Discover more from The Fritz Letter
Beyond Good and Evil 👁️
Pursuing virtue in an amoral world
I used to believe in Heaven and Hell. I thought that humans were born inherently wicked and destined for eternal punishment, and that only the death of a pure messiah could wipe away the taint of evil on men’s souls.
I’ve realized now that I was half-right. It’s true; most of us don’t do what’s good for us or others. However, it’s not because we’re wired for evil.
We’re simply wired for foolishness.
So, how do we correct this flaw?
You guessed it: philosophy.
We’re All Wrong About Most Things
One of the greatest ironies of human existence is that we always live our lives in the way we believe to be most rational, and yet, we’re usually wrong.
This is the Dunning-Kreuger effect in action, on a massive scale. Another word for it is hubris. We always think we know stuff right up until we realize, sometimes cataclysmically, that we don’t know what we thought we knew.
Good and evil are no exception. While most of us have learned that stoning people to death for sleeping with specific humans (and not others) is objectively unhelpful to society at large, we haven’t yet seemed to decide if evading taxes, sparking insurrections, or operating human trafficking rings are helpful or unhelpful.
That’s the thing about truth. Each of us can only see part of it, and most of us believe what we see.
A rigorous examination of our perspectives can help, but ultimately, the only way to get the full picture is to communicate with people who see things differently.
As Yamamoto Tsunetomo reminds us in Hagakure:
“Wisdom is nothing more than to discuss things with others.”
The Elephant Parable And The Problem Of Evil
There’s a parable from somewhere in (or near) Asia that beautifully portrays the importance of communication and humility called The Elephant Parable.
In this parable, four blind men reach out and touch an elephant:
One touches its leg and says, “It’s a tree!”
One touches its trunk and says, “It’s a snake!”
One touches its tail and says, “It’s a rope!”
One stands on its back and says, “It’s a mountain!”
They’re all wrong. It’s an elephant. But each is so convinced of his own correctness that they part ways, build nations, raise armies, and go to war to defend their worldviews.
These blind men are us when we try to fix each other and refuse to listen. We think we’ve grasped the truth, when in reality, we have no idea how wrong we are about who, what, where, when, why, and how we even are, much less what we should do with our mysterious existence.
And what is the consequence of our ignorance?
Suffering. Possibly in eternity, but certainly in the present.
That sounds bleak, and in some ways it is, but again, the problem isn’t that we’re incorrigibly evil — it’s that we’re ignorant.
What’s the difference?
An evil person hates what’s good, while a fool is simply confused about what good is.
That means, with wisdom, a fool can change. Put another way, fools can turn a living hell into paradise by changing the way they see the world and interact with other people.
The key is to pursue virtue.
“Few are the good and few the evil, and . . . the majority are in the interval between them.” — Socrates, as quoted by Plato in Phaedo
How To Pursue Virtue
Paradoxically, the virtuous life is less about knowing and more about seeking. That’s the thing about knowledge and foolishness: a wise man can learn anything, but a fool already knows everything.
The best way to chase virtue is to ask yourself questions, and also to talk those questions over with others.
Start with these:
Who and what am I?
What do I want?
Why do I want it?
What is the cost of pursuing what I want?
Is it worth it?
Is it possible that I’m wrong about any of the previous questions?
How will I find out if I’m wrong?
How will I adjust if I’m wrong?
How will proceeding on my intended path change me?
Am I ready for that change?
What type of person do I not want to be?
Am I moving away from the least virtuous version of myself and toward the most virtuous version of myself?
This list is by no means exhaustive. You should be as thorough in your self-examination as you can possibly be, because you’re worth it.
Plus, always remember:
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” — Socrates, as quoted by Plato in Apology
Food For Thought
Consider how much about life you might be wrong about. How will you test your assumptions so that you might align your life more closely with the truth?
Like the Fritz Letter?
You can find a podcast, videos, music, merch, and more on the official Christopher J. Fritz website.
Also, if you like my content, you can join my exclusive community on Patreon for $1 / month. That’s cheap AF for you, but it makes a big difference for me.