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Is Abstract Thinking Well-suited to Everyday Life? Essay

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Updated: Sep 16th, 2019

Most often than not, abstract thinking is usually compared to concrete thinking. Abstract thinking is usually assumed to encompass what is presently seen or visible as opposed to what is expected in the future or what has been experienced in the past. An abstract thinker is therefore unique in the sense that he can conceptualize or generalize given concepts but with the knowledge that different concepts may mean different things all together.

Abstract thinkers sometimes tend to perceive things beyond what is obviously known and may use different patterns to solve different problems in totally different contexts.

For example, when considering a picture of a woman holding a torch, an abstract and concrete thinker would perceive the picture in two different ways: a concrete thinker would perceive the painting in its literal form while an abstract thinker would probably perceive the painting as a connotation of the Statue of liberty with a probable assumption that the painter was probably trying to signify freedom on one way or the other.

These different perceptions have been symbolized variably in many contemporary literary works. Such works have been done by writers such as Plato, Michel Houellebecq and Voltaire. Plato’s works as will be highlighted in this study revolve around the book symposium which was to a large extent written to reflect on the life of the ancient Greek and more specifically about their sexual behavior.

The book encompasses a series of speeches that were given at a party (symposium). Each man that graced the event had to give a speech about love and all these speeches summed up together encompassed a great part of the book.

In Voltaire’s Candid, Voltaire is depicted as an illegitimate son in law to a German baron whom he lived with. He is later taught that life is the best place he could ever imagine but after the baron sees him kissing his daughter; he is expelled from home and has to run away to Holland.

From there, the story talks of Voltaire’s realization about life’s philosophies which this study relies on. Finally, Michel Houellebecq’s Whatever narrates the story of a man who tries to make a living out of letting his colleagues know about his company’s products. The narrator’s life is depicted as a straightforward one but as the story progresses, the opposite is noticed. The narrator gives his views about the world and his life experiences with work, women and life in general. These views are also part of the bedrock to this study.

These authors have reflected abstract thinking in many was than one. For starters, they have incorporated abstract thinking in matters relating to death, religion, immortality and such like variables.

This study will deduce its findings around the works of these three different authors because they represent different concepts of everyday life through their works. However, the biggest dilemma derived in such types of works is whether abstract thinking should be used in everyday life or not. This study to a far extent identifies that abstract thinking should not be used in everyday life.

Human Spirit

Voltaire was a strong proponent of British empiricism and a strong critic of universal rationalism. Most of his works were largely pessimistic in nature and continuously made fun of optimistic thinking about life (Csudh 4). On the same basis, he attacked Descarte’s physics, made use of Newton’s law, and largely based his views from Locke’s principles.

From his book, Candide, Voltaire is seen as mocking ideas advanced by Descarte, terming them as innate by making reference to Locke’s principles which also disputed the same ideas. Instead, Voltaire is seen as a proponent of the idea that man’s desire to pursue happiness comes from within the person himself and not from external forces (Csudh 4).

As opposed to other writers who generally wrote about the human spirit, Voltaire expressed his views of the history of the human spirit. This was done with much emphasis on Locke’s ideas of the human spirit. Comparatively, Voltaire’s ideas can be equated to concrete thinking because on many fronts, he disputed generalization ideas (abstract thinking) by many writers such as Descarte who was accused of reducing physics to geometry among other types of generalizations.

Other references were made of Descarte’s disregard for weight as the most important gravitational force and his generalization of the same forces to extension. This was also in contrast to Newton’s laws which Voltaire greatly relied on. Newton was therefore a great inspiration to Voltaire’s works in terms of his astronomical views and in physics.


In other spheres and disciplines, Voltaire greatly criticized God, freedom and the immortality of the soul according to the philosophical environment of his time. In other words, Voltaire found that abstract thinking and more specifically; systematic ways of thinking, were less valuable that critical thinking. Instead, he supported a fragmented way of thinking that relied more on concrete thinking as opposed to abstract thinking.

Voltaire therefore argued that it was only in the context of true religion that a human being was able to develop a love for God and the love for a neighbor. He also proposed that “the lower the degree of Dogmas, the more truthful religious principles were to become” (Csudh 4). In other words, Voltaire was a strong critic of Christianity. In the same sense, he also attacked d’Hollbach’s La Systeme de la nature, and other writers who proposed views that conformed to Christian principles.

Christianity and many other forms of religion represent an abstract form of thinking that is not essentially true. In this manner, religion and Christianity seem as though they are expressing an abstract opinion of God, morality, immortality and freedom because religion is not subjective in nature but more of a distinct objective assessment of the same virtues (God, morality, immortality and freedom).

