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Patty Popp

HONORS 394
March 9th, 2018
Final Paper: My Personal Philosophy

Metaphysics

The branch of philosophy pertaining to metaphysics explores the nature of concepts like
being, existence, and reality. These are inherently difficult topics to address due to their abstract
nature, but this course has helped open my eyes to their intrinsic multidimensionality and the role
that they have played throughout our society’s tumultuous history.

Growing up, my grandparents were religious, but my parents and I never really went to
church. My parents immigrated to the United States from post-Communist Romania when I was
just a few months old with a single suitcase and an extreme amount of courage that I admire to
this day. My parents took a huge leap of faith moving here and they had no reliable safety net to
catch them if their plan inevitably backfired. They left Romania with hopes of creating a better
life for themselves and with the intent of providing me with more opportunities growing up, and
for that I am eternally grateful. For the almost twenty years that we have been in this country, my
parents have worked extremely hard to get to the place where they are today and I, subsequently,
have felt the need to strive for the best in all that I do in order to make them proud and prove to
them that their sacrifices were worth it.

Perhaps it was because we had physically distanced ourselves from our original source of
religion, or perhaps it was because we had seen firsthand the tangible effects of our hard work,
drive, and persistence, but collectively, as a family, we do not characterize ourselves as
“religious”. I never particularly felt attracted to the idea of fate because it quite frankly scares
me. The notion that there is even the remotest of possibilities that regardless of how much I set
my mind to something or how hard I work at something, there is some predestined path set out
for me that I cannot control or alter, disturbs me. As a computer scientist, I am used to giving
commands, in the form of lines of code, to my computer and expecting predictable, deterministic
results. If the computer outputs something unexpected then I, the programmer, must have done
something wrong. In computer science, and in life in general, I take full responsibility for the
consequences of my actions, both those that are positive and those that are negative. I feel a
sense of comforting security in this as I can work constructively towards my goals – if I fail to
successfully accomplish one of my objectives at a particular moment in time, then I adopt a
growth mindset and reflect on how I could do things differently the next time such that I could
bring about different results. Life is all about debugging – things are bound to go wrong but
recovering from those complications is what ultimately builds character.

I believe that my computer science background pushes me to think in concretes and


absolutes, and because of this, I cannot say that I believe in a higher being, per se. In the debate
between faith and reason, I definitely find myself falling on the reason end of the spectrum, but
like essentially all aspects of life, balance is extremely key. Although I believe that reason and
logic can go a long way, I often find myself having faith in the fact that things are going to work
out in the end. I believe things do, indeed, happen for a reason. No, I am not talking about there
being some fundamental, metaphysical significance behind my accidentally knocking a glass
over or my getting a streak of entirely green lights on the way home from work, but I do believe
that many aspects of life do have an innate purpose or meaning which can be justified. We are
not just mindless beings fumbling around in a meaningless world – there is an underlying sense
of purposefulness which is intangible, but very much present in the lives we lead. Over the
course of my life thus far, there have been countless instances of my finding myself in situations
in which despite my initial preconceptions of which outcome would be best, I end up being
extremely grateful for the way things ultimately pan out. Sometimes an outcome which seemed
disappointing at first, ends up being the best thing that could have ever possibly happened.
Accepting and coming to terms with this fact requires putting faith into and trusting in life’s
ability to work itself out.

At the end of the day, I respect the fact that people have different personal, religious
beliefs and this course has allowed me to gain a better understanding of the importance of faith,
the telos of transcendence, and man’s complicated relationship with God. The human being’s
place within the greater cosmos really just ties back to the notion of the social imaginary, or our
cultural linguistic download. The fact that the world that I see and experience is one without an
all-knowing higher power, does not mean that a higher power does not exist – it just depends on
the world view that you were acculturated in. In this regard, I am not put off by the beliefs that
others hold, but I do believe that regardless of which end of the religious spectrum one lies, it is
important to achieve balance – to not get too deeply immersed into one’s pseudo social
imaginary bubble and fail to see the validity of both opinions. Naïve consciousness is a
dangerous trap to fall into and it is our moral imperative as citizens of this world and as a
thoughtful public to be purposeful in the things that we do and be open to the possibility of
difference.

Epistemology

Truth and knowledge are two concepts that we all tend to take for granted but are
inherently part of our everyday lives. From our demonstration of knowledge in an academic
setting to the promises we make or break in social settings, these two concepts are intricately
interwoven into the lives that we lead, and this motivates my defining them.

