As someone who views as deeply important the philosophical field of epistemology, and who thinks it important to define terms as clearly and fairly as possible, I found it quite interesting in some recent reading of mine about the noted writer and thinker Chesterton that among his definitions was the following: adventure: an inconvenience rightly viewed. This particular definition struck me as a particularly worthwhile, not least for its paradoxical nature but also for the way that it reframes contemporary annoyances and problems in a larger perspective that, rightly viewed, shows things that annoy and inconvenience us as being precisely those things which ultimately make our life the most worthwhile. I would like to take this particular quote as an opportunity to make my own Chestertonian examination of the question of definitions as well as the proper meaning of adventure in a life that I find to combine the most unsettling aspects of both inconvenience and, I hope, right viewing.
Epistemology, rightly defined, is the gatekeeper between mere opinion and informed and justified belief. This branch of philosophy deals with questions of the theory of knowledge, and how we can justify truth claims and separate valid claims of rational belief from their ersatz imitators and inferior competitors. As someone for whom epistemological claims are of the utmost importance, seeing as I continually find it necessary both to justify my own thinking as well as demolish the fallacious truth claims of others as a critical reader , I hope I may be forgiven for a frequent and philosophical turn of mind. As human beings we are faced with the desires of being right in our own eyes and right with God and each other, and we find ourselves frequently frustrated in both of these pursuits. At least I do. To the extent that we devote ourselves to increasing our self-knowledge, we find more to be humble about, and to the extent that we devote ourselves to the acquisition of knowledge about the wider world around us and inside of others, we find that a great deal of the knowledge we have is based on rumor and hearsay.
It is easy to despair of finding truth under these circumstances, as is fashionable among many philosophically inclined people today. It is a deep inconvenience to concede that there is ultimately truth, and to simultaneously concede that our own limited understanding and means of acquiring knowledge make it impossible to know all that we know is out there to know. Desiring certainty in our lives, it is often deeply distressing to realize just how much we live with a lack of awareness of what is going on inside and around us. It may inconvenience us to deal with a slow driver in front of us who is distracted on their phone, unless we know that they are in unfamiliar territory on a matter of grave and urgent personal business and already dealing with feelings of deep distress. Rightly viewed, the irritation of being behind someone driving a bit too slowly for our tastes is nothing compared to our compassion for the suffering of a fellow human being with sorrows and troubles not unlike our own. Similarly, it is a matter of deep personal discomfort to stare into the complexity of a cell or the wide expanse of the cosmos and know that both were made by the same being that formed and fashioned us lovingly in the womb and told us how He wants us to live, a way that is in continual conflict with our own native inclinations.
How are we to rightly view the inconveniences of our existence? And what is it that separates inconvenience from adventure? In my own life, all kinds of mundane events have become adventures because they have proven vastly more difficult than they ought to have been. The simple act of eating a particular dish I wanted one birthday in Thailand , or obtaining a fairly ordinary gout medicine , or even seeking a godly and loving wife have all proven to be tasks that went on far longer and required far more effort than was expected to be the case. In at least one of those cases, the quest goes on yet. Nor is this an issue for myself only, as yesterday night my mum regaled me with a tale of a quest she had been a part of that was, at least for her, an adventure, and was certainly an inconvenience for a few people involved. To the extent that we view the universe as revolving around us, we will find a great deal to be an inconvenience, not least because the universe does not revolve around us. To the extent, though, that we view irritation and inconvenience as being the source of pearls of wisdom that we can then reflect on and share with others, we can find much joy and insight in even the most frustrating and irritating of existences. Being a philosopher depends more on inclination than on circumstances.
In some cases, though, it is a more serious matter than for others. A person may be philosophical out of inclination when it was not necessary, while someone else may find it of the utmost importance to acquire a philosophical turn of mind in order to survive the horrors of their existence. In the one case, someone may fancy themselves to be rational and cultured and above the common herd of unthinking existence, and in the other case one is a philosopher in the midst of great stress and pressure, aware of the thin line that separates wisdom from madness, a line that may be frequently and unwittingly crossed. And yet as inconvenient as such a life may be, it is an adventure too. How will we decided to view it? There may be many situations which are not within our power to change in our lives. There may be a great many experiences that we are subjected to contrary to our own wishes. Without wishing to avoid any responsibility that is our own for how we live our lives, nor to deny ourselves any opportunity we may take to better ourselves, at the same time we may have to cultivate an appreciation for adventure simply to cope with the fundamental irrationality of our existence. We are not responsible for the fact that we are alive, but we are very responsible for how we view and behave in the lives that we have been given. Let us view our circumstances rightly, not least because it will make us a lot more fun than we would otherwise be if left to our own narrow ruts and habitual patterns.
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