First instalment…

Parrhesia, an ancient Greek term, is frank-speech. Being frank is an act of forthrightness, as when one would say, “to be frank…” An utterance often quasi apologetically employed to signal unsavoury content; that is, something the listener is not prepared, or expecting to be clued in on. With this there is the risk of offence that may find oneself marginalized, (politically/socially) exiled and/or punished. The irregularity is not so much with the truth-value of the content, a point to which I shall return, but in “coming clean,” or explicitly exposing a truth which is contrary to acceptable form. Courage then is a fundamental virtue of the parrhesiastes. For she is not that chatterbox who feeds off the entrails of others, indiscriminately sharing wherever opportunity should veer her head. Such a gossip-whore is a sensationalist whose voice takes the form of entertainment at best, youtuber at worst!

The parrhesiastes does not chance upon potentially marginalizing acts, but diligently and with the virtues of courage, honesty and justice, push forward nonetheless. She must then ac-knowledge the irregularity and for the sake of some “higher” calling, and with veracity at her hip, share. Thereby vulnerable to public scrutiny – it is public both because it has been openly shared, and because it is subject to the regularizing force of public opinion – she’s made herself spokesperson for the truth. It is exhortative as it seeks to invite critical awareness where she is but the vehicle for its attainment. This finds the “offenders” apologoumenos before themselves and others, but always at the risk of the boomerang effect finding her the target of criticism.



I’d posted this on LinkedIn:

Is it not outrageous that we baffle over the transparent and innocuously purport to narrate the opaque? 

To which I received the reply:

Elly, this is rather opaque.😌

And I thought; Perfect! It’s perfect because the surface reading of my post is accusatory in tone; specifically, exhortative with regards to those who are obscurantists, and yet, it is a species of it’s kind; i.e. it is itself opaque. The meaning of the fist part of the phrase then alters in meaning such that, in fact, no assertion is transparent; everything is subsequently a matter of interpretation. Accepting this, the original accusatory tone withers to make room to a host of multiple meanings negotiated for dialogical partners.

The larger picture tells the story of how “there are no facts, everything is interpretation,” leaving the transparent conspicuously opaque. What is it about linear, economized language, that suggests transparency; a single, objective rendering of truth? There is danger in this presumptive paradigm for unlike poetic verse that leaves unconcealed its opacity, begrudging those of simpler, more literal tastes, the scientific, fact-imploring, modality conceals its metaphysical landscape from view, as if unapologetic-like, truth is its proprietary alone. Is this exposition itself also evaluative, leaving therefore a resurgent relativism to contend with? There is a way in which ‘everything is relative,’ but that is only uninterestingly so; i.e with a spatial-temporal stamp. Everything that is anything is something because we make it so. What we see is not a mechanical representation of the world as is. This has been obvious to philosophers since Thales; I might even say it was obvious to my children by the time they were ready to talk; i.e. they were quite equipped to address the discrepancy between appearance and reality, believing and knowing. Still how we entertain this seemingly obvious set of binaries is where all the conversation is being had.

Philosophers are pretty much in agreement that the world out there as is, is beyond human understanding. I’ve gone over this debate in other posts, so I’ll resist repeating myself. Instead, I’d like to address the style of calibration defined by the word. I like the way Danto puts it in his analysis of Nietzsche – From Reading Nietzsche.

The psychology of the metaphorical address is, since metaphor is a rhetorician’s device, that the audience will itself supply the connection withheld by the metaphor, so that the rhetorician opens a kind of gap with the intention that the logical energies of his audience will arc it, with the consequence of having participated in the progression of argument, that audience convinces itself. There is another but comparable psychology of the aphorism, namely that once heard it is unlikely to pass from recollection, so its pointed terseness is a means of ensouling the messages it carries, and to counteract the predictable deteriorations of memory. So it is a natural instrument of the moralist.