It is difficult to effectively define criteria for determining what can be characterized as


truth, since the notion of “truth” has such gravity and weight in our society and therefore, also
has such vast connotations and interpretations across different groups of people. For the sake of
addressing my philosophy on this loaded question, I will first begin by saying that I believe that
“truth” is not something that is up for interpretation – when I think of truth, I think of this deep,
objective truth that does not depend per person, but rather is a stand-alone entity that conveys
information that is not up for debate. Truth, in this sense, is somewhat sacred. As soon as one’s
personal beliefs or values come into play, one’s judgement, and thus intake of the information, is
clouded and he or she is no longer seeing the truth for what it really is. When the real truth gets
obfuscated and one’s ideals are imposed, the truth becomes corrupted. This misconstruing of
truth is what ultimately leads to conflict in societies, as people get caught up in their own
personal delusions or fantasies, each convinced that the filter through which they are seeing the
world is the filter that provides the most accurate approximation of the truth. This is a dangerous
assumption to make as there should be no such thing as an “approximation” or an
“interpretation” of the truth – the truth exists and should not be influenced by prior
preconceptions – people must let truth disclose itself to them, rather than seek to uncover truth,
because that is when bias creeps in.

Knowledge is another unwieldy beast to consider. How can we characterize that which is
knowable or what it is someone knows? I believe that there is a common misconception that
knowledge and belief are synonymous and can be used interchangeably, but this is not the case.
What one knows is inherently tied to what one knows to be true, what one believes is inherently
tied to one’s personal opinions, values, etc., and therefore, belief tends to be more subjective than
knowledge. For example, I know the sky is blue, but I believe that women and men should get
equal pay. More often than not, knowledge is tied back to some concrete, binary truth – either
you know something, or you do not – whereas belief is tied back to some subjective ideal that
may or may not be based in reality. For example, some might find these characterizations of truth
and knowledge to be too harsh, but I am not claiming to know the right answer, I am claiming to
hold certain beliefs that may or may not align with your view. In saying that I believe something,
I am acknowledging the fact that due to my natural left-dominant, serpent leanings, I might be
approaching these topics with an inherent, unavoidable bias, and therefore make a conscious
effort to not impose my beliefs upon others or try to falsely pass it off as knowledge or truth.

Truth and knowledge, in this case, can be thought of as absolutes. Truth and knowledge
get disclosed to an audience, but one must not let personal beliefs or emotions interfere with his
or her intake of the information presented to them. However, with all of this talk of absolutes, I
think it is important to clarify that one cannot fully realize the truth or obtain all that is knowable
by just locking themselves inside of a library and reading all of the books inside. This was a
mistake that the men from Love’s Labour’s Lost made in thinking that they could transcend their
social imaginary by removing all of the superfluous distractions of life and devote themselves
entirely to their studies. This was a grave misconception on their part, as it is life’s multifaceted
nature that holds the root of all knowledge and unearths the really Real. This also goes to explain
why I think machines can never fully replace humans, because machines cannot have true human
experiences and therefore, cannot really embody that which is fundamentally and authentically
human. Will Hunting was another character that was convinced that he was well-versed in life
because he had an eidetic memory and could recite passages from ancient texts or solve
complicated math problems without much thought. Sean was quick to point out that he does not
actually know the things that he claims to know – being able to recite a Shakespearean sonnet
does not mean that Will was attune to the deep, moving power of love – and it is in this, we
discover that truth and knowledge come from experiencing life to its fullest and being receptive
and open to the truths that naturally bubble up to the surface, if one allows them to. One must not
take the idiosyncrasies and intricate details of life for granted, but rather embrace them and in
doing so, increase their potential to better obtain that which is knowable.

Ethics

Ethics is defined as the moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior. Like
all of the topics that are up for discussion, there are numerous directions in which I can choose to
take this, but I will primarily focus on what constitutes a good life for myself and for those
around me.

