Becoming a Better Person
Susan Neiman is a moral philosopher with an interest in exploring the persistence of Enlightenment thought and reinterpreting past thinkers for contemporary contexts. She is the current Director of the Einstein Forum, having previously taught at Yale University and Tel Aviv University. The Wall Street Journal called her 2008 Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists “an argument for re-engaging with the moral vocabulary of the country.” Her 2002 work, Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy, explains philosophy’s quest, touching on Kant, among others, as one perpetually in search of a perfect understanding of evil. Born in Atlanta, Neiman received her doctorate degree from Harvard University.
Neiman: Again I’d have to say the first thing everyone should ask themselves is, “What does it mean to be realistic and is realistic the same thing as resigning?” The second thing is to acknowledge that more is possible in your life than almost anybody ever told you, and the third is to think about the following thought experiment which was brought up by Kant. It’s-- I find it very helpful. Kant in discreet terms— This was the eighteenth century. He asks us to imagine a man who cannot resist- says he can’t resist temptation every time he walks by a certain house--it means a brothel--but if you put a gallows in front of the brothel and he knew that he were going to be hung the minute he walked out he would find that he could resist temptation very well. So we all agree that love of life trumps every other physical desire that you have. Whether it’s for sex or food or whatever form of pleasure does it for you, love of life is the basis of every other pleasure. Then Kant says, “Imagine the same man is asked to sign a letter condemning an innocent person to death and he’s threatened by an unjust tyrant with death himself unless he cooperates in the innocent man’s death.” And what Kant says is, “None of us know what we would do in that situation.” Most of us would probably be cowards but all of us know what we should do and all of us therefore know that we would be free to do the right thing and to refuse to participate in injustice even if it would cost our own lives. And I think furthermore-- I think everybody can perform that experiment. I’ve tried it out on a number of people. I think furthermore that everybody has one hero either in real life or in fiction who they would like to be in at least one moment. You may think you can’t live up to that person but you have one person who you think would act rightly in that situation and I think we should keep those people in mind. Of course, hopefully being a good person doesn’t involve sacrificing your life and in fact sometimes it’s easier to be good in rather banal and simple ways than it is to go out in one great heroic gesture. So I think the last thing in being a good person-- It’s important to remember if evil can be banal and I think it can be. Goodness is also banal too. It can exist in ordinary everyday actions.
Neiman describes her path to personal betterment.
- There are 2 different approaches to governing free speech on college campuses.
- One is a morality/order approach. The other is a bottom-up approach.
- Emily Chamlee-Wright says there are many benefits to having no one central authority on what is appropriate speech.
Two new studies say yes. Unfortunately, each claims a different time.
- Research at the Weizmann Institute of Sciences declares evening to be the best time for an exercise session.
- Not so fast, says a new study at UC Irvine, which replies that late morning is the optimal workout time.
- Both studies involved mice on treadmills and measured different markers to produce their results.
- The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
- Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
- Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.
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