These are the same grounds that made Voltaire criticize religion because more specifically, Christianity makes people indulge into important social issues without necessarily making them a party to it because it has the power to make believers stand aloof. However, this does not mean that religion does not have its good points.

When trying to understand Christianity and the values it upholds, it is difficult to comprehend it in its present form because it requires dissecting and that is why Christian faithfuls always throng into churches for interpretation of Christian scriptures by their religious leaders. This form of system leaves a lot to be desired because it is open to human interpretation and many people may be misled by it, especially through the trust most people have of their religious leaders.

This is a form of abstract thinking and can at times be quite difficult to understand the messages behind it. In addition, the human aspect to it is left out and a personal touch also misses in the same manner. It is therefore quite difficult to refrain from terming such a system as obnoxious because some people would generalize such social structures as inaccurate or trash them out all together because of the unwillingness to accept the finer details contained in such manner of thought.

The above factors however enforced Voltaire’s influence from British Deism. He was therefore a proponent of the opinion that Christianity ought to be a moral, rational and natural form of religion because he was not a strong supporter of the teleological and cosmological arguments advanced by Christianity and their proponents; instead he bore a lot of emphasis to the moral argument regarding the existence of God (Walsh 23).

Voltaire was therefore of the opinion that God was in existence because without his existence, it was not possible to achieve a moral world. Otherwise, if God was not existent, he had to be invented in one way or another (Von Dehsen 192).


Morality as proposed by Plato and Voltaire is a systematic form of responsibility that mankind has towards his creators and neighbors. The existence of God is therefore seen as a form of submission to a higher authority which in its absence, things may not go on as expected. This fact can also be manifested through mankind’s ancient need to create government. The government today plays a role in maintaining law and order in the society and sees to it that things follow a given set of order.

This is the rule of law in the society but comparisons can be made to Voltaire’s principles of morality because the government can be equated to the existence of God. His view that “if ever God did not exist, then he ought to be invented” can also be equated to mankind’s need to invent government in the prehistoric era (Csudh 4). The existence of government therefore ensures there is law and order in the society; just the same way as the existence of God ensures there is a moral conscious in every person.


In close relation, Voltaire’s works purport that it is not easy to demonstrate the immortality of the soul in Christianity or any other religious faith although at the same time, it is impossible to achieve a state of morality in the society if immortality does not exist. Immortality is difficult to quantify because of the mystery that overshadows it.

It is basically an element of faith because there is no person who has risen from the dead to tell the living that life exists after death. In this manner, it is difficult to maintain a positive attitude to life after death as can be evidenced through an abstract thinking of immortality in Christianity. These sentiments are also expressed by Voltaire and they represent a form of concrete thinking because it goes beyond the surface analysis of immortality.

Plato identifies that immortality is almost non-existent and man should maximize on his time on earth as opposed to living in the hope of attaining immortality in future (Forrest 91). This is a form of thinking that is solely based on facts that are evidenced the world over. There is therefore no distinction in the way Plato and Voltaire view immortality because both of them are proponents of the strength of mankind’s will to determine his destiny and his legacy.

This type of thought is essentially easy to back up than the conventional perception of immortality supported by religion. However, there needs to be a distinction in the factual and religious contexts of the perception of immortality because both Plato and Voltaire represent a form of scientific perception (of immortality) while religion represents a faith-based form of immortality.

Unfortunately, a faith-based form of immortality represents an abstract form of thinking as opposed to the concrete form of thinking that relies a lot on reason and tends to incline more towards science.

Immortality is however an important element in upholding morality in the society because morality thrives on immortality (as a reward). Basically, humans uphold moral principles in the context of achieving immortality in future. This form of thinking is theoretical and not necessarily factual as advanced by Voltaire because he is of the opinion that man has the power to determine his destiny on earth and a greater will rests on him as opposed to an abstract thinking advanced through religion (Csudh 4).

In the same regard, the freedom associated with will is therefore less admirable than the freedom associated with action. Basically, every person has the freedom to do whatever he/she is willing to do and this freedom should not be constrained by blanket thoughts advanced by various social systems.

There is however, a clear-cut difference of what one wants with regard to whether it is free or not but Voltaire proposes that “desire is not backed up by reason but freedom is full of reason” (Csudh 4). The latter is essentially a representation of the concrete form of reasoning while desire is a form of an abstract form of thinking which is misleading in some fronts.


Evil is a living part of life that cannot be eliminated, just like the will to do good exist, the will to do evil also exists in the same manner. Even in God’s kingdom, there existed Satan and God and according to Christianity, the two forces (Good and evil representing God and Satan) also exist to date.

