To me, philosophy means trying to understand life and the universe in which we are a part of by examining it from many different perspectives and accepting that we cannot understand everything. However, before accepting that we cannot understand something, philosophy leads us to question it and reason until we do come to that point of acceptance instead of doing so blindly. It’s about questioning even if there may not be one solid or agreed upon answer.
Camus questions whether life is worth living or not as well as brings up the meaning of life being one of the most important questions, because without it we cannot easily define whether or not a life is worth living. This relates to my understanding of philosophy as it is about examining life, trying to understand what gives it meaning and what happens if we cannot understand it.
In my own life, I’ve found it important to look at many works from a philosophical standpoint to see what the creators are trying to say, if they are, about their take on what the meaning of life is or what they deem as giving it meaning. I can then use this to question my own views on life and how I give it meaning or if I do at all. It all contributes to helping me accept the absurdity of it all but to not be overwhelmed by it. I also use it to help keep myself grounded as to not get too caught up in my own head.
When the topic of philosophy in the world is brought up, the first thing I think of is “Rick and Morty”. Not just one part but the show as a whole. “Rick and Morty” follows the adventures of Rick and his nephew Morty as they travel throughout the multiverse, usually for the purpose of Rick obtaining something he needs for one of his inventions and often involving many highly dangerous situations. With all of its entertaining and comedic moments, at the core of the show sits one main discussion, and that is one on the absurdity of life.
Now in relation to “Rick and Morty,” Rick is someone who has embraced the absurdity of life, finding it pointless to end it all but also by not ignoring it. He has been through more than one universe and understands that we try and find meaning in a universe that has no meaning to give us yet he still continues on living his life, doing what he desires and not letting the absurdity bring him down, for the most part. Meanwhile, his nephew Morty starts of fairly naive to life, not questioning the meaning of it until his uncle comes into his life. Throughout the series Morty slowly begins to take on his uncle’s mindset even if not quite to the extremes that Rick has. During this process though Morty can be seen breaking down several times at the idea that the universe does not give us a meaning and occasionally slips into wondering what the point of living is at all. As a young kid, he is overwhelmed by this yet both do embrace the absurdity of life, continuing to go after what they want in each episode but understanding that sometimes, the universe just won’t let them have it. While the show is one full of crazy adventures and highly comedic scenes, it also has a more grounded element, both tackling the absurdity of life and watching as characters first begin to question it and their resulting growth from understanding it. Apart from Rick and Morty there are several other characters that represent different views on this subject, including Mr. Meeseeks, which are creatures that can be summoned to complete a task for you, stating that it is their only point in life and once that duty is fulfilled they die. This is just a short glimpse into the philosophy of the show as there is a multitude of perspectives that can be discussed relating to each individual character. For anyone very interested in philosophy involving nihilism, existentialism, and absurdism, this show is a must-watch.
To watch the show, it can be found here. This site is one provided by Adult Swim, the original network of the show.
The Walking Dead is a TV show series that has been running for 7 seasons and is still airing. that is centered around a sheriff, Rick Grimes who when awoken from a coma finds himself in the middle of a Zombie Apocalypse. Rick Grimes and his group of survivors move around consistently to different locations to try and survive from the walkers, another name for zombies. The show constantly asks, ‘what constitutes a life worth living?’. Everyone in the show is already infected from an airborne virus, so now it is just a matter of time, when they die they will become zombies, even though each character still has their own reasons why they want to survive. Rick Grimes reasons are being biologically alive because one day he will get to live. The band of survivors fight zombies till they are all dead, until the next group of zombies come, it is almost like Sisyphus and his impossible task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, each one never ending, with a small glimpse of rest as the boulder rolls back down or as the next heard of zombies gets closer, knowingly that again you will have to do it all over again.
When I look at philosophy, it is to me as the study of knowledge and meaning to try and answer life’s big question, ‘What is the meaning of life and is it worth living?’. Without knowing an answer to this question all else falls underneath it, because if life is not worth living then why question whether we seek happiness or not?I connected this to Albert Camus’s, “The Myth Of Sisyphus”, where in the story Sisyphus is condemned by the gods to continuously push a boulder up a hill and have the boulder roll down once he made it to the top, repeated this task over and over again. (P.1) I made the connection when Camus says, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” (P.3) Suicide is the link to whether or not life is worth living because no one would take their life on their own accord if life was worth living out.
