If questioned further, they will point out that history is just a compilation of mistakes, hostility, ignorance, hatred, and prejudice. Is there any place in the world where you can find reason and logic? What is the point of looking for the right answers if nobody seems to care? Should we not rather live for the moment without giving much thought to the future?
This book presents the principles of rational living, but the presentation is not going to amount to much if I fail to provide solid arguments in favour of leading a rational life in the first place. Why is it better to guide ourselves by logic than by whim?
It would be foolish to deny that many people have little regard for reason. History provides a disquieting record of human irrationality and shows us the dark side of the facts, but if we want to learn the truth, we must look at the whole picture.
A balanced view of events is going to lead us to a different conclusion. In all periods of history, despite much irrationality, millions of people have pursued progress and truth. For every mistake, a hundred steps have been taken in the right direction; and for every failure, a hundred successes have been attained.
You only need to look around to see the results of human ingenuity. From electricity to computers, from cars to aeroplanes, from cell phones to the internet, the proofs of man's achievements are all around us. It is through reason that man has been able to survive, expand his reach, and attain a high standard of living.
The amenities and the good health that millions of people enjoy nowadays are the result of logical thinking. No one can produce a refrigerator by assembling parts at random, nor write a novel by typing senseless words. In every case, man's mind needs to select a goal, establish a plan, and implement it.
The crucial role played by rationality becomes crystal-clear when we look at our own lives. The assessment of history can be difficult due to the incompleteness of data, but we cannot say the same of our personal experience: when we attain our goals, we feel happy; when we overcome sickness or poverty, we feel proud of our achievement; and in all cases, rationality plays a key role in making good things happen.
Living rationally is not going to guarantee that you will attain success and happiness, but it will increase dramatically your possibilities to do so. If you apply logic to your decisions, you will make better ones, and if you make mistakes, they are going to be less serious. Your actions will become more effective, your labours less trying, and your rewards more plentiful.
Why does rationality have such a positive influence on our lives? Why should you make the effort of acquiring knowledge and leading a thoughtful life? Why can you not get away with drifting from day to day, oblivious to logic and principles? The case for rationality rests on powerful justifications, namely:
- Rational individuals perceive many aspects of reality that escape casual observers.
- They can make logical connections that remain invisible to other people.
- They draw lessons from experience and apply them to solve problems.
- Their decisions and actions are consistent with their goals.
- Rational individuals are extraordinarily self-reliant.
- They have the courage to make the right choices in the face of opposition.
- They understand that the law of cause and effect governs all areas of their lives.
- They pursue their goals with passion and serenity.
- Rational individuals are inordinately persistent.
- They build meaningful, stable relationships.
- They accept the inevitable hassles of life.
- They do not blow problems out of proportion.
My goal with this book is to help you advance on your path towards a rational life during good times and bad times. The principles of rational living summarize many important lessons that past generations have learned through trial and error. My purpose in organising, condensing, and writing down those lessons is to render them accessible and easy to apply.
When Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) sat down to compose his treatise on ethics, his goal was to design a philosophical system that would allow his readers to find their way in any situation. With mathematical accuracy, he built his axioms into principles and his principles into conclusions, trying to cover all aspects of human life in a logical and consistent manner.
Did he succeed in his attempt? Yes, to a good extent he did, and his work still remains a source of inspiration to those who search for truth. This book takes over some of Spinoza's ideas, adapting them to modern times, as well as ideas from Aristotle and other thinkers. However, for my presentation of the principles of rational living, I am going to rely more on real-life examples than on quotations from ancient philosophers.
From dating to making friends, from stress reduction to investing, the principles of rational living can help you live more successfully and happily. For each situation, they are going to provide you simple and effective strategies that have repeatedly proven to work in the past. At the end of the day, the only ideas that count are those that you can put into practice quickly at an affordable cost. I hope that you will find many of those in this book.