Letter to a Misguided Critic of Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Dear DC,

Your interpretation of Nassim Nicholas Taleb is wrong: but it’s wrong in an interesting way because it makes manifest a fundamental misunderstanding about the life of a philosopher. The mind of a philosopher responds to many different sources of stimulation (some of them external, but many of them internal). Taleb may have come to this insight because of a recent personal conflict. That’s possible. But it’s just as possible that the insight came to him via a conversation with a friend about someone else’s life; it could have occurred to him whilst he was reading a Russian novel; it could have come to him via a bit of gossip overheard at a French restaurant; it could have come to him via reflection upon something that happened to his brother’s best friend twenty years ago; or he could have come to this conclusion off the top of his head.

The whole point of being a philosopher is that you don’t need to rely solely upon your own petty day-to-day experiences to learn things about the world. That’s (part of) the meaning of this aphorism from The Bed of Procrustes (2010): “To be a philosopher is to know through long walks, by reasoning, and reasoning only, a priori, what others can only potentially learn from their mistakes, crises, accidents, and bankruptcies—that is, a posteriori.” In sum, the fact that you immediately assume that the reason for Taleb’s day-to-day thinking can be found in the petty details of his day-to-day life makes clear that you do not understand how philosophers think. This is, incidentally, a misunderstanding shared these days by most intellectual historians and all biographers. At bottom, it’s a failure of the imagination, as well as a rejection of its power.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

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“To be a philosopher is to know through long walks, by reasoning, and reasoning only, a priori, what others can only potentially learn from their mistakes, crises, accidents, and bankruptcies–that is, a posteriori.”–Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes (2010)

 

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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