What am I going to study, you ask? I have been accepted into the master’s program of the philosophy department at SF State. The areas of philosophy that I am particularly interested in are feminist and moral philosophy, especially applied ethics. I would like to center my investigation of these areas around the development of an ethical framework that helps us humans create life-affirming and sustainable societies that are just to all individuals no matter what our relationship status.
Musings over our current economic and environmental situation have deepened my interest in addressing these problems more rigorously by switching careers. As the financial crisis deepens, most economists and policy makers suggest that the way out of the crisis is to spend. They call on the government and individuals to increase our spending, ignoring that one of the root causes of the crisis is a mountain of debt. This debt was largely created by a desire for growth – economic growth as well as the idea of “more” on the individual level. We were accumulating stuff in an attempt to attain happiness in life. If only we could get this one more thing, we’d be happy and our life would have meaning. Overconsumption – and the associated debt – is a symptom of an ethical crisis that might lead to the destruction of our life support system. Back in the 1950s, Victor Frankl talked about an existential vacuum. The existential vacuum emerged from a meaning crisis in most of the Western world: As religions were replaced by humanist ideas, no ready-made life meaning was available and humans no longer felt connected to something larger.
Additionally, our connections to other human beings have narrowed with the increasing emphasis on the nuclear family. The community of friends and acquaintances merged into the idea of “The One” – one person who can meet all of our needs. Underneath the façade, though, the needs for connection and meaning remain unfulfilled. Combine this need deficit with an economic system that pushes growth as the only factor that matters and the consumption and debt patterns we are witnessing now result.
In order to create a life-affirming and sustainable society, we need to find an ethical framework that reconnects us with genuine sources of meaning. My task as philosopher is to help develop this kind of framework that provides potential answers – or guidelines on how to find them – to the quest for meaning in life and the desire to be part of something larger. I suggest that there are better ways to fill the existential vacuum: By strengthening our connections to ourselves and to other people, as well as nature. These connections have to be founded on a profound understanding of justice – an affirmation of the individual as connected to a larger world, no matter who that individual is or how these connections are established (i.e., through marriage or friendship or anything in between). In order for us to increase our chances of survival as a species we need to change our priorities. This redefinition, though, requires a vision of a new way that is grounded in a deep understanding of our interconnections but does not need religious concepts.