In college I switched majors from biology to philosophy. Friends asked me, "What use is philosophy?" They really meant, "Can you make money with it?"
Meaning was and still is more important than money. I knew people with lots of money and little meaning in their lives. I wanted to first address the problem of meaning before the problem of money. In the rush for money, my parents had pushed meaning onto the back burner. The importance of "meaning" to my life was embarrassing. I turned to the study of logic, mathematics, science, and the philosophy of logical positivism during my teenage years.
Logical positivism was a school of early 20th Century philosophy that argued that all the grand questions of traditional philosophy are meaningless. The logical positivists formed a famous group called the Vienna Circle. They wrote papers and held discussions to establish this hard-headed view of philosophy.
Questions such as "Does life have a meaning?" or "Is there a God?" where disposed of by the logical positivists as "meaningless" on the grounds that such questions had no answer. But questions such as, "Does the moon have an opposite side?" were judged meaningful because in principle we can test to verify an answer to the question. In the latter case, build a rocket and check out the other side of the moon. Remember that these people where talking, thinking, and writing in the 1920's. But how can we test any answer to the meaning of life or the existence of God?
As a graduate student at San Francisco State University in 1970, the spell of logical positivism broke. Philosophy was not addressing the truly important questions of my life. It was at that time that I discovered Buddhism and other ancient spiritual traditions that addressed life's deepest questions. It was here that I started to find real philosophy.
Real philosophy is not a word game, it is the "love of wisdom", as Plato explained. I believe philosophy was originally a life path that got corrupted by the academic system. Very few students experience real philosophy when they go to college. Professors too often concern themselves with looking good, publishing or perishing, and just plain holding onto their jobs. Socrates would have been safe from the hemlock, if he had pursued such a career path.
Doing philosophy is an extraordinary act: it is to re-think everything from the most basic perspective possible. To reflect on the fact of my own existence, my sense of being here, is to look directly at the question of the meaning of my life.
Today the world is adrift, without meaning. Everywhere, people live in the void -- and, are so cynical that they assume that the question of being is meaningless. Yet, the gods of goods and money have lost their power to motivate, except through the fear of unemployment and homelessness. During my teens, I believed that philosophy could better human life by providing meaning and healing. This is the healing power of the Word as understood by traditional societies.
The love of wisdom must again become a burning passion. We need to again understand the true value of questions such as: What is real? What is good? Why does anything at all exist?