Pride of Place

A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope to be free. – Kazantzakis

As Epictetus says, ‘I may not be able to control what others say and do, but I can certainly control what I say and do.’ I doubt anyone would disagree. And yet it is rehearsed again and again, as if it speaks to some otherwise hidden insight. As is often the case words are meaningful not for their veridicality, but for insights into one’s own concretized comportment in the world. The truth is a truth of self, concerned and taken up meaningfully as oneself. Suddenly the otherwise banal motto transports me ontically and opportunes what Foucault refers to as askesis, a modifying test of oneself. The purpose of engaged philosophical activity is not to elaborate, and nuance existing systems of thought that order, stratify, ratify and edify one’s comportment (and even that’s on a good day! 😉 ) Finding truth is an excavation of self. A conversion that comes only to those “wicked” enough to fall apart, (A leap of faith dressed as Superman (Übermensch) (a)waits… 😉 ) with a willingness to detach oneself from paradigms of comfort, pivotal to one’s existential sanctuary. It is, a critique, which is  “the art of voluntary inservitude, of reflective indocility”. (Foucault: “What is Critique?”) It is existentially risqué. The “value of losing oneself is the price one pays for self-transformation.” For me, today, Nussbaum says it best: “Tragedy happens only to those who seek to live well.”

Today’s askesis finds me adrift. An uninvited intrusion permitted voice, abruptly morphes without notice: No Entrance. Nomadic in my aretic predilections neither happenstance, nor pre-dated, and now out-dated moral paradigms – if only by virtue of now standing in mere abstraction, inert, from me in my present, potentially individuating circumstance, will do. I can’t promise to be Foucauldian in my philosophical exercise, but in demeanour I hope not to disappoint. Power relations, as Foucault understands it, are ubiquitous. I don’t just mean political, economic, tribal, global and the like. I don’t even refer to open inter-personal warfare. It’s the insidious, inaudible, formless, inertial confrontation experienced in silence that finds me twisted. Silenced through silence! HA! He who hath the last word, hath my soul! Vanquished, disturbed, abandoned, dis-engaged, quite literally silenced! Thrust out, ousted, kicked to the curb; that uneasy state of dominion overwhelms. Whispers of Epictetus now buzzing in my ear annoy, but Gadfly to me, incites action. He says, “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them,” and that “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters”. He’d say “take the high” road. Render him pervasively silent by a simple exercise. His silence is experienced as dominion only because you presume it is done in strength, over you, when in reality it is an act of cowardice. A powerful act of courage is founded in gestures of integrity with acknowledged risk. Cowardice has him recoil into the flow of life to be taken by the current of his present circumstance. A virtual parade of authenticating proverbial bullshit finds his neologism, enecstasis, sitting at his bedside, self-soothing to an ultimately failing ego. He has no power over me; indeed, he is impotent to empower himself. He is not an adversary of worth, but a rat clothed in a King’s garment, hoping to elude suspicion. Diseased rodents are averse to our sensibilities but not for fear of a lion’s prowess. That would be something to reckon with! Ignore. Delete. Forget. Poof, he is now oblivion. (Sounds angry! 😉 Seneca, oh Seneca, where art though Seneca!!! 🙂 ) Orrrrrrrr ( 🙂 🙂 ), maybe he’s silent because he cares not for you at all. Ouch! ( 😥 ) Your confoundment is not triggered by his silence, but a discursive modality reignited and shared over many years. How many times did tenderness of tongue reach your ears? How many times was the encounter so intense that it seeped into the visceral? Did he not envelop you in his gaze and say: “There is something very deep here”, only two fortnights ago? How many times did he ask: “M’agapas, e?” Did smiles not betray his delight when each time I confirmed his hopes and suspicions? Words hollowed. A momentary track blinded by vulnerability, nostalgia, and grief. Orrrrrrrrr ( 🙂 🙂 ), my dearest, maybe you matter too much that it is in courage and resolve that he has found the strength to silence himself. Why burden myself, when truly whatever scenario one might choose, none hath anything to do with me but each speak to his psychical limitation; these are his own, and rest solidly in his lap, to be endured by his partners in life. As for my own, it flows not from any extrinsic form but is designed by that voice from within that calls one back to oneself, and there self-composure, self-governance, self-fashioning like a ball of yarn shall slowly create something of substance. Tis I, and I alone, that has power over me. (*Seneca and Epictetus have some interesting exercises in the form of self-examination to cleanse one of vicious habits responsible for ataraxia.) A great exercise for those versed in that impersonalized, ratiocinated form of self-comportment. I just don’t see it this way; well not exactly.

Askesis, the exercise, stoic-like, requires not just being in the moment. There is groundwork, preparatory engagement in life practices without which one cannot properly care for the self. The experience of inwardness, something of a subversive exercise, aimed to bring one into a state of awareness of one’s own needs, desires, and fears, and thereby cultivate the virtues of temperance, discipline, and courage. Fasting, even for Foucault was one such exercise; as was meditation and self-writing. Minimalism, and various forms of deprivation are mine. Oddly, my children often think, seemingly masochistic. Self-inflicted deprivation is an exercise in freedom, however. It morphs that strictly Kantian claim to autonomy grounded in Reason (epistemically heavy), to one calculatively negotiated within the rich fabric of life. Aforementioned exercises of self-examination adopted by Seneca, Epictetus and others, are examples of this. And though they have, could have, a role to play in the groundwork for self-examination, such exercises seem inefficient in their effectivity mostly for a rather stringently rationalized moral paradigm. But I digress. 🙂

This Epictetian psycho-biography may be a proximate elaboration of conceptual underpinnings (which one??!!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 ) informing his silent retort, but in being merely proximal (at best) shall always itself be confined to paradigms of my own ingenuity. A nifty exercise (trick you might say) in emancipatory strategy building, it is, however, lacking in authenticity. Dominion has not evaporated for the will of my psychedelic fascinations, but it has caved and is now a path upon which my stride is purposeful. One could argue that I have totally misconstrued the Stoic annotation that would seek not counsel in the extrinsic aforementioned references to his comportment, and that insight rests in that disarming, potentially devastating, inward journey unto self. A modifying test for self-transformation! Right! Back on track! Why does his silence irk me so? Asking why he is silent is to ask the wrong question and to put all the power in his hands. Yet, my self-examination is not as it is with Epictetus who would ask: “Is it outside the province of the moral purpose, or inside?” For instance, when examining impressions, he counsels: “Go out of the house at early dawn, and no matter whom you see or whom you hear, examine him and then answer as you would to a question. What did you see? A handsome man or a handsome woman? Apply your rule. Is it outside the province of the moral purpose, or inside? Outside. Away with it. What did you see? A man in grief over the death of his child? Apply your rule. Death lies outside the province of the moral purpose. Out of the way with it. Did a Consul meet you? Apply your rule. What sort of thing is a consulship? Outside the province of the moral purpose, or inside? Outside. Away with it, too, it does not meet the test; throw it away, it does not concern you. If we had kept doing this and had exercised ourselves from dawn till dark with this principle in mind —by the gods, something would have been achieved!”

