others can as well, then I have no coffee and rage on my classes when my caffeine levels drop.
  2. We should always treat humanity as an end and never a means.  To use something as a means is to use something/someone for your own benefit. Now, I use things as a means all the time. My coffee mug, though tiny, is a means to an end, which is getting espresso into my tummy. If it cracks, I would stop using it and grab an equally small espresso cup to replace it. I do not do the same thing with people, however. My cup is used only for espresso. You have free will and your own motives. You can’t be used for such.

Ultimately, Kant’s rules are hard to follow with larger issues. You may lie to help someone or save their life, even though we know you should not lie. But what the CI gives us is a framework to try and live a good life, hence the use of the word ought. 

A Piece of Chalk – G. K. Chesterton

This lovely meandering essay is really a good example of the style of reflection that both reflects the way the mind works, as well as shows us how formal the informal method of writing was in the 1800’s. After going on a nice walk in the Sussex countryside with him, I think we decided that he was either funny and odd, or super bizarre and you wished your time with him was long gone. But, even though Chesterton (1874-1936) was an odd duck, his reflections were worth note. Both this and Dillard’s essays encourage us to do one thing: observe. Though we are probably sick of being told to observe more (this is not really a cell phone issue with me, but a seeing issue) it is something that we need to constantly be reminded to do though we become complacent.

I remember when I was deployed to the Middle East. When we left the base we were on (whatever it happened to be) there was always a large sign on the way out. It had spray painted words and a skull drawn with various levels of skill and gore. The words were: Complacency Kills. If we did not observe, it had every chance of killing us because we may miss a roadside bomb or sunlight glinting off a sniper’s scope. The stakes are much lower for us here, but the implication is the same. If we do not observe what is around us, we run the risk of not living in the world we live in.

Chesterton prepares for his walk well. He grabs his chalk including the all-important white chalk, the losing of which becomes a distressing problem that allows us to explore his mind. Chesterton was a devout Catholic, but one that believes that the church didn’t need to be stuffy or snooty to accomplish its meaning. It’s important to realize that in his time, the institutions of the church were very focused on the act of church over the content of church. The meaning was often lost in the bowing and scraping of the liturgy. When he spends his time describing the power of the color white, not just the absence of color, but the essential meaning of all color, and most powerful of the bunch of colors in his mind, he seems to check himself.

We saw this deep into the short essay when he reflects on white reflecting that of Joan of Arc and the power of white within sexuality and the gorgiocity of white then when he seems to get too high and mighty brings himself down to our level once again so we are not lost. “Meanwhile I could not find my chalk.” Chesterton is playing with us and bringing us along on his walk, and into his mind. For better and worse, but it really is relatable since we often think in jumps and turns moving from something important to some other thing that is not important at all.

Ultimately the digression trying to find the missing chalk leads Chesterton to the realization that what he really wanted was underneath him all along. If he would simply just look around him and notice what he was sitting on, he would not have had to discuss all the matters he spent the time doing. We could have just drawn the soul of the cow.

Considering the soul of the cow I am left with this: Plato wrote that there were essentially various forms of things, the form we see, and that which is its true form, the one we can only see if we think and consider. This is what we think of as the soul of the thing. It is the aspect we can only imagine and consider rather than know.

When we write, we attempt to get to the soul of the matter. For Chesterton, the soul of the countryside was a divide between the chalk at his feet and the slow meandering way we can experience it all if we only try. What is the soul of what you write about? What is the soul of where you live?

Descartes – Cartesian Doubt

Rene Descartes (1596-1650 A.D) was a very strange man. According to our standards of normalcy, he would have seemed strange, that is. He was a natural philosopher in an age of philosophers that spent their time doubting all around them (not really God, of course, unless you expected and wanted the Inquisition…but no one expects them). Descartes (pronounced DAY-cart) was important as a philosopher because he helped turn the process of doubt and understanding into a systematic approach that allowed him to apply the same or similar lines of questioning on different issues he wanted to understand.

It is important to clarify that the point of doubting as a philosophical process was not necessarily taken in order to be contrary or do that renaissance equivalent to Uh-Huh and Na-uh we see children doing when someone says something unbelievable, but the process of systematic doubt was taken to greater understand the concept and abstract idea that the questioner is trying to understand.

