Philosopher Robert Nozick made quite a splash with his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974). He assertively planted a flag on the libertarian hill with quotes such as, “There is no social entity with a good that undergoes some sacrifice for its own good. There are only individual people with their own individual lives. Using one of these people for the benefit of others, uses him and benefits the others.” Fascinatingly, though, he never published an encore, choosing instead to concentrate his scholarship on distinctly different areas of philosophy. One of those later works is the aptly titled The Examined Life.
The Examined Life (1989), according to Wikipedia, “pitched to a broader public, explores love, death, faith, reality, and the meaning of life. According to Stephen Metcalf, Nozick expresses serious misgivings about capitalist libertarianism, going so far as to reject much of the foundations of the theory on the grounds that personal freedom can sometimes only be fully actualized via a collectivist politics and that wealth is at times justly redistributed via taxation to protect the freedom of the many from the potential tyranny of an overly selfish and powerful few. Nozick suggests that citizens who are opposed to wealth redistribution which fund programs they object to, should be able to opt out by supporting alternative government approved charities with an added 5% surcharge.”
I found the book rife with intriguing quotes; not easy to digest, mind you, but worthy for sure. I present to you now what I consider to be Robert Nozick quotes of the highest value from about the examined life:
Quotes from The Examined Life by Robert Nozick
Mostly we tend—I do too—to live on automatic pilot, following through the views of ourselves and the aims we acquired early, with only minor adjustments. No doubt there is some benefit—a gain in ambition or efficiency—in somewhat unthinkingly pursuing early aims in their relatively unmodified form, but there is a loss, too, when we are directed through life by the not fully mature picture of the world we formed in adolescence or young adulthood.
To live the examined life is to make a self-portrait. Staring out at us from his later self-portraits, Rembrandt is not simply someone who looks like that but one who also sees and knows himself as that, with the courage this requires. We see him knowing himself.
Still, we can gain from these books, weighing and pondering ourselves in their light. These books—and also some less evidently grown-up ones, Thoreau’s Walden and Nietzsche’s writings, for example—invite or urge us to think along with them, branching in our own directions. We are not identical with the books we read, but neither would we be the same without them.
I do not say with Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living—that is unnecessarily harsh. However, when we guide our lives by our own pondered thoughts, it then is our life that we are living, not someone else’s. In this sense, the examined life is lived more fully.
Plato argued and developed abstract theories, but he also spoke evocative myths that linger in memory—about people in a cave, about separated half-souls. Descartes rooted his most powerful writing in what was then Catholic meditative practice; Kant expressed his awe of two things, “the starry heavens above and the moral law within.” Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, Pascal and Plotinus: the list could continue. Yet the predominant current perspective on philosophy has been “cleansed” to leave a tradition in which the rational mind speaks (only) to the rational mind.
We come to philosophy originally as people who want to think about things, and philosophy is just one way to do that; it need not exclude the modes of essayists, poets, novelists, or makers of other symbolic structures, modes aiming at truth in different ways and at things in addition to truth.
Once upon a time, philosophy promised more than simply contents of thought. “Citizens of Athens,” Socrates asked, “aren’t you ashamed to care so much about making all the money you can and advancing your reputation and prestige, while for truth and wisdom and the improvement of your souls you have no thought or care?” He spoke of the state of our souls, and he showed us the state of his own.
How unwilling someone is to die should depend, I think, upon what he has left undone, and also upon his remaining capacity to do things.
Being grown-up is a way of no longer being a child, hence a way of relating to one’s parents, not just by acting as their parent but by stopping needing or expecting them to act as yours; and this includes stopping expecting the world to be a symbolic parent, too. The task of trying now to get something from the world that symbolically represents our parents’ adequate love is an impossible one. What is possible is to find a substitute for that love, something else that performs some of the same or analogous functions for us now as adults.
You are reading Quotes from The Examined Life by Robert Nozick
Notice that the power to bequeath may also bring a power to dominate, through the threat, explicit or implicit, not to bequeath if the potential receivers do not behave to one’s satisfaction. We might conjecture that it is this power and continuing control that many wealthy people care about, rather than the ability to enhance and express the bonds of personal relations, and that their compliant children or associates would have been better off without any institution of inheritance at all.
