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


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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 www.TomVMorris.com 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 www.TheOasisWithin.com. 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!



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”

A write of passage…


Writing is a bit like sailing. There are days that you’re coasting, the waters are calm and uneventful, but the life underneath appears as miracles do. Other times winds conjure travesty and all is now opaque, yet scandalously alive! Sometimes it feels like a rite of passage, as if, oh faithless one gather your tears, God has made it so. Believe and all is won, doubt and all is cherished. Writing is neither. For with each stroke the arrogance of pernicious truth finds the page, doubly entreating for the faint of heart lamenting as the ink dries and false idols appear.

John Cleese: APA Spokesperson!

If you doubted the role and relevance of philosophy….have a quick listen to John Cleese and a quick read of the accompanying write-up.

John Cleese APA Spokesperson

The most common question seems to be: what is it that philosophers do!? Quite a lot…. They work in corporations, labour unions, medical centres and hospitals, and of course, every day they provoke thinking….

Remember that it was philosophy that inspired men like Martin Luther King to fight against racism, formed the basis for Jane Addams efforts to create a better life for the poor, and also fired up Simone de Beauvoir to fight for equality for women! Philosophy is the starting point for making society more just!

The 21st century belongs to philosophy more than it does to psychology or religion! Philosophy is neither of these things; it begins in wonder and works against confusion! Today there is much to wonder about and there is a lot of confusion.

Some say that the quality of life trumps the length of life; others say the longer the better! Who’s right? A long time ago a philosopher named Socrates said that philosophy is the study that helps us learn how to die, which also means that philosophy can teach us how to live!




Counselling, Distinctively Philosophical?

I suppose that the usual way of responding to this quandary is to talk about what is not philosophical, or more precisely what is not philosophical about psychology and the like.

Psychology is a science (even if in its origin it was itself philosophical, or born out of philosophical discourse and reflection). As such, it aims to ground the understanding of the human mind and behaviour in methods that yield measurable results.

Despite controversies even amongst psychologists/therapists, their treatment hinges on a therapeutic paradigm that rests on a clear understanding of health and unhealth. On the basis of this understanding, unhealthy mental and behavioural patterns are detected, classified, and causally determined with diagnostic, prognostic and treatments to boot. Sessions then aim to first diagnose a patient (methods may vary), elucidate causes (either exclusively by the therapists or in conjunction with the patient), and then proceed to implementing treatment.

Sessions conducted by philosophers do not follow this pattern at all. Philosophical counselling draws clients into an intra-personal and inter-personal dialogue that aims to elevate counselees from a static, or stagnant state of thinking and behaving to a self-reflective state invested in a deeper, more synthetic and analytic understanding of self and the world.

Oh, to See with Wide-Eyes

I use to think that a state of indifference was equivalent to a state of non-existence. And yet there is great power to be had. Not over the object of one’s past affections, for clearly to speak of it in such vein would only deny its actual instantiation; i.e. it rests in focused attention to that object as defiant rejection, and that, is still an act of care. It’s more like a flickering flame that simply and quite uneventfully goes out. The power is grounded in the resurrection of self. For immersed in the object of one’s affection there is always the threat of self-annihilation that is only properly protected within the art of diabolical negotiation. Where it withers, the flame breathes no more. I’ve never wanted to be cremated prematurely, and so the state of indifference has been welcomed with a sense of anticipation. Still, moving forward, the lens of my concentration seems in wide-angle viewing to see things quite distinctly. I won’t say more clearly, for what is to be said of the quality of sight poised narrowly or widely that cannot be captured by a simple – yet painful – change in focus? The vantage from which the world is now screened only opens endless possibilities previously undisclosed; alitheia, which is really a process that motions from a state of unconcealedness to a state where all that was priorly in oblivion is disclosed, or if you like, becomes visible. There is celebration in this.

Philosophical Confessions

I decided to rename my blog Philosophical Confessions in light of new formalized sensibilities informed by both experience and my philosophical propensities. My original motivation for this blog has not changed.

It is still:

Home to philosophical reflections on life issues. These will vary from philosophically dense scholarly-type papers, to quibbles, annotations, critiques, self-help guides, and problematics. It was the university, first as a student and later as a Professor of Philosophy, that was once home to my philosophical engagement with life issues. Initially this was an ideal forum for an interactive, passionate exchange of commonly entrenched concerns but as education came to suffer the ills of institutionalization more and more, and standardized policies replaced the creative, and biophilous dialectical flux that characterized the inter and intra-human exchange amongst practitioners of philosophy, this became an ever alienating experience. Yet the yearning for meaningful reflection has not waned and the practical application dating back to the Greeks has finally found new footing in Philosophical Counselling. Putting philosophy back on the streets and employing philosophical methods as a form of counselling constitute the two-tier structure of this blog. Negotiating the “truth” in all facets of life and living will be the driving force that both defines the parameters and implications of all philosophical reflections.

