PhilosophyCenter PhilosophyCenter | Musings
PhilosophyCenter | Musings

Posts from — January 2019

On False Opinion

False Opinion

Much of the work we do at PhilosophyCenter, both self-work and with clients in session, comes down to practicing the Socratic art of exposing and deconstructing “false opinion,” sometimes also referred to in Plato’s dialogues as “false knowledge” and even “false conceit of knowledge” in the Apology. This is because so much suffering is rooted in our being convinced that we know something that, in truth, we only think we know, something that upon careful and diligent examination, turns out to be what Socrates describes as a “wind baby,” a notion without substance. We suffer because we’ve given ourselves to false beliefs, and because we cling to them and are loathe to defer to the remedial truth that, in order to set us free, first must prove us wrong.

This is something a philosophical counselor or coach has to understand and approach with empathy and respect. Old beliefs die hard. It isn’t just a matter of our not wanting to be caught in an error or look bad. Beliefs are like living structures in the psyche as surely as nerves and vessels are living structures in the body. They become so much a part of us that letting go of a false opinion may be experienced as losing a part of who we are, and the greater the investment, charge, and identification, the greater the sense of loss. It takes character and not a little courage to care more about the truth than about one’s opinions, to be willing to give birth to a new understanding, and accept the mantle of responsibility that a new belief lays upon us.

Sometimes the opinion that turns out to be false, to have been false, involves spiritual or existential identity. It can change our view of partnership, disrupt longstanding unexamined assumptions about what matters, or revise our self-definition. In philosophical dialogue, there are no sacred cows; any belief that has become problematic, that is no longer working or has set us against the ineluctable truths of living, is fair game. It’s no wonder that even those who feel drawn to philosophical self-work often hit pockets of turbulence that may leave them feeling off-balance and uncertain about who they are and where to go next. A false opinion, caught in the dazzling light of Socratic scrutiny, may fall apart with no new and improved belief at the ready to replace it. When this happens it is helpful to remember that along the path of the examined life, there are times to not know, natural stretches of uncertainty out of which, in an unexpected hour, a new sense of self and world emerges as though from a chrysalis, one made lighter by having shed the lead weights of false opinion. We don’t have to know everything every moment. Becoming more aware has tides and seasons, cycles of ebb and flow that can be as daunting as they are rewarding. As a rule, however, the most daunting periods, those in which one feels lost or rudderless or beside oneself, are harbingers of epiphany, spontaneous insight, and liberating realization. To find buried treasure, one must dig deeply. In our experience, the treasure is always there to be found. All that’s required is that one love the truth more than one’s opinions, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sooner or later, life rewards the willingness to be more than we have been. And it is far better to be wrong and free than to live in a prison of complacency, however familiar it may have become.

For those who have the requisite love for the truth and the courage needed to venture into the unknown, the trappings of belief that as a rule are acquired in childhood fall away. In each new encounter with the truth, one sheds these old skins, becoming more defenseless and less encumbered, and it is a humbling paradox that we become wiser largely in knowing how little we know.

January 24, 2019   Comments Off on On False Opinion