I have spent time thinking about things, reading, talking to people and listening to them, learning some subjects, traveling, looking. I too would like to leave to my children what I have amassed—some knowledge and understanding. It is pleasing to imagine a pill that would encapsulate a person’s knowledge and could be given to his children.
With the truly worthwhile things we all start roughly evenly—I have written elsewhere that we all are immigrants to the world of thought. It would be oppressive if inequalities of understanding and knowledge were to pile up over generations. …In any case, with truly worthwhile things such as knowledge and understanding—and curiosity and energy, kindness, love, and enthusiasm—we do not want to hoard these for ourselves or our own children only. What we can transmit directly, though, is a prizing of what is worthwhile, and an example.
Whether or not there really is anything new under the sun, a creative act produces something new or novel in comparison to what the creator had encountered and known previously. If unbeknown to the creator someone else had produced something similar or identical—thinking up and proving a particular mathematical theorem, for example—still the creator’s act would have been an act of creation.
Creativity itself is important, not simply the new and novel product, I conjecture, because the personal meaning of such creative activity is self-transformation in the fullest sense, transformation of the self and also transformation by the self. The process of artistic creation stands for our own autonomous recuperative and transformative powers.
The creative work and product comes to stand, sometimes unconsciously, for herself or for a missing piece or part, or for a defective one, or for part of a better self. The work is a surrogate for the creator, an analog of her, a little voodoo doll to tinker with and transform and remake in something analogous to the way she herself, or a part, needs to be transformed, remade, or healed. The process of shaping and crafting an artistic work has, as an important part of its impulse, the reshaping and integration of parts of the self.
Writers on economics speak of “entrepreneurial alertness,” the mindset of being ready to notice and seize upon new profitable opportunities, devising new ways to make things or new things to make, imagining possibilities consumers would welcome, seeing opportunities for new economic combinations. …Creative people too are on the alert—but for something different: new projects, ideas that will aid them in their current projects, new combinations, elements, techniques, or material they can utilize in ongoing work.
I will register my hunch that the number of independent avenues of alertness is very small, not more than two or three. A significant part of the story of creativity, but not the whole, is that creative people have chosen to be creative; they have set themselves to be alert that way, making that an important priority, and they have stuck to it in the face of other tempting diversions.
This blog features quotes from The Examined Life by the libertarian hero, Robert Nozick
If creativity involves bringing together two existing elaborated matrices in a new and fruitful way, perhaps originality consists in creating a new framework, not completely out of whole cloth but not by simply combining two preexisting ones, however imaginatively. Making new “frame” requires not just daring and alertness but an immersion within, patiently allowing a new structure to emerge, without forcing it prematurely into a more obvious form.
Others’ explorings, respondings, and “creatings” enlarge us. In Chaucer’s time, people did not know of Shakespeare yet were not conscious of missing anything. It is difficult now to imagine a world in which Shakespeare, Buddha, Jesus, or Einstein are absent, in which their absence goes unnoticed. What comparable voids exist now, waiting to be filled? If there is regret in not yet knowing the great reconfigurations to come, there is pleasure in knowing that they will come and that something remains to do.
If there did exist a divine being or realm not directly perceivable by the senses, how else would you come to know it other than by being open to it, allowing it to most deeply touch you?
Moreover, a prolonged attention to breathing, as in meditative practice that “follows the breath,” following the rising and falling of the chest and diaphragm, can develop the attention so that it becomes supple and concentrated, not subject to wandering, able to be maintained indefinitely on an object, and this attentiveness to breathing can be interwoven within daily activities too, thereby sharpening the nature of the attention to everything falling within the interstices of the noticed breathing.
The partners see their strongest and most primitive emotions expressed and also contained safely. It is not only the other person who is known more deeply in sex. One knows one’s own self better in experiencing what it is capable of: passion, love, aggression, vulnerability, domination, playfulness, infantile pleasure, joy.
In sexual intimacy, we admit the partner within our boundaries or make these more permeable, showing our own passions, capacities, fantasies, and excitements, and responding to the other’s. We might diagram sexual intimacy as two circles overlapping with dotted lines. There are boundaries between the partners here, yet these boundaries are permeable, not solid. Hence, we can understand the oceanic feeling, the sense of merging, that sometimes occurs with intense sexual experience.
