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Thinking in Different Philosophies

Polygots often speak of the worlds of art and literature that are made available to them upon learning a new language.

An English-speaking person who studies French, for instance, is able to be inspired and informed by a larger population of films, books, songs, and conversations. They are able to laugh at jokes that were previously meaningless to them. They are able to be moved by poems that were once unintelligible to them. They live in the same world as before, but the possibilities of that world are more fully open to their experience.

I believe that an analogous kind of experience is made available through the contemplation of unfamiliar ideas.

Every idea is a kind of language which, when understood, opens the mind’s ability to discern new meanings and messages from life’s experiences.

Whenever we make the effort to learn something new, life reflects our knowledge back to us in the form of a freer and more fulfilling existence.

New ideas produce new opportunities for exploring and engaging the world.

Being able to “think in different philosophies” is no less valuable than being able to speak in different languages.

What Can Philosophy Do With Us?

The value of philosophy lies in the self-knowledge, interior depth, and sense of wonder that one acquires as a consequence of contemplating the fundamental categories of existence.

Unlike the sciences, philosophical activity is not identified by some specific body of knowledge it proposes to offer. Science is valuable because it provides answers, whereas philosophy is valuable because it provokes questions.

Philosophy invites us to attend to those questions whose answers are often difficult to define, troublesome to understand, and seemingly impossible to prove. Questions such as these, while an offense to our desire for simplicity and practicality, are ideal tools for cultivating the mind’s ability to reason clearly, imagine deeply, and think independently.

Even if a person fails at discovering concrete truths through philosophical investigation, they will, by their persistence in rigorously reflecting on the abstract, the provocative, the uncertain, and the paradoxical, make vast improvements in their ability to articulate what they think, analyze what they’re told, and appreciate what others believe.

Philosophy is not a static technique for finding truth, it’s a dynamic tool for facilitating transformation. 

The richest of possibilities lie not in our consideration of what we can do with philosophy, but in our contemplation of what philosophy can do with us.

A Friend is Someone Who is Good at Not Getting Along With You

The character of a team is revealed not by how much affection its members display during times of agreement, but by how well its members learn to communicate and coexist during moments of dispute.

Getting along when we agree is evidence neither of compatibility nor camaraderie. Getting along when we agree is just a part of what it means to agree.

Even rivals appear to be allies when they advocate the same point of view.

Disagreement, far from being a threat to genuine friendship, is the very thing that makes it possible to distinguish enemies from friends.

Without the capacity for conflict, there can be no basis for chemistry.

All ideas are fragile

“And just as Steve loved ideas, and loved making stuff, he treated the process of creativity with a rare and a wonderful reverence. You see, I think he better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.” -Jonathan Ive at the Steve Jobs Tribute on the Apple campus.

The potential usefulness of ideas should never be discounted merely because of the existence of counterexamples and creative challenges.

An idea doesn’t have to be applicable to everything in order to be applicable to some things.

If “yes, but…,” followed by the citation of some condition towards which an idea fails to apply, were sufficient grounds for the dismissal of every new proposal, all progress would be impossible.

Ideas must be groomed by our willingness to think critically and creatively about how we can get the most out of them. 

Their value, often disguised as vulnerability, has to be cultivated with patience and persistence.

There are no powerful ideas without powerful people.

All ideas are fragile. It’s only our willingness to work with them that makes them strong.

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