First, I seek a proper reckoning of the role silence plays in my subjective experience of the truth. Being silenced by anyone on some level is experienced as intrusive, offensive, an affront. It’s not only that abstractly, theoretically, if you will, that authorial freedom of speech is a basic and fundamental form of autonomy, it is that I experience myself as overridden. This is why there is some truth to Epictetus when he claims that ‘we are disturbed not by men and their actions but rather by our own view of them’. When I care not for the subject for which I have been silenced, or the person who silences me, I do not experience myself as unfree. It is relational then. It is in a modality of care that dominion can, however slight, take possession of me. My freedom is usurped because his silence is not silent at all. The language of silence is only a language at all when it is communicable, communicative. Vulnerability is the penultimate form of trust where one transcends all inhibitions, and is both absolutely free and yet at once unfree as one is totally at the mercy of the other. Cowardice? Diseased? An affront? Perhaps. It is left to me to be both voice and interpreter. It is left to me to delicately abandon my own comportment and delve into the psychical world of the other in search of motifs. Shall I be both counselee and counsellor enriching understanding as I go? And yet what a turbulent parade of voices that fight for the protagonistic role. And here is the essence of my disturbance: I am abandoned, my vulnerability betrayed, to that state of unknowing. Freedom is stretched so extravagantly that I find myself ricocheted back against an elastic band. Struggling to gain my footing, the experience of unfreedom becomes ever more pronounced, ever more deeply embedded, so that like a beggar I ask for his voice to give me rest; restitution. To the test, then. It is often said that “the truth shall set you free” and yet driven by the pursuit of truth is my very undoing; it is indeed, the form of dominion over me, where the other is sought to emancipate me from the burden of the unknown. Recalibration wants not to be in the know, but to accept that freedom rests in letting go. For truth is not in the asking for the why, but only in the how. To the Stoics then: habituated exercises inspecting the formulation of questions that guide me in my daily inquisitions shall work to recalibrate and destabilize that insidious paradigm that unbeknownst to me took hold of my comportment and unravelled me. As to justice…. 😉 It is not “the high road” I seek; for none is to be found. It is my road; a road of endless tribulation. Suffering is not anyone’s delight, but alas a life short of suffering in the delicate, messy, attachments I am intimately bound, is no life at all! 🙂 Existential flight is not the cure; it is a curse. It is not therein where freedom shall be recalibrated. Who shall speak for “me”, then? To the self, then! A self-reflective exercise such as this finds internal voices in dialogue as the hidden is sought out by that audible, often out-spoken voice, who poses for my-self. An authenticating process shall rip the episodic foundation from beneath my feet, and in the process, for now, help to resist those ‘projections which have changed the world into the replica of my own unknown face’.



Love is to the seeing heart, home

This is a fun exchange of views incited by a colleague and friend on Linkedin some time ago.

‘Authentic love must be founded on reciprocal recognition of two freedoms; each lover would then experience himself as himself and as the other: neither would abdicate his transcendence, they would not mutilate themselves; together they would both reveal values and ends in the world’. – Simone de Beauvoir, ‘Le Deuxième Sexe’, (‘The Second Sex’), 1949. [‘L’Amante inquiète’, Jean Antoine Watteau, c. 1715-1717]:-


My Reply: Though, of course, negotiating that is a challenging and arduous affair, and one that is truly inspiring and unifying, rather than dividing, only between discursive equals. And though it is a HUGE risk to come out and say this on a public forum, I have yet to meet a man that can endure alongside his discursive equal. Men tend (I did say tend!!!) to gravitate to easy, convenient, malleable. And when that occurs they too are malleable. Go figure!!! I’m being facetious…sort of… 😉

Linkedin Member1: you bring up equality here. I think this is important. either you find your discursive equal (difficult 😉 ) – or you must (both) create conditions in which discourse is especially save. I think as long as people are afraid of humiliation, they will not seriously discuss and look for solutions together. I understand that from another area: I am really horrible when it comes to mechanics, for instance. And if someone wants me to deal with a mechanic problem I need to feel very, very safe – otherwise I throw it away.

My reply to LM1: You raise the issue within the context of knowledge acquisition and the psychological role that low self-esteem and the like may play in its transference. However, I raise the issue of freedom as existential equals. That is, with a discursive partner that in essence is of like discursive calibre and rooted in dialogical complexities, nuances, that calibrate the interchange such that one’s sense of affirmation is negotiated in a context of unrest. I should add that this is often determined by behaviouristic models of interaction (sadly) so by definition, is pretty much already a violation of existential freedom. Putting your foot down and establishing boundaries is certainly a way of affirming freedom, but this is more in keeping with new relations which have not acquired any real history yet. In those that may last the process alters, so that those initial boundaries are (hopefully) negotiated and renegotiated occasioned by new contextual situations, and evolving beings working side-by-side.

Linkedin Member2: Well, I always think French philosophers sound great. But what does she mean by “freedom” – let alone two freedoms?

Linkedin Member3 to LM2: Well, there are various kinds of freedom. Leaving aside political freedom, which is obviously not what is meant here, there is psychological freedom, and moral freedom. Although underlying any freedom is the identification of ourselves with a conceived end, good or bad, and which is freely chosen and realized (I know using the word ‘freely’ there makes it look a bit circular, but I leave aside the question of whether there is such a thing as free will or not). And so, having the capacity to follow out our purpose, that is psychological freedom. But then, if we leave out the moral quality of the purpose, how free am I really if, for example, my purpose is to keep myself drunk all the time? Does not harbouring a low ideal put us in a kind of bondage? Moral freedom, on the other hand, implies a higher purpose, some ideal that is actually worth pursuing.

Linkedin Member3 to LM2: And yet, Sartre does say, in ‘Being and Nothingness’: ‘it amounts to the same thing whether one gets drunk alone or is a leader of nations. If one of these activities takes precedence over the other, this will not be because of its real goal but because of the degree of consciousness which it possesses of its ideal goal; and in this case it will be the quietism of the solitary drunkard which will take precedence over the vain agitation of the leader of nations’. So maybe he wouldn’t accept the distinction just outlined.

Linkedin Member2: Would that imply that for authentic love the lovers need to recognize each other’s wills – for instance the will to serve God or the will to change the political system or the will to breed bees? But she does not suggest that you have to share the will (the ideals, the perceptions…) of the other, does it?

My reply to ML3: Hmmmm this way of formulating the issue of freedom for de Beauvoir tends to favour a political reading of freedom. And though she is certainly speaking in and for a socio-political context, the more Sartrean or existential undertow, adds a dimension to the discussion that can more properly address the inter-relatedness in the context of love-relations.

