A Philosopher's Blog

Mistakes

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on May 22, 2015

If you have made a mistake, do not be afraid of admitting the fact and amending your ways.

-Confucius

 

I never make the same mistake twice. Unfortunately, there are an infinite number of mistakes. So, I keep making new ones. Fortunately, philosophy is rather helpful in minimizing the impact of mistakes and learning that crucial aspect of wisdom: not committing the same error over and over.

One key aspect to avoiding the repetition of errors is skill in critical thinking. While critical thinking has become something of a buzz-word bloated fad, the core of it remains as important as ever. The core is, of course, the methods of rationally deciding whether a claim should be accepted as true, rejected as false or if judgment regarding that claim should be suspended. Learning the basic mechanisms of critical thinking (which include argument assessment, fallacy recognition, credibility evaluation, and causal reasoning) is relatively easy—reading through the readily available quality texts on such matters will provide the basic tools. But, as with carpentry or plumbing, merely having a well-stocked tool kit is not enough. A person must also have the knowledge of when to use a tool and the skill with which to use it properly. Gaining knowledge and skill is usually difficult and, at the very least, takes time and practice. This is why people who merely grind through a class on critical thinking or flip through a book on fallacies do not suddenly become good at thinking. After all, no one would expect a person to become a skilled carpenter merely by reading a DIY book or watching a few hours of videos on YouTube.

Another key factor in avoiding the repetition of mistakes is the ability to admit that one has made a mistake. There are many “pragmatic” reasons to avoid admitting mistakes. Public admission to a mistake can result in liability, criticism, damage to one’s reputation and other such harms. While we have sayings that promise praise for those who admit error, the usual practice is to punish such admissions—and people are often quick to learn from such punishments. While admitting the error only to yourself will avoid the public consequences, people are often reluctant to do this. After all, such an admission can damage a person’s pride and self-image. Denying error and blaming others is usually easier on the ego.

The obvious problem with refusing to admit to errors is that this will tend to keep a person from learning from her mistakes. If a person recognizes an error, she can try to figure out why she made that mistake and consider ways to avoid making the same sort of error in the future. While new errors are inevitable, repeating the same errors over and over due to a willful ignorance is either stupidity or madness. There is also the ethical aspect of the matter—being accountable for one’s actions is a key part of being a moral agent. Saying “mistakes were made” is a denial of agency—to cast oneself as an object swept along by the river of fare rather than an agent rowing upon the river of life.

In many cases, a person cannot avoid the consequences of his mistakes. Those that strike, perhaps literally, like a pile of bricks, are difficult to ignore. Feeling the impact of these errors, a person might be forced to learn—or be brought to ruin. The classic example is the hot stove—a person learns from one touch because the lesson is so clear and painful. However, more complicated matters, such as a failed relationship, allow a person room to deny his errors.

If the negative consequences of his mistakes fall entirely on others and he is never called to task for these mistakes, a person can keep on making the same mistakes over and over. After all, he does not even get the teaching sting of pain trying to drive the lesson home. One good example of this is the political pundit—pundits can be endlessly wrong and still keep on expressing their “expert” opinions in the media. Another good example of this is in politics. Some of the people who brought us the Iraq war are part of Jeb Bush’s presidential team. Jeb, infamously, recently said that he would have gone to war in Iraq even knowing what he knows now. While he endeavored to awkwardly walk that back, it might be suspected that his initial answer was the honest one. Political parties can also embrace “solutions” that have never worked and relentless apply them whenever they get into power—other people suffer the consequences while the politicians generally do not directly reap consequences from bad policies. They do, however, routinely get in trouble for mistakes in their personal lives (such as affairs) that have no real consequences outside of this private sphere.

While admitting to an error is an important first step, it is not the end of the process. After all, merely admitting I made a mistake will not do much to help me avoid that mistake in the future. What is needed is an honest examination of the mistake—why and how it occurred. This needs to be followed by an honest consideration of what can be changed to avoid that mistake in the future. For example, a person might realize that his relationships ended badly because he made the mistake of rushing into a relationship too quickly—getting seriously involved without actually developing a real friendship.

To steal from Aristotle, merely knowing the cause of the error and how to avoid it in the future is not enough. A person must have the will and ability to act on that knowledge and this requires the development of character. Fortunately, Aristotle presented a clear guide to developing such character in his Nicomachean Ethics. Put rather simply, a person must do what it is she wishes to be and stick with this until it becomes a matter of habit (and thus character). That is, a person must, as Aristotle argued, become a philosopher. Or be ruled by another who can compel correct behavior, such as the state.

