The Saturday Read ‘Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It’ by Daniel Klein

A U.S. Senator, a philosophy student and a welder walk into a bar…maybe not. In a debate last week U.S. Senator Marco Rubio questioned the value of a philosophy major in a world that needs more welders.

“I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education, welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.”

I can understand those who seek to define college as an extended vocational school experience, given the cost and potential for significant debt, but to limit the aspirations of 18 year olds diminishes the value of higher education. I think we go to college to figure things out. Part of that is the career decision, but the larger experience incorporates learning how to think, question, listen, reflect and argue in a quest to live our best life.

In defense of philosophy majors, and the politicians and welders who might benefit from their wisdom, The Saturday Read this week is ‘Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It: Wisdom of the Great Philosophers on How to Live’ by Daniel Klein.

Like many college students, Klein didn’t have a clue as to what I wanted to do after college; basically all I knew was that I didn’t want to be a doctor, lawyer, or businessman, eliminations that put me in a distinct minority of my classmates. I figured studying philosophy would be just the ticket to give me direction.”

His father, like Senator Rubio, let him know that “studying philosophy was simply a wast of time.”

Fortunately for the reader, Klein continued his studies, recording selected ‘Pithies’ in a notebook hoping “to find some guidance from the great philosophers on how best to live my life.” These quotes and current reflections form the structure of the book.

“I now realized that those how-to-live questions were still very much alive in my mind. Sure, time had crept on and my life, with its ups and downs, had simply happened, as lives tend to do, by my appetite for philosophical ideas about life had not diminished in the least. In fact, as I look at life from the vantage point of my eighth decade, my hankering for such ideas has only increased. Late in the game as it may be, I still want to live my final years the best way I can. But more compellingly, I find myself at that stage of life when I want to give my personal history one last look-through, and I am curious to see how it measures up to fully considered ideas of a good life.”

Why this book? Because legislating, welding and philosophy should not be mutually exclusive terms. As the Thanksgiving inter-generational conversation turns to the big ‘vocational’ questions of choice and what you are doing with your life, it’s the central question of philosophy being posed, how to live the best possible life.

‘Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It’ is an accessible, often humorous, tutorial, presenting a pageant of philosophy’s luminaries and author commentaries.

One quote in particular, resonated with me in light of the domestic and international scene this week, from British philosopher, Bertrand Russell.

“The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected…(But Philosophy) keeps alive ours sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.”

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