Voltaire however expresses a very pessimistic opinion about evil because he advances the fact that evil has the potential of trampling over good. This is also enforced by his opinion of the fact that everyday life is unrealistic and unfair (elements of evil).

The Novel candide affirms this opinion through its representation of Eden and the eventual expulsion of the subjects from the castle. Eden can be symbolically used to represent abstract thinking and the optimism that is associated with it. A real life scenario represents the fact that evil has the potential of ruining the social fabric and all other elements associated with everyday living. This can be seen through corruption, wars, murder and everyday social injustices witnessed today.

Michel Houellebecq also advances the same opinion in his book whatever because he paints a grim picture of the world. A good part of the novel talks about his dreary life as he struggles to make something good out of his life, although his life practically spins out of control.

However, the narrator’s straightforward life can be seen as a form of abstract thinking because to many readers, his life seems rather straightforward because he is portrayed as a simple sales person who tries to orient his colleagues with the new software his company has come up with.

However, underneath, he is very depressed and an instance is given of his hesitation in checking up his messages because he can’t believe there’s anyone who’d call him up. Complete Review affirms these sentiments by highlighting that “The narrator’s life spirals out of control too, though it seems just to be a straightforward (but deep) depressive state he works himself into — no surprise, given his outlook” (4). The author’s life becomes very frustrating and he sees a therapist over the same issue.

Complete Review goes on to affirm that “But it is not a happy world out there, any which way you look” (4). These sentiments goes to show that despite the author’s life looking rather normal, there are a lot of underlying factor underneath that aren’t exposed of his life. These underlying factors are what matters for the narrator’s life because they contribute a great part of the novel.

These underlying factors represent concrete thought and the concrete thoughts represent the true situation of life. Abstract thinking can therefore be misleading in one way or another as is depicted by Michel’s works. Not only does whatever paint a grim picture of the narrator’s life alone, it also signifies how the world is a dark place and full of evil with little or no hope at all.

These are the underlying factors that are never brought to fore by abstract thinking. Instead, abstract thinking purports that things will be okay and an unforeseen will of mankind will always trample upon evil.

This kind of thought does not hold much water in everyday life as can be evidenced through collapsed countries, societies and regimes across the globe. The underlying factors behind this form of reasoning therefore need to be explored and frankly, it all boils down to the human will. In other words, humans are endowed with the power to determine their fate and destiny or the type of life they want to live.

As much as the will to do good is desirable, the will to do evil is also existent and should be acknowledged. Plato and Voltaire therefore advance these facts through their works because they bear a lot of emphasis on the ability of mankind to make most of their time on earth by doing good because evil still exists. However, the two authors also acknowledge the fact that there is still much room to do good because the world is not the best it could ever be.


Abstract thinking does not scratch the surface to expose underlying factors behind everyday living. Plato, Michel and Voltaire represent a pessimistic view of everyday living because of their experiences of the underlying factors which abstract thinking fails to note (Williams 29). Most of the opinions advanced by religion, with regard to God, Evil, Immortality, and morality are all unfounded because they are not necessarily based on factual evidence or reason.

This is what abstract thinking lacks (reason) but it rather bluntly bases its facts on generalizations. The same trend can also be seen through Voltaire who quickly changed his opinion regarding major life factors such as Evil and immortality through many life events like the Lisbon’s earthquakes which prompted him to change his optimistic opinion on evil (Csudh 4).

Abstract thinking is also wrong because it is open to human interpretation which may later cause confusion as regards the correct trail of thought. Comparatively, concrete thinking seems more desirable because it is based on facts which are often proven and which rarely change. Everyday life is unpredictable and unrealistic in some fronts and it would be wrong to generalize issues that face humanity today and in the future as abstract thinking does.

Other principles advanced by other philosophers such as Marx Weber also propose that Abstract thinking is a wrong form of thinking because it does not support creativity. Many people in the society are therefore brainwashed into thinking in a certain way, thereby prompting them to follow a given set of laid down rules or bureaucratic procedures which greatly limit their creative ability. This study therefore identifies that to a far extent, abstract thinking should not be used in everyday life.

Works Cited

Complete Review. The Complete Review’s Review. 2000. 11 October. 2010. <>

Csudh. The Philosophies of Enlightenment. 22 July. 2009. 11 October. 2010. <>

Forrest, Baird. From Plato to Derrida. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008. Print.

Von Dehsen, Christian. Philosophers and Religious Leaders. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999. Print.

Walsh, Lentin. Course Introduction and Death of the Old Regime? New York: Open University Worldwide Ltd, 2004. Print.

Williams, David. Political Writings. Oxford: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Print.

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