One way to structure a Personal Philosophy is as a set of Core Principles that we can use to make sense out of our experiences, provide meaning and structure to our thinking, and guide our choices and actions. Like the basic assumptions that structure all types of philosophy, these Core Principles are assumed and used. They can not be proven or empirically verified. Rather, they are the “metaphysical” grounding that allows us to determine what is true and false, what gives us meaning, and what are the best actions for us to take.
Core Principles and Personal Philosophy
To be effective, the Core Principles of a successful Personal Philosophy need to be organized as a relatively small set that we can hold in our minds and use in making judgments about what’s happening and what to do about it. The Core Principles also ought to be integrated and coherent. It doesn’t help to have conflicting Core Principles. That leads to immobilization or flight or an oscillation between conflicting actions.
The Core Principles in a Personal Philosophy can be tested in two main ways. First we can test them by formulating them or uncovering them and thinking about how they are articulated and how they relate to each other. Are they easily understood, consistent, elegantly expressed, and easily used? The second way is by looking at the lives that we are living guided by our Core Principles. Are our lives working? Are we successful, prosperous, happy, and satisfied? Do we rise to the challenges and overcome the adversities we face and handle them effectively? Are we learning and growing and becoming better people?
In summary, then, a Personal Philosophy is a set of Core Principles that help us:
- Guide and make sense out of our outer and inner experiences and the feelings associated with them.
- Orient our thinking about those experiences.
- Establish ways to understand the meaning and significance of those experiences.
- Make choices about how to act.
- Direct our actions.
- Experience the results of those actions, make sense out of the results, and learn from them in ways that impact our future thinking, understanding, and choices.
- Repeat the cycle of experience, thinking, understanding, choice, action, results, and learning over and over again.
A personal philosophy also offers assistance and guidance in uncovering our Core Principals so that we can understanding them, see how they are impacting our lives, assess them, make changes in them, consciously apply them, experience the results, and learn from those results. In this meta sense, a good Personal Philosophy not only provides guidance for our lives, but also provides guidance for how to evolve and use our Core Principals in guiding our lives.
Core Principles and Core Religious Beliefs
Core Principles are like the Core Beliefs in a religion. We have faith in them and use them to guide our lives. The difference between the Core Beliefs in a religion and the Core Principles in a Personal Philosophy is that the Core Beliefs in a religion are given and maintained by tradition and religious authority, while the Core Principles in a Personal Philosophy are consciously chosen, tested, and used. The Core Beliefs in a religion can become the Core Principles in a Personal Philosophy if we consciously choose them, test them, and use them.
Finding Our Core Principles
What is a framework that anyone can use to explore our Personal Philosophies, formulate them, use them explicitly, and consciously evolve them?
One way to find our Core Principles is to obtain them from a teacher or from writings we read or from our religious beliefs. It’s good to be on the look out for them.
Another way to discover them to find them is to use “the Path of Why.” We can do this by focusing on any important occasion in our lives and ask a series of why questions.
- Why did this happen to me?
- Why did I make sense of it the way I did?
- Why did I choose to respond the way I did?
- Why do I make that type of choice?
- Why didn’t I act differently?
By following the path of why, pretty soon we will get to a unique Core Principle or a small set of unique personal Core Principles that are guiding our experiences, choices, and actions. Often these have been learned, frequently at an early age, and have been unexplored since. By making them conscious, it becomes possible assess them. Are they consistent? Do they produce the results we want? Do they make us the kind of people we want to be?
If we like the results, we can affirm our principles, maybe even write them down, and use them consciously. By doing this some of the implications that we haven’t seen may become clear and we can elaborate them.
If we don’t like the results, we can set about to change our Core Principles by formulating what some alternatives might be, trying them out, and assessing their results until we find a set of Core Principles that work well for us. If we write these new Core Principles down and some of their implications that we haven’t seen may become clear, leading us to understand them better and, perhaps, elaborate them in further ways.
Before we get too lost in abstractions, let’s try a specific example.