Telling the Tale – Perspectivism


Jennifer Fox’s documentarian style drags our visceral intuitions (or, at least she did mine) from a safe distance, alert, transfixed into that intra-personal dialogical space, fluid, personalized. The space is translucent as it navigates between the phantasmal and the real, the past and the present, the child and the adult. It’s a story within a story embedded in a story; multiple perspectives drawn from this intra-personal dialogue resentful of those inter-personal inquisitions (mostly with her partner) seemingly standing objective privy to a clear sighting of sexual abuse. Nietzsche says, ‘perspectivity is the fundamental condition of life,’ and by this I suspect he meant more than just that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” We all see things, adopt or acquire a perspective from a relative vantage point.


The parable of old tells a telling tale of its own. Blind men come to “see” this ‘elephant’ from their perspective, privy to only fragments of its physical instantiation in the world, and each goes away exclaiming what they had found: “it’s a spear!,” “it’s a fan,”, “it’s a wall,” “it’s a rope,” “it’s a tree,” “it’s a snake”! Self-limiting in our engagement, only a God’s eye view could ever become acquainted with the infinite possible perspectives from which it would be experienced. And yet, this is only part of the story ( 😉 ). The foreground alerts us not only to selectivity, but also to a modality of meaning, without which no thing ever experienced would be anything at all. Someone can be heard saying: “get things into perspective,” suggestive of a narrow stance, and with it the implicit accusation that “however things may come to be perceived relative to your engagement, some perspectives are better than others.” Optical perspectivism seems uncomplicated and only obviously true, except when one takes seriously the exclamatory claims: “it’s a snake!,” “it’s a tree!,” and so on. Indeed it is the very thing Plato would plant in our minds to have us question the relationship between what one says and how things are. After all, it is an elephant that each in her turn only fragmentarily perceives from her vantage point, coming to the mistaken viewpoint that the object that she has on her hands is a snake and not an elephant. The illustration is misleading, however. Any sensible object is tied to its background or context – there is no Godly view from which one could possibly take in all infinite perspectives – and the nexus of meaningful relations amongst other objects in the world, including oneself. Perceptual experience is always interpreted within a rich context of signs that signal a perspectival view of the the world. Why is breaking up frames of experience at the outlined periphery of said elephant more true of how the world is experienced than breaking it up at the outmost regions of one’s perceptible frame such that what you see in not an elephant at all but a landscape?

“Things are not always exactly as they appear. This is not a deer crossing the road. It is a road crossing a mountain.”

Optical perspectivism is similar to perspectivism tout court which argues that there are many possible conceptual frameworks or perspectives from which judgments of truth or e-valuations can be made. In the absence of “objectivity” or any definitive way in which the world can be said to be, is there a measure of “truth”?

Nietzsche, as others that mount some relativistic or contextualized view,  argues both against all arrogant attempts at delineating what is objectively true, and in favour of more sophisticated, perspectival versions of the truth.

“Perspectivism.” It is our needs that interpret the world; our drives and their For and Against. Every drive is a kind of lust to rule; each one has its perspective that it would like to compel all the other drives to accept as a norm. (F. Nietzsche, The Will to Power, §481) 

The Tale is a narratival story that finds confident, successful, unorthodox Jennifer (played by Laura Dern) for years hibernating in a parable little Jenny (played by Isabelle Nelisse), her 13-year old intra-dialogical partner, schemed. She was one of 5 children, the eldest, and essentially invisible in a home wrecked with havoc. Bill (played by Jason Ritter) – her assailant – and Mrs. G (played by Elizabeth Debicki) – co-conspirator (?) – opportuned her rite of passage into womanhood, and at long last centre stage to her own life, she no longer experienced herself as a spectator inadvertently marginalized.