Critical thinking is essential to the examined life. Without it, we wander aimlessly through life following wherever the herd leads and worshipping ‘the idols of the tribe’ (as Francis Bacon so aptly put it).
The general phenomenon of love encompasses romantic love, the love of a parent for a child, love of one’s country, and more. What is common to all love is this: Your own well-being is tied up with that of someone (or something) you love.
Meaningful work, creative activity, and development can change the shape of the self. …The individual self can be related to the “we” it identifies with in two different ways. It can see the we as a very important aspect of itself, or it can see itself as part of the we, as contained within it. It may be that men more often take the former view, women the latter.
Emotions typically involve not only a psychological feeling but also physiological changes in respiration, pupil size, skin color, etc. Hence, they provide an especially close integration of the mind and the body. They integrate the psychological and the physical—belief, evaluation, and feeling. If a unity between mind and body is itself desirable and valuable, as I think it is, emotions provide a unique route.
When we respond emotionally to value, rather than merely judging or evaluating it mentally, we respond more fully because our feelings and our physiology are involved. Emotions are a fitting and appropriate response to value.
Many of our capacities are drawn upon when we respond emotionally to value, capacities of being able to recognize and appreciate value, to make evaluative judgments, and also to feel in tandem. Not just anything can be a “theater” for such fine happenings; only beings with a feel for value can do it. But still, when we do it, is it good for us or is it merely a good thing happening?
An emotion is able to be an analog model of value or of some more inclusive relevant category. The emotion’s psychophysiological configurations and sequences model or picture the structure of the particular value that emotion responds to. Emotion provides a psychophysical replica of value, perhaps by exhibiting a parallel mode of organization, perhaps also by itself possessing some of the characteristics (such as intensity and depth) involved in value. An emotion would contain or be something like a map of value; of a thing’s being valuable.
Harvard professor Robert Nozick published a book in 1989 from which I have pulled trenchant quotes, entitled The Examined Life
We also can show that more matters than pleasure or happiness by considering a life that has these but otherwise is empty, a life of mindless pleasures or bovine contentment or frivolous amusements only, a happy life but a superficial one. “It is better,” John Stuart Mill wrote, “to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” And although it might be best of all to be Socrates satisfied [and life the examined life], having both happiness and depth, we would give up some happiness in order to gain the depth.
We care about more than just how things feel to us from the inside; there is more to the examined life than feeling happy. We care about what is actually the case. We want certain situations we value, prize, and think important to actually hold and be so. We want our beliefs, or certain of them, to be true and accurate; we want our emotions, or certain important ones, to be based upon facts that hold and to be fitting. We want to be importantly connected to reality, not to live in a delusion.
Perhaps the evaluation of the examined life must be something like the following: that it is very good, also for the person living it, in whatever dimensions he considers most important and whatever dimensions are most important. This clearly leaves us with the question of which dimensions of a life are the important ones. What does make a life a good one?
If there is any “secret of happiness,” it resides in regularly choosing some baseline or benchmark or other against which features of the current situation can be evaluated as good or improving. The background it stands out from—hence, the evaluation we actually make—is constituted by our own expectations, levels of aspiration, standards, and demands. And these things are up to us, open to our control.
We want experiences, fitting ones, of profound connection with others, of deep understanding of natural phenomena, of love, of being profoundly moved by music or tragedy, or doing something new and innovative, experiences very different from the bounce and rosiness of the happy moments. What we want, in short, is a life and a self that happiness is a fitting response to—and then to give it that response. The examined life.
Because our lives continue over time, we can experiment and try out choices or modify them. We also can pursue some traits intensely without having to forgo others permanently; these can await another time. We thus can aim to have a self that develops, one that over time includes and integrates the most important traits.
In thoughtful walks in the woods, contemplating the ocean, meditation, or intimate conversation with a friend, deeper parts of oneself are brought into awareness and integrated with the rest, producing a greater serenity of self, a sense of a more substantial self.
Our reality consists partly in the values we pursue and live by, the vividness, intensity, and integration with which we embody them. Our values alone, even our value, is not the whole of our reality, however; the notion of reality in general includes dimensions other than value.
