“THE DEVIL. What is the use of knowing?
DON JUAN. Why, to be able to choose the line of greatest advantage instead of yielding in the direction of the least resistance. Does a ship sail to its destination no better than a log drifts nowhither? The philosopher is Nature’s pilot. And there you have our difference: to be in hell is to drift: to be in heaven is to steer.”
– George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman
On the long road to knowing, admittedly some of us are late bloomers. But the path is long, even as life is frustratingly short. We humans, pre-built with an expiration date, aren’t designed to ever know it all. But in learning we might find the right path instead of wasting this precious time wandering about in trial and error.
What is philosophy but refined knowledge about how to best live? It is knowledge acquired and contemplated on, which offers channel markers as we navigate uncertain waters in our time. This is what we draw on from humanity’s philosophers, and increasingly from ourselves as we grow.
Growth is a choice. And choosing this line of greatest advantage offers the opportunity to steer instead of drift. In Shaw’s work, Hell is populated with the posers and drifters. To transcend this fate, we must strive for improvement:
“I tell you that as long as I can conceive something better than myself I cannot be easy unless I am striving to bring it into existence or clearing the way for it. That is the law of my life. That is the working within me of Life’s incessant aspiration to higher organization, wider, deeper, intenser self-consciousness, and clearer self-understanding. It was the supremacy of this purpose that reduced love for me to the mere pleasure of a moment, art for me to the mere schooling of my faculties, religion for me to a mere excuse for laziness, since it had set up a God who looked at the world and saw that it was good, against the instinct in me that looked through my eyes at the world and saw that it could be improved.”
The truth about philosophy is that it isn’t a thought experiment, it demands active participation. To go through the motions in life is the greatest of sins, for it’s a betrayal of the self. We owe it to eternity to use our time as best we can. Our moment to steer is now.