I am now enriched from years of  ‘agitation’ that has both deepened and contoured my philosophical preoccupations. Not unlike Socrates, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Simone de Beauvoir and even might I daringly add, Veronica Franco (16th-century Venetian courtesan and poet), seeking the truth, the mainstay of all philosophical ventures, is sought not somewhere aloof, rigidly outside, beyond, over-and-against, or cast off from its visceral incarnation.  For it is in how one lives one’s life that the truth is revealed. Writing brings truth to bear in a social domain which often goes amiss, creating havoc wherever misunderstanding perturbs interpretation. Confessionals add context; they are personalized moments in which the truth is disclosed or dislodged from the abundance that purveys life. Not then to be read like a map plotting life denotatively, but more like music rich in notational instructions which only properly comes to life when played …symphonically. I like to think of these confessionals as a symphony of sorts – however badly written, for I am no musician.

Your Ataraxia is Disquieting3

Even amongst aretic thinkers as divergent as the Stoics and Epicureans, the linchpin to their philosophies is the pursuit of happiness. Where they differ is what happiness is, and hence the phronetic comportment to its achievement. Each in turn will speak to the virtues of the good life and their appropriation. Not at all unlike Nietzsche! Surprised? Well don’t get too excited before we knock down some artefacts of uncongenial thinking. Virtues are those of strength not humility, or weakness and the like, and the means of their appropriation are devised through a delicate but painful process of deconstruction, forcefully destructive, and aims not at happiness as any of these Greek philosophers imagined it. Instead the “happy life” is not one of “good sense”, but valorized, heroic conduct amidst all that is impenetrably unattainable. Wretched is that seductress ‘causality’ that would feign the life of happiness as one aimed to nullify externalities of no consequent or beyond our hailing hand. Such is it to confuse the cause with the effect, Nietzsche poignantly pointed out. It is not that a life, a good life, cannot withstand such annotations, but rather that having already been impoverished by the mechanization of life via nay sayers and the corruptors of life, that the virtues of humility and the like are adopted. The “original sin of reason” which is a case of the error of cause and effect is put to work to explain this phenomenon. Though this is the stranglehold of religious and moral paradigms, it is illustrated concisely in the example of Cornaro’s diet. Nietzsche says:

Screen Shot 2017-08-10 at 09.37.13It is not the diet, as assumed by Readership of Cornaro’s illustration, that is the cause of good health, but rather an underlying condition that caused or, otherwise, gave rise to the success of this diet, and hence the longevity of this man. The parallel to morality runs the usual aretic formula to the ground, whereby tis not the virtues that are understood to lead (cause) to the good life, but rather a degenerate state of being  – weak, compromised – that has caused, given rise to, the propagation of these virtues and hence the good life. Virtue is not the consequence of happiness, but ‘happiness’ the consequent of virtue. In his own words: “Instead, virtue [as it came to be construed] is itself that slowing down of the metabolism which among other things also brings a long life, numerous progeny, in short Cornarism in its wake.—The church and morality say: ‘a race, a people is destroyed by vice and extravagance.’ My restored reason says: if a people is destroyed, if it physiologically degenerates, then this is followed by vice and extravagance (i.e. the need for ever stronger and more frequent stimuli, familiar to every exhausted type). This young man grows prematurely pale and listless. His friends say: such and such an illness is to blame. I say: the fact that he fell ill, the fact that he could not withstand the illness, was already the consequence of an impoverished life, of hereditary exhaustion.” (Twilight of the Idols, The Four Great Errors – my italics).

In his Genealogy Nietzsche traces the origin of morality not in an attempt to get behind the contextual framework that is constitutive of all human understanding, but rather to identify those frameworks that have come to be constitutive of that very framework but which sneaked in, and were thereby ordained as the bestowers of life itself. They came to have a life of their own, not of the doing of humankind, but of some Omnipotent Power that deifies these; humankind is thereby tussled from her thrown and the Lord’s drones follow in her stead. It is now Goodness itself, or the verse of Nature herself, that define aspirations worthy of any man deserving of happiness.