The Walking Dead is full of philosophical content, mainly circling around the concept of whether life is worth living. That ties in with Albert Camus who says there is one philosophical problem which is suicide. (P.3) At the CDC, a research centre as well as a potential safe haven for Rick Grimes and his group, suicide is brought into light of ending all pain and giving freedom. Camus says, “This divorce between man and this life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity” (P.4), it is the relationship between the absurd and suicide. Sisyphus punishment of having to push a boulder up a mountain is completely meaningless, likewise trying to survive against an endless number of zombies is meaningless; there is no point to it, it is absurd. We should not commit suicide because something about trying to complete these meaningless tasks gives both Sisyphus and Rick Grimes group a meaning to live. Rick Grimes is always being needed to make difficult decisions, such as does he kill a man or let that man beat his wife and kids or does he kill a cannibal that he has prisoner or let him go which he may come back with others and attack Rick and his group. This closely relates to Thomas’s “Trolley Problem”, a scenario where a trolley is going to hit five people, but a bystander off to the side is able to switch the track with a lever then directing the trolley to hit only one person. Rick is stuck to choose what will bring the most happiness to his group as they all have different opinions. This then ties into Mills ideas on Utilitarianism, “…Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” (P.2) With this Rick seems to always pick the option that ends in the greatest utility, because according to Mill life is centred around the greatest happiness principle.
I’m sure in my life I encounter with many situations that are some sort of philosophical activity or thinking, but the one that stands out to me is attending The Collective through the Village Church. The Collective is a young adult’s community that gathers twice a week in Langley. It is a community of people that get together to hangout either for a fun time or to engage in difficult conversation before and after listening to a sermon. According to the Collective, “It creates a context for young adults at Village Church to move deeper with Jesus and change the ways they relate to people in the scenery of daily life.
“The Walking Dead.” AMC TV. 2013. Fri. 07 April.2017.
Camus, Albert, Justin O’Brien, and Gustavo Aguilera. The Myth Of Sisyphus, And Other Essays. 1st ed. 1955. Print.
Thomson, Judith Jarvis. “The Trolley Problem.” The Yale Law Journal 94.6 (1985): 1395-415. Web. 07 Feb. 2017.
Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. 1st ed. 1863. Print.
For Robert “Bo” Burnham’s third album and second comedy special “what.,” released in 2013 in its entirety on YouTube and Netflix, he wrote a song called “From God’s Perspective.” He begins the comedy song by stating that he worries he comes across as thinking he’s superior to others, before launching into his “song from the perspective of God” (Burnham). The song questions widely held beliefs among theists, seeming to mainly allude to Christians, though they are not explicitly singled out. It’s especially impactful coming from “God” because it seems as though those who are religious are blindly following practices that “God” himself questions. Near the end of the song, Burnham, as God, claims to have lost faith in humanity and encourages theists to reclaim control of their lives and earn their God’s love.
To me, philosophy is critical reflection and thought regarding the way things are (and often whether they should be that way), typically as part of a larger quest of understanding the world and ourselves within it. This can often include taking different perspectives and approaches to the same concepts. Philosophy involves a method of questioning that transcends all subject matters, including our lives. In “Euthyphro” Plato’s depiction of Socrates embodies this when he relentlessly questions Euthyphro, a “professional religious prophet,” on his beliefs regarding piety (Plato 31). Socrates, in doing so, expresses his pursuit of a single definition of piety, the “one form [by which] impious things are somehow impious and pious things pious” (Plato 39, 6e). With each consecutive definition that Euthyphro provides, Socrates finds issues within them, showing his refusal to stop critically reflecting on piety. For example, Euthyphro suggests that “what is beloved by the gods is pious, and what is not beloved by them is pious,” but Socrates argues that the gods may disagree on what is pious, so some acts would be both pious and impious at once (Plato 39-43).
In a similar manner, philosopher Albert Camus in “The Myth of Sisyphus” questions “whether life is or is not worth living” which he considers the key to answering what the meaning of life is, the “fundamental question of philosophy” (Camus 3-4). Again, this aligns with the definition of philosophy as understanding our place in the world through critical thinking and questioning. As Plato’s Socrates mentions during his defence while he is on trial in “Apology,” he “examine[s] both [himself] and others (76, 38a). This demonstrates his ability to think critically about what he does and believes, as well as about those around him, rather than accepting it without question.
Likewise, Bo Burnham in “From God’s Perspective” refuses to accept the beliefs of theists without question. When he sings “I don’t watch you when you sleep/ Surprisingly I don’t use my omnipotence to be a …creep” (Burnham), he is questioning why anyone would believe an omnipotent God would spend time watching his disciples when there are more pressing matters in the world. This is reminiscent of an argument made by the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. In his “Letter to Menoeceus” Epicurus writes that the gods exist, but not “like most people describe them” (Epicurus 1). He suggests that as a “god is an immortal and happy being” they are unconcerned with the affairs of mortal human beings (Epicurus “Letter to Menoeceus” 1).
