“Ji Lu asked about serving the spirits of the dead. The Master said, ‘While you are not able to serve men, how can you serve their spirits?’ Ji Lu added, ‘I venture to ask about death?’ He was answered, ‘While you do not know life, how can you know about death?’” ----The Analects, Xian Jin
Philosophy starts with the enquiry into death, and turns out to be disclosing life.
It has been a while since I started to do philosophy. When did I start doing philosophy? What is the origin of philosophy for me? Where is philosophy leading me to? Where is philosophy leading us?
The first question has been puzzling me for a while. It seems to be a problem of recollection, but it does not necessarily need to be. I have an intuitive grasp of the answer, that is, when I first realized what death means. I cannot recall the exact age: maybe around 7 or 8. I am born in a secular Chinese family with no religious belief whatsoever. If one really wants to attribute a belief in my family, that would be either success or Mao Zedong: the former designates the secular aspect of my Chinese background, and the latter designates my grandfather's belief. So there is neither salvation after death nor any supernatural power to me when I was growing up. To be honest, I am still a strict atheist regarding any religious scriptures. But, I have been a man of overwhelming curiosity towards the world my entire life. It is just a part of my nature, and there is nothing special about it. I was born with it: call it a gift or a curse, whatever! But I enjoy asking questions of all kinds, and I hold my intelligence pridefully to answer those. I still remember when I was really small walking on the bridge in the streets of Lianyungang, my hometown, with my mom. I just constantly asked my mom questions while I struggled keeping up with her steps because I was too small with short legs. I still remembered that my mom told me that I was really a curious kid, and got fed up with it so she told me to think about it on my own. Apparently, I did, and I do. I started to try to answer all these questions that come up to me and just couldn't help but think about them all the time. Maybe that was the necessary condition for my philosophizing activities later on.
People used to ask me "why do you like philosophy?" I used to come up with answers like because I want to know the truth, or because it helps me live better, or because I want to avoid wrongdoings as much as possible, or so on. Now that I look back, I was really ignorant about my own nature. There is no seemingly noble reason for me to do philosophy at all! It is purely because I love it. Nothing more! There are people whose nature fascinates them in gaming, there are people whose nature fascinates them in sports, there are people whose nature fascinates them in girls, boys or sex, and there are people whose nature fascinates them in the pursuit of knowledge, if not wisdom, in philosophy! Philosophy as an activity pleases me and rejoices me. It was a turn from a metaphysical view of myself to a Heideggerian view of myself. Why do I like philosophy? Not because any derived or fixed reason at all. It is merely because that my natural state of mind indulges my being in philosophizing and my being finds satisfaction in such activity.
But, what is the one event that drags me to philosophy? A few years ago, back when I was still a young boy in the middle school, I was dreaming of being a theoretical physicist. Even though I am always caught up in these theoretical activities, I was not thinking about philosophy at all. See, back to the previous point. I guess it was when I was 7 or 8, I realized that death means total disappearance from the world. A strong sense of nihilism hit the younger me. It genuinely scared me. All things will change and decease. People I love, people I hate, people I know and people I do not know, things I enjoy and I dislike, ice cream and Ultraman, relevant events or irrelevant events, etc. all these do not matter at all when I die. What will death be like? It will just be like I have never lived. Everything does not matter in the face of death, not even death itself. All values exist within the boundary of existence, and, when things cease to exist, there is no value anymore! It would be like a long dream: an everlasting slumber. Nothing existing is relevant anymore. Or, in this sense, wouldn't existence be in turn like a dream? It is what is like living in a floating world of constant flux! It frightened me and got me thinking, "what is the meaning of life if nothing matters at the end of the day?" And, since then, philosophy entered.
The sense of loneliness hits hard too because of these. Philosophy has been a lonely experience as it is hard to find people who are concerned with the same issues of yours. People seem genuinely happy chasing after conventional ends one by one: those empty meaningless ends: money, sex, and pleasure. A society like this emits boredom and dullness everywhere, and no one seems to be concerned with the meaning of their life, the question of "why do I live." Indeed, Camus was right about "the only serious philosophical problem is suicide." The problem decides whether life is meaningful or not, whether it is ultimately futile and empty or worth-living. Even philosophers do not concern over the problem of death except the existentialists, which is why I am so fascinated by existentialism lately. It is more of a problem of modernity, the repetitive, alienating life of contemporary people, and it is generally a problem for humanity. Dasein is ultimately being-towards-death. The possibility of the impossibility of all possibilities always haunts us throughout our existence. It is just that it haunts me more frequently than others. I do not want to die, but I do not want to live forever neither. Life would be meaningless as well if it lasts forever, as the value of it can not be manifested if it is not limited. The existential angst concerning death is the starting point of my philosophical task.
Philosophy has been an exciting long experience for me. I intensively thought, learned, and met a lot of interesting people along the way. But none of the theories of philosophy has been satisfiable enough for me, whether they are not sound enough nor they do not matter too much, until I got to know phenomenology and Heidegger. The approximately half a year learning experience with Dr. Michele Averchi at the Catholic University of America in contemporary philosophy and Heidegger's Being and Time really changed my life and my philosophical exploration. Phenomenology really is the sound philosophy that I have been seeking for, and Heidegger, building up so well on phenomenology, really provided an extensive philosophical account for both existence and the real. The Magician of Messkirch! Heidegger is such intuitively gifted in philosophy and thank god he lived so long and left so many scripts and philosophical developments. I will introduce his theory later on this website, but for now I am only giving him the credit for his greatness. The concrete philosophy of Heidegger, together with the overall phenomenological movement and relating ideas, with my further exploration in philosophy in general and this accidental discovery of Confucius's quote, I cleared out my meaning of life and the task of philosophy.
What is the task of philosophy? It is, to put it simply, to live your life. For me, it is seeing humanity as a historical whole and, by doing so, expanding my temporality, or just time, on the human race in general, just as when Levinas says that the father expands his temporality in his son. The emancipation of all of humanity and the opening-up of the maximal horizons of possibilities of future Dasein, by seeing the totality of Dasein as a whole and the notion of society as projecting itself into future possibilities. In doing so, a more complicated concrete philosophical theory is needed, and a better philosophical enterprise is needed. Thus I am devoting myself in a career of popularizing philosophy and investigating in Phenomenological Marxism, or Heideggerian Marxism. A marxist society is not utopian but totally scientific. It is utopian in the sense of a civilized society. More on the topic will be explored later. But I shall devote my life in this grand movement. Philosophy has been historically an event, a subject, a school, a circle of intelligent scholars, a bourgeois game, a useless enterprise... It is time for philosophy to be a revolution: for it to be the arm and gun of the populace, for it to be the key for the people to emancipate themselves from spiritual, physical, and social slavery.
Here, I'll end with a delicate passage that I read accidentally from the Analects. I used to think the Analects as boring and obsolete, especially the teachings of Confucius: conformist and uncreative. But it turns out that I am the one who is conformist and uncreative in stereotyping his philosophy as such. Here is the passage,
Ji Lu asked about serving the spirits of the dead. The Master said, ‘While you are not able to serve men, how can you serve their spirits?’ Ji Lu added, ‘I venture to ask about death?’ He was answered, ‘While you do not know life, how can you know about death?
Yes, why concern about death, while you do not even know life? What are you going to know about death anyway? Stop worrying about the unknown and live your life. Stop worrying about the dead and serve the alive. This is more of a principle than philosophical.
And this is the task of philosophy.
Guanyu "Marshall" Zhu
June 21, 2022. Nanjing, China