Relation of Philosophical Issues To Real Life


Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.    1-20

Most people think that philosophy concerns itself with abstract and abstruse issues that have little relevance to their lives (who cares how many angels can sit on the head of a pin, anyway?), but philosophy is fundamentally the attempt simply to describe life and behavior in useful ways.  The fundamental questions in philosophy have great relevance to our lives, and human life and its choices force us to take positions regarding these questions and issues, whether or not we consider them to be “philosophical.”


1. Why do human beings exist?  Additionally, why does the universe exist?  What does “existence” mean?

2. What is life?  Is life valuable or in any sense sacred?   Where does this value come from?  Can we have value without someone else giving it to us (like God)?

3. What is reality?  What is real?  How can human beings know reality?  How can human beings accurately determine what is real?  Are there aspects of reality that are beyond human comprehension?  What are the limits of human understanding?

4. What is the nature of death?  Is there an aspect of human beings that continues a personal existence after the death of the person, as an identifiable aspect of that person?

5. What is human nature?  (What are the fundamental facts about human beings?)  How would the answer to this question affect how people view themselves and how they treat each other?

6. What is a “person”?  How does this relate to a person losing his/her faculties in later life?  How does it relate to the nature of a fetus?

7. What motivates us to behave/act as we do?

8. Is there “free will,” or is every human behavior theoretically predictable or capable of being known in advance?  What difference would this make in your daily life?

9. Does human life have inherent meaning?  What is the nature of that meaning?  If not, can human life be “made to have” meaning?

10. What is the nature of religion?  Why does it exist?

11. What are the fundamental (non-cultural) differences between men and women? What are the implications of these differences?

12. What mechanisms do human beings use to control their behavior?

13. What are morals, ethics, and ideals?  How do they arise?  What do they do for us?

14. What is “good”?  What is “the good”? 

15. What is a “good person”?  Do you want to be a “good person”?

16. Why do human beings not naturally seek to be “good,” and why do they not naturally adhere to being “good”?

17. What is a “good life”?  What would be a good life for you?

18. What is the nature of consciousness?  What are the boundaries of human consciousness? Is consciousness purely physical or dependent on some other (non-natural) medium?

19. What is time?  What role does it play in our “total reality”?  What does time mean to human beings, and how do we use it, for good or for ill?


1. How should I treat myself?  Do I have a “right” to exist?  Should I have the “right” to end my own life? 

2. How do I feel about life?  How to I feel about my life?  How do I feel about myself?  How can I gain a feeling of self-worth?  Is it necessary for me to feel “special” to someone else?

3. How should I treat others?  Should I ever have the “right” to end other lives?  What are the consequences for me of using various concepts of how to treat others?

4. Is it better to treat others well and seek good relations with them or better to take advantage of them whenever possible?  Which of these approaches will get me more of what I want for my life?

5. What are the implications for my life and behavior of viewing others as basically equals?

6. Can I get more out of life through treating others fairly or unfairly?

7. Some people try to manage their fears of life internally and others try to manage their fears by gaining control over others and/or the environment?  Which method (or some other?) would I prefer for my life?

8. Given that there are many ways to be a person and to live, who do I want to be, and what life do I want?

9. Should I be responsible, or will I get more out of life by being irresponsible?  Why have I adopted my current position about this?

10. Will I be happier if I treat myself and others lovingly, or will I be happier if I protect my feelings and try to get whatever I can out of others?  Why have I adopted my current position about this?

11. Will I be happier if I give myself and others basic acceptance, or will I be happier if I look for ways to make others feel bad so I can get above them?  Why have I adopted my current position about this?

12. Will I be happier if I treat myself and others with respect, or will I be happier if I look for ways to make others feel inferior so I can have more?  Why have I adopted my current position about this?

13. What are the pros and cons of being emotionally close to one or more others?  Is this closeness necessary for the life that I want to live?

14. How do I compare the value of my life with the value of the lives of others (or the lives of others living things)?

15. Should I think for myself?  Should I adopt the views of others about reality or seek my own independent understanding of reality?  What are the consequences of each?

16. Is there such a thing as “truth”?  How close can human understanding come to “the truth”?

Is it better for me to tell the truth (to myself and others) or to think and say what makes me and others feel better?  Could I tolerate differing with those I love, or with those who have power over me?

17. How can I best figure out what is true, or at least as close to truth as human beings can get?

18. Is it better for me to know all of reality or to avoid some of reality to avoid painful emotions that I have in reaction to what I know or learn about reality?

19. What is really best for me?  Can I trust my own feelings and knowledge to tell me this?

20. How do I feel about myself?  Why do I feel that way?  Where did I learn to feel that way? Do I need justifications to feel good about myself?  Am I worth anything just as I am?

21. Do I have an inherent purpose in being alive, or are purpose and meaning something that I have to “find” through experience?  How can I find them?

22. How can I acquire enough knowledge, through experience and through others, to know how to take care of myself and create a good life for myself?

23. Does whether or not there is a personal existence after death determine how I should live?

24. Do I want to be a “good person”?  Should I be a “good person”?  Should I be a “good person” because of what others think (morals, ethics, ideals, from parents, church, state) or because in my opinion it makes for a better life?

25. In my efforts to be a good person, am I depending on what others have told me about how to behave (like parents or church), or have I decided for myself what is “good”?  If you did not have that input from others (like parents or church), would you still decide to try to be a good person?

26. What is the best way to control my behavior so that I don’t harm others?

27. How can I control myself so that I always do what is truly best for myself and also good for others?  Is it better to use punishments on myself or to use loving encouragement?

28. What does it mean to be a “good” man?  What does it mean to be a “good” woman?

29. What motivates me?  What do I care about? 

30. How can I find satisfying meaning in life?

31. Does religion serve, overall, a good purpose?  If so, what is that purpose?  Can I be a good person without religion?  Can I feel valuable and secure without religion?

32. What does it mean to me that there are different religions?  How can I believe in one of them and still accept adherents of others?

33. How can I view with respect those who hold views that I strongly disagree with? Since people disagree about how to run society, how can I advocate for what I think is best for society while also respecting those with different views? 

34. When is it appropriate to forgive, and how do I do it?  What is forgiveness?

35. What should be the limits of free speech?

36. What is the best way to divide up and pay the costs of society among its members (usually called “taxes”)?

37. Is it OK or even good for society to prevent people from doing harm?  How far should this go?  Is pre-emptive military action good or bad?

38. If my goal were to become comfortable with all my emotions, which emotions would pose the greatest challenge for me?  Why?