My reply to LM2: No. Sartre argues that “hell is other people” and that all inter-human relations are inherently and inescapably frustrating. So we may just have a skewed, wrong-headed, set of expectations from inter-human and inter-romantic relations.

Linkedin Member4: Yes, beautiful…and the ideal to strive for, always! Because without this freedom to be one’s real self in a loving partnership, one or the other will make compromises they are unhappy with which will ultimately create resentment, which will lead to anger.

My reply LM4: See I don’t think that this is a universal paradigm that all inter-human and/or inter-romantic relations can strive for or realize. For it is essential (ugh) that in the dialogical or discursive encounter with the other that a “common language” be spoken. Of course, you can have loving and happy relations with the other of deficient (or distinct) discursive propensity, but it will not be of equal intensity, depth and connect-ability/relatedness. 🙂

Alas the ephemeral nature of such things has goal-directed lives win the dayNot me, not todaynot any day!

 Love is to the seeing heart, home.






A Philosopher Loose in the World – An Interview with Tom Morris


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tom Morris is a former academic philosopher who transitioned into a life of practical philosophy. He has authored over 25 books of wide-reaching acclaim and is a public speaker and advisor to the largest corporations. He has also been featured in the New York Times Magazine, among many other national and international magazines and newspapers. I should add that, in spite of his success, he is approachable, supportive and a man that embodies the essence of “the love of wisdom”! He answers emails from all over the world through his website and keeps an active presence on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Some people have even called him “the world’s happiest philosopher.”

  1. Tom could you tell us something about your training and academic career?

Hi, Elly! Sure, thanks for asking. No one in my family had ever been to college. We had farmers, truck drivers, and even a race car pit crew mechanic in the family when I was growing up. My father ran a radio station and then started a real estate company, and my mother mostly worked at home. I was surprised by a full scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I first encountered philosophy and religious studies, and those areas captured my imagination. I wrote my first book when I was still a student at UNC, and was thrilled to get a full scholarship to attend Yale University for two Masters degrees and a double Ph.D. in both Religious Studies and Philosophy. My first full time job was at The University of Notre Dame where I was able to help build the greatest place in the world for philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. I had the amazing experience of pioneering new topics and organizing others to do innovative new work. I was on the faculty for 15 years and rose from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor with Tenure to Full Professor before I left to launch into something altogether new.

2. How did you transition out of the academia? And what got you started on public speaking?

A group of local business people had heard that the students had a lot of fun in my classes at Notre Dame and called to ask me to speak on the ethics of decision-making, hoping I guess that I could give them good guidance and make the session enjoyable as well. That talk then generated half a dozen other invitations to speak on the same topic, and soon afterwards a man called to ask me to speak to a big gathering of car dealers on the topic of success. I had no idea that philosophers of the past had ever addressed such an issue. My training was very technical. But I began to investigate the practical side of philosophy and was amazed at what I found. I never planned to be a public speaker or what I now call a public philosopher, but life just took me increasingly in that direction. I saw people waking up to wisdom and getting excited about philosophy in new ways. And I watched as people used the ideas I was bringing them to change their personal lives and their businesses. It was an unexpected and amazing experience. Before I knew what was happening, I was speaking in Russia, Finland, Sweden, and all across the US and in other countries as well. It became a huge enterprise I had never expected.

  1. It would seem that you have mostly focused on morality, broadly conceived? What accounts for this?

I’ve just responded to what people have asked me to speak on. My academic work was at the interface of metaphysics, philosophical logic, and religion. I didn’t do ethics at all, or moral philosophy more broadly. Then people started asking me to speak on ethics, success, collaboration, partnership, change, and culture—topics I’d never even considered researching as a philosopher. And I discovered that maybe half of the history of philosophy had been relatively neglected and forgotten in America in the past 100 years or so. We had come to focus on technical and theoretical issues, in almost an imitation of the natural sciences, and we’d come to ignore as academics the most practical of issues that traditionally philosophers had also addressed. It’s been my joy to help rediscover these issues for our time.

  1. More particularly, you seem to be mostly focused on the corporate world, having written some of your most widely read books in this area. These include If Aristotle Ran General MotorsTrue Success: A New Philosophy of Excellence, The Art of Achievement: Mastering The 7 Cs of Success in Business and Life,and If Harry Potter Ran General Electric: Leadership Wisdom From the World of the Wizards. Why is it that you have honed onto the corporate world?

Those are the people who kept approaching me and asking for my help with their lives and challenges. I’ve also spoken a lot for civic groups and nonprofits, for schools and universities and to almost every kind of gathering imaginable, but the corporate groups kept coming to me, and offering, eventually, to pay me to think about and speak about the issues that mattered to them. In fact, they would offer me for an hour more than my annual starting salary as a university professor. I was pretty surprised. And I quickly learned that all the topics that challenged them were basically universal human issues, inside and outside business environments. So, I’ve always spoken to the life topics and basics of human nature that underlie everything we do.

  1. Could you explain what the 7Cs are, both in terms of their philosophical underpinnings and practical relevance and implementation?

One of my first dozen invitations to speak outside a classroom was that meeting of car dealers I mentioned. They wanted to know what the great philosophers had to say about success. So I did more research than I’d ever done on any topic, and I was astonished. From Lao Tsu, Confucius, Socrates, Xenophon, Aristotle, the Stoics, and through the centuries and across cultures—in a medieval Islamic mystic and a seventeenth century Spanish Jesuit priest—I was seeing the same ideas. I read and read and analyzed and distilled it all into seven universal conditions for success in any challenging endeavor. My claim is that this framework of ideas is the one and only universal toolkit for success. Any other technique or idea is just a version or application of one of these in specific circumstances. They are:

The 7 Cs of Success

For the most satisfying and sustainable forms of success, we need:

(1) A clear CONCEPTION of what we want, a vivid vision, a goal clearly imagined.

(2) A strong CONFIDENCE that we can attain that goal.

(3) A focused CONCENTRATION on what it takes to reach the goal.

(4) A stubborn CONSISTENCY in pursuing our vision.

(5) An emotional COMMITMENT to the importance of what we’re doing.

(6) A good CHARACTER to guide us and keep us on a proper course.

(7) A CAPACITY TO ENJOY the process along the way.

  1. After many talks over many years, in audiences in the hundreds, what would you say resonates most with them?

I’ve been lucky enough to have almost every size audience, from a CEO and his eleven direct reports around a table to groups of 5,000 and 10,000 people in a room. And that becomes almost like the philosophical equivalent of a rock concert! This week I spoke to 875 hospital executives and 450 data people. Audience members began surprising me years ago by telling me that I bring them hope. They learn from my talks that there is wisdom for whatever we face. We aren’t alone. We don’t have to make up everything ourselves. Wise people have traveled this road before us and have faced what we confront and have learned. They’ve often left us their notes, and we can use those notes to help in our own challenges and opportunities. Plus, the biggest thing has also taken me by surprise. People say that my energy, my passion, and my use of humor create a transformative experience. Let me share what one executive just wrote me about a talk this week. I’ll just copy and paste from his email:

“Tom: YOU WERE FANTASTIC. TRULY INSPIRATIONAL. My team could not talk enough about the experience. They referred to you as an experience, not a “speech” or a “session.” To me, that is an amazing compliment, when you can present, and people feel it as though you connected directly with each and every one of them. Regards, Joel Rickman, Vice President, Verification ServicesEquifax Inc.”

