Practical, ethical dialectics

“To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To the brainless, everything looks like a no-brainer.”


Success in seeing your own complete rightness; failure to see your own partial wrongness: these two conditions are not only indistinguishable — they are identical.


We are rarely completely wrong, but we are never as right as we could be.

If someone protests our rightness, perhaps we are not as right as we should be.

The protester can be even more wrong than we are, but that does not make us any less wrong.

We can examine the protester’s complaints and refute his protest point by point, but that does not invalidate the protest. If a sick person misdiagnoses his illness, that does not make him healthy. But this is how we treat the misdiagnosis of a moral grievance. The central fact: something is wrong.


Insight is unlearning rightness — finding the wrongness in our own rightness — in order to become more deeply and broadly right. Depth: we see dimension upon dimension of new unities, new distinctions, new being — Breadth: as we see more truth we recognize more truth in more articulations.


There is certainly an absolute state of affairs. That state of affairs is one way and not another. That state of affairs, however, should not be confused with the truth.

The truth is the ideal of knowledge, the point we work to approach when we think in good faith.

To confuse this ideal of thinking with the absolute state of affairs is to idolize the human mind.

To confuse one’s own current conception of truth with the absolute state of affairs is to self-idolize.

“One’s own”: this might be the possession of an brave individual, but more often it is the possession of an aggregate of cowardly individuals.

An individual is ashamed to worship himself. Nobody will agree with him and many will condemn him. But a group rarely hesitates to worship itself. Everyone whose opinion matters — that is, the members of the group — agrees that the group possesses the truth. There is practical value in loving your enemy: the possibility of insight.

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