Jenny’s essay, tells the Tale that comes to unravel Jennifer who’d been left with an idyllic story of her first sexual experience with an older man. Later she’ll accuse little Jenny for leaving her to believe it was “a good thing”. Scenes of a caring man, Bill, patiently and lovingly (?) preparing little Jen for full penetration leave one feeling uneasy, especially when the face, the look, of this child and her tiny body are perceived underneath his full-figure. At first Jenny felt seen, visible for all the attention. She thought she’d been singled out; that she was special. They treated her like an adult, and she found strength and composure in that. Jennifer, reluctant, yet nonetheless discombobulated, turned suspecting when seeing the child-like figure of her 13-year old self was actually quite petite, still wearing the “innocence” of childhood. Jennifer looked to unravel the meaning of her Tale, for it was clear to her adult sensibilities that things were not quite as the story was told. Her mother was instrumental in moving Jen-nifer to face her assailant; but Jennifer wasn’t looking to accuse or condemn anyone. She wanted to understand why these people were so important to her, she wanted to unravel her story. For if there is one thing that rang true, it was that she was not a victim. She was not taken advantage of; she was not mistreated, she was not demeaned, she was not raped. When her mother asked, ill-heartedly but somehow prompted by the (seeming?) voluntary nature of her daughter’s sexual relation-ship, “did you enjoy it?,” Jennifer in a state of uneasiness, was clear that she did not. “I was a kid. I got something else. Love. I wanted to feel special,” she said. Her body knew first; her mind would only follow 30 years later. Hours of fornicating were followed by nights hanging over the toilet, vomiting through the night, until exhaustion would take her. Soon her wariness would turn existential nausea, and prompted by suspicions of a planned threesome, a weekend away together with Bill and Mrs. G, was cancelled. The day after we see Jenny, full-faced, serious, confident, talking directly into the camera: “I’ve made a decision. I am taking my life in my own hands.” She would end things with Bill. She called to inform him she wouldn’t be seeing him again, severing ties with both Bill and Mrs. G. She tells of how he begged her, cried, and she imagined that he’d never get over her, sending postcards to her deep into her adult years. This is the story she told herself. And so, the summer spent on the farm was described as heaven.

What did wee Jen have at her ready? What inventory of truths might Jennifer unravel to draw out the perspective she’d entertained? Jenny will come to tell Jennifer that the Tale was only a version of the truth. Premonitions voiced by adult Jennifer coming in as if a sage to caution her younger self could not be heard. Of course not. This was not Jenny’s truth, not even any of multiple intra-personal versions of her truth. For how could it be? Jenny’s horizon of meaning was indeed that of a precocious teen, self-affirming in her advocacy of self, yet emotionally starved.

“The claim that truth is found and that ignorance and error are at an end is one of the most potent seductions there is. Supposing it is believed, then the will to examination, investigation, caution, experiment is paralyzed…“Truth” is therefore more fateful than error and ignorance, because it cuts off the forces that work toward enlightenment and knowledge.” (F. Nietzsche. The Will to Power

Inexperienced Jenny, Jennifer would be heard saying, was a child of the 70s, a time sex was not moralized, “forced” penetration not demonized. The perspective coasts the waves of sexuality from within a fluid movement of self-expression, exploration, mind-expansiveness, openness, and contra-labeling attitudes. Bill would be patient and loving (I know this is not what readers will find easy to hear as they want to shout “Rapist!,” but it is not how Jenny experienced herself. It would be negligible, I suspect, even within the context of mental health and personal development, to impose an exhaustively simple narrative on Jenny) as he prepared her both emotionally and physically for intercourse. She would be the one to plead with her parents to spend weekends alone with her “assailants.” She’d experience herself as grown up and in charge of her life, for that is how Bill and Mrs. G would speak to her. Bill would entreat her to question the conventionalism of marriage and the like as a species of social tyranny (too strong?). She’d see herself as counter-cultural in her affairs, distinct, empowered, authorially driven. First vocalized in due difference to her family, and later as she severed ties with Bill, climaxing in The Tale she would tell – she would not experience herself as anything short of autonomous!

