Monday, January 30, 2017


Empathy in large quantity risks the integrity of the soul, which is why our capacity for empathy is limited. In the same way, our bodies are only capable of so much physical exertion. In proper measure, these things fortify us, but out of measure they can destroy us.


A lesson from Socrates' life: a good measure of the level of injustice in a community is the amount of courage required to be an educator.


Descartes' meditations are commonly misunderstood. They are the opposite of an argument for solipsism or infinite interiority. The gesture of the meditations is towards commonality. To risk an anachronism, Descartes' ultimate argument is Emersonian in form. If we take the time to explore the self, we will find within it a universal Self that escapes particularity and thus is broader and more widely connected than our prejudices often tell us.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


It is easiest to change someone's behavior through appeal to emotion. Like a sledgehammer, emotion is a blunt force on the psyche. But if you want to give a child a tool to shape themselves autonomously, it is much better to teach them to think with concepts. Concepts are like scalpels, capable of precise cutting -- and they work through a more delicate psychology of feeling.

The best teachers use emotion to hold at bay the forces that threaten the preconditions of education. Love and care are essential tools in this respect -- and sometimes even anger. But once the space of education has been constructed, it's best to minimize emotion in teaching. Play is the avenue to a nuanced psychology, capable of wielding the more precise tools of the intellect.


Politics can collapse in two directions. It can lose its aspirational quality by collapsing into ordinary life. The result is that ideas of justice get lost in opinion. The other possibility is that politics becomes the province of an elite and isolated group. In this case, justice becomes a mere instrument of elite power. If both happen simultaneously, you have the worst possible case -- an elite class that rules through the foment of populist opinion.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


It is strange that we do not perceive the force of gravity directly; we understand it only through its effects -- it is an idea, a second-order perception, but it is first-order in the extent to which it structures our lives.

Religious conceptions like God or moral conceptions like Truth or Justice function in precisely the same manner as the idea of Gravity. The only difference between these conceptions and the notion of gravity is only that there is no connection between religious and moral conceptions and sense experience. Psychologically, however, their function is identical.


Human bodies are structured around the natural laws of physics. For example, our hearts are closer to our brains than our feet because the heart must fight gravity to pump blood upwards. Just as a tree is most stable growing vertically because of the relentless force of gravity, so too is verticality a sign of human health.


An essential question for schools is how to teach negative capability. The usual question of how we can do more for our students is inverted. We ask how we can do less. The best education in thinking might be the one that minimizes the effects of teachers on students. The teacher, like the poet, labors to make every pedagogical effect indirect, staying focused on things like tone, spacing, rhythm, and questions. This is made more difficult by the standard architecture of school and curriculum.


Tolerance is a difficult virtue because it cannot be captured by the intellect. To tolerate is to hold one's self inside an experience in spite of the mind's conclusion that avoidance is the best avenue of action. To grow, we have to outwit our own minds.


The most powerful way to firmly defend a policy is through relationship with the people who question it. They are case studies in the limitations of a policy, and living exceptions that prove the power of the rule.