Wednesday, 31 October 2012

How Immanuel Kant succeeded by going nowhere. Personal development does not happen without a distinct goal. How to be rational and find peace of mind

Travelling for pleasure is a modern phenomenon. Before the twentieth century, few people undertook long journeys if it was not for investment or trade. Moving from one country to another was uncomfortable and expensive. Before vaccination became an everyday procedure, malaria and yellow fever presented major health risks for those travelling to tropical areas.

Who can resist the advertisements?

In our days, public taste has shifted to the opposite extreme. From teenagers to pensioners, millions of individuals devote their holidays to visiting distant cities. Airlines offer affordable tickets to cross the ocean, inviting consumers to spend their next vacation exploring exotic cultures. Who can resist their enticing advertisements?

The fact that large numbers of people travel for pleasure provides evidence of its popularity, not of its benefits. Many individuals count smoking, overeating, and excessive drinking amongst their favourite occupations. The enjoyment derived from those activities does not automatically qualify them as advantageous. Judgement should be passed on the basis of rational assessment, not of popularity.


Novelty can be pleasurable, but also exhausting

While dogs and cats appear perfectly contented to move around without purpose, human beings tend to become restless. Travelling dissolves our routines and forces us to start from scratch. Encountering novelty can be pleasurable, but too much of it leads to exhaustion.

Spending your vacation in an unusual location guarantees that you will meet new people and taste exotic food. For the duration of the break, you will forget your routines and feel exempted from preoccupations. The idea is that, since you have worked hard for months, now it is your turn to enjoy a holiday.


Don't you have better things to do? 

On the other hand, if you are one of those who loves his work and is inclined to introspection, you might experience some doubts: Should you really be there? Don't you have better things to do? What is the point of all these vacation trips? Are you not wasting your time?

Our mental patterns are more than five thousand years old

The vision of life as a sequence of work interrupted by holiday trips was born a century ago, but our mental patterns are more than 5.000 years old. The practice of going away at regular intervals and leaving everything behind would have seemed incomprehensible to most 19th century entrepreneurs, composers, or inventors. They would have looked at us with surprise and inquired about the purpose of all that travelling.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is known to have spent his entire life in Konigsberg, a city that nowadays belongs to Russia. Apparently, he never wandered more than a few kilometres away from Konigsberg, where he worked for decades as a university professor. If he had wished to travel, he possessed the means to do so.


Kant did pretty much the same every day, but he had a clear purpose

Kant never crossed the ocean to see America and never visited Russia, even though St. Petersburg is not far away from Konigsberg. He never went to London, never set foot in Paris, and never spent a summer in Rome. For all we know, he did not even go to Berlin for a weekend. If this sounds boring to you, wait until you read the whole story.

Due to financial difficulties in his youth, Kant was forced to interrupt his studies for a couple of years. He eventually managed to obtain an advanced degree and, when he was 31 years old, he landed a teaching job at the University of Konigsberg, where he would continue to lecture until his retirement decades later.

For most of his life, Kant did pretty much the same every day, irrespective of the season. He would have breakfast, walk to the University, teach his classes, have lunch, do some research, write a few pages of his next book, return home, and have dinner.


His goals kept him busy, leaving him little room for other activities

When his friends urged him to have a more active social life, Kant politely replied that he had no time. There was always some exciting subject that he was researching or some important book that he was planning. His writing kept him busy, leaving him little room for travel and other activities.

After a quarter of a century at his job, he produced his most important book, the Critique of Pure Reason (1781). When the volume was published, Kant was already 57 years old and fully conscious of the importance of what he had accomplished. History would prove him right. His work has exerted foremost influence on philosophers during the last two centuries.

The insights contained in Kant's book prepared the ground for scientific discoveries and industrial development. His ethical theories, which underline the role of reason, stressed the importance of individual responsibility.


Do not assume that you are obliged to follow the latest fashion

Would Kant have written such exceptional book if he had spent several weeks per year travelling for pleasure? Would he have produced such extraordinary achievement if he had interrupted his work at regular intervals?

While exotic vacations are fine for some people, other individuals find them disruptive. Depending on your personal philosophy and the type of activities you like, extended travelling might or might not be the right thing for you.

Do not assume that you are obliged to follow the trend. If there is a lesson to be learned from Kant's life, is that you can attain great success without going anywhere. Travelling for pleasure can be great fun, but if there are better things that you could do with your time, do not let anybody decide for you.


For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book about how to be rational  "The 10 Principles of Rational Living"

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by anna carol under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]


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