I sometimes feel Kierkegaard smiling and the Buddha laughing with pleasure, even if Socrates looks like he’s not quite sure.

  1. Could you name some of the corporations that you have consulted, and say something about how these relations came about, and what kind of consultation they tend to seek in a philosopher?

I’ve managed to speak to most of the largest companies in the world, and to lots of smaller companies as well, and it crosses all industries: Toyota, Ford Motor Company, Mercedes Benz, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, The Hospital Corporation of America, Bayer, Hitachi, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sacks, Raymond James Financial, Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, UBS, International Paper, Taco Bell, Pratt and Whitney Aircraft, Prometric, Wells Fargo Financial Advisors, Glaxo Smith Kline Pharmaceuticals, Mars Candy, Ace Hardware, Verizon, Unilever, Mattell, Ernst and Young, The NCAA Final Four, The US Airforce and on and on. I give you such a sample so you can see some of the breadth of people and industries. They find me by word of mouth. Someone hears me speak and tells a friend and they call.

Most of my corporate clients want wisdom on success or how to handle change well, or what it takes to make real partnerships work. Across industries, the challenges are interestingly universal.

  1. After having been invited as consultant to some of the largest corporations, what would you identify as some of the key areas of concern?

People get stressed and worn out by nonstop demands, a changing economy, uncertainty, quickly evolving technology and ongoing craziness in global markets and politics. They often come to me for deep wisdom to help refresh their associates and give them the confidence they need not just to survive but flourish amid all the challenges.

  1. Following consultation, do you ever conduct a follow up, or have you been witness to the implementation of any changes, and if so, have these made a difference to best business practice?

Let me give you an example. In an audience of 2,500 financial office managers in California, a man named Tom Lakatos decided to use The 7 Cs of Success back in his office in Orlando, Florida. His small office for Am Ex financial advisors (later renamed Ameriprise) had been struggling. Their performance had been ranked 217th out of 255 separate districts in the country for their company. In just a short time, maybe 6 months or so, using The 7 Cs and reporting on their use of these ideas weekly and discussing how they could implement them in new ways, they added to a team of maybe six people ten more associates and were now ranked 19th in the country. Imagine that. They had gone from a national ranking of  217th to a rank of 19th in a matter of months. Tom was promoted to another office. Then he took the Columbus, Ohio office, within a year, from a ranking of 85 to Number 3 in the nation. And he credited it all to the philosophical ideas. He said spouses were calling him and reporting that his colleagues were better at home and with the kids and not just at work! So the ideas were helping universally.

  1. Could you say more about how the 7 Cs are implemented?

That’s a good question to ask. There are actually three distinct uses of The 7 Cs.

First, when you’re considering a new personal or professional goal, you can use them as a test, like this:

C1: Can I develop a clear conception of this potential goal and vividly imagine its attainment?

C2: Can I pursue this with a strong confidence?

C3: Can I attain a focused concentration on this, and figure out a way to use the divide and conquer tactic?

C4: Can I pursue this potential goal consistently, and given everything else I’m doing?

And so on. And of course, in considering something for a team, you just ask these questions of the group. Can we pursue this with confidence? And so on.

Second, when you’re actively pursuing a goal, you can use these conditions together as a support for that process.

That means using the framework as a checklist. Am I functioning well in accordance with all seven conditions—are we—or am I forgetting or ignoring one or more? One of my old friends likes to say that The 7 Cs are enlightening, in themselves, but to be life changing, they have to be relentlessly implemented. And that’s his slogan: Relentless Implementation! He’s built incredible business success with The 7 Cs by taking them as lively action guides every day and helping all his associates in their own implementation of them.

Third, when something seems wrong, you can use The 7 Cs as a diagnostic tool for locating the source of a specific problem.

In almost every case, you’ll come to realize that one or more of these seven conditions may need extra attention and emphasis. Maybe we’re losing our sense of COMMITMENT, or we need a boost in CONFIDENCE. Or we need to renew our CAPACITY TO ENJOY the process.

Also, it’s a bonus and is interesting to note: The logical nature of this framework of ideas is such that the conditions you’re strongest on can help you correct the one or more that might be weaknesses.

  1. What would you say to students of business who tend to think “business ethics” is an oxymoron? I continue to have students that come to the course convinced that business cannot, and should not be moral! Business is essentially, if not exclusively about profit maximization any way, any how, and people will just turn to corrupt means to ensure success.

In ancient times it was once said, “The market is a place where men go to deceive one another.” So things have never really changed. But there is a very different approach, isn’t there? When Adam Smith wrote the Bible of capitalism, The Wealth of Nations, he was presupposing a set of ideas he had already written about years early when he did a study of virtue. The more enlightened ancients understood well that virtue is strength. Ethics is a form of strength within people, among people, and in companies. When we look beyond profits, we end up with the most satisfying profits. When we see business as a genuinely human endeavor of building value and our own souls as we do the work, we flourish. Too many young people don’t understand the depth of what’s possible in business. My friend John Mackey, who founded the healthy chain grocery store, Whole Foods, wrote a book called Conscious Capitalism that’s all about this. A Japanese Billionaire, Kazuo Inamori, has written well on this in his books A Passion for Success and especially Compass to Fulfillment. Our work can be a spiritual and philosophical thing, and for the greater good, as well as for our own financial support. Unethical success is always self-defeating in some way in the long run and is corrupting inwardly. I’ve never known a rich bad and truly happy person.

12. You have also written books beyond the walls of the corporate world, which speak       to the “good life,” and “wisdom.” Could you explain your interest and teachings in this       broad area?

In a sense even the business books are about life. If Aristotle Ran General Motors is really about happiness and fulfillment. If Harry Potter Ran General Electric is about virtue, love, friendship and meaning. True Success and The Art of Achievement are really life books, not just business. And I’m publishing a series of novels now that represent the peak of my thought and understanding about all life and death issues. They can be found at Also, just out is a book about Steve Jobs, Socrates in Silicon Valley, that captures a lot of general life wisdom. Plus, the next one up will be Travels With Confucius, all life insight stuff! Why are we here? How can we make the most of our time? Those issues are crucial for me.

13. Do you have any advice to give philosophy students who would like to cultivate a         career outside of the academia?

Yes. Be open. Be creative. Take initiative. Find new ways of putting wisdom to use. You’ve cultivated creative imagination, logic, analysis, and adopting new perspectives. You can put that to work in innovative new ways.

