The Best Worst Mistakes of my Life

I cocked-up my Cambridge interview. You know the ones (no, I didn’t either) where candidates who look good enough on paper (in my case, for a philosophy Masters) need to also look good enough in person. Well, having long harboured (completely unfounded) aspirations to attend ‘Oxbridge’ this Aussie country kid was about to come good and she cocked it up — possibly my worst error of judgment in my academic philosophy education.

Lucky. Continue reading

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Who needs an expert, anyway?

So the headlines tell us we are living in a post-fact world. And the expert is declared — DEAD.

We are witnessing, what I like to call, the ‘argument from conspiracy’ rapidly shift from the domain of crackpots and closet bigots to the dominant (i.e., loudest) mainstream position. This argument assumes that a conspiracy — some clandestine, usually nefarious, ulterior motive — underlies claims of fact, especially those facts that undermine the assumed conspiracy, or oppose claims consistent with it. It follows that no such fact is to be trusted, nor the source of that fact trustworthy.

At its most extreme, no fact is indeed fact. ‘It’s all a cover up!’ Hence, we are now post-fact, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

The basic argument from conspiracy is: Continue reading

Beware of Philosophers bearing Trojan Horses

RomanVirgilFolio101r

Sinon is brought to Priam, from folio 101r Roman Virgil

We witness the greatest human horror acted out for the good of an idea. Lives, societies, countries can be fractured, mutilated, deeply and inconsolably scarred by the embodiment of an idea. In turn, we worry about the harm ideas can cause. We fear they will mess with our heads, bend wills, break hearts.

So last time (excluding the special edition), when I suggested that we imitate — that is, imaginatively act out — ideas that are not our own as our own, I also acknowledged the worry that we risk being damaged, corrupted, by the bad ones. Continue reading

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