Specifically, Nietzsche says of the Stoics, in Beyond Good and Evil:

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 13.46.29

Taking a hammer to this paradigm of thinking, Nietzsche identifies the basic tenet of Stoicism in a longing to cement the good life in living according to Nature, as if there is a determined way and reliable manner in which to ascertain that way. Nietzsche rejects both the naturalism and the rationalism of the Stoics, as I have sketched above. He calls them ‘self-deluders” because they read their philosophy into an understanding of nature allowing themselves to be tyrannized through the oppression of the otherwise natural proclivity for power, by tailoring the passions for a life free of anything “unnecessarily” disquieting. Of course, the general accusation applies to all moralized paradigms which, he says, ‘as soon as ever a philosophy comes to believe in itself, it always creates the world in its own image’. Allowing oneself to rest content with any perspective of the world involves, in some shape or form, the deification or the objectification or ossification of that perspective as if it were to speak now and for always for all things! And yet, this is only to delude oneself that the world is how it has been shaped by the mind; and though everything is interpretation (beware those who sit in smug assurances of their perspective! 🙂 ) and hence there is no getting behind or before it, one can adopt an attitude of the diagnostician (for some reason “House” comes to mind both in his method and demeanour – “everybody lies” mostly, delusionally to themselves – looking at all perspectives, from multiple angles – psychological, symptomatic/physiological, social) who looks unnervingly, and unrelentingly from multiple perspectives searching for motives that huddle over pre-conceived perspectives, hammering away at assumptions, presuppositions, and everything that might cunningly conceal these from view (language, habits, fears, desires). The process is itself a state of unrest, of taraxia, that requires courage for ‘in all desire for knowledge there is a drop of cruelty’.

So you say, “unhinge me”, Pirocacos! Stoics might retort that I have misconstrued and misrepresented the philosophy of their forefathers in that living a eudaimonic life free from unnecessary and irrational preoccupations does not speak to indifference, a rather inhumane attitude to invest in after all. It is rather in acknowledging the causal workings of the universe through attentive rational scrutiny that one is well positioned to deal with unrealized goals, negotiate misfortunes, and endure ensuing suffering. The point is that there is a rational order to the unfolding of Nature that one is well advised to address when engaged in the practice of living life. After all we do live in this natural world and it is constitutive of laws of nature (you wouldn’t cajole someone to jump from the 6th floor because it is the fastest route to the College cafe because you know that he’d meet with his death!) and causal forces that one can with varying degree of probability determine in order to better secure the ends. Of course, as I hope I have in outline already made clear, this is to miss the point.

So though the process of deconstruction may appear neurotic and outwardly in disarray, in fact, it is only so perceived by the ill-tempered with a mind to what is apprehended by ageless paradigms and/or those that one holds dear to their heart!

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Your Ataraxia is Disquieting2

So here I am already 4 days late attending to Epictetus’s Enchiridion and Nietzsche’s The Twilight of the Idols. Strangely I find solace in both these authors despite the contrariety of their underlying philosophies. Happiness, said Socrates, is the end of all human activity; no one would, as it were, ever pursue her own unhappiness. Indeed, this is what set him on his track to that all-too-unfortunate qua Nietzsche triadic arrangement: virtue=knowledge=happiness. For if Socrates is astute in this aforementioned assertion, then engaging in actions, and/or adopting beliefs, that run the pursuit of happiness aground cannot be performed in full cognizance. Knowing that causing harm to others inadvertently harms oneself and hence jeopardizes one’s own happiness, one would not betray, deceive, humiliate, rob, demoralize, exploit others. So members of the 30 Tyrants must assuredly have acted from ignorance, or at the very least involuntarily. A life of happiness would then be a life epistemically charged. Everything is riding on acquiring knowledge. But knowledge of what exactly? Well, knowledge of what it is to live a virtuous life dummie! 😉 Stoic philosophy would have no qualms embracing this general position. But in my estimation it is here that they part ways, for Socraticism (dare I call it that!) makes good use of the role of reason but to my knowledge this rests not in any attribution to the workings of the world or the natural order of things. Indeed, despite Nietzsche’s ad hominem attack on the man in The Problem of Socrates, his ambivalence, noted as early as Walter Kaufman’s 1974 seminal work Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (Princeton University Press 1974), suggests at least the possibility of other features at work in this text. (FYI: In my book The Pedagogic Mission: An Engagement With Ancient Greek Philosophical Practices, much is said to distance Socrates from that monochromatic view of rational deliberative inquiry. Link here: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780739126530/The-Pedagogic-Mission-An-Engagement-with-Ancient-Greek-Philosophical-Practices) I would submit that Nietzsche acknowledges in Socrates the spirit of the overman, albeit trapped by an unfortunate state of circumstance that would have him riding in on his white horse flagging reason as the great emancipator from the elusive hegemonic trail of false idols.