It would be nice to think that whatever is most important cannot be affected by external social circumstances, yet it would minimize the seriousness of societal inequalities to deny that they affect people’s prospects in the most important ways. This does not mean that class position or income or family upbringing must place unalterable limits…yet these will affect one’s chances and make some lives, early on, a steep uphill battle at best.
Despite claims, meditative practice has not shown or discovered that the self is nonexistent. Yet, still such disciplined practice might lead to a reorganization of the self, or to greater control in wielding the self’s structure.
We have gone some way toward explaining, in terms of the processes through which the self originates, why it is self-interested, often even selfish. It would be theoretically satisfying if we also could explain the self’s attachment to pleasure: Why would a self thus constituted tend to adhere to the pleasure principle? And why would the self have not merely desires but (to use the language of Eastern theories) attachments? I do not see these issues clearly enough yet.
The examined life is a Socratic term. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Some Eastern theories condemn the self on three counts: First, the self interferes with our experiencing the deepest reality, and also with experiencing things in general as they are; second, it makes us unhappy or it interferes with our having the highest happiness; third, the self is not our full reality, yet we mistakenly believe it is.
When the extreme heights of reality are to be scaled, perhaps having more of a self will be a hindrance.
We might wonder whether it is the egoistic stance itself that gives rise to the traditional free-will problem. If I pose the question of how I can be free, isn’t this very notion of freedom—independence of external things—a concept rooted in the egoist stance?
A painting has aesthetic value, theorists have held, when it manages to integrate a great diversity of material into a tight unity, often in vivid and striking ways.
In wanting ourselves to be of value and our lives and activities to have value, we want these to exhibit a high degree of organic unity. Plato viewed the proper state of the soul as a hierarchical arrangement of three parts—the rational, the courageous, and the appetitive—with each part subordinate to the one before it and harmoniously performing its own proper function. If such a view is appealing this is because it strikes us as a valuable way to be, not because that soul must turn out to be happy.
Value involves something’s being integrated within its own boundaries, while meaning involves its having some connection beyond these boundaries. …To seek to give life meaning is to seek to transcend the limits of one’s individual life.
We want to encompass a diversity of traits and phenomena, uniting these through many cross-connections in a tightly integrated way, feeding these productively into our activities. Some entities will be the agents of their own organic unity, or some of it, shaping and developing it from within, while others will have it wholly arranged externally; this may make a difference to the kind or extent of value the entity has.
Note that a regimented society of individuals will not have the highest degree of organic unity or value. It will be less valuable than a free society wherein the major relations of people are voluntarily undertaken and modified in response to the particular changing conditions around them, giving rise to complexly interrelated and ever-shifting equilibria such as economic theory describes. Therein is the largest diversity of activity intricately unified.
To value something is to stand in a particular close, positive psychological and attitudinal relation to it, a relation itself marked by high organic unity. Valuing something is doing that particular relational activity.
About any given thing, however wide, it seems we can stand back and ask what its meaning is. To find a meaning for it, then, we seem driven to find a link with yet another thing beyond its boundaries. And so a regress is launched. To stop this regress, we seem to need something that is intrinsically meaningful….
Other quotes about the examined life can be found HERE
Value is a matter of the internal unified coherence of a thing. That thing need not be linked with anything else, anything larger, in order to have value. We need not look beyond something to find its (intrinsic) value, whereas we do have to look beyond a thing to discover its meaning.
If a philosopher tells us that he thinks for the money, a doctor that she cures illness for it, a violin maker that he does it for the cash, then we feel their activity is somehow soiled. And if they understand the meaning and value of their work so ill as to hold that beneath the making of money, how could they then be able to do work of quality?
Sometimes weight will depend upon how tightly something is integrated in a network of relations. A weighty opinion is one that has been duly considered and takes account of many facts, larger issues, and possible objections that might be raised. An emotion has weight, it is not a passing fancy, when it connects with the person’s other strivings, plans, goals, and desires, and becomes integrated with them; perhaps the emotion has undergone some modification to fit this tightly and well. Such a network of multifarious connections holds something fast in the face of outside pressure. Moreover, that thing with weight already has taken account of and so become integrated with many of the things that otherwise might overturn it.
