As a wordsmith you deal with ideas, not physical objects. A handyman, for instance, needs to know his way around a hammer. If he didn’t, you probably wouldn’t hire him to fix your door.
Likewise, a writer needs to be well-versed in concepts. It would be highly embarrassing to be in a creative meeting and not understand what’s being said. You could even lose a client if you are not well-versed on topics educated people are expected to know. Never fear, fellow writer. This primer explains three fundamental philosophical concepts to help you look smart.
1. Plato's Allegory of the Cave
Imagine a cave where prisoners are forced to work. Since birth, they have all been chained so their arms and legs are immobile. They are forced to look at a wall in front of them. Behind the prisoners is a fire. The fire casts flickering shadows on the wall. Since the prisoners have never seen the flames, only their shadows, they assume the shadows to be real. They have no concept of the greater reality: that the fire exists and that the shadows are merely images.
What Plato is trying to say is that often times, human beings mistake illusions for reality.
How might we escape such limited thinking? In the story, one of the prisoners breaks free from his chains. He looks directly at the fire. It’s so bright, the illumination hurts his eyes. But as his eyes adjust, he comes to recognize reality’s true nature: there are (often unnoticed) primary causes that create our world. This prisoner helps the others to wake up from their delusions too by leading them out of the cave and into the enlightening brightness of the sun.
One of the most insightful attempts to explain the nature of reality, this metaphor is meant to describe the limited mental state of many human beings before reaching enlightenment.
2. Mind/Body Dualism or the Ghost in the Machine Debate
Rene Descartes (famous for saying, “I think, therefore, I am”) theorized that the body and mind were two separate entities. Thoughts exist on a different plane than the physical. Modern scientists disagree. They contend the brain is the physical thing inside controlling everything. The ongoing debates centers on this: how can thoughts (immaterial things) cause material things to occur?
Existentialism concerns the search for self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility. Most people think that existentialism is only about moody intellectuals brooding about alienation, despair, and absurdity. However, this important movement was borne out of the angst of post-war Europe. The unifying idea is that individuals are seeking to discover who they are as they make personal choices. An existentialist believes each person must be responsible for his/her own actions without the need of laws, culture, or traditions.
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