The Scipionic Circle 97: Why You Shouldn't Lie, Assessing Arguments, and Philosophy in Practice
"He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened." — Lao Tzu
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Food for Thought
I. Philosophy in Practice: Beyond Knowledge for Knowledge's Sake
"The man who’s gathering knowledge for the sake of it is like the sailor who's dying of thirst on the ocean. No matter how much he drinks, he will always be thirsty.
"The reason Seneca and Marcus Aurelius were such great philosophers is that they weren’t, in fact, philosophers – they were practitioners.
"Seneca was a statesman, fervently involved in politics; and Marcus Aurelius was a prominent Roman emperor.
"Philosophy gathers vitality as soon as it develops a loving relationship with action – and vice-versa." – From Economy of Truth Practical Maxims and Reflections by Vizi Andrei.
II. Decoding Arguments: Assessing Truth, Relevance, and Structure
"By way of brief review: An argument expresses the heart of reasoning, the inferential move; in its simplest form it invites us to accept one idea as true on the basis of another. The first thing to ascertain, in assessing an argument, is whether or not there is indeed an argument to assess. In other words, are the two basic elements of argument, premises and a conclusion, present at all? Sometimes, in what superficially appears to be an argument, we have a discourse in which a point is stated vigorously, perhaps in a variety of ways, but is unaccompanied by any discernible supporting data. Only a supported statement is worthy of the term “conclusion.” An unsupported statement is a mere opinion, which we are free to take or leave at face value. Once we are confident we are dealing with a bona fide argument, we would want to look immediately to the premises that support its conclusion. First and foremost, are the premises true? This question cannot always be answered with a flat yes or no. During the normal course of events, we will come across few arguments whose premises are patently false. But often the most seductive arguments are those whose premises, while not out-and-out false, deal with the truth in such a way that it is appreciably falsified. This is when we have to be especially alert to the subtleties of language. After we are assured we are dealing with true premises, we need to test their strength in terms of their relevancy to the conclusion they seek to support. The next thing we have to determine is whether or not the argument is structurally sound. Does it in fact make critical connections between the ideas on which the soundness of its conclusion depends? If an argument purports to be advancing a conclusion that follows necessarily, when in fact it does not, the argument fails. In arguments advancing probable conclusions, the degree of the probable truth of those conclusions depends on the degree to which the data constituting the premises of an argument lend strong and convincing support to the claims made by the conclusion. In the final analysis, the force of an argument depends on the extent to which it reflects the objective order of things. We argue well because first we reason well, and the purpose of both arguing and reasoning is to enable us to perform more freely and purposefully in the world." — From Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking by Dennis Q. McInerny.
III. The Lure of Lies: Unraveling the Web of Deceit
"And why not lie? Why not twist and distort things to obtain a small gain, or to smooth things over, or to keep the peace, or to avoid hurt feelings? Reality has its terrible aspect: do we really need to confront its snake-headed face in every moment of our waking consciousness, and at every turn in our lives? Why not turn away, at least, when looking is simply too painful? The reason is simple. Things fall apart. What worked yesterday will not necessarily work today. We have inherited the great machinery of state and culture from our forefathers, but they are dead, and cannot deal with the changes of the day. The living can. We can open our eyes and modify what we have where necessary and keep the machinery running smoothly. Or we can pretend that everything is alright, fail to make the necessary repairs, and then curse fate when nothing goes our way. Things fall apart: this is one of the great discoveries of humanity. And we speed the natural deterioration of great things through blindness, inaction and deceit. Without attention, culture degenerates and dies, and evil prevails. What you see of a lie when you act it out (and most lies are acted out, rather than told) is very little of what it actually is. A lie is connected to everything else. It produces the same effect on the world that a single drop of sewage produces in even the largest crystal magnum of champagne. It is something best considered live and growing.
"When the lies get big enough, the whole world spoils. But if you look close enough, the biggest of lies is composed of smaller lies, and those are composed of still smaller lies—and the smallest of lies is where the big lie starts. It is not the mere misstatement of fact. It is instead an act that has the aspect of the most serious conspiracy ever to possess the race of man. Its seeming innocuousness, its trivial meanness, the feeble arrogance that gives rise to it, the apparently trivial circumventing of responsibility that it aims at—these all work effectively to camouflage its true nature, its genuine dangerousness, and its equivalence with the great acts of evil that man perpetrates and often enjoys. Lies corrupt the world. Worse, that is their intent. First, a little lie; then, several little lies to prop it up. After that, distorted thinking to avoid the shame that those lies produce, then a few more lies to cover up the consequences of the distorted thinking. Then, most terribly, the transformation of those now necessary lies through practice into automatized, specialized, structural, neurologically instantiated 'unconscious' belief and action. Then the sickening of experience itself as action predicated on falsehood fails to produce the results intended. If you don’t believe in brick walls, you will still be injured when you run headlong into one. Then you will curse reality itself for producing the wall. After that comes the arrogance and sense of superiority that inevitably accompanies the production of successful lies (hypothetically successful lies—and that is one of the greatest dangers: apparently everyone is fooled, so everyone is stupid, except me. Everyone is stupid and fooled, by me—so I can get away with whatever I want). Finally, there is the proposition: 'Being itself is susceptible to my manipulations. Thus, it deserves no respect.'" — From 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Baltasar Gracián on the currency of life:
"Nothing really belongs to us but time, which even he has who has nothing else. It is equally unfortunate to waste your precious life in mechanical tasks or in a profusion of important work."
II. Lao Tzu on true wisdom:
"He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened."
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