Essay Excerpts from ESJ's First Philosophy Students

Seniors were able to participate in Episcopal’s first Philosophy class this spring under the guidance of Pat Crandall. At the end of the semester, students had to articulate their own Philosophical Manifesto.

“There is an academic puzzle at the core of Philosophy: is it mostly pseudo-intellectual nonsense (or PIBS, as we referred to it) or is it P2T, the Path to Truth? That was our main goal as we began the course in January, to separate the wheat from the chaff, and hopefully, along the way, find something meaningful to our daily lives. I made a notebook featuring 56 philosophers, from Lao Tzu’s version of Taoism to Derrida’s Deconstructionism, with all the philosophies and philosophical constructs in between. It was a daunting challenge for one semester (which is why it will be a year-long course next year), but we got through it in one piece, and the piece de resistance was the final term paper wherein the students had to articulate their own personal philosophical manifestos, citing the influences they gleaned from the course. The result was everything I hoped it would be, which led me to compiling excerpts as a testament to their scholastic excellence,” shared Mr. Crandall.

Below are excerpts from some of the students’ final essays.

When looking at Dualism, I think of success and failure and how they are interconnected. Even though these words are total opposites that is okay because that is what the Ying/Yang is, which is the duality of life. When I was younger I always thought of the word “failure” as an extremely derogatory word. I always thought that once I failed at something, I would never be able to succeed. However, as I have grown older, I have begun to realize that failure in some instances is not a horrible thing and is indeed sometimes needed to succeed. A couple of years ago I had applied to be a ‘Buddy’ at Camp I Am Special, which is a local sleep away camp near Jacksonville for kids with special needs. I got the letter in the mail that had told me I was not accepted. I thought to myself “I am such a failure, I will never be accepted. If they do not want me I do not want to volunteer there.” I decided instead that I would spend that whole summer volunteering with different organizations that deal with special needs children. This would give me more experience and would allow me to put it on my resume to re-apply the next summer. The next summer came around and I had been accepted! This showed me that if I keep working at something I am invested in, in the end, success will begin to show. Not all the time is failure such a bad thing. – Sarah Allen

A key part of happiness is being able to be content with what you have, rather than yearning for what you do not. This is a Buddhist concept, but I like what Voltaire said, “the most important decision you can make is to be in a good mood.” Happiness is a choice and I can choose not to want for something I do not have. – Quin Bisbee

A great American poet, Nancy Willard, once said, “Sometimes questions are more important than answers.” The past few years begged for answers to big questions, that at the time, I felt I could not answer. What is my passion? What is my purpose? What do I believe? In retrospect, these questions were perfectly timed, paired with a large dose of philosophy and theology. This semester, I was lucky enough to learn and come to understand how some of the greatest or craziest or darkest minds thought and how they found their own answers to the daunting questions I was facing myself. Going through the process of answering all those big, scary questions has been an blessing. Along the way, I had to remember who I was, returning to my faith and my roots, digging to the core of who I was and am. It took some insanely honest self-examination. I came to find that indeed sometimes the questions you ask really are more important than the answers you find. – Liza Bishop

The philosopher who influenced me the most in this class was David Hume, who said, “Reason Is and Ought Only to Be the Slave of the Passions. People seek rational explanations for their emotional behaviors. This doesn’t mean that rational reasons don’t count, but passion always takes a biggest part in decisions. I feel uneasy telling people I believe in God, because I can’t give a reason which satisfies myself. My perception is that our universe grows and breaks like a bubble with many other universes. Universes starts out with nothing, ends up nothing and exist in the continuous shift between nothingness and being. This relates to the Yin-Yang concept. Everything exists on the opposite side of one other thing and everything constantly shifts toward the inverse of itself. The only way to remain unchanged is to change. – 陈家⽻ (Chen Jiayu)

I rely on the values that Christianity and my parents have taught me to guide me. But I rely on my intellect when faced with moral decisions such as the fact that “Aristotle identifies the highest good with intellectual virtue; that is, a moral person is one who cultivates certain virtues based on reasoning.” I do not have an answer for who God really is, but I know that He exists. I refer to the ideas given by St. Thomas Aquinas, because he focused on the belief that humans have self-awareness of the right and wrong. I am filled with the joy that He has to offer. Religion is an innate part of my life, which has instilled foundations to live by and gives me a purpose in life. – Ethan Edwards