14. Finally, what has a life dedicated to philosophical inquiry taught you?

Life is supposed to be a series of adventures. The one you’re on now is preparing you for the next one in ways you often can’t even imagine. Nothing is to be feared. Keep hope alive. The worst things can make possible the best things. Wisdom matters. We are all imperfect beings who can improve immensely, and challenge is often the tool that helps this along. We all have obstacles within ourselves, but we can free ourselves from those obstacles and do incredible good in the world. The more I live and think hard and learn, the better things go. And it’s important to cultivate a capacity to enjoy the process along the way.

And I have to agree with Socrates. As long as I live and breathe, I shall never cease to do philosophy. Thanks for joining in the great effort extending over these thousands of years to do your own part in bringing more wisdom into the world! And thanks for thinking of me to chat with about it all!



Todd May: The Good Place’s philosopher


Philosophers are in demand outside of the academia! Todd May, one of The Good Place’s philosophy consultants, generously agreed to a virtual interview.

Professor May is Class of 1941 Memorial Professor of the Humanities at Clemson University. He specializes in Continental philosophy, especially recent French philosophy and has a long list of publications, including his most recent A Fragile Life: Accepting Our Vulnerability (University of Chicago Press, 2017), as well as A Significant Life: Human Meaning in a Silent Universe (University of Chicago Press, 2015), Friendship in an Age of Economics: Resisting the Forces of Neoliberalism (Lexington Press, 2012), and of course,  Death (Acumen Press, 2009). For a comprehensive list of appointments and publications please visit Professor May’s university Home page

The Good Place, an NBC sitcom, now in its second year, is about the after life; or about where you go when you’ve lived a good life. Or is it? Already in the first season, the game setter is Eleanor who not only got there by mistake – in what version of a so-called celestial afterlife designed by the universe’s handmaidens does human frailty, fallibility and fork-ups enter the picture? – but her endless self-serving, and according to any ethics handbook, morally vile acts, disrupts the organic integrity of this finely tuned network of minutiae parts bringing havoc in her wake. Her assigned soulmate? A moral philosopher, with all the trimmings of that absent-minded, out-of-touch, academic. Chidi, our in-house philosopher, is nautically challenged, not a fan of deadlines, and has spent 18 years writing an incomprehensible manuscript – a mere 3, 600 pages!!! – on ethics!’s worse nightmare makes for scores of laugher as Chidi agrees to help Eleanor earn her place in the good place. How? Why through becoming familiar with schools of moral philosophy, of course! The fundamental premise here? Philosophy makes you a better person, or cultivating an understanding of moral philosophy does! That would imply that Chidi is a better person, and his intellectualisms and basic human decency would seem to attest to that. I mean he certainly always sounds like he’s thought of all the right things, plus he behaves in a manner quite thoughtful of others. And yet, that manuscript of convoluted argumentation seemed to leave Michael incredulous, causing convulsions of dysphoria. 3, 600 pages!!! What the fork, man??!!! When it comes to real life, applied ethics, he is glaringly inept! Utilitaranism, Kantianism, Contractualism, and the Trolley Problem all make their way into the script! Chidi will find himself failing at real life when indecision leaves him killing innocent lives as Micheal has him respond to the Trolley Problem real time! Occasionally Eleanor’s street-smarts, and lightening-speed reflexes, make Chidi look the dunce! The take-away? You’ll have to see for yourself!

Todd May, in part, contributed to making the philosophical component gel with the vision of Mike Schur and others. Here are his answers to a few questions I put to him.

  • Could you relay how events transpired and you were invited as the philosophical consultant of the show The Good Place?

It seems it was quite by accident.  One of the writers on the show read my book on death (Death: The Art of Living, Acumen, 2009 – click here for a link to the book – and suggested it to Mike Schur, the show’s creator.  After reading it he had some questions and so we started corresponding, and have kept it up since then.

  • Do you think there are philosophical hues to one’s engagement with life events? I’m thinking to Plato’s use of dialogue to enact philosophical ideas.

Elly, I’m not sure what you’re asking here.  Could you re-phrase it?

  • Let me try to be more clear. Plato’s dialogues stripped of plot, character, mood and basically all that narrates life events, would according to some commentators, leave the philosophical points quite barren. So I guess I am asking whether you think that there are philosophical features embedded in the manner in which people unwittingly live their lives?

This is an interesting question.  Let me respond in three ways.  First, there is, as you know, a debate in the history of philosophy about whether Plato’s dialogues should be read as straight philosophy or whether instead the dramatic setting has philosophical implications. Although I’m not an expert in ancient philosophy, I am drawn toward the latter view.  Second, it would surely be right to say that people often live philosophical positions, but they often live them pre-reflectively.  They don’t reflect on them, which is why philosophy, right done, is so important.  Third, specifically regarding the characters on the show, what makes them interesting is that they are doing at least three things at once:  living philosophical orientations, reflecting on those lived orientations, and living complex lives (not merely quick thought-experiments) that complicate all this.

  •  Do you think engaging philosophical ideas in a literary and/or performative context detracts from the philosophical point being made?


Not at all.  Often philosophical thought-experiments are pretty bare-boned.  They describe a scenario in a few sentences, which doesn’t capture the complexity of the real situations life throws at us.  Literary and performative engagements offer us a much richer context in which to think about problems of morality and life more generally.

  •  How difficult was it to find fitting philosophical narratives for the characters and scenes in The Good Place?

Fortunately, that was not my job.  Although I did make some suggestions here and there about plot and characters, my fundamental role was to make sure Mike Schur and the writers were comfortable with the philosophical ideas in play.

  • So what precisely was your role when you say it was “to make sure Mike Schur and the writers were comfortable with the philosophical ideas in play”?

Our contacts were usually initiated when Mike Schur would email me either to ask a question or to set up a time to Skype.  Then we would talk about a specific philosophical position such as existentialism or ethical particularism.  He wanted to ensure that he was clear on the positions and so we would discuss them and some of their implications, either for the show specifically or for philosophy in general.  As interested as he was in the show (of course), he is also interested in philosophy itself.

  • How challenging and/or rewarding was it to work with non-philosophers in matching philosophy to script?

As I mentioned above, I did not have to do the matching.  But in general, it has been great to work with Mike Schur and occasionally with the other writers.  These are very smart and creative people who are interested in the ideas and who don’t just receive them passively but are actively participating in thinking them through and seeing where they might lead.  I spend a lot of time doing philosophy with non-philosophers and I almost always find it rewarding.

  • Do you think there is a takeaway regarding the relevance and role of philosophy in everyday life that the audience would discern from watching the show?

There are probably a number of takeaways.  These would not be simple life lessons but rather things to think about, for example whether we have an innate moral conscience or whether we should always do our duty or instead think about consequences or whether there are general moral principles or instead just intuitions and specific moral challenges.

  • Do you think that there is a niche for young philosophers in collaborations of this kind?