Being the focus of other people’s attention often is a prerogative of the powerful; the desire for power, fame, and wealth is, in large part, a desire for importance. Of course, power, fame, and wealth are desired in part as a means to what follows in their wake—material goods, pleasurable experiences, interesting social encounters. …Moreover, they also symbolize being important.
Importance involves external connections or relationships, as does meaning. Weight involves internal organization, as does value. Weight stands to value as importance stands to meaning. Importance is external or relational strength or power, while weight is internal, inherent strength. Value is the inherent integration of something, while meaning is its relation and integration with external things.
Let us consider the widest possible list of relevant evaluative dimensions. It contains (take a deep breath): value, meaning, importance, weight, depth, amplitude, intensity, height, vividness, richness, wholeness, beauty, truth, goodness, fulfillment, energy, autonomy, individuality, vitality, creativity, focus, purpose, development, serenity, holiness, perfection, expressiveness, authenticity, freedom, infinitude, enduringness, eternity, wisdom, understanding, life, nobility, play, grandeur, greatness, radiance, integrity, personality, loftiness, idealness, transcendence, growth, novelty, expansiveness, originality, purity, simplicity, preciousness, significance, vastness, profundity, integration, harmony, flourishing, power, and destiny.
A thing’s truth is its inner being. Its truth is its inner essence, which can shine forth (although it does not always do so). Its truth is the deepest truths about it—you may understand this metalinguistically if that helps—truths about its inner nature. A thing’s truth is its inner light.
Robert Nozick writes in a lofty yet reasoned way on topics such as wisdom, value, free will, the good life, truth, justice and such in The Examined Life
What category is it that begins with truth as its inherent aspect and ends at its ideal limit with holiness? It does not get things exactly right to label it excellence or essence. I am tempted to say it is the category of light. The inherent light of something is its truth, the relational light is its goodness, the fulfillment of light is its beauty, while holiness is the ideal limit of its light.
We become most real not by moving up a prefixed scale but by finding and inventing our own new way of combining and exhibiting reality’s dimensions. Utilizing our own special characteristics and opportunities, we configure ourselves and our lives as a particular trajectory through the dimensions of reality, one others would not have formulated beforehand but which, once before them, they can recognize and receive as our particular way of living reality.
…we might say the action was caused but not causally determined. Within some range, what we do is up to us because the weight of the reasons that move us is something we bestow. Hence, the fact that the (evaluative) dimensions of reality are not preordered in some fixed hierarchy, rather than being something to bemoan, is precisely what allows and enable us to act in freedom.
Kant wanted duty to be based upon something other than a good inclination, in order to bind inclination. He wanted a more secure basis for morality—for what if the good inclination were absent or not strong enough? Many constructions of theoretical ethics are based upon a fear or distrust of our own inclinations and are meant to bind them.
How would we view ethics if we did trust our inclinations? We then might see it as an amplification of our good inclinations, as enlarging, regularizing, and channeling them, as telling how to become light’s vessel and transmitter. If the theoretical building of foundations for ethics is born of distrust of light’s allure—that is, distrust of our configuration of desires—then the task is not to buttress that light by argument but to turn ourselves into beings who then can trust our inclinations.
Free will is valuable; only autonomous agents have moral virtue when they choose good rather than evil. But a theorist who explains evil via free will has to hold not only that free will is good and worthwhile, but that it is far and away more valuable than the next best alternative.
Suppose the next best alternative to free will is beings who have goodness ingrained in them, so that they naturally and inevitably choose the good. Maybe that’s not as good as beings with free will who face temptation and autonomously choose the good. But how much worse is it? Is the difference so great and important that it would justify having all of the evil and suffering this world contains?
God, in creating the world, is bringing about a certain magnitude of value, a finite magnitude. It’s as if God is picking a number. God picks a number—suppose, 1,000,563—and that’s the amount of value, merit, and goodness in the world. Then we ask God, “Why didn’t you pick a higher number?” He asks what number he should have picked. We say, “Why not 5,000,222?” He says, “If I had picked that one, you’d say, ‘Why didn’t you pick a higher number?’…”
Wisdom, the Greeks held, might be attainable only by undergoing certain experiences of suffering.