Here is how the method goes:

  1. Accept as fact only those things you know to be categorically true. By categorically, I mean those things that are true in every instance or situation that you can test. Example, we can know that gravity is present because we have yet to experience a moment where the effects of gravity are broken. I am not meaning the bending of the limits such as on the vomit comet where you experience weightlessness, that is a manipulation of the environment to stretch gravity, not undermine the law.
  2. Simplify the truth you are considering into smaller truths. Descartes tried to consider whether he can know he exists as a body. He broke that into understanding the truth of having a mind and the truth of understanding the body. By breaking existence into smaller segments, he can isolate falsehood easier and understand the intricacies of a larger issue through its constituent parts.
  3. Start simple. By solving the simple problems first, you can engage in the harder ones knowing that the earlier conditions have already been met. Beyond that, like the scientific method, if an earlier condition proves problematic, or false, it is much easier to amend your notion and thought when the problems are simpler, rather than when you are considering life-shattering ideas.
  4. List. When you make a list of further problems you may encounter or issues that are sort of related, then you have the ability to be flexible or consider outside situations that may not have popped up before in your earlier considerations.

Now, let’s make an example out of this. Though Descartes used this method most famously for an understanding of himself through the phrase cogito ergo sum I think, Therefore I am (literally, I have the ability to think and because of that, I know that at least my mind exists). You may be thinking that this is similar to the scientific method you have learned for many years in school.

Assume you have a large problem that is looming over your head that you cannot seem to find a solution to or a way out of. What do you do? We often just let the stress build until we make a rash decision, but is that the best alternative to answering the problem? Usually not. We often don’t make good decisions when worried or stressed. But, using the Cartesian method what we can do is think about the consequences of various scenarios within the main problem at hand. If you can anticipate consequences, it is much easier to think through the correct steps. The military uses similar logic when training their officers and leaders. Break down the problem, assess the situation, and check off key pieces to all the issues in the main problem. This is how soldiers are so good at reacting to ambushes or challenging moral dilemmas. What will happen if you do something? What could happen if you do not? What other pieces of the puzzle will be affected?

Though Descartes used the method to try and break down the larger existential meaning behind the existence of God and of the implications of having a body and a working mind.

Living Like Weasels – Annie Dillard

Weasel! Let’s go on our own walk with Annie Dillard and see what we can forage from this essay.

Initially let’s look at the language. It’s worth considering all the language she uses to make us feel and mold our way of thinking to see the weasel from her perspective. We start with a four-word sentence. “The weasel is wild” is seemingly unimportant, but the first sentence in an essay is of supreme importance. It set’s the tone and content of the essay. We are tricked into thinking that the sentences here will be easy to follow. We saw that was far from the truth. Three sentences later we get a twenty-three-word sentence that expands on the content of the first. This back and forth between short and long syntax will keep the observant reader on their toes, and make sure that they aren’t bored, even subconsciously.

This is a great lesson for the early writer. By changing your sentence structure and size, you are keeping things interesting on multiple levels. It allows you to tease your reader with seemingly unimportant sentences such as “The weasel is wild.” Duh. We know he is wild. However, as we dig in, the wildness becomes an understatement, as well as a lament.

The chief concern in this essay is that we are not wild, and Dillard wants us to be. It would allow us to connect with the world in a much more meaningful way. Does that mean that she is advocating for us all to give everything up and move into the wilderness to live like a wild animal? No. But that does not mean we cannot connect to the world around us. Henry David Thoreau famously wrote when he was out walking in the mid 19th century, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” and here, Annie Dillard is repeating it in a way that is much more modern, and much easier to digest than Thoreau’s rambling thoughts. She is on a walk and chances a glance at a weasel. From that glance, she realizes that life can be more simple. Should be more simple. How do we make it simple? Do we give it all up? No. We just pay attention, which is much harder than it seems.

The weasel is tenacious. It is strong and resilient. It doesn’t give up. It observes what is around it. The story she tells of the naturalist who saw an eagle with a weasel skull still biting its throat is telling. Even in death, the weasel stays strong. There is the essay. Be like the weasel, be strong. When people pick their “spirit animals” in that fun game, whoever chooses the weasel. No one. They chose the eagle, the bear, the dog, the cat, the lion, the lamb. The weasel is left by the wayside, the last to be chosen for dodgeball (and he is only chosen because we have to choose everyone wanting to play dodgeball). Dillard asks us to consider the weasel as an option worth thinking about.


We are on the walk with Dillard. She asks us if we have ever seen one. If not, she is excited to tell us. “He was ten inches long, thin as a curve, as muscled ribbon, brown as fruitwood, soft-furred, alert.” Which, despite all, is a beautiful description. It’s easy to picture the weasel from that. Dillard then moves into the animal gaze. Jacques Derrida, sa french philosopher wrote in his book, The Animal that Therefore I Am wrote,

As with every bottomless gaze, as with the eyes of the other, the gaze called                         “animal” offers to my sight the abyssal limit of the human: the inhuman or the                   ahuman, the ends of man, that is to say, the bordercrossing from which                                 vantage man dares to announce himself to himself, thereby calling himself                           by the name that he believes he gives himself.”

