March 14, 2017 – Self-Deception Is Our Enemy

“Zeno would say that nothing is more hostile to a firm grasp on knowledge than self-deception.” – Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, 7.23

Sometimes ego gets in the way. Have you ever been in a meeting, participating in an activity, or creating something and you wanted to be respected for the knowledge you bring to the situation? In doing so, was the outcome such that you ended up more focused on how you were being perceived instead of what you could be learning from what others brought? A few seasons ago, when I started playing organized soccer again, I allowed myself to feel the pressure of performance. I didn’t want to disappoint my teammates so I pushed myself physically and I tried to motivate vocally. The outcome: I ended up injuring myself multiple times, and I came across as a bit of an ass. Once I gathered myself, accepted the fact that my body was not in shape for the sport, and that I could not appreciate the dynamics of the team and the league, I became a student to those who had been playing together for years.

In 3.26 “To those who are afraid of want”, Epictetus writes:

[13] Live in such a way and never cease to do so; you’ve embarked on philosophy in name alone, you who have discredited its principles, so far as you are able, by showing them to be useless and unprofitable for those who adopt them! Never have you desired firmness of mind, serenity, impassibility; never have you attended any teacher with that purpose in mind, but many a teacher to learn about syllogisms. Never have you tested out any of these impressions for yourself, asking yourself, [14] ‘Am I capable of bearing this or not? What remains for me to do?’, but as if all were safe and sound for you, you’ve concentrated on the area of study which should come last, that which is concerned with immutability, so that you may be unchanging— in what? In your cowardice, your meanness of spirit, your admiration for the rich, your inability to achieve what you desire, your inability to avoid falling into what you want to avoid. These are the things that you’ve been so anxious to secure!

Gaining knowledge affords the capability of changing. If we are not learning, we are static. If we are not learning about ourselves, we are self-defeating. We must be aware we do not, and cannot, know everything. As we discussed in February, being silent is often the best choice. Take the opportunity to learn from others so that in turn we can learn about ourselves. We need to know what we cannot bear.



March 7, 2017 – Don’t Trust The Senses

“Heraclitus called self-deception an awful disease and eyesight a lying sense.” – Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, 9.7

Diogenes Laertius was a biographer of philosophers. One who recorded was Diogenes of Sinope (don’t ever confuse your Diogeneses). The latter, the story is told, walked around Athens during daylight holding a lamp, and looking for an honest man.

Heraclitus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. While he believed that all things were a product of fire, he also held the opinion that all things are in flux. As Plato writes:

Heraclitus, I believe, says that all things pass and nothing stays, and comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river. (Plato Cratylus 402a = A6)

This played into Heraclitus’ position on knowledge. Due to the flux of the experiential world. He does not claim that we cannot know, but he does claim that most don’t learn what they should be learning. His words ring true today, that people are focused more on gathering information than understanding it.

Knowledge of self is no different. If we spend our time experiencing without understanding the experiences what good are we? As our senses are that which gives us an experience we must ensure mental awareness of these experiences. Everything we consume defines who we are, and if everything is in flux then we must be aware of these changes to the outside world and ourselves.