Even an occasional follower of plinyblog.com can confidently tell you that we have consistently disparaged aphorisms and all manner of pre-packaged judgmental guides and behavioral rules. Many of our writings (such as the previous one) have attempted to discourage the use of home-spun, traditional homilies as guides to behavior or judgment. We have ardently and consistently supported the use of personal empirical experience, interpreted by mature wisdom as the proper (and only) guide.
In past writings we have furnished numerous examples of this species of pre-packaged and useless and misleading aphoristic travesties but cannot resist another illustrative example. It appears, strangely enough, to be a well- known homily regarding the treatment of the common cold. “Feed a cold and starve a fever.” The suggested procedure (which, surprisingly, we actually have heard) is that you should allow a person suffering with a cold, to eat freely, but, in the case of the development of a fever, food is to be withheld. These observations, which are totally fallacious, actually appear to be a misquotation of an equally ignorant direction, “If you feed a cold, you will (cause) starve a fever.”
So ardent are we in our continuing effort to discourage pre-packaged, aphoristic advice, that we will bravely run the ( likely) risk of being labelled presumptuous in making the following critical comments regarding two truly great and justly celebrated individuals, Socrates and Robert Burns. We, nonetheless, would bravely and humbly ask the reader to generously consider the possible merit of our observations.
The great classical Greek philosopher, Socrates is famously known for his instruction, “Know thyself.” This basic principle of life is challenging, among other things, considering the reactive effect on our sense of identity, by the element of the perception of us by other individuals with whom we regularly interact. Additionally, so many centuries before the revelation of the unconscious mind by Sigmund Freud, as well as the advent of the modern day aspiration for self- knowledge and identity, we shall assume that the intended message is that we should strive to become aware of our strengths and weaknesses, the reasonable limitation of our own capabilities, as well as our natural inclinations.
The world renowned Scottish poet, Robert Burns, of far more recent vintage, penned the famous words, “Oh would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as other see us.” The underlying basis is that our assumptions about ourselves are significantly different from the views of other people.
But the judgments of others will, as a practical matter, each vary with the individual perception; still further, since perception is purely subjective, which of the varied perceptions will be enlightening, or more accurate than our own self- assessment. The sole redeeming value of Burns’ statement is perhaps that we should not believe that our assumptions concerning ourselves are necessarily binding on others.
Socrates goes private; “know thyself” is a call to the individual to look into himself for knowledge of his identity, a situation which can be precarious considering the element of subjective fantasy; Burns looks publicly for an alternative picture of us from others. The view of Jews by Nazi Germany in the first half of the 20th Century, or the view of black people in America by much of its white population during the 16th through the 20th Centuries, was very far from appropriate or enlightening.
Man’s obligation to develop and maturely discover himself and his environment should not be relegated to pre-packaged or canned wisdom. As a rational being, man’s life is properly to be lived in accordance with his empirical experience, as it currently unfolds, with the aid (only) of mature reason, and the presence of sufficient sensitivity for other human beings.