Burnham goes on to sing that “you shouldn’t abstain from rape just because you think that I [God] want you to” but that it should be because you know that it is morally wrong (Burnham). He goes on to claim that masturbation, homosexuals, and eating pork are not things that “God” takes any issue with it, but theists have demonized these things anyway in the name of God (Burnham). In approaching these beliefs from the perspective of God, he is offering a different view of them, which leads to the question of why theists believe such things, and whether they should; this closely parallels my conception of philosophy. He questions why an omnipotent God that “created the universe…would draw the line at the …deli aisle,” a relatively insignificant thing (Burnham). Burnham sings “Eat a thousand crackers, sing a million hymns/ None of you are going to heaven/ You’re not my children, you’re a bad game of Sims” (Burnham). Here, he is specifically referring to the Christian ceremony of Eucharist with the inclusion of “crackers”. Burnham suggests that God would be ashamed of theists who focus on getting into heaven by singing or eating crackers which are trivial rather than meaningful. He is engaging in philosophical activity by thinking critically about religious practices and questioning things theists take for granted as true, like what it takes to get into heaven.
As the song nears its end, Burnham sings about religion as a divisive debate and questions why “no one entertains the thought that maybe God does not believe in [them]” (Burnham). With this line, he is expressing “God’s” lost faith in humanity. Then, he goes on to sing “maybe life on earth could be heaven” so that theists emphasize their finite, certain life rather than praying “so badly for heaven” (Burnham). In this sense, this is akin to Camus’ argument of acknowledging the absurd position in life you have and finding happiness in it anyway, as Sisyphus does. Sisyphus was condemned to keep pushing a boulder up a hill, knowing that whenever he reached the top, it would roll back down; yet, Camus writes that “one must imagine Sisyphus happy” because he is in control of his own fate (Camus 3). Instead of praying for life after death, Burnham questions whether taking control of the life you know you already have and making the most of it is a better philosophy. In that way, Burnham suggests you can earn the love of God, but “when you earn it you won’t need it” because you will be happy with what you have done and become.
Based on my view of what philosophy is, I think engaging in philosophical activities is something people do regularly in their daily lives, consciously or not. In reading, conversations with friends, and even listening to music, I often find myself inspired to engage in critical thinking and questioning about the way things are in the world as well as my own life. For example, I recently read Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, which started the absurdist fiction movement called Theatre of the Absurd among European playwrights. In this tragicomedy, the characters, Vladimir and Estragon, await the arrival of a man named Godot, who never comes. While they are waiting, the two men engage in seemingly pointless conversations and repetitive, meaningless interactions with another two characters. The purpose of these interactions, their motivation for waiting, and the identity of the mysterious Godot are never revealed throughout the course of the play.
In this way, the play focuses on the idea of existentialism and human existence without meaning. Camus writes about this idea of meaningless life in “The Myth of Sisyphus” by focusing on absurdity. In the play, the characters even contemplate suicide, much like Camus discusses in his essay. Another play that I reread recently was William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which the eponymous character also contemplates suicide in the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, though he arrives at a slightly different conclusion. In reading these plays, I have really thought about the meaning of life, or whether there is one. Are we born astride a grave, as Beckett writes (Beckett 333)? More specifically, if life is meaningless and just leading to death, what is a good way to spend our time? And does it matter? If all action is distraction, is it any more meaningful to sit under a tree waiting for Godot than to do anything else? Or as Hamlet would suggest, is it only better to live and suffer as a result of living because it’s safer than the uncertainty of dying? I often think about these things when I am deciding what to do with my life, especially in choosing a career. I also frequently channel my thoughts on these matters into my own writing, which as a result, is another philosophical activity I engage in.
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. Grove Press, 1954.
Video games are a unique and interesting form of entertainment. What differentiates them from other common forms of entertainment, such as books, movies, etc., is the added element of player interaction. The story within a book or movie will continue forward whether or not the ‘viewer’ is present, but the story within a video game will remain incomplete without the ‘player’. You could perhaps make a simple comparison to a ball sport, as it is not the ball or the stadium that make the match or sport you love, but rather the men and women who play. In this sense, the player is the final piece for a game, completing the mural portraying an epic tale of various genres for many to enjoy.
Philosophy to me is the act of understanding life, not on a scientifically physical level, but on a fundamental human level. What I mean by this is the pursuit of an answer concerning for what reason do we live life at all, and why do we live life the way we do? Answering such questions allow a person to have a greater understanding and appreciation of life itself.
A variation of the question above that we must first ask though is one of Albert Camus’, “judging whether life is or is not worth living” (“The Myth of Sisyphus” 3). Camus illustrates this question using the ‘Myth of Sisyphus’, where Sisyphus is essentially trapped in a never ending cycle of pushing a boulder up a hill, only for it to ultimately return back to its starting point. The story illustrates the ‘absurdity’ of our lives (3), as in the presence of a contradiction between what we wish for and what the world actually provides; we are in a continuous search for an ultimate purpose, but as far as we know there is none.