I don’t really know about this.  Since I got into the collaboration by accident, I can’t really say that there is a particular path to collaborations like these.   I hope there is.  Or rather, I hope there are many paths.


Check out the series here:


Give It Up



Giving it up, so that you never have to give up. Give up anything that doesn’t add value to your life. Give up anything that creates the conditions for those heteronymous entanglements that end up owning you. I’ve been downsizing ever so slowly for two years now, but it wasn’t really brought to my own attention until a friend made it explicit to me in conversation about minimalism. Usually the concept is reserved for anti-consumerist life-styles. I see it as something more concretely concerned with existential clutter in all aspects of life, that runs contrary to dominant technocratic-industrial world views that encourage rampant individualism and its corollary instrumentalism. Despite great advantage afforded humanity against oppressive systems, and systematic oppression – not to be underestimated – it has come at great cost. It has essentially displaced, dislodged, literally ripped humanity from the rich fabric of worldly engagement.

Minimalism in all things! No grandiose sentiments, gestures, features, appliances, houses, embellishings of whatever kind! Abundance is best discovered in trivialities.

In his The Malaise of Modernity, Charles Taylor makes the point explicit:

Modern freedom was won by our breaking loose from older moral horizons. People use to see themselves as part of a larger order. …. But at the same time as they restricted us, these orders gave meaning to the world and to the activities of social life. The things that surround us were not just potential raw materials or instruments for our projects, but they had the significance given them by their place in the chain of being. The eagle was not just another bird, but the king of a whole domain of animal life. By the same token, the rituals and norms of society had more than merely instrumental significance. The discrediting of these orders has been called the “disenchantment” (reference to Weber) of the world. With it, things lost some of their magic. (The Malaise of Modernity, p. 5)

The result? People have lost “a heroic dimension to life. People no longer have a sense of a higher purpose, of something worth dying for” …or living for! Those grand gestures of life and love that transgress borders of convenience, sensibility, and efficiency! Taylor doesn’t simply side with those who demonize individualism (indeed he is not contra-individualism per se but only a species of it), but addresses modalities of inauthenticity brought on by its scathing momentum. Instrumentality, perverse relativism, and political apathy, what comfortably aligns with what I call active inertia, are the malaise of the modern age. Deep ecologists seem also to be onboard in a BIG way, orienting their moral sensibilities in due différance to the – this – dominant world view which has ushered in criticism for adopting the very dichotomous narrative that mischievously characterizes the object of their discontent. But I beg to differ. ( 😉 ) Subverting a paradigm of meaning is, in fact,  devoid of significance in abstract definitional terms; i.e. it is but an eclipse of meaning. For as Derrida would say, textual meaning is produced via certain heterogeneous features. My point? All meaning, textual, personal, social, educational, is situated. Nothing is adrift eyeing an abyss of non or unorientation. Individualism is inauthenticated by (s)elective amnesia which vanquishes any sense of existential crisis.

Some people call the millennials and post-millennials the “generation of entitlement” to contest the debase and self-indulgent dispositional state of a people for whom struggle and despair is a stranger. Emancipated from socio-political and economic oppression, one is not lost or found in the fold of social living, affording them the “luxury” of choices that speak more loudly to a set of concerns tied to their own individually designed orientation in life. Their sole responsibility? To be the best damn version of themselves! Society provides the human and tangible resources to attain personal self-actualization, but isolated, alone, such that forever do they struggle to purchase (for everything is “purchased” now) the materials to design a bridge to connect them with, to, others. Bridges, even these, are, however, not made to last. Materials are subpar, because they’re acquired cheaply, and hence easily interchanged, replaced, with little burden or cost ( 😉 ).

Taylor’s acknowledgement of a nonetheless powerful underlying moral paradigm is worth mentioning. For, as he says, “no matter how debased and travestied” this modernized form of individualism is, “the moral ideal behind self-fulfillment is that of being true to oneself” for which there is an authentic version and authenticating mechanisms which speak to “a higher mode” of being, which he is careful to distinguish from that which one simply or merely happens to desire or need. For Taylor, this requires siding not with boosters or knockers of the modernized paradigm of self-actualization, nor still with some kind of trade-off in terms of a middle-ground position. No. He says: “What we need is a work of retrieval, through which this ideal can help us restore our practice.” Long story short, humanity suffers from dislocation; we need to locate ourselves intermixed in the dialogical network, nurturing, cultivating thereby an expansive, fluid sense of identity that neither drowns beneath the weight of otherness, nor evaporates amidst celestial abstractions. This will require having the conversation; acknowledging the dialogicality of human engagement, and hence the existing horizon of significance. What does this mean? Well, one could live a perfectly ( 😉 ) autonomous life guided by her own reasons, and still shy away from authenticating practices when these speak not to a sense of self-identity. For authenticity is not just a case of appealing to those tools of rationality (sorry Kant! You’ve all heard the joke: Immanuel Kant, but he did try! 🙂 ), as a disenfranchised self, out-of-tune with one’s comportment in the world. But nor does authenticity indulge narcissistic tendencies endorsed by pseudo subjectivism; i.e. all positions are equally acceptable so long as they are “truly” my own. Taylor speaks to the “moral sources outside the subject [that speak in a language] which resonate[s] within him or her”, or “an order which is inseparably indexed to a personal vision” (Sources of the Self. The Making of the Modern Identity). Hence, authenticity entails an aspect that lies beyond the scope of autonomy, namely, a “language of personal resonance” (The Ethics of Authenticity: 90). One may be autonomous (Kant again) and yet remain inauthentic when this way of living fails to express a person’s self-understanding.

So where does that leave minimalism? I think of minimalism as subverting the symptoms of Taylor’s Malaise of Modernity. For if individualism, relativism,  and instrumentalism are the modalities that aid and abet this malaise, then the brand name for that antibiotic prescribed en masse as a cure for the discontent it inevitably spreads,  is consumerism. I leave it to you to connect the dots, and Socratic-like make myself scarce!

So, I shall continue to parade my humanity in a modality of despair (not to be confused with melancholy, depression, or negativity), and if the perhaps more self-indulgent, jump to criticize for a mis-fit, dwarfed narrative, that I am lowly, degenerate, and/or self-victimizing, there’s ample room in the “world” for them to seek their own self-affirmation ignoring mine, and me, altogether.

If you want to learn more about minimalism and what steps you might take and how this might change your life, click here: Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things and to meet the Minimalists, click here The Minimalists.



RIP Olymbia Marangou

The prognosis was grim. I remember the precise moment when the truth of what was earlier known rudely pushed itself unto me. I was being dropped off at the hospital (a new tumour), irritability turned antagonistic as I fought to rejoin that blissful world of denial. Later tears met with accusations. Who greets tears with such animosity? Who harbours such disdain for “parading grief”? Strange how triggers work. That day we had our own grievances to address, and these shipwrecked any chance for ontic embrace. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Anguish, loss, death, comes to us all (the penultimate banality), but my grief is my own, viscerally experienced as if unique to me, resentful of dense propriety that arrogantly calls me to compose myself! But those moments, subtle as they were at the time, are like memories in a time capsule that ornately embellish the creative process of meaning-construct. For it is after all as I artfully engage life that the constituents of meaning find voice. Trepidation meets and enamours ruinous tranquility through life’s turnings.