What we can read out of Derrida that the gaze of the animal and human is an attachment to an older time when we were not so separate. Think about it. Even in the 1800’s when more people lived with the land, and off the land in a total way, we were more connected to animals in a primal and ancient way. We were more like animals. When you go farther back than that, we get more primal. When Dillard sees the eyes of the weasel she is forced to be reminded of what it used to be, and what life is for the weasel. “Our look was as if two lovers or deadly enemies met unexpectedly on an overgrown path when each had been thinking of something else: a clearing blow to the gut.” She was so surprised it made her jump and for an instant actually see what is in front of her rather than what she was thinking of. Later, she says, “I would like to learn, or remember, how to live.” but ultimately as the weasel moves on hurriedly, she realizes she is missing her chance. Are we also missing our chance to live deliberately? How do we take advantage of it. This is not necessarily a rant against technology or cell phones, but a desire to learn to live with all of it rather than with only one at a time.

About Me


Paul Warmbier is an essayist, memoirist, teacher, and woodworker living in McMinnville, Oregon. His essays have appeared in various journals and outlets from The Lutheran Hour – Thred, Punctuate, Allegory Ridge, Under the Sun, and Watershed Review. Paul earned his MFA in Creative Non-Fiction from the University of Idaho in 2017 where he was the assistant Non-Fiction editor of the Fugue Journal. Paul is the author of Geometry of Fire a memoir exploring his time in the Marine Corps Infantry deployed to Iraq in 2004 and 2005, coming home to deal with PTSD and the social stigma surrounding mental health disorders.

Additionally, Paul writes essays about the act of creation and creativity in the woodshop as well as on the page. Currently, Paul is a High School Language Arts and Creative Writing teacher in Dayton, Oregon.


Geometry of Fire


“An Enemy We Created” – McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

“Added Weight”- Watershed Review

“Rubble and Rot” – Under the Sun

“A Fall in Zion” – Allegory Ridge

“A Sanctuary of Wood” – Punctuate.


A Vision of His Life Years After Torture”  Linerider Press

Sartre – The Curse of Being Free

downloadLike Socrates much before him, he understood the terrible weight of being a free thinking person. By free thinking, I mean that you are able to control your mind, and are in full possession of your faculties. They belong to no one else. You may have to do certain things such as go to school, do your chores, or go to church because your parents want you to, but those are things that society throws at us and are given meaning by us for good or bad.

However, when we get to the age of autonomy and go off on our own into the world, all those things we were told to do become our own responsibility. We become unshackled by our parents and become shackled to the choices that WE make. Those choices define our very “essence” or being. They are our essence because we place importance on them and allow them to guide our lives. Those we do not have no meaning, and in a way do not exist to our essences.

This will be a short post because what Sartre said is what your parents try to tell you all the time. Be responsible. You are responsible for your own life. We hear it all the time, and I have begun to think it with my kid.

It is easy to think that Sartre thinks there is no meaning to the world, and we are doomed to the depths of existential hell for our lack of meaning, but that is not the case at all. Really, the meaning is on that which we place on it, and not on that which has no importance to us individually. The burden of your choices rests firmly on your shoulders and only on your shoulders here. If you think about that deeply, it has incredible implications for those in power and how they treat others. What that burden gives us, besides freedom is anguish or angst. When we are stressed about our situation it is because we know, whether we chose to acknowledge it or not, that getting out of the problem rests on us and only on us. Sartre thought that each choice we make defines us and reveals to us what we think humans are, and what humans should be.

It is important to place some historical context within the world of Sartre when he was writing this and coming up with his philosophy of existentialism. In the early days of World War 2, Sartre and many other philosophers in France were called to national service to protect France from the invading Nazis. Many were killed, and many others, including Sartre, were captured by the Germans and sent to prison camps to wait out the end of the war. From this came a preoccupation with being free and exercising freedom to a degree that some may see as excessive or obsessive, but it is hard to imagine what our reactions would be were we taken prisoner by the most destructive ideology that humanity has ever seen.