But although God has infinite knowledge of all truths, perhaps he doesn’t have infinite wisdom. Wisdom is another kind of thing, not the same as (ordinary) knowledge. Think of the kinds of situations where people say, “If you haven’t been in a war, you don’t really know what it’s like.” You can read about it, you can see films, you can have it described to you, but there’s still something that you don’t know.
I believe the Holocaust is an event like the Fall in the way traditional Christianity conceived it, something that radically and drastically alters the situation and status of humanity. I myself do not believe that there was actually that Edenic event since which man has been born in original sin, but something like that has occurred now. Mankind has fallen.
You are reading quotes about the examined life from the book The Examined Life by noted political philosopher, Robert Nozick
Yet the Holocaust alone would have been enough, all by itself. Like a relative shaming a family, the Germans, our human relatives, have shamed us all. They have ruined all our reputations, not as individuals—they have ruined the reputation of the human family. Although we are not all responsible for what those who acted and stood by did, we are all stained. Imagine beings from another galaxy looking at our history. It would not seem unfitting to them, I think, if that story came to an end, if the species they see with that history ended, destroying itself in nuclear warfare or otherwise failing to be able to continue.
The Holocaust is a massive cataclysm that distorts everything around it. Physicists sometimes speak of gravitational masses as twistings and distortions of the even geometry of the surrounding physical space; the greater the mass, the larger the distortion. The Holocaust is a massive and continuing distortion of the human space, I want to say. Its vortices and gnarled twistings will extend very far. Hitler too constituted a force that distorted the lives of those around him—his followers, his victims, and those who had to conquer him. The vortex he created has not disappeared. Perhaps every evil of whatever magnitude constitutes some distortion of human space. It has taken a cataclysm to get us to notice.
To the question of what is the very highest goal of human existence, various Eastern traditions reply that it is enlightenment. These traditions differ in how they specify this goal (and in the term they use for it, nirvana, satori, or moksha), but they each hold that it has a fourfold structure. It involves an experience, a contact with deepest reality, a new understanding of the self and also a transformation of it.
The doctrine of enlightenment therefore denies the ultimate reality of tragedy, and the necessity sometimes of really sacrificing or permanently losing some most important good in order to avoid an evil. Does that doctrine thereby contain the deepest wisdom, or is it the very highest and most beautiful foolishness? Shouldn’t we suspect that enlightenment, and its whole background theory, is too good to be true?
Sometimes we tend to be dismissive of possibilities, including ones we know very little about, because we do not want them to be true, even though they may appear or be quite wonderful. They would require too great a reorganization of our general picture of the world, and of our lives, habits, modes of thought, and goals. We have adapted to the apparent limits of our (personal, intellectual, and cultural) niches and we do not any longer want to believe those limits are malleable.
A wise person, though, would be open to learning new things without being overly credulous. He would pay careful attention to new and surprising possibilities, explore them tentatively, experiment. If a possibility offers some confirmations along the way—whether illuminating and powerful experiences, desirable personal transformations, or encounters with impressive others who have pursued that same possibility further—he will continue more confidently, yet still with some caution.
Humanity’s great spiritual teachers—Buddha, Socrates, Jesus, Gandhi, and others—are models, shining personal examples. They make their powerful impact not merely through the propositions and principles they enunciate but also through their own vivid presence. We encounter them, not just their doctrines, and we want to be more like them, to the small extent we can. They seem more real than we, and their vivid reality inspires us. To be more like them is for us to be more real too.
We do not start out holding principles which assume that what their lives show is the right way. Instead, we look at their lives and find ourselves awed and moved. They teach by shining example. We can list some features characteristic of spiritual teachers, although not every such figure will have every one. First, they exemplify what they hold important; their values infuse their lives. The things they hold important are in fact good and shining values, admirable ones—for example, inquiry in the case of Socrates, compassion in the case of Buddha, love in the case of Jesus, nonviolence and truth in action in the case of Gandhi.
The spiritual teachers are exemplars of the full force of their values. Part of their appeal is the appeal of these high values, but another part is the extraordinary reality the spiritual teachers achieve as archetypes and embodiments of these values. It is as if the values as Platonic Forms have been made incarnate here on earth.