One’s motivation and purpose in life are very important, because they can help answer the many great philosophical questions about the meaning of life. I believe my purpose or meaning in life is to pursue happiness. If people find out what they can do to be happy, it becomes what life is all about. We need to follow our passion. Kierkegaard summed this up when he said, “Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are,” I need to be able to change my ideas of who I am, because as people change, ideas change, and if I am not prepared to change with them, I will not go anywhere. – Zach Gielincki

Humanism is the philosophical method of attaching prime importance to human relationships rather than to divine or supernatural powers. I am a fan of Humanism because even the world’s most religious countries can be violent and corrupt and have serious human right challenges. Their religious beliefs fail them. “There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and there are some who turn one into another (Desiderius Erasmus).” We should turn our dreams into a reality with our OWN effort. I think that if I don’t take action in something I want to do, I will never accomplish it. I should work on making my own life better without waiting for some external force make it better. All people are born with the capacity to do good things if they put their minds to it. – Basak Gorgec

There are many philosophical subjects that do have a place in the real world: dialectics and natural rights are chief among them. In Ancient Greece, when philosophy was in its infancy, Socrates created dialectics. Through dialectics, a person is pushed to find the Truth. This method later evolved into the scientific method. Man’s natural rights weren’t thoroughly pondered until John Locke. Today we are still only a hundred and fifty years removed from slavery and fifty years from the Civil Rights movement. There remain many people who have been deprived of their rights. To ensure natural rights, we would have to be accepting of everyone from everywhere. We are getting better, but it is a slow transition to universal acceptance. – Liam Gorman

The balance in my life is categorized by happiness-sadness dualism. Happiness is what we must strive for but the world is not perfect, no matter how much we try to make it so. Sadness is something we all go through, but it is also something we must go through to achieve happiness. Sadness is like pain, it is our body’s way of telling us not to do that thing again or to change up your attitude, so you can be happy. When I tore my ACL, happiness was nowhere to be seen. I kept thinking that nothing was ever going to get better. That’s when I knew that I was wrong, and I had to find something that made me happy, “Happiness depends upon ourselves” (Aristotle). It’s all right to dwell on the sad things; eventually we all figure out how to adjust ourselves so that we can become happy again. Sadness creates a path to follow to happiness; it may just be going the opposite direction, but it gives us the clue to find the answer. – Nick Grimsley

[Written in letter form from her future self to herself now]

This was what you knew after 18 years of living. You were a Theist. You believed in the balance of the world. You believed too much in the idea and standards of beauty that were unrealistic. You changed your mind on the idea of justice being some necessary thing because of your reality. Your idea of truth stayed the same. You guided your life with the moral thought of “Is this something I can do to live my life for Christ?” and based your decisions on that. You thought that you were entitled to free will and that science, while practical in some senses, wasn’t what explained your choice. You believed that free-will existed as the sole decision made to follow Christ. You found your purpose in the liberating feeling of writing something that would inform. You stepped in that classroom and you thought “National Geographic, here I come.’ Your dream was to travel the world shedding light on issues of its health through your writing. Your happiness came not only from writing, but also seeing joy in other’s faces. And if you had a small part in creating that joy, then it was a job well accomplished. You finally had the chance to become the you that had been dying to crawl out and you made the decision to never put anything above realizing your potential. You found yourself this last year, and I hope you never forget her. – Sara Himebauch

Morality is an important concept. No action can be truly right if someone isn’t okay with everyone acting in the same manner. This is the Categorical Imperative, which “must be regarded as autonomous, or free, in the sense of being the author of the law that binds it” (Kant). One must want to be truly moral. There is no universal morality, so each individual must decide what is right and wrong for themselves. “Truth is subjective” (Kierkegaard). My personal commitment to my morality is what is important, for that is what integrity is. For the most part, one should do what is best for the most people, and choose what will not impede on other’s happiness, but in some cases, one needs to put one’s own happiness first. We cannot live our entire life being selfish and putting our own needs ahead of others, for we will end up alone. However, if in every situation we put others’ needs and happiness ahead of our own, we will always be taken advantage of and be unhappy. I will never be valued by others if I don’t value myself. Morality is about finding a perfect balance between the Categorical Imperative and valuing our own happiness, and this will take time and lots of reflection to figure out, but that’s what life is about. – Grace Hulsey

