Tag Archives: goals

One big, unsolvable problem

“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” –Kierkegaard

My second installment of Conversations with Yang has led me to another question:  Science and Philosophy may differ in their approach to problems, but what about the life of the scientist and the life of the philosopher?  How might the scientist and the philosopher differ in approaching life?

As evident from my last post, Yang would rather work on solvable problems for a living, whereas i would rather devote my time to unsolvable problems.  If each approach seems to offer its own set of advantages, and you desire both, then the logical course of action would be to work on both solvable and unsolvable problems.

So Yang would break down a big, unsolvable problem into smaller, solvable ones so she can have some kind of ROI, so to speak.  And we’ve already seen that that’s not possible in doing philosophy.

But what if “life” were modeled this way?  What if philosophy could be my unsolvable problem, and i had other, solvable problems to work through on the side?

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questions on the loo, issue #5: “People who know what they want.”

You see that remark everywhere.  Anywhere from job listings to online personals, people are always seeking those who know what they want.  I never quite understood what this might mean.  How could anyone not know what they want?  I know what i want, and those around me know what they want (assuming they are being honest with me).  You might not know how to get what you want, but how could you not know what you want?  It baffles me, really, and the next time i see that phrase, i am going to email whoever wrote it and ask what they mean by it.  

This is something that has been bugging for quite some time now, but i was prompted to write a post about it because this exact issue came up in my Ethics lecture the other day.  My Ethics professor, my wonderfully brilliant Ethics professor, of all people, used that seemingly meaningless phrase, “some people don’t know what they want.”  In Book I Chapter VII of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle discusses the search for a self-sufficient good, a final end, the one thing we aim at.  His assumption is that you could be aiming at something, but not be sure what you’re aiming at.  My question is, if you don’t even see the target, how could you be aiming at it?  That would be like someone handing me a bow and arrow and telling me to shoot at the red circle when there isn’t one.  In any case, the question that naturally follows from Aristotle’s proposition that some people don’t know what they’re after is, how do you tell what you’re really after?  One way is to get it first and then figure out if that’s what you’d been wanting, he says.  The only way to know what you’re after is to blindly go after something, get it, and then see if you’re satisfied with it.  If you are, that’s what you had been wanting.  But if humanity really did function in this primitive trial and error method, we wouldn’t get so far now, would we?  

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Filed under culture, language, philosophy, questions on the loo