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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A man's philosophy (Powys)

A man's philosophy, a woman's philosophy, is the conscious habit of thought by which the self gathers itself together, cleanses itself, governs itself, steers itself; and copes as well as it may with all the pleasant or unpleasant impacts of the vast impinging Not-self.

It is not that all the drift and flotsam of the great historic religious and metaphysical systems that float around its path are meaningless to an intelligence thus working out its own philosophy. They supply it with continual tests and comparisons as to the practical value of its own habitual ways of going to work.

What, for example, in its intimate experience of soothing and distressing feelings, has it found for itself that corresponds to the old human tradition about God? What is its personal substitute for traditional morality? What has it found for itself that corresponds to the great, seductive, disturbing, stimulating systems of Plato, Spinoza, Hegel, Nietzsche? What is there in its disciplined self-created reactions to the mystery of Good and Evil that corresponds to the "logoi" of Christ, to the impassioned psychology of St. Paul, to the oracles of Laotze, of Buddha, of Heraclitus?

But let us not be deceived. These are not essential questions. All these inspirations and imperatives have so mingled with the stream of human consciousness that the air is full of them, and only the scholastic searcher after historic origins need concern himself as to what is Heathen or Christian, Mediaeval or Classical, Occidental or Oriental, in these "streams of tendency" making for the wisdom of life.

No! these are not essential questions. It matters little whether some deep psychic secret of which you have luckily possessed yourself ought to be attributed to Plato, or Goethe, or Wordsworth, or Dostoievsky, or the Tao, or the wisdom of Zoroaster, or the doctrine of the Stoics. All the philosophers, all the prophets, draw their secrets from the same sort of fountain—that is to say from the solitary contemplations of their own lonely, anti-social ego, feeling its way by itself amid the smarting blows and the thrilling caresses of intimate personal experience.

John Cowper Powys, A Philosophy of Solitude


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