Camus argues that regardless of whether or not life has meaning, life is nonetheless still worth living (“The Myth of Sisyphus” 4-5). He argues that we should be happy like Sisyphus, that “the struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart” (3). This sentiment is similar to the words of Robert Nozick when he speaks about the ‘Experience Machine’, where “[p]erhaps what we desire is to live (an active verb) ourselves, in contact with reality. (And this, machines cannot do for us.)…” (“Anarchy, State, and Utopia” 45). What both Camus and Nozick highlight here is not merely the experience of doing something, but the actual act of it. Camus proposes (and to an extent, also Nozick) that we must acknowledge this absurdity and work towards finding something beyond it (even if it’s not there, the struggle is key not the result). In other words, we should find life itself to be the reason for our existence and our associated actions.
So how does this connect with video games? Well in my opinion, video games can be seen as a philosophical activity that can actually help illustrate both Camus’ and Nozick’s point of views, while also provoking us to wonder about the 2nd part of our fundamental question, ‘why do we do things the way we do?’. This may seem contradictory at first glance, as video games can be seen as something similar to Nozick’s ‘Experience Machine’, simply a form of escape from reality, but bear with me.
A majority of games have an overarching goal for the player to achieve, some story to conclude that pushes the player along. What happens as a result is that the universe has shrunk from the constantly expanding void we deal with to something tangible and comfortingly limited to the screen before you, providing a small but albeit significant sense of comfort, no matter how temporary. It provides the player a temporary higher purpose, that there is some end to their struggles. You immerse yourself into a role within this smaller setting, that you are the ‘Hero’, the so called ‘Chosen One’ who has an ultimate destiny only you can fulfil. I’ve started numerous games on a similar note, and the feelings of excitement alongside purpose always return to me. This feeling is compounded by the fact that the game does not move forward without the player’s actions. In these ways, it temporarily alleviates the feelings of absurdity (although others may fall deeper into denial, it is a rather thin line of distinction). To be more precise, it deals with two different versions of absurdity. The first being the ‘absurdity of life’, where the game engages you and temporarily takes you away from the daily responsibilities and struggles of reality; the second being the concept of ‘absurdity’ itself, where due to the game having a final goal of some kind, there is no ‘gap’ between what we want and what the universe (the game) can provide. In this way, video games can be seen as an escape from reality, but that is not all that happens.
The moment we put the controller down and watch the credits roll onscreen, the resulting tide of melancholy makes us realize something. That it was the journey that brought us the most joy. The ending of a game may have provided some sort of satisfaction or relief, but the joy and wonder was had during the game, not after it. Most of us do not play games to reach the ending as quickly as possible, but instead we play in a way that creates the most amount of joy and memories. This idea parallels both Camus’ view, where the player can be seen as Sisyphus, where we are alright with the boulder returning to its starting point, because it means another run through the journey that we can enjoy, and Nozick’s view, as we play the game not just to get to the ending, but because we are enjoying the reality of going through it.
With this realization in mind, we can draw a parallel to our real lives. Just as we continue in a game with an overarching goal in mind, the part we nonetheless concentrate on is the gameplay. It is the same in life, we continue forward in our lives with goals created almost daily, but it is almost always the journey that rewards us with the most vivid of memories and emotions. For example, close friendships. The ultimate goal of creating such a bond is a person who you can depend on in any situation in life. However, as much as we enjoy the benefits of such a thing, it is actually getting to know that person and the events associated with that journey that stay with us; and even after we’ve established such a rapport, a majority of the joy comes from the moments we share together rather than the mere knowledge of knowing that such a person exists. Hence, why we usually make friends with those that interest us and not merely with people who benefit us (I am speaking of ‘true’ friendship in this case, as in the bond shared is something authentic). The parallel provokes us to really contemplate our history and actions, and this is why I argue video games are a philosophical activity according to my definition of philosophy, because it can make us assess whether it is for the journey itself or the goal we wish to reach that we continue living.
Actively contemplating for what reasons we act the way we do is not something most do on a daily basis; but in the moments where people do ponder, it can put life in an interesting perspective. This is something I personally do on a weekly basis, and it is enlightening. To begin with, a question I occasionally ask myself after a session of gaming with my friends was did I have a good time because I was interacting with people or because I won more rounds than the others? I then ask similar questions about majority of the things I did during the week, schoolwork, sports, so on and so forth. Did I enjoy and learn something meaningful during the journey or was I only fixated on the goal? Just as life constantly changes, so do my answers, and it is always fascinating to see how I rationalize my existence with my chosen actions, especially whenever I mature or learn something new that may change my perspective. Thus, I continue to ponder away.