What is good in this world? Is it subjective or objective? Is it emotional or rational? Is morality defined by pragmatism or by optimism? There is no algorithm to find morality but rather separate heuristics to use in different situations. We must do what is right for ourselves and those we care about. Many inspirational philosophers have made their mark on morality such as Kant, John Stuart Mill, and Kierkegaard. Immanuel Kant’s morality was based on the Categorical Imperative, the idea that one should only do something if it is acceptable for everyone to do it. John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism proclaims that morality is helping the most people even if it means harming someone to save the majority. According to Soren Kierkegaard, life is pointless, so we must determine our own morality. I like John Gotti’s advice to his son, “Cherish these moments. Looking back on life it is all that will truly matter.” We experience good or bad and it shapes us. We must live for love, friendship, beauty, respect, and dignity. Savor every moment. Live each and every day as if it is your last, but “learn from those experiences as if you are going to live forever” (Mahatma Gandhi). – Nick Leinenweber

One of the most renowned questions in philosophy deals with discovering a meaning or purpose to life. In my personal manifesto I feel that this should be the first point answered, as it acts as a guide as to why I view other points the way that I do. In giving life a purpose or meaning, first it is necessary to separate life’s purpose from life’s meaning. On a biological aspect the life of a human is very clear cut and has a definite preset purpose: we are meant to survive and reproduce, and thus our purpose is to facilitate the continuation of the human race. When giving life meaning, that is where things become difficult. The meaning of life isn’t some task that has been set out for the whole of humanity to complete, but rather a series of personal goals based on our interests as humans with one overall goal, making ourselves happy. This ties in well with the philosophy of John Stuart Mill, utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is defined as “The belief that the purpose of morality is to make life better by increasing the amount of good things (such as pleasure and happiness) in the world and decreasing the amount of bad things (such as pain and unhappiness).” One should not infringe on the rights of others to make themselves happy. If your happiness comes at the cost of harming others, then it is simply not valid. The meaning to life is different to every individual, and because of that, there is no universal meaning to life, other than finding your passion and making the most out of it to make yourself happy. – Brian Mahon

Everyone is always searching for their purpose in life. It is something people travel the world, or volunteer in third world countries, or road-trip across the country in a convertible to find. There is so much pressure to know our meaning in life, but truly it is whatever we choose it to be. We choose it, and we believe in it, and we live it. My purpose is to be a light. My purpose is to take my happiness, and my laughter, and my life and multiply it, to share it with as many people as I possibly can. Whether it be through sharing my love of basketball with younger girls by coaching them, volunteering to serve the Lord at a Young Life camp, or simply saying hello to people in the hallways, I want to be a contagious light. With so much hatred and darkness in our world, it is important to spread all the love possible. That does not mean I have to spend my life as a missionary, or devote my existence to working for charity, but to do the little things here and there to make someone’s day a little brighter. A quote that resonates with me and the utter need of happiness and light is, “If the world is cold, make it your business to build fires” (Horace Traubel). – Audrey McCabe

The key to happiness is something every single person needs to determine for. The key to my happiness is all about inner peace and trust in God. I struggle with this a lot, because I doubt myself all the time. I never felt as if I was as smart as my two other siblings, and it made me doubt myself. It has taken me many years to except the fact that we are different people who are have different strengths and weaknesses. All I need is to find inner peace. Happiness takes time to grow, because it surely will not happen overnight. And having happiness does not mean struggles and hardship will not happen; it might just seem a little better because there is an upside. The purpose or meaning of my existence is ever-changing, as it should be. Our purpose should not be limited to one phase in our lives. As a child, my purpose was to learn the basics and not to worry. As a middle schooler and high schooler, my purpose is to soak up as much knowledge as I can at school and to try and find something I love to do. As a college student, my purpose will be to narrow down my education choices in hopes of finding a job in a field that I love. After that, I am not quite sure, but I am eager to find out. My purpose right now is in between the high school phase and college phase, and I am excited and slightly worried to fully move into the college phase. My existences so far has had its challenges and hardships, but I would not change it if I could. – Katie McQuiddy