It is, as with all things, a matter of negotiation. For short of discursive fluidity, that beautiful, charming, magical force of energy coagulates, eventually becoming dense, hard matter that in time builds walls. “A lie is an outward expression of a falsehood one inwardly knows to be false, meaning the liar can still know the truth. A conviction, on the other hand, is an inward certainty one has attained the truth, and thus in many cases, gives way to an arrogance that enmeshes one in a web of delusion and falsehood, and cuts one off from the possibility of moving towards knowledge” (unknown source 😦 ). Was Jenny violated? Was she actually taken advantage of? Did she in her desperation to be seen confiscate autonomy to do her bidding? Of course, but also not at all! 13-year old Jenny’s perspective experiences herself within a paradigm of constructs that nurtured a sense of authentic emancipation from literally marginalizing and alienating circumstance. She did not, could not, experience herself as Jennifer now 30 years later could. We may certainly speak to the delicate age of Jenny, circumstance that made her vulnerable to the likes of Bill, but that would also only be to hear the story from Jennifer and our own adult, particularized sensibilities, leaving Jenny quite invisible all over again. An imposed silence upon her carefully crafted script is not to emancipate Jenny from extrinsic forces but to leave her quite without voice. To Jennifer. Does she now within her adult comportment experience herself, through this visceral reenactment of her youthful self, as violated? She’d struggle through the entire film with answering that question for herself.

In an aphorism entitled “To What Extent The Thinker Loves His Enemy,” from Dawn of Day, Nietzsche advised:

Make it a rule to withhold or conceal from yourself anything that may be thought against your own thoughts. Vow it! this is the essential requirement of honest thinking. You must undertake such a campaign against yourself every day.”

Tiny revelations contrary to that more idyllic picture would eventually come to canvass a grander/eur perspective and a Truth, a Tale, that could no longer be squandered, snuffed out by paradigms so inhospitable to what she’d seemingly known all-along.

Jennifer would finally piece the puzzle together. She’d find her assailant. Mrs. G, once a stunning woman of elegant composure and vibrancy, now a rag-doll of questionable lucidity, would tell her nothing. She’d have to put her journalistic expertise to the quest and extract the truth from detractors, restrainers, and oppressors of the truth. Clues brought her to a young woman recruited to enjoin the threesome, now turned preschool teacher, who would, herself shocked to know Jenny was but a child (the school age of her students) at the time, reveal the true dynamics of the affair. Mrs. G was the recruiter who’d bring conquests to Bill’s bed. Neither overtly criminal in demeanour. Both, in fact, ingratiating, mentoring, caring. It is only her adult sensibilities that see the sinister undertow enveloped in preying upon the gullibility of the emotionally frail. Bill’s warmth is chillingly experienced by adult viewers, but Jenny would not want to betray the respect they’d shown her by bowing out of this adult affair, and behaving, as it were, as a child!!!!!! This Jennifer would slowly, shrillingly, come to experience in herself, reaching a climax in a very public confrontational scene with Bill where, desperate for closure, would seek to understand how Bill (a grown man), with her present-day, now adult, sensibilities, could possibly prey upon the youthful innocence of a trusting little girl! Closure would not come as he’d insist, telling his own tale, that she was a willing participant! Shrunken and defeated, she would find no restitution in her tale.

My take away is that we all hibernate in perspectives weaved into our living lives, making it our Truth, our Tale. Glimmers of light sneaking in illuminating what lies beneath seems inescapable, even when repressive impulses may continue to win the day. For Jennifer it was her mother, The Tale, penned by her younger self, that awoke her to the fable she’d learned to call home. I suspect, the Tale, shall be retold many times over, when life experience occasions retrieval and renegotiation in that lifelong process of recalibration!

I stand with a cast-away heart and a delicate psychical world firmly in the act of incertitude that everything is a miracle. The standard price for authenticity? Inner turmoil! I’ll take it! To Nietzsche: I shall ‘make it a rule never to withhold or conceal from myself anything that may be thought against my own thoughts. I vow it! This is the essential requirement of honest thinking. I aim to undertake such a campaign against myself every day.’ (F. Nietzsche, Dawn of Day)

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 morphs 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 partner in life. But I have said my peace. For though his heart, his lips betrayed her first, leaving him comprised and of “two minds,” his cowardice will be called to measure and he shall not disappoint in his narratival creativity and she shall acquiesce (*I’ve found solace in extending the narratival fold to include her. Twas her demise that would seek comfort in his whirling manner to which her will would be vanquished.). 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. Had he not intrusively willed himself back into my life, silence would have weighed into oblivion. Instead, it drudged life back into the void, and there we lay vulnerable in discursive limbo as he sought to retreat without even a word: farewell. 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’.

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 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!


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