Today Olymbia passed away. Three years into her grade 4 Glioblastoma brain cancer (GBM), outliving her prognosis by 2 years. It was Christmas 2014 when I noticed (we all did) Olymbia had changed – she seemed off, not herself. All of us gathered – a party of 40 – at Ket’s home in celebratory mode, Greek-style! Marc reconstructed the bird with his usual artistry. We girls busied ourselves with cooking, and serving, with chiding laughter accompanying us as we moved through the rooms. A row of generations set the table, finding Olymbia at the further end, tucked away in a corner, quiet. Quiet!? Well that was just not Olymbia! She was always centre-stage, dishing out orders, making sure that we girls, especially us, were on top of things! But not today, not ever again.

My hair follicles knew best of my mother’s discontent. Hair tightly pulled back into a ponytail bore the markings of slightly slanting eyes. A stop on the way to school at Olymbia’s – we all walked to school together – and that menacing ponytail was to become a swinging bush hanging long across my back. Thankful was I! It remained our secret, never shared with my mother. And as secrets do, endorsed a loving connection. Our families were one family. Our moms best friends, us kids roughly the same age, grew up as cousins, siblings really. Olymbia was the driving force behind this great, expansive family. She welcomed everyone, even if she did not always appear welcoming! 🙂 She was a mother to me.

Not versed in Stoic literature, Seneca, Rufus, Epictetus were no strangers to her. “Κόρη, that’s it”. Her meaning, however elliptical, is not far off from the words of Seneca: “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” “True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.” I can also hear these words echoing in my ear as she’d have occasion to frequent them: “᾽Αντε να γαμ… ο μαλάκας απο δω χάμω!” There’s something about the flamboyant Greek manner prone to such phraseologies that turn profanity endearing. In essence her meaning is reflected in Epictetus’ words repeatedly endorsed throughout the ages: “Other people’s views and troubles can be contagious. Don’t sabotage yourself by unwittingly adopting negative, unproductive attitudes through your associations with others.” And later in life, she’d realized, especially after becoming ill, what she perceived to be the narrowness of her youthful endeavours. I think this is nicely expressed by Rufus: “wealth is able to buy the pleasures of eating, drinking and other sensual pursuits – yet can never afford a cheerful spirit or freedom from sorrow.” She seemed eager that I see the foulness of such ways, that I’d invest in what truly matters: family. And so it is left to us, all the kids (Pits, Ket, Andro, Nico, me, Marc, Blaine, Meagan, Kristina, Nick, Mitchell, Mason, Thomas, Kalianna, Anthony, Kris and Kim)) no matter the distance that separates us, to keep the candle burning that shall always unite us as one family.

In our month together we’d sometimes burn the night oil. She’d become reflective, mellow, and her thoughts turned to her children. Of Andro, since I can remember remained constant was her wish that he find a “good woman” to care for him…like a Greek woman knows to! 😉 “Ketty…that one…she’s the sensitive one.”  But she also endearingly spoke of her as “a little chatter-box” (πολυλογού), a quality that our lovely Kristina has inherited…perhaps upgraded! 😉 “Liza…well she is like me…if we don’t fight one day I think she doesn’t me love me.” She hardly spoke of her grandkids beyond the usual logistics. But what was there to say that her eyes did not. She adored those kids: they were her life! As the weekend rolled round she worried that my partner would feel neglected (Greek women are not to neglect their men! 😉 ) Άντε κόρη, που είναι ο καλαμαράς, ο μαλάκας; Πήγαινε τώρα να του φτιάξεις κανένα φαΐ! And we’d laugh, and laugh! But that’s how she was: caring, and brutally honest, but darkness would turn light, for sentimentalities were not to have the last say. Did I mention Marc and Blaine!? She’d say: “Those girls don’t deserve such men!” And again, we’d laugh and laugh. But she meant it too. Her son-in-laws were the absolute best men. But as I’m sure they’d agree, that’s a gesture of reciprocity that began with her. My bro! Well she had much to say about him too. “Kαλό παιδί ο Νίκος μας!” She wanted confirmation that he was loved and appreciated!

She is one of those people that affected many lives. So many people will have to seriously adjust to her passing. Resilient that woman was! But Stoic-like she appreciated and loved life, but was adamant not to bend to the tragedies that life had in store for her…though…she did suffer….as anyone who wants to live and has so much to lιve for does.

She would want us to be strong and live by example. For as Margaret Atwood said: “In the end, we’ll all become stories.”

I love you, Olymbia mou! Καλή αντάμωση!


Full Disclosure

Fragments (shattered beauty)

Girl Before A Mirror – Pablo Picasso

Certainty is a buffer

Death linearly conceived is fortified with delusions of immortality

Be the Derrida to my Levinas. Adieu. (Cheating death.)

Proclamations are lamentations on steroids.

Memories are the devil’s handiwork (Kierkegaard misunderstood)

Ecstasy. A fine drug (the illegal Heidegger)

There is darkness where only your shadow calls. (Being-there)

Words are like notes in a musical score; it’s only music when played (inertia)

When a disconnect is existentially cemented horizons of another dimension find you waving a virtual adieu to the disparaged. (fermenting Victor Eremita)

Silence is the master of ceremonial debris. Anything can be its master and come out smelling like roses. Authenticity is often odious

Eyes are often a gateway to home. Peer deeply but recognize a dam when you see one (thievery gone awry)

I believe in nothing. I am nothing. There is nothing. But nothingness is so vast

Profundity is often succinctly expressed; the depth of which requires careful elaboration.

It’s been said “Expect nothing for I have nothing to give”. That’s actually a lot right there! Just not what you expect.

Suffering without insight is like a baseball bat swinging out of control







A Bad Rap

Self-love: shrilling embrace

Laying bear one’s existential plight is neither a self-indulgent exercise in victimization, nor is it beholden to pessimistic world views. It is a concrete aestheticized rehearsal of lived life, a subversive form of entry into the human condition. It bears the merits, and indulgencies, of artful communication, advocating and yet simultaneously subverting through the cultivation of clairvoyant intercourse. Intimacy of readership is quintessential to extrapolating the truth.

Says Nietzsche in the 2nd Preface to his Gay Science:

It seems to be written in the language of the wind that brings a thaw: it contains high spirits, unrest, contradiction, and April weather, so that one is constantly reminded of winter’s nearness as well as of the triumph over winter that is coming, must come, perhaps has already come…Gratitude flows forth incessantly, as if that which was most unexpected had just happened – the gratitude of a convalescent – for recovery was what was most unexpected. ‘Gay Science’: this signifies the saturnalia1 of a mind that has patiently resisted a terrible, long pressure – patiently, severely, coldly, without yielding, but also without hope – and is now all of a sudden attacked by hope, by hope for health, by the intoxication of recovery.


