Philosophical Boxing

Food for Thought

The last time I saw Joaquin, we went to The Little One on East Broadway, spent a few hours arguing, and left practically screaming at each other, but this time, we left laughing.

We tend to think becoming emotional in a debate is immature, but if you are not feeling emotional in a philosophical debate, it means you are not staking anything in it.

Wittgenstein said, “A philosopher who is not taking part in discussions is like a boxer who never goes into the ring.” What makes a debate philosophical is that you risk your existential security in it. We all cling to certain images of ourselves that allow us to feel coherent and stable. These self-images are so fundamental to our sense of self that their legitimacy is accepted without question. The reason “a man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still” is that changing of opinion that requires his self-image to be fundamentally revised is too painful, as it would destabilize everything he has constructed about himself.

You might understand what it means for your existence to be shattered in this way if some life-changing event has forced you to abandon who you were and to rebuild it from scratch. Say, you were a respected doctor in your home country, but after immigrating to the US, because of the language and legal barriers, you had to accept your new self as a taxi driver.

You may have, for instance, built your entire life on the assumption that there is nothing more important in life than helping other people. But one day, you have a debate where your opponent questions its validity: If helping others is so important in life, the meaning of our lives would have to depend on the existence of helpless people.

Because your whole life is built on this assumption, the result of this debate would shake the very foundation of your existence. Naturally, you would feel emotional.

But ultimately, all our assumptions have contradictions. If we are to make progress as a society, some of these assumptions would have to be corrected regardless of how painful it might be, which means philosophical debates are unavoidable for human progress. To be part of the progress, we have to get in the boxing ring.