I believe Kierkegaard said it best when he claimed that a life successfully lived is
authentic in the sense that the individual’s center grows into something solid and true. Life
constantly confronts you with choices that require life-defining commitments – either you choose
a path that leads to your becoming your authentic self, or you remain in despair. This ties back to
what I was saying earlier about how it is up to us to create our own destiny and to put in the
necessary work if we desire different results. Sometimes, like in the case of my parents, this
requires a leap of faith – a choice that involves an openness to one’s interior infinity of
possibility. The confrontation with this choice can be terrifying, but also extremely liberating.
When I was younger, I was easily influenced by those around me and this ultimately led to me
falling into a brief episode of depression. I felt helpless and not in control of my own life –
whenever even the smallest of things went wrong, I wound up feeling trapped under a never-
ending wave of confrontation. I felt like I was drowning underneath this distorted image of
myself, being forced to come face to face with my many flaws, imperfections, and problems, and
this was because I did not have a firm enough grounding in my own personal beliefs and
opinions.

This was not a healthy place to be and if I learned anything of late, I would say that life is
short and fleeting, so there is no value in dwelling on past events or having regrets about having
done something differently. I often found myself being glum about the past or anxiously
awaiting the future, but only recently have I taken it upon myself to be more conscientious and
actively live in the moment. I know that I am far from perfect, but I can be confident in the fact
that I am truly and genuinely myself. I am grateful for all of the amazing people and
opportunities around me for helping me get to the place where I am today. I see each day as a
chance to improve and better myself, because at the end of the day, life is ultimately the sum of
the risks you have taken and the decisions you have made, and I wish to have minimal regrets.
That is why I strive towards achieving a balance in life in which I get to take part in things that
are important to me, such as spending time with family and friends, learning new things,
challenging myself, hiking, traveling, exercising, listening to music, and embracing all of the
beautiful aspects that this wonderful world has to offer.

I try not to get too bogged down in one particular part of life, because then I fall
susceptible to losing touch with the bigger picture. Individual puzzle pieces, in and of
themselves, do not provide any inherent value, but in putting together these pieces, we can see
the true masterpiece unfold. I take responsibility for my actions and I see failure as an
opportunity for growth and learning. I set clear goals and am motivated and determined to put in
the work necessary to achieve them. This shift in perspective has greatly improved my outlook
on life and I can finally feel reassured in the decisions I make – both those that are based on
calculated and thorough analysis and those that are more spontaneous and impulsive. I am no
longer a helpless bystander, but rather I am someone who is in control of the life I lead and as a
result, I tend to seek out opportunities that make me happy, allow me to fully enjoy life, and help
set me on the right path to fully realize my potential.
Because of this mentality, I believe that it is important for others to also determine what it
is they are passionate about and to not be afraid to chase after their dreams. Hard work and
dedication will pay off in the end and if you are content with what it is you are doing, then what
more could you ask for?

Aesthetics

Earlier in the quarter when we began talking about left vs. right dominant people and the
serpent-dove spectrum, I immediately identified with the serpent description: I am shrewd, down
to earth, calculating, and practical. I am the type of the person that likes to have things planned
out in advance, that values making non-emotional decisions based on an objective weighing of
pros and cons, that enjoys having a reliable routine to follow, etc. The doves seemed too dreamy
and idealistic for me and I struggled to relate to their outlook on life, but upon further
consideration, I came to the realization that my opinion on aesthetics and beauty helps to provide
balance in an otherwise primarily left-dominant life. I am often the most responsible, mature, and
hard-working of my friends, but I never really gave it much thought. I always felt like somewhat
of an anomaly but attributed it to the fact that as a first-generation immigrant, there was an innate
part of me that felt the need to prove my worth and continued value to the people around me.
Perhaps due to the professional manner through which I present myself, I am often characterized
as a “worker bee” who would not have much to say about aesthetics. On the contrary, my
personal philosophy on aesthetics serves as a strong motivator for me in all that I do because it is
a personal belief of mine that one must not fail to appreciate all the nuanced intricacies that life
has to offer. And as I said earlier, this cannot be simply achieved through devoting oneself
exclusively to their work, rather one must venture outside of their comfort zone and experience
the world in its raw entirety.