Through a spiritual teacher we see that a life devoted to those values (or to that one value) is possible, also that it is remarkable, a good way to be. It strikes us this way, although we might not have thought so had we merely heard the values described, without being presented with a figure who lives them. These spiritual teachers have great effects on many who encounter them, calling them to a higher or deeper purpose, bringing out (what these others feel is) a better self.
I found the book rife with intriguing quotes; not easy to digest, mind you, but worthy for sure. I hope these quotes from the book The Examined Life are challenging but enlightening to you as they were to me.
This might show how very flawed I am, but I think rather it shows that the uncompromising position of the spiritual teachers is too rigidly perfectionistic to be unreservedly admired, even as an ideal. A wise person, we think, will know when compromise is appropriate, just as he will know when it is not tolerable.
Life is short and our capacities are limited; it seems we must forgo something. In his Ethics, Aristotle faced an issue with a similar structure: Do we engage in the fullest development and exercise of our very highest capacity, or do we pursue a pattern of well-rounded development? Each seems to involve a significant sacrifice.
Wisdom’s special penchant for limits seems arbitrarily to favor conservatives over radicals. Pointing to an important and unappreciated constraint can constitute an important piece of wisdom, but why more so than pointing to an important possibility that had mistakenly been thought not to be possible? Why is contracting the domain of feasibility any wiser than expanding it? Those who speak of the limits to economic growth, if they are right, speak wisdom.
Since portions of ethics are concerned with conflicts among different people’s well-being, or people’s versus other kinds of well-being, in knowing how these conflicts are to be coped with or resolved, wisdom would encompass those portions of ethics.
Often an actual situation is described as a corruption of the ideal it purports to follow, and different people have said of communism, capitalism, and Christianity each that “it is a good idea that never has been tried.” …Yet if time after time an ideal gets institutionalized and operates in the world a certain way, then that is what it comes to in the world. It is not allowed then simply to disclaim responsibility for what repeatedly occurs under its banner.
We can think of an ideal, for most purposes, as consisting of the ideal and the actual in equal measure: how it actually does work out, consistently and repeatedly, when operated by human beings as we are; and how it works out “ideally” when operated by beings (better than we) who are best suited for carrying it through. This balanced view of ideals as including both components equally will seem deflationary to those who tend to ignore how an ideal actually gets implemented, and inflationary to those who notice only that.
A concern for the expression and symbolization of values that can best and most pointedly, not to mention most efficiently, be expressed jointly and officially—that is, politically—is continuous with a concern for individual self-expression.
Joint political action does not merely symbolically express our ties of concern, it also constitutes a relational tie itself. The relational stance, in the political realm, leads us to want to express and instantiate ties of concern to our fellows. …If manna descended from heaven to improve the situation of the needy, all without our aid, we would have to find another way to jointly express and intensify our relational ties.
Democratic institutions and the liberties coordinate with them are not simply effective means toward controlling the powers of government and directing these toward matters of joint concern; they themselves express and symbolize, in a pointed and official way, our equal human dignity, our autonomy and powers of self-direction.
“Well, why don’t those who want and need such a society voluntarily contribute to pay for its public programs rather than taxing the others, who don’t care anything about it?” But a program thus supported by many people’s voluntary contributions, worthy though it might be, would not constitute the society’s solemn marking and symbolic validation of the importance and centrality of those ties of concern and solidarity. That can occur only through its official joint action, speaking in the name of the whole.
It now occurs to me to wonder also whether that older person whose recognition and love he sought then might not turn out to be the person he would grow up to become. If we reach adulthood by becoming the parent of our parents, and we reach maturity by finding a fit substitute for parents’ love, then by becoming our ideal parent ourselves finally the circle is closed and we reach completeness.
If you enjoyed this examination of the examined life by Harvard scholar Robert Nozick, I invite you to click through and read this blog on wisdom quotes that can engender enlightenment and inspiration.
HERE you will find quotes on the examined life by (and about) Socrates
Aristotle also wrote on the examined life and they can be found HERE
These quotes, while a kind of commentary for educational purposes, only constitute less than 2% of the entirety of the book The Examined Life by Robert Nozick. I suggest you buy the book and read it cover to cover, of course.