Phenomenology: Husserl and Some Context

Phenomenological-PsychologyIn my last brief intro to phenomenology, or the philosophical study of events and our processing and understanding, I set up just the main idea of what that strange long word was. In this post, I want to elaborate on the process of thinking through perception and how we come to any meaning. You may remember or go back to re-read how in the late 1800’s and the early to mid-1900’s the thought process of philosophy changed slightly from trying to prove that God exists (or doesn’t) or that our bodies are just figments of our imaginations. Ultimately, that proved futile for the early philosophers, and they were mostly, thankfully convinced of at least their own existence. God, however, is still up in the air among certain folks, and will probably always be due to the necessity of belief over certainty through provable fact.

When Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) laid out his thoughts on this new metaphysics (metaphysical means literally “beyond or after physics” and was a process that evaluated and questioned knowledge and the accumulation of knowledge) he did so under a stressor of grief. He had just lost a son.

He was a professor of philosophy in several places but settled in Freiburg in Breisgau, a university in southern Germany. During the first World War Husserl lost one of his sons, a very commonplace problem to have at that time, and one, as you can imagine that changed him as a person.

If you have been in my World Lit class where we talked about “All Quiet on the Western Front,” you will have been subjected to the sheer weight of numbers of dead and injured during the “war to end all wars.” The German Empire lost almost three million people. That was just about 4% of their entire population. Think about that for a second. If the United States lost 4% of our population that would be over 13 million. That would be just about the whole populations of New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Portland, and Seattle. The whole populations. This was not to count the more than 4 million wounded. This was devastating for the German people, and there was almost no house that was not affected by the destruction.

Through this intensity, Husserl, already a noted thinker, began his thought process that focused on events, or reaction to events. He focused on the events that happened all around him instead of thinking about our “beingness”  and the other larger cosmological powers the soul may entail. Over time, the body became an anonymous and nonimportant thought experiment. It was a vessel that housed a mind and soul. The body and our place took less importance than the event, and the attention paid instead to how the body in unity with the mind influenced and perceived the specific event. This may seem a silly distinction. In fact, you may never have doubted the power of your body before. You may have grown up in a family or church that placed immense value on the body as a thing that is unique and powerful. However, this was not common before the 20th century.

Before the 20th and 21st centuries, our bodies were far worse off than they are now. They were wracked with diseases we now have vaccines for. Sixty was an old age. People were told that the body was an uncontrollable machine that got their soul into trouble and made them give into desires, they were also told that they were mainly owned by the state. the German idea of Fatherland (or the Russian Motherland) dictated that one should ignore their selfish desires for greatness or individuality, and instead sacrifice themselves for the country. The last example was what Husserl and other early 20th century thinkers were up against. It was an idea that was on the way out, but still influential (see: World War 2).

I want you to do another experiment with me. It is simple and will only take a moment. After reading this, I want you to close your eyes and focus everything you can on your senses. Not thinking about anything but trying to focus. When I do this, I begin to feel and hear differently. I begin to live through my body, not just within it. Reach out and touch something focusing not on what you are touching, but first what sensation you feel. How do your fingertips feel? I am grasping my coffee cup and without thinking about my obvious caffeine addiction or how I want more,  but on what it felt to feel the warmth of the cup, how my fingertips tingled with the new stimulus and my nose began to register the latte even more than normal. Rather than the typical “the mug is soft and warm” answer, I focus on my contact.

This was a phenomenon that has meaning for me. Again, look at what you touched. My mug of coffee is indeed on the desk in my home office, in McMinnville, but that description does not include me (even though I am assumed present) instead, phenomenologically, Husserl would have included that the mug was to my left about two feet from my hand. Though I am not the center of the world here, I (and my sensations)  am the center of my world as well as phenomena that happen to me happen in relation to me. I gauge things from my own body and not some anonymous empty space. Again, I want you to think about the next time you talk to a stranger, it could be a short conversation in a cue waiting for something (though as Americans, we are terrible about not talking to strangers in cue, even though it can be quite nice) or you could be meeting someone intentionally for the first time. I want you to think later about how you stood, how your voice wavered or changed depending on the person. If it is someone we are attracted to, our body changes and we stutter or we smile more or we get shy and turn red. All those things are perhaps unintentional mentally but are bodily reactions to phenomena.

Don’t worry if this is confusing. I will be elaborating on these concepts with future posts on Heidegger and Sartre/Beauvoir.

Husserl lived and taught in Germany all his professional life. He helped pupils like a young strange man called Martin Heidegger develop and change his philosophy, and taught many over his life that went back to their homes and other universities and turned phenomenology from a strange sounding series of ideas to a philosophy that we, today, are so used to that we don’t even think of them as a philosophy. Husserl changed the world from his small Bavarian university and made the individual important again. Like I said, we will talk more about phenomenology and its change to existentialism in the hands of the French, but, I am beyond my allotted space for this single post. Until next time.

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