After some difficult years, I made the decision that I wanted to be happy; however, actually finding happiness was a slow process. As Aristotle said, “for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy”. In the process of learning to love and accept myself, happiness began to follow. I started letting people into my life. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “a great man is always willing to be little”. Tearing down the walls I had built between me and the people I cared about most was a humbling experience. I felt hatred feeling vulnerable. Now, I find vulnerability quite appealing. There is something beautiful in showing people the deepest, unfiltered versions of yourself. Without vulnerability, how would anyone truly relate and connect to one another? I do not believe there is a “key” to happiness. Being happy means different things to different people, therefore it is not possible to state a universal way to obtain it. In my experience, happiness first became present through self-acceptance. Once I was comfortable with myself, everything kind of just fell into place. As Stephen Chbiosky wrote in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” Once I felt that I was deserving of love, I allowed it into my life. – Evie Murrray

The key to happiness is something that is self-defined. It involves cherishing the relationships we have with those who genuinely love us, to spread positivity in a world full of hate, treat others the way we want to be treated, and not worry about being the most successful person ever. Superficial things such as a large home, fancy cars, and such don’t bring happiness; success and happiness are two different things. I strive to be genuine to myself and others. There’s no point in wasting my life pretending to be someone I’m not. We often fail to be accepting of other individuals and their opinions. We should be open to talking to others about their personal beliefs, unless extreme, because at the end of the day, they’re more similar to us than different, and if they’re good, genuine human beings, we should concentrate on that, rather than putting our beliefs before others first since we always think we’re right. Finally, the most important key to happiness is to make the most of what feels like little time on Earth we have. As Voltaire said, “Life Is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” – Charlie Podvia

I often find myself contradicting myself and constantly changing what I believe. The only way to happiness is by separating our lives from what others believe. As a society we are often disgusting and boring creatures, but some pull themselves out of the muck and make themselves known. Eventually we all end up worm food, but we can strive to be known in this world and make a positive change. I can live out what I perceive to be my best life. To paraphrase Nier Automata, “Everything that lives is designed to end. We are perpetually trapped in a never-ending spiral of life and death. Is this a curse? Or some kind of punishment? I often think about the god who blessed us with this cryptic puzzle…and wonder if we’ll ever get the chance to know him.” – Laura Rambo

Everything is intertwined with another fiber of another organism’s existence, and this goes on forever, connecting everything. That is where God exists. He is not in the church. There is no “creator”, no man in the sky watching over us; if there is a “God”, then we all are God. As described in the Transcendentalist point of view, God, nature, and man are all the same, all connected. Because everything is connected and in sync, we may perceive that free will exists, but in fact everything is determined for us. We can stray from that path, but every action leads us to another which we are meant for. We can never stray from our path, because that action continues to take us down the path we are meant for. This path the man asks forgiveness for might teach him a lesson and get him to clean up his act and find who he is, or it could take him deeper and deeper until he cannot escape. But that is what he is meant for. Our purpose in life is whatever we make of it. Whatever we choose to do is what we will do, and that is what we are meant for. – Jenna Raudenbush

What do I believe is right and wrong? What is my balance in life? Morality is doing the right thing without putting emotion or outside forces into the decision. People should always think to choose ‘the more good consequence created from an act,’ as our text denoted. We should not bring emotion into it and if we do, we run the risk of ruining many more lives. The rules of conduct that I live by are very simple: treat everyone with respect and kindness. Karma is a real concept and what come around, comes back around. Therefore, people should strive to be nice to everyone because more than likely they will be treated to the same way back. The same applies if a person is treating someone unkindly. We should still treat them with respect, because most likely they will receive their punishment sooner or later. – Myles Sams