Mankind’s problem, “was not [is not] suffering itself, but that there was no answer to the crying question, ‘why do I suffer?’…The meaninglessness of suffering, not suffering itself, was the curse that lay over mankind”. Hence, one could argue it is suffering over suffering that is unique to the human condition. Does this invite existential melancholy as the default state? Is the Gay Science a parody of gaiety? Shall we lay in wait as that patient lion ready to pounce upon her prey: happiness? Does the meaninglessness of life divine a life more wretched than death? Are we left to choke on our pessimism, faithlessness, cynicism, and despair? Don’t despair ( 😉 ), probably not…but certainly also, yes.

It has so often been levied as a criticism that Nietzsche’s philosophy, not just the man himself, suffers from melancholy. That ultimately the world is a callous, uncaring, unwelcoming place. Well might as well add “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”, since this echoes the state of nature as described by Hobbes more than anything Nietzsche had to say.

I don’t smooch with positivity. He’s just not my type. But I will be damned if ever I lay with negativity either. Both bastard children, twins actually, to Narcissus. You know… the one transfixed by his own beauty and died enslaved to the indulgencies of self-love! Cripple! Had he only looked out beyond the riverbed to discover himself in the eyes of his beloved he might have limited hell on earth to other people (insert Sartre here).

…to be continued….

Alarmed? Annoyed? Appalled? Indignant? Read on: Why the Long Face, by Adam Roberts


“And it feels so good to feel so bad. And suffer just enough to sing the blues”


Faithfully Yours

Simone de Beauvoir, said as a young woman, “I would willingly consent to sacrifice everything for the one I loved, but I would never want to exist through him—the sentimental blackmail which pushes women to see in the one they love someone designated to carry the burden which they are too weak to bear…. The truest love is expressed by Goethe: ‘I love you, is it any of your concern?'” Ach, for an exquisite mind to be hijacked by a needy heart! Hence, “Beauvoir was very much of her own mind when she entered into her “pact” with Sartre, and those critics who would view her as a doormat are very much mistaken.”  Sartre, her “grand intoxication”, did not muscle his way in, he didn’t even worm his way in – both would be demeaning to Sartre, as well as to Simone. Outward appearance muzzles truth, leaving the dynamic of the inter-personal comportment camouflaged, except, I suspect, from those closest to them, who likely would have witnessed an uncanny symbiosis of spirits. “They each discovered in the other the intellectual equal they had so sorely been missing”, a point often confiscated by that perennial patriarch that would have Simone’s so-called intellect take the backseat to her uncompromising love for Sartre. Intellectually in sync, engaged in gripping discursive mode to-gether, cultivating their voice in what might be described as a “spiritual conversion” (Foucault), they lay awakened to their comportment to their truth, the truth, naked, exposed, lucid, and always, viscerally exhilarated, ecstatic. There is no backseat here. There is discomforting comfort: home. Is it any wonder that the words “faithfully yours” applied to Simone and Sartre?

Familiar with their sexual experimentalism, fidelity here speaks to their camaraderie as sparring partners. No idealization is to be detected, not for any universal or normative use anyway. Simone has been dragged into commentary on what sometimes appears as a witch hunt to subvert anything anti-feminist, so much so that sometimes it tends to emasculate her, our, form in the process. Simone did not give up marriage and children for Sartre, that was an early-on realization. She did not put up with his affairs, neither were conventional, and their sexual escapades were no exception. She did not sacrifice her own work to editorialize his, even though I do recall a testimonial suggesting that she’d laboured over his work a great deal and he’d not read a single work of hers. (I could have this wrong, though). She did not love him more, he did not sacrifice less. To see it in this light is to see it as just another story held hostage to patriarchal statutes. Him versus her, acceptance versus rejection, more versus less, strength versus submissiveness, and more. These polarizations just won’t do because Simone was not a conventional mind, and her womanhood was not conventionally won. Indeed, it is a mark of her virility and incremental intrepidness that she grew into her womanhood in deference to The Other. Uncontested love is only a lowly inauthentic expression of agency when freedom is taken in absolute and often negative postulations of either being free (from) or not being free (from). Yet, Simone in her The Ambiguity of Ethics, narrates different types of unfreedoms, which move far beyond such banal either/or qualifiers of agency. I won’t elucidate them all here, but it is worth pointing out that she understood freedom in terms of taking ownership for one’s existence in the world. Basically her point, in agreement with Sartre, is that there is no essential nature of man, no universal features that define the nature of being human. We are all oriented in the world as the unique architects of our own lives, and the quality of our lives lies in the manner in which we engage with others in the pursuit of our freedom. The most authentic form is authored by the “passionate man” who though adventurous is not selfishly pursuant of life’s longings (my expression, likely not one she would endorse) “willfully ignorant” of how every undertaking unfolds in a human world affecting others. Don Juan would be such a man, for he (Where does he figure in Kierkegaard’s Seducer? 🙂 ) hunted for sport only to mobilize his ego-centric desire for conquest, caring not for the hurt inflicted upon his victims. Contrarily, the “passionate man” does not set her sights on the manifestation of said goals. It is, rather, in acknowledging the universe as a complex of means and obstructions along the path to the attainment of such ends, that she is to simultaneously keep her existential distance. ‘Love, happiness – freedom comes in recognizing there will always be a distance between us and these things yet aspiring to them anyway.’ “To be free is not to have the power to do anything you like; it is to be able to surpass the given towards an open future; the existence of others as a freedom defines my situation and is even the condition of my own freedom. I am oppressed if I am thrown into prison, but not if I am kept from throwing my neighbor into prison.” Now though all of this is more socio-political than the original point of overture, I suspect Simone might concede that they are intertwined nonetheless.

Was Simone the lesser of the two? Only if she denied her existential comportment alongside Sartre in the negotiation of her pursuits, and failed to see for fear of acknowledging her precariousness in the world and take ownership of it. Her anti-conventionalism, political activism, sexual flamboyance, and scholarship speak in her favour. Did she perhaps get lost in the idolization of external constructs, could this have been her idolatry of Sartre or love? If you’ve read the Second Sex the nausea might overcome you before you utter your first objection. Still, we don’t all live as we purport to, and no one lives their lives quite as poised as our dictates. And yet, the vulnerability, the personalized comportment of Simone’s literary works may suggest that she lives as she earlier wrote: “I accept the great adventure of being me.” Perhaps then, only she and Sartre can really know of the intricacies that drove their spirited intermingling as deeply connected, sparring adversaries, and who, if ever, was the more….or lesser of the two.


The tragic beauty of being intertwined!


Simone de Beauvoir’s Early Diaries


Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: