Chart designed by Aleksandra Marcella Lauro
I have come to believe that the two virtues required for anyone to philosophize with me are truthfulness and courage. Often, I have spoken of bravery, so this virtue can be put off to the side in this post in order to consider truthfulness on its own.
Truthfulness involves putting a desire to know something about oneself–whatever that something should turn out to be–above the desire to be pleased with oneself or be flattered by others. For instance, I would want to know that I’ve been envious on a certain occasion and to examine why this was so rather than simply continue to believe that I’m always full of admiration and praise. Or I would want to get right that I have tended to be timid or am prone to being irritable on such and such occasions for getting this right takes precedence over indulging myself.
Indeed, truthfulness, teaching me to be accurate with myself regardless of what I learn about myself, lending support to my desire to get a better view of myself however ugly that view may initially appear, is opposed to self-deception. People deceive themselves that they do not lie or have never betrayed their friends; that they love humankind when they really loathe it; that they are compassionate when they are abominably cruel; that they are trusting when they are suspicious or generous when they are miserly. Self-deception is so loathsome because it stands in the way of our confronting what vices we have, what misperceptions cloud our view of things, with the unfortunate result that we cannot overcome these vices. Self-deception, itself a vice, won’t let us free ourselves from the vices it insists upon hiding.
Socrates’s first move was to show his interlocutors that they were deceived about what they knew. Truthfulness was required of each to examine this, to admit the painful yet powerful conclusion, and to continue–even or rather especially after this insight–to keep looking–for what? For what else but the truth.
The renouncer.– What does the renouncer do? He strives for a higher world, he wants to fly further and higher than all affirmers–he throws away much that would encumber his flight, including some things that are not valueless, not disagreeable to him: he sacrifices it to his desire for the heights.
Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Higher and Lower: Distinction, Articulation, Renunciation
The hero of this guidebook is undoubtedly the lonesome Nietzsche, a philosopher not of his time. Lucky for us, he is of ours. For Nietzsche’s chief philosophical question is, ‘How to take flight from the ordinary in order to lead an extraordinary human life?’ Nietzsche was ruthlessly honest about what would be required of one who sought to live extraordinarily: nothing less than the ritual sacrifice of one’s prior existence.
Let us listen to him. If indeed one is to set off on a path through life, then one must begin by drawing the line: the area below marks out ‘the lower,’ that above ‘the higher.’ There is no other way.
The philosopher of science and prominent blogger Massimo Pigliucci suggests that there are at least three practical uses to which academic philosophy can be put: ethics, logic, and philosophical counseling. Of the last, he writes, ‘In a sense, philosophical counseling is a return to what Socrates was doing back in the streets of Athens two and a half millennia ago.’
Originally posted on Ask a Philosopher:
Give three examples of how academic philosophy is useful in the contemporary world.
Answer by Massimo Pigliucci
Let me begin by questioning the question (just like any good philosopher would do!). Why should academic philosophy be useful, and what do we mean by useful anyway? It is curious that the question of utility comes up in the context of philosophy, but not of most other — arguably equally ‘useless’ — academic fields. What is the usefulness to contemporary society of, say, studying literature, or music? Indeed, even much of the research in mathematics and science (those paragons of utility) conducted within the academy, is useless, in the sense of having no practical application. Yes, scientists’ excuse for getting multi-million dollar grants is that their research may, one day, as yet yield unforeseeable pragmatic payoffs. But as a matter of historical record, it doesn’t, and at any rate…
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In The Good Life and Sustaining Life: An Inquiry into Our Great Vexation (in progress), I write,
I have included the figure of the warrior in the schema but not without some reservations since I am not at all sure whether the heroic life is possible in modernity. Many societies have held the aristocrat-warrior in special high regard. Epic heroes such as Alexander the Great and Tamburlaine in Christopher Marlowe’s play Tamburlaine both strove to achieve glory and immortality. And even after the heroic societies were supplanted by more humane civilizations (such as in 5th and 4th C. Athens), the warrior figure was still highly honored. In Plato’s Republic, for example, the guardian figure, who embodies thumos (passion, spiritedness), protects the city-state from its enemies. The guardian stands beside the philosopher-king who rules and the craftsmen, fishermen, and farm workers, all of whom labor to meet everyone’s needs. During the medieval period, the reigning motto was that there were those who pray, those who fought, and those who worked. The clergymen, the arisocrat-knights, and the laborers were all necessary even if the men of the cloth were regarded as the most venerable.
What the warrior shows us is how to be so courageous that death fails to become what is ultimate for us. He is like a metaphysician of life, revealing by example that there is more in or about human life than mere death.