I grew up in the Episcopal church. I thought going to church every Sunday and praying at meals was all it took to be a good Christian. It was not until high school that I began to see that there was more to being a Christian, or at least the Christian I wanted to become. When I was a freshman, I discovered Younglife, a Christian organization that strives to get high schoolers to know God in an environment where they can be themselves, fully. Because of this and finding a church where I truly felt the light of God, I understand what Christianity is all about. I agree with John Locke when he says that Christians should agree on the fundamentals of their faith: the belief in God, Jesus, and the morals found in the Bible. Locke also said that as Christians, we should be able to tolerate others’ religious beliefs and put aside our differences. It is important that we are able to respect other people’s religions, whether we agree or not, because we want them to also respect our religious beliefs. I associate my faith and how I live as a Christian with my morality. My morals are directly derived from my faith as well as how I was raised. My parents and grandparents have always told me, “Do the right things for the right reasons and treat others how you want to be treated.” In this class we have also learned about someone who focused on this moral: Immanuel Kant. He was one of, if not the most, influential philosophers maybe ever. As I continued to ponder my personal philosophy, Kant seemed to appear in many different aspects of it, and I realized that he has influenced my philosophy the most. He created the Categorical Imperative, which is the idea that we should act how we want others to act towards us, and that should be the universal law.” – Rylee Sexton

One of the most concrete things the Bible deals with is the idea of good and evil. It highlights the morality of life and how we should live it. On the issue of morality, I have mixed feelings. Morality is subjective. There is a construct of what is good and bad in all of our respective minds, but as situations change, the view of right and wrong can become skewed. People will alter their morality to be convenient to their specific situations or momentous desires. The evidence lies in the mind. Humans are programmed to survive. Whenever a situation arises that could cause harm to oneself, our first instinct is to protect ourselves. People will think of themselves primarily. However, seemingly selfless acts are performed all the time out of compassion and love. The most optimistic thing Schopenhauer ever stated was that “compassion is the basis of morality.” The best way to live is Kant’s way. Kant invented the idea of the Categorical Imperative, which is a system that breaks all the loopholes in the golden rule. Kant’s idea was that whatever you do, make sure you would be okay with everyone doing it. If you steal you must be okay with everyone else taking from you. This system bases itself on man’s need of self-preservation, which, biologically speaking, will not allow us to cause any harm to ourselves. Lawren Simmons

Numerous philosophers have discussed the existence of God and with each comes their own unique opinion. Aristotle said God was the “Unmoved Mover” and Nietzsche said, “God is dead,” and some did not even acknowledge if there was a God. Well, there is a God, and He has always been, and he will always be. I know that there is a God, because there is too much evidence for a God for there not to be a God, such as the Bible, modern day miracles, and all of history. My philosophy acknowledges St. Thomas Aquinas’s Five Proofs for God. God created everything in the beginning of time and is in control of everything in the universe. I came to this understanding by studying the Bible and listening to sermons and teachers. God’s perception of time is different from our perception of time; as humans, we do not know what is going to happen in the future; we cannot see the whole picture from start to end, but God can. I have come to this conclusion, because God is all powerful and all knowing. I was raised in a Christian household, and my parents put me in a lot of Christian organizations where I discovered my faith on my own. – Grace Woodward

Emerson instructs us to “build your own world,” so we do so through our perceptions. Our perception is the only reality we live in, since we cannot know what goes on in others’ minds. It is a basic psychological principle that much is lost in the transfer of ideas through language. That being said, the exact same situation can be experienced in hundreds of uniquely different ways. However, that doesn’t mean a specific true reality doesn’t exist. All our perceptions are different and biased towards ourselves, but the truth can be found somewhere in the middle. This way of thought is exemplified in the Socratic method, where we do not simply accept or reject an idea, but instead, question it to find a “middle ground” that is closer to reality. Personally, this has been one of the most indisputable and helpful philosophical theories in my life. It encourages a more inquisitive and accepting attitude, which is important to any sort of relationship. By knowing that my reality is different and not necessarily more correct than anyone else’s, I can embrace and learn from my own ignorance and others’ opposition. Socrates said it best, “True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.” – Gabi Zlatanoff