By Anya Konstantinovsky
Philosophy in the modern day can seem like something obsolete anywhere outside of a college class or a book. However, whether we’re conscious of it or not, the words and phrases developed by ancient and modern philosophers follow us in our everyday lives. They helped to build the very structure of our thinking and continue to inspire creative and existential thought. Though I am by no means a philosopher, I decided to try to understand a little bit more about this confusing topic, analyzing both cliché and rare pieces of wisdom in regard to our own lives.
“No one has a right to compel me to be happy in the peculiar way in which he may think of the well-being of other men; but everyone is entitled to seek his own happiness in the way that seems to him best, if it does not infringe the liberty of others.”- Immanuel Kant
This particular Kant quote was written two years after the French Revolution and addressed the importance of individual liberty without governmental interference. While we are lucky enough to live in a country that does not exhibit totalitarian control over our happiness (at least for now… please vote November 8th!), societal pressures can still be incredibly strong. After all, the government is only one branch of the evolutionary development of our society; other elements like peer pressure, social media, or even the body language of those around us can be fundamental factors in how we feel. On campus, there is definitely a certain definition of happiness. For many girls, it’s typically the archetype of the girl who always looks perfect, is an academic success, reigns over multiple clubs, and parties all weekend. The belief that there is a particular formula to “happiness” that depends on a perfect ratio of certain traits is quite prevalent. But why would it make sense for happiness to only exist in one “peculiar” way?
I think our modern decrease of focus on physical survival has forced us to redefine exemplary traits. Instead of effective bipedalism or the ability to use stone tools, we value how people use social tools like social media or clothing to further themselves in our world. However, as Kant very wisely says, people do not have an inherent right to make you feel or want to feel anything. You have the right to define your own inner world. Being forced to experience happiness in a certain way or under certain constraints is an infringement of your rights and autonomy. Just like you choose what food to put in your body or what to do when you’re sick, you can choose how to shape your personal happiness and enlightenment. So this week, instead of buying into this illusion of social hierarchy, give yourself the opportunity to make the rules. You are your own governing force because it is your life to lead. In the end, no one else will know exactly what it is like to be you. Trust yourself. Kant knows you can do it.
Don’t ever think you Kant believe in yourself.
(Image from http://thisnortheasternlife.blogspot.com/)
Anya Konstantinovsky is a first year at Barnard College and a writer for Barnard Bite.