 

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on May 22, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    What would people have Jeb Bush say? That 3,000+ soldiers were killed and 30,000 soldiers were injured in Iraq for nothing? That truth is too painful to bear. The lie must continue. Our attacking Iraq was never a mistake, in the eyes of the powers that be. The 1996 Clean Break document makes it clear that the destruction of Iraq would make Israel safer. Our government’s intent was never to liberate the Iraqis but to protect the Israelis. Chaos in Iraq is better, for Israel, than order. Order is what they had and chaos is what they’ve got. This was the goal. When George Bush said “Mission Accomplished” after Iraq was broken, he was telling the truth. Killing people and breaking things in Iraq was the only purpose for our soldiers being there. The same thing is happening in Syria now, destroying order and creating chaos in order to protect Israel, via proxies, which was the strategic Zionist plan outlined for Syria in the 1996 Clean Break document.

    • nailheadtom said, on May 22, 2015 at 10:41 pm

      It’s not just about protecting Israel. Chaos in the middle east is the preferred state of affairs at least for the US, for several reasons, chiefly that the nation/state must have external enemies to maintain the domestic “Stockholm syndrome” that the now defunct Soviets once provided. Since no other nation/state or combination on earth can rival the US in terms of military hardware the threat must now come from stateless opponents with no geographic center. This situation is a direct result of US activity in the middle east, where obnoxious “dictators”, who win elections using the same methodology as places like Chicago, are ousted in favor of other dictators bent on avenging previous slights. When they’re occupied with internecine combat they have less capability to wreak havoc in the US.

      • ajmacdonaldjr said, on May 24, 2015 at 7:18 pm

        Secret Pentagon Report Reveals US “Created” ISIS As A “Tool” To Overthrow Syria’s President Assad – http://tinyurl.com/l2oy58h

        • ronster12012 said, on May 27, 2015 at 10:39 am

          AJ

          That’s hardly rocket science, though thank you for posting. We all know the drill now. Create ‘evil’ terrrrrrrists chase them around a bit then next minute be working with them(Al Qaeda as ally in Balkan wars, enemy after that lower Manhatten incident and now back to being bff after doing the biz in Libya and now Syria).

          The elite actually running this shit obviously hold us all in contempt. I actually agree with them that the average american, australian,european etc is as dumb as pigshit or at least pretends to be. The elites don’t even bother to concoct a proper story anymore as most of us will lap it up regardless of the contradictions and absurdities.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 26, 2015 at 12:50 pm

      The easy out is to say “knowing what we know now, I would not have invaded.”

      Interesting take-that destabilizing the region and destroying countries would make Israel safer.

      • ronster12012 said, on May 27, 2015 at 10:28 am

        Destabilizing an area and replacing opponents with your people is the game. Destabilizing and leaving it at that is also good if it neutralizes an enemy.

        The truth, as unpalatable as it may be is that the US is Israel’s bitch. Who were the ‘neocons’ who pushed for this in the first place, Methodists? Hindus? Buddhists? It’s the J word…..

        Who benefited from the removal of Saddam, Israel or the US? Who paid for it in blood and money($1tril)?

        So in answer to your question about destabilization making Israel safer, the answer is of course it makes Israel safer as it makes Israel more powerful relative to regional rivals.Now, next cab off the rank after Iraq and Libya is Syria. You can’t attack Syria openly as ‘WMD’ blah blah won’t fly twice so another approach must be taken, ie. use proxies ISIS/Al Qaeda/Al Nusra etc for the job. They are deniable, cheap, and most likely will create an opening for other action.

        Israel is still badgering the US to attack Iran. Obama may yet get to actually earn his Nobel peace prize if he can tell them to GTFO. That may be only temporary as your two political parties are owned by the tribe. That means that next election whoever wins it may well be on.

  2. WTP said, on May 27, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Magus, call your office. I can only do so much here.

    • ronster12012 said, on May 28, 2015 at 5:38 am

      WTP

      Calling for backup??? I’m sure you can handle this by yourself……Have a go.

      Try disputing that your country(and mine too) is Israel’s bitch. Too difficult? OK try something easier.

      How about the sponsorship of Al Qaeda/ISIS? Al Nusra/ various other sand nigger appellations by the US/Saudi/Israel/NATO etc and their proxy status and function? Let’s sort it out….are they baddies(head chopping, faggot throwing, hand amputating and sex slave dealing)or are they simply misunderstood? By misunderstood I mean are they really working for *us* and are part of a greater plan that we are not privy to? It’s a fair question IMO………..unless you happen to think that everyone, everywhere is transparent at all times……surely you don’t think that do you?


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