Appreciating the simple things, like the way the rain hits my window pane in the evening
or the way that the warmth and aroma of my cup of tea tantalizes my lips at 7:00am every
morning, is extremely important to me because it is in these simple things through which I
discover beauty. One of the most powerful of these raw forces of beauty for me is love. Love has
this uncanny ability to creep into my life when I least expect it. It comes at me fast and all at
once like a sudden strike of lightning. It lights up my world in a way that I never knew to be
possible – an overwhelming sense of having just awoken from a deep slumber. It is the little
things – the way his eyes crinkle up at the edges when he laughs or the way that they light up
when he talks about something that he is passionate about or the way that the little flecks of gold
appear to dance inside of them when the sun hits them at just the right angle – that just cause me
to further fall victim to the cascading wave of love. But it is a comforting wave – one that
envelops me fully and touches my inner being, in a way that elicits the purest form of
contentedness and brings a smile to my face on even the dreariest of days. Funnily enough,
despite not believing in a higher power, the notion that love is an exception to our society’s
gradual disenchantment particularly rang true to me, as I have experienced the glimpse of
eternity that comes with being in love. It is as if time stops, all prior obligations or concerns
disappear, and I just feel fully and truly embedded in the moment. It is an almost other-worldly
experience because things that seemed impossible before now disclose themselves as possible. I
am at my happiest when I am in love because there is something special about having a
connection with someone that just so happens to be your best friend on such a deep, emotional
level and I would not trade that feeling for anything else in the world. Love makes me feel this
intense sense of vulnerability in which I am able to truly and utterly be myself. Love also has the
power to completely shake up my world at any moment in time, but that is part of the
extraordinariness of it – it is this feeling which makes me feel more alive than ever before,
constantly at the edge of my seat as I watch my life unfold before me.

Love takes many forms, however, and each form contributes something unique and
inherently novel to the table. For example, the love I feel for my parents and family is a love that
instantly warms my soul. When I think of my family, I immediately think of the interesting
conversations that we have engaged in, the cozy evenings sitting by the fireplace whilst reading,
the meals spent eating great food, the peaceful walks in the neighborhood with my dog, etc. and I
cannot help but value the wholesome purity of these moments. There is something inherently
beautiful about these experiences that we have shared and my continued desire to experience
them and to create new ones.

I have a similar appreciation for the simple pleasure of “getting lost” that comes when
reading an immersive book or listening to a moving song. Just thinking about that feeling gives
me shivers as I am presented with a doorway that gives me the ability to escape my current social
imaginary for a brief moment and transcend to another dimension. Walking through the aisles of
a bookstore is like being provided a fleeting glimpse into an alternate reality – perhaps if I had
made different choices in life when I had come to a fork in the road, my life could have been
entirely different. It all ties back to those either/or choices brought up by Kierkegaard that shape
our life and art, through the medium of music or writing, discloses an alethia that could not have
come to light, otherwise. I can just close my eyes and everything else around me is put on pause
while my mind goes on a journey to uncharted territory – the mind’s imagination being one of
those formidable forces that has the power to make you feel the greatest happiness, as well as the
greatest terror.

In a similar capacity, I find beauty in hiking. Hiking is one of my favorite pastimes as it


combines two of my favorite things: exercising and exploration. The fact that I can decide to
head out on a Saturday morning, boots and pack in the trunk of my car, and drive to some remote
part of the wilderness and just be one with nature, is priceless. I can permit myself to forget
about the rest of the world for a minute and let the moment sweep me away. The way the rough
terrain pushes back against the sole of my boot, the way the morning fog hugs the prominent
mountain peaks which surround me, the way the tree branches tremble when a cool gust of wind
blows in, the way the forest air quality is unlike any other, and the way the lakes seem to provide
a perfect reflection of the surrounding environment are just some of the reasons why I find
myself coming back week after week. Something about being able to stand out on the ledge
looking down at the distance I have traveled and seeing how small the world is down below –
how something that seemed so significant down there is really just an infinitesimally small piece
of a much greater picture. It truly is a humbling and breathtaking experience and there is
something about it that is just so pure and uncorrupted that makes me continue to seek out
similar moments of transcendence.

Aesthetics, to me, is all about letting oneself get lost in the simple moments and
appreciate the nature of everything around you. Living in the past or living for the future will not
help you in the grand scheme of things – there is something inherently special and pure about
this moment, right here, that we must all be grateful for. This sense of getting lost can be
achieved in many different ways – for me it is through experiences of romantic love, familiar
love, reading, listening to music, exercising, and hiking, but that is not an all-inclusive list. Take
the time to appreciate the little things, like the way your pillow perfectly cradles your head at
night, or the way the airplanes gently buzz in the deep blue sky above you, and in doing so, you
will not only open yourself up to a happier self, but also to a new potential for uncovering truth
and knowledge that could otherwise not be reached.