Bad Advice From Philosophers
Philosophy means a love of knowledge. Many of the greatest thinkers in history were philosophers, both knowledgeable and wise. Many of them thought, “If everyone listens to me, then we will all be successful and happy and there will be no problems.” But while many things philosophers have said work great in the Realm of Ideas, their advice doesn’t always translate well to the real world.
Socrates lived in Athens and died in 399 BC. He is famous for his beard, his illiteracy, and his refusal to wear shoes. He was one of those guys that thought he knew more than everyone else. Instead of using his brain-powers to solve crimes or do science he turned to philosophy. And he mercilessly annoyed everyone in the ancient city-state.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to the Agora to buy shoes, Socrates.”
“But how do you know that?”
The people of Athens got tired of Socrates, so they put him on trial for corrupting the youth. During his trial, he was asked if he thought he was really wise enough to be teaching kids, to which he said, “I only know that I know nothing.”
“And I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find wanting in others: but the truth is, O men of Athens, that God only is wise; and by his answer he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration, as if he said, He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing.”
This is not a good thing to say if you are ever on trial for anything. But its an even worse thing to say before the trial. Speaking that way to a jury is a great way to bother them and get convicted. Speaking that way to a police officer is a great way to find out what a mag-lite tastes like.
“Why are there illegal drugs in your vehicle, sir?”
“I don’t know, officer. What’s a drug?”
To further prove the point, it didn’t work out well for Socrates, either. He was convicted and sentenced to death. Socrates was given the chance to get out of it, but he refused. He calmly drank poison, and died. Like a bored old man who is just waiting for death, or a CIA agent held captive in Cold War Era Belarus.
Despite his wisdom, Socrates teaches one lesson above all others.:
Going around trying to sound smarter than everyone, and then being smug about it, will earn you nothing but public condemnation and death.
David Hume was an empiricist. He posited the belief that knowledge could only come from direct sensory experience. Hume didn’t believe a person could learn anything from hearing stories, reading books, daydreaming, or other similar tasks. Tasks that took place in the real world, even if more mundane, were far superior ways to spend time. So he was like the parent of any kid who is trying to play video games.
Hume is famous for saying we should take all of our knowledge that didn’t come from direct quantifiable experience, all of our books or papers or flash drives, and “commit it to the flames,” for all the good its worth.
“When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”
Nothing but sophistry and illusion? How dare he say that about The Hobbit!
Saying cruel things about books is crude enough. Burning them is something that is generally looked down upon by everyone who isn’t bonkers.
If you want do go incinerate a pile of bank statements and half-finished The Mentalist fan fiction then that is your business. But burning books attracts the wrong sort of people. Shortly after the flames start people will be knocking on your door with wheelbarrows of Harry Potter novels and classic books to commit to the flames. These are people you probably don’t want to be friends with.
And if you still take David Hume’s dramatic statement to heart, and you didn’t study for your mid-terms because you burned all your books in the kiln in the art building, then that is a terrible excuse. Unless you are a philosophy major. I guess.
Frederic Nietzsche was a premier philosopher of the 19th century, and spelling nightmare for everyone who followed. He believed, like many of his philosopher colleagues, that a specific type of person should rule the world. Can you guess what that particular type of person was?
He thought philosophers would be the best people in charge because their brains made them the superior human beings. According to Nietzsche, a philosopher is someone who takes no prisoners in his quest for the ultimate truth. That quest for truth gives them the ability to create true laws. But he speaks better for himself.
Beyond Good And Evil, 211. “THE REAL PHILOSOPHERS, HOWEVER, ARE COMMANDERS AND LAW-GIVERS…Their “knowing” is CREATING, their creating is a law-giving, their will to truth is—WILL TO POWER.
Nietzsche pioneered the technique of YELLING in CAPS, but he wasn’t very good at selling his pitch for a society ruled by philosophers. It turned out people would rather have laws that are convenient than laws that are true. And nobody responds well to being yelled at by a man with a moustache.
As a rule of thumb, if anyone ever approaches you on the street and says anything along the lines of, “Trust me, I’m a philosopher.” DO NOT TRUST THAT PERSON.
Confucius, or Kong Fuzi, lived in China around 500 B.C. This was a time called the Warring States period. Many lords fought each other for dominance over China. Confucius spent his life wondering between the palaces of these different lords dispensing advice on how to be happy. To put it succinctly, Confucius told everyone the way to be happy is to know your place and do a better job at occupying it.
According to his philosophy, people should give full power to their authority figure, and in turn he will care for their needs. This authority can be a father, or grandfather, or older brother. Basically any person who is older than you and also has a penis. In Confucian philosophy this “filial piety” can be transferred to the state, and whatever guy is in charge of it. Any time Confucius mentions a father, or a parent, the same lesson can be applied to the government.
“As David Hall and Roger Ames have argued, this “aesthetic” Confucian order is understood to be both intrinsically moral and profoundly harmonious, whether for a…household, the court of a…king, or the cosmos at large. When persons and things are in their proper places – and here tradition is the measure of propriety – relations are smooth, operations are effortless, and the good is sought and done voluntarily.”
Confucius provides several little anecdotes and phrases that seem to support this way of thinking. But while these quips make perfect sense in an idealized feudal China, they also have the potential to backfire.
“Observe what a person has in mind to do when his father is alive, and then observe what he does when his father is dead. If, for three years, he makes no changes to his father’s ways, he can be said to be a good son. (1.11)
If the father spent all of the money on gambling and booze and was in a drunk delirium when the bookie finally came to end the cycle of vice, the son has to keep drinking and gambling for three years in order to be considered good?
That may have been an exaggeration of Confucius’ point, but if it can be so easily ridiculed, then was it really a good point in the first place?
[The disciple] Ziyu asked about filial piety. The Master said, “Nowadays, for a person to be filial means no more than that he is able to provide his parents with food. Even dogs and horses are provided with food. If a person shows no reverence, where is the difference?” (2.7)
In serving your father and mother, you ought to dissuade them from doing wrong in the gentlest way. If you see your advice being ignored, you should not become disobedient but should remain reverent. You should not complain even if you are distressed. (4.18)”
If the people are clamoring in the streets, upset with the order because they have no bread to eat, their troubles are their own fault. After all, they could have had cake.
Confucius was a very wise man, but it appears he never learned the phrase, “Absolute power corrupts. Absolutely.”
Aristotle was one of the most influential thinkers of Western society. He was borne in Stagira, Greece in 384 B.C. To this day, gift shops in the ancient city sell little license plates that say “Aristotle.”
He was versed in a great number of subjects, but is best known for his scientific approach to philosophy. Like Hume, Aristotle came to believe that experience was the primary force that shaped the human mind. He was always observing the world around him, and trying to piece these observations together into a quilt of understanding.
Among his many ideas is the concept for a “ladder of life.” Aristotle’s ladder of life is a complex hierarchy that organizes all living things, each being subordinate to those above, and in charge of those below. They are arranged according to their form, but also according to how, “perfect,” they are.
Naturally, Humans are at the top, and dull-witted, immobile life forms like plants are stuck down at the bottom. This sounds a lot like the modern theory of evolution, which wouldn’t be thought up for another couple of thousand years.
But Aristotle was missing one key feature of the modern theory of evolution. Nature is more lateral than a ladder. It goes from side to side, not up and down. All organisms on this green earth, from single-celled bacteria to magnificent Homo sapiens have had the same amount of time to evolve. No species is more evolved then another, just evolved differently.
Of course, apex predators are still in charge of their prey. In a way. But you shouldn’t listen to your boss just because he is higher up on the ladder and probably more perfect than you. You should listen to him because he signs your paycheck.