Arrogant Philosophers

I have spotted a certain propensity for arrogance amongst philosophers and creatives, particularly amongst the most studied or celebrated ones. Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, of course, but even doubting Descartes and gentle Hume appear to have had their moments.

Here is a list of some of the most arrogant or downright offensive offerings ever to come out of some of the greatest philosophers and creatives. Needless to say, I do not in any way condone or subscribe to these positions—or, at least, not to the vast majority of them… Some may raise a laugh, others are nothing but distasteful.

And here are some questions that I pondered whilst compiling the list.

What is arrogance?
How, if at all, might arrogance be helpful?
Can arrogance ever be excused or justified?

Your answers on the back of a card, please.

1. ‎I hope that posterity will judge me kindly, not only as to the things which I have explained, but also to those which I have intentionally omitted so as to leave to others the pleasure of discovery. —Descartes

2. Philosophy must indeed recognize the possibility that the people rise to it, but must not lower itself to the people. —Hegel

3. Mark this well, you proud men of action! you are, after all, nothing but unconscious instruments of the men of thought. —Hegel

4. I’m not ugly, but my beauty is a total creation. —Hegel

5. Democracy… is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.—Aristotle

6. Again, it is characteristic of the proud man not to aim at the things commonly held in honour, or the things in which others excel; to be sluggish and to hold back except where great honour or a great work is at stake, and to be a man of few deeds, but of great and notable ones. He must also be open in his hate and in his love (for to conceal one’s feelings, that is, to care less for truth than for what people will think, is a coward’s part), and must speak and act openly; for he is free of speech because he is contemptuous, and he is given to telling the truth, except when he speaks in irony to the vulgar. —Aristotle

7. I may tell you, between ourselves, that these six Meditations contain all the foundations of my physics. But please do not tell people, for that might make it harder for supporters of Aristotle to approve them. I hope that readers will gradually get used to my principles, and recognize their truth, before they notice that they destroy the principles of Aristotle. —Descartes

8. As a consequence of her weaker reasoning powers, woman has a smaller share of the advantages and disadvantages these bring with them. She is, rather, a mental myopic… —Schopenhauer

9. Only a male intellect clouded by the sexual drive could call the stunted, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped and short-legged sex the fair sex … More fittingly than the fair sex, women could be called the unaesthetic sex. Neither for music, nor poetry, nor the plastic arts do they possess any real feeling of receptivity: if they affect to do so, it is merely mimicry in service of their effort to please. —Schopenhauer

10. Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent. —Nietzsche

11. A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. —Nietzsche

12. After coming into contact with a religious man I always feel I must wash my hands. —Nietzsche

13. ‘Evil men have no songs.’ How is it that the Russians have songs? —Nietzsche

14. It is a just political maxim, that every man must be supposed a knave. —Hume

15. I have written on all sorts of subjects… yet I have no enemies; except indeed all the Whigs, all the Tories, and all the Christians. —Hume

16. I do not break my head very much about good and evil, but I have found little that is ‘good’ about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all. —Freud

17. To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful. —Jung

18. I don’t do drugs. I am drugs. —Dali

19. My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso. —Picasso

20. There was a time when I was running about the world, fancying myself to be well employed, but I was really a most wretched thing, no better than you are now. I thought that I ought to do anything rather than be a philosopher. —Socrates

21. Men of Athens, I am grateful and I am your friend, but I will obey the god rather than you, and as long as I draw breath and am able, I shall not cease to practice philosophy, to exhort you and in my usual way to point out to any one of you whom I happen to meet: Good Sir, you are an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power; are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honours as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul? —Socrates

22. …if you mean to share with me and to exchange beauty for beauty, you will have greatly the advantage of me; you will gain true beauty in return for appearance—like Diomede, gold in exchange for brass. —Socrates

23. Arrogance on the part of the meritorious is even more offensive to us than the arrogance of those without merit: for merit itself is offensive. —Nietzsche

Dream Interpretation 101: The Counsellor’s Book

I slept in late last Wednesday, and awoke naturally from a rather interesting dream. A great problem with modern living is the waking up to an alarm clock, which interrupts sleep before our dreams are completed. This denies us the opportunity to test and explore our thoughts and feelings and, in so doing, to gain the sort of insight and understanding that might enable us to progress beyond waking up to an alarm clock. This is just another aspect of being ‘trapped by the 9 to 5′.

The dream

In this dream, then, I was about 17 years old, and not much different from my current, adult self. I was perhaps in my final year at secondary school, in the rural hills overlooking Lake Geneva. On a clear day, it might have been possible to see the snow-capped Alps beyond the lake, but now the sky was clouded over, and the seed that had been sown into the bare but loamy fields had only just begun to germinate. I had a general feeling of being overwhelmed and out of control, assailed by timetables, assignments, deadlines, social pressures, and various incoherences and futilities, and so I arranged to see the school counsellor. I sat on a chair in her room and began talking about my situation. She however was not interested. She was lying on a couch covered by a quilt, and every so often she lifted the quilt to reveal her bare breasts. After some time, a friend or colleague of hers arrived; she stepped out to greet him and through the window I could see them bantering. I felt quite angry at the counsellor and, to pass the time, I began to explore her room and in particular her bookcase. Therein I picked up a large leather-bound volume, ‘The World as Will’ by Arthur Schopenhauer. Holding the book in my hands, I was struck with such wonder and amazement that I broke into tears. Without waiting for the counsellor to return, I stepped out of the room and onto High Holborn (London), at which point I woke up.

My interpretation

In this dream I was young and of an age to learn. The sky was clouded over reflecting my then feelings. The seed in the rich, fertile soil had begun to germinate, auguring my own growth and rebirth. I sought help from the person best qualified to help me, but, like many people, she turned out to be immature, self-motivated, and of no help at all. She was lying on the couch while I was sitting in a chair, suggesting that she needed therapy more than I did, or that I understood or was to understand more than she did. The book represented my salvation, which was not to come passively through the counsellor and by extension through society, but actively through the thoughts of the greatest minds and by extension through philosophy. The title of the book, ‘The World as Will’, was particularly significant because it connoted freedom of the will, which is the cure for helplessness and the particular gift of philosophy. The breaking down into tears represented a cathartic release brought about by sudden insight, which is an important goal of classical psychoanalytic psychotherapy. When I stepped out of the room, I was no longer trapped on school premises but liberated into the wider world. The name ‘Holborn’ (‘whole-born’) itself is also likely to be of significance.

NB: The school counsellor is not based on any real person, and is a pure figment of my imagination.

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