Socrates ennobilzed reason and thereby made a tyrant of her. She stepped in as if to nullify the power of the instincts that threaten to unhinge everything at its joints! What chaos! What disorder! What disharmony! What vicious self-annihilating force is this?! For once unleashed there is no limit to what the human spirit might discover!! Decadence everywhere! HA! Did the Socrateses and Platos think that they could just trot in and deliver humankind from herself and not thereby lose humanity in the process?!

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“Happiness equals instinct”!? And yet everything we seem to now “know” of the Greeks – from Socrates to Plato, Plato to Aristotle, Aristotle to the Stoics – aims to expunge the instincts, and with reason as our guide, arrive at a proper understanding of “things” and a will unhampered by the seductiveness of the passions to frame that eudaimonic life we all aspire to!

Nietzsche, the agitator of reason, was not also unreasonable, nor irrational as such. He resented Socrates, or perhaps this ill-framed variety of Socraticism (which he too in part is responsible for popularizing), for exaggeration. For Nietzsche defamed Socrates not only for his aesthetic profanity (so ugly was he, that he was an insult to the good taste of the gods! :)) but for levelling humankind in the service of that counter-tyrant, reason. He says of Socrates:

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My Twitter handle is no accident – gignolatry – and hence my opposition to ontolatry is real ( 😉 ). In Reason in Philosophy, Nietzsche is emphatic and decorative in his descriptors of ontolatries. He says:

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‘Being is that empty fiction’, which even Heraclitus, knew too well was the imposition of the mind on what was evinced rawly by the senses. The fable of the essentialists comes in four basic propositions. Now I won’t be able to elaborate these here, for each requires special attention to distinct parts of his philosophy, but enough can be said to counter the Epictetean position with which I began. So what are these propositions? Here they are from the man himself:

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Plato with utmost clarity (well maybe not that clear!) has distinguished the Sensible World from the Intelligible World, and though numerous arguments are offered, a couple are well known and clearly on Nietzsche’s mind. The sensible world is one with which we are acquainted through our senses, and since the objects of this world are changing and ephemeral, it stands to reason ( 😉 ) that these appearances cannot tell us how it is to truly be a chair, or doorknob or anything else. After all, the colour, distinct markings, spatial-temporal locale, are particular to a “thing” but not to its kind. Hence, it follows, that these items do not speak to how things themselves are, but only to accidental occurrences or contingencies. But it is equally true that sensory perception is prone to run wildly off course given the attachment of the ear, of the eyes, of touch to circumstance, to the particular, itself also unshielded from common error (e.g. an item seen from afar looks small until seen up close). So what happens to the world of things upon exit? Plato (and others) would contend evaporation! Poof, they disappear! Quite literally, the “characteristics that have been given to the true Being of things are of non-Being”. Namely, these characteristics don’t exist, are not to be found anywhere, and hence essentially ( 😉 ) are concocted from the imagination of man! A fable worth telling again and again for care of human endeavors that might cash in on aspiring to live for a world uninhibited by ephemeral preoccupations and fleeting (HA!) objects of hedonic value.

A world concocted is a world that simply does not exist, and tis a fable told to suppress and contain the human spirit unadulterated by confusions interspersed by impositions of the mind. And yet, Nietzsche, often misunderstood, does not address the instincts as wildly out of control, drawn indiscriminately in any direction as a dog is to a bitch in heat! NO! Nietzsche speaks to how one might “spiritualize, beautify, deify a desire”. Though this is a complex notion, it is at least clear that Nietzsche equates the castration of the passions with nay-sayers of life, and the beatification of the passions with the affirmation of life. For Nietzsche says:

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Nietzsche does not take sides with crude displays of affection, or aggression (as he is often criticized for), but favours the beautification of the passions! This comes not from the objects themselves, of course. Recall, there are no facts, things out there to be apprehended in themselves! It is rather in the delicate nurturing, inter-personalized engagement with, and invested concern for the passions that beauty is brought forth so that in screams of contained rapture one can appreciate, say, Wagner’s Ring Cycle, in silent discourse.

So what is his meaning and how does this set the record straight with Epictetus? Another timeout for Pirocacos as she gets her unhinged self together….to be continued…I promise!

*Alas I am convinced that philosophy, the variety I engage (for there are many forms), is an art form, itself best transcribed literarily, musically, poetically!

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