The Virtuous Change Their Mind

Our principles are important. The virtuous live for them. Socrates, in his wisdom, died for them. While the immoral forsake them. It is typically the measure of good character to maintain your principles, whatever, it seems, they may be. And any deviation is the mark of deviance — the weak-willed, the spineless, the hypocrite!

At the same time we think that some principles are just rubbish. Those based on crazy, sometimes dangerous beliefs, those of crack-pots, looneys, terrorists. But we are also inclined to dismiss those who hold onto ideas we simply disagree with or that go against our own. And we are particularly wary of those who hold onto these at all costs — the self-righteous, the arrogant, the deluded!

This raises a problem. On one hand it is a defect of character to forgo our principles, beliefs, ideas, to ever change our mind. While on the other hand it is a dangerous character that holds onto them unwaveringly, to never change our mind. Alas, we cannot have it both ways. Continue reading

Yeah, but I’m not smart enough

As we learnt last time, Socrates was the greatest know-nothing; and importantly, he knew it. Still, despite his genuine protestations, Socrates was actually brilliant. ‘The wisest of them all’ the Oracle of Delphi said; and everybody knew it.

Now it might occur to you that it is actually Socrates’ brilliance that affords him his philosophical ignorance. He had the right kind of smarts to come to grips with, and flourish from, knowing he knows nothing — the extraordinary natural talent to be a philosopher. He’s marked by the divine sign, for goodness sakes! Whereas, like those everyday thinkers who Socrates relentlessly questioned, someone like me (you think) does not have his sort of philosophical mind, just an ordinary mind confined to the usual ignorant.

Perhaps, resigning you to declare: ‘Yeah, it’s alright for Socrates, but I’m just not smart enough to be a philosopher.’ Continue reading

Know Thyself

Last time I signed off by saying, ‘make mine an espresso.’ While I do occasionally enjoy an espresso, I usually drink long blacks. I also said how fitting it was that my opening post was ‘being composed in a cafe.’ Although I did mostly work on it in my usual cafe, sipping a long black, I also worked on it at home at my desk, at the kitchen table, even on the couch. In fact I first sketched out its main points travelling on a train. Unlike my observations of party-goers which I made clearly generic and rhetorical, the statements about myself imply that they were actual events. I was saying something true.

Instead, I admit, I also employed them rhetorically. I went with the ubiquitous espresso over my more obscure preference of long black, because I thought it enhanced the prose, drawing a familiar picture of someone hunched over her laptop taking minuscule sips from those tiny cups simply to justify her continued occupation of a cafe seat. Similarly, by implying that my philosophy blog was being written entirely in a cafe I aimed to signify a continuity between my project and philosophy’s coffee house tradition. Above all else, though, I hoped generally my rhetoric would convey a genuine sense of opening a conversation; like one between friends meeting for a coffee — sincere, thoughtful, cheeky, stimulating, human.

Nevertheless, I am a philosopher. My admission of rhetorical liberties may be forgivable for a ‘writer,’ but a philosopher? Continue reading