The case for living

As a student of philosophy and law, and as a practicing lawyer for about 40 years (focussing primarily upon the administration of estates and the perpetuation of wealth) I am well positioned not any more than anyone else to comprehend the importance of living but rather to advance the pragmatism of living. Like it or not life requires thinking and application – and dealing with realities. The scope is far more than a distinction without a difference – the disparity between knowing you should do something and understanding how and why. Of the three certainties in this universe – namely birth, death and life – only the latter is within your own domain and – most tellingly – within your choice and influence.

It may seem either at first (when one is young) or at last (when one is old) that there are far too many demands, imperatives, mistakes or innumerable other impediments to pretend to control one’s life. This is understandable and forgivable – but it is a serious deception. For one thing – and perhaps the only one that counts – it flies in the face of logic.

The advantage of logic – and the reason one may say we have lawyers in the first place – is that it overcomes the sometimes distorted affect and political or social persuasion of unqualified passion. As much as I promote the superiority of the visceral it is not however to be confused with what are on analysis only manipulations of pure thinking. Pure thinking – or logic – begins with plain facts uncontaminated by external and indirect forces. The recognition of one’s starting point – and it is necessary to accept that we must start at the beginning if we are to infuse what follows with any strength – is clarity. Make no mistake nothing about you or your life is now or ever too complicated to admit to the clarity and sharpness of blunt truth. This means for example that we mustn’t disguise or confuse the plain reality of our current condition – nor obfuscate that analysis by referencing things that previously applied. The present is the only currency that matters. The past and the future are like birth and death – out of your control and orbit.

Adopting this simple philosophy and law is all that counts. No one in their right mind can presume to tell you what to do – other than perhaps to get on with it. Certainly you can study what others have done or ask what others recommend but do not be fettered and discombobulated by the pretence of direction from others. They have no better capacity than you regarding what is right and judicious for you. That privilege is happily your domain only. It does however mean you must be as critical and narrow at this starting point. Knowing what to do is not the same thing as getting on your horse and riding off in all directions. One direction at a time is the only way, a precept with the further advantage of simplicity.

I advance this prescription neither as a swan song nor as a particularly accurate thesis but instead as the accident or casualty of prior error. Recovery from ambivalence is not automatic. Going down in flames is a real possibility. I prefer to rise from the ashes! But there is work involved.

The zeal of logic is that it is axiomatic – which from the pragmatic view implies that it is unquestionably correct. The stock image of deductive reasoning is: If A = B, and B = C, then A = C. The variables are A, B and C so logic doesn’t imply unyielding uniformity just accuracy. Try an example of your own using your heartfelt desires as the variables – you might be surprised at the results.

The process is not reductio ad absurdum as some might suggest for either comic or reproving purposes. It is however a reduction to elemental factors – specifically those which motivate your guts. As visceral as that is, it captures the deep inward feelings rather than the intellect – which at first appears a paradox when advancing the value of logic. Yet it is logic which governs our unbiased behaviour; and it is logic which tells us to listen to our inward feelings. It is thus that the binary functions of intellect and instinct cooperate and function. I am guided in this theme by recollecting the dissatisfaction arising when uttering the words, “I knew I shouldn’t have done that!” The first and most obvious retort to that observation is, “Then why did you do it in the first place if you knew it was wrong?” The second conclusion is that people make mistakes, that they do not do what they know they should do – and then they pay the price for having done so!

I say this only to illustrate that there is nothing easy about doing what you know you should do. Even learning to listen to your instincts and then to act upon them is as difficult as establishing at the outset what are your instincts. It is however worth the effort in the end; and it is the only course by which you will afford yourself any comfort and value. There is the corollary that it makes living easier – but always be prepared for some singular results and unanticipated diversions! Discovering who you are is far more than the mechanical operation of a bicycle. We have within us something far beyond the prosaic evolution of life.