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Part 2- Humility Is Not A Virtue:Spinoza

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on October 16, 2012

“Humility is a sadness which arises from the fact that a man considers his own lack of power.Moreover, insofar a man knows himself by true reason, it is supposed that he understands his own essence,his own power. So if a man,in considering himself, perceives some lack of power of his,this is not because he understands himself but because his power of acting is restrained.

Humility is pain arising from a man’s contemplation of his own weakness of body or mind.”

-Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics

In an earlier post of mine, I used this proposition to explore the differences between western and eastern philosophy and attempt discovering the reasons behind their varied approaches. Today, I wish to delve into the reasoning behind this proposition. It is one that challenges a belief I have held on to for a long time and to encounter a theory that labels one of my traits as a “pain” and weakness can be quite disturbing. Unfortunately, Spinoza does not expand on his statement and leaves a lot of the interpretation to the readers.

From where I sit, if I look towards the East I see cultures that have forever celebrated humility and exhibit it in their daily interactions, both personal and professional. If I look towards the West, I observe behavior that exudes extravagance, outspokenness and unbridled confidence. And both are doing just fine. The more I analyze Spinoza’s words, the more I come across logical evidence that supports, as well as negates his argument. It truly is one of the few propositions of his that have been highly influenced by the environment in which he grew up. I am sure if Spinoza was in 17th century India or Cambodia, his views about “humility” would have been quite the opposite.

So at this very moment, and on this very issue, I will lean towards the East and beg to differ with one of my favorite philosophers. Maybe its the ego in me, but I would like to attribute my humility to a spiritually guided thought than to a weakness of body and mind.

Which side are you on?

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17 Responses to “Part 2- Humility Is Not A Virtue:Spinoza”

  1. Very well reasoned idea that humility is a ‘guided thought’. Most of what we are as human beings start with thought and end in so many different perceptions that others have about what we say or do. Actions or inactions for that matter ‘speak’ volumes and it’s up to the ‘receiver’ to determine their own judgements. I recently quit my job after 13 years of dedication and no one understands. I can’t make them nor will they listen so I’m at the mercy of their perceptions…and you know what? That’s okay. I can only control what is inside me. Humility, stupidity, strength, weakness…I know why I did what I did and the reasons I did it. They might see it as weakness, but after all these years, I see it as strength. Enough babbling…thanks for sharing, Raunak!

  2. A gripping life said

    Humility may, in fact, be one of the greatest virtues of all. Those who are humble seem to understand their place in the universe. There is a quiet knowing that’s required to posses this virtue. It may appear from the outside to be weak but let’s not forget that some of the greatest people in history demonstrated this virtue.

    • Raunak said

      so true…I also discovered that from where I live, the importance of humility increases directly proportionally in the east direction and decreases proportionally towards the west. I consider Japan as one extreme and the U.S as the other.

      thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and contributing to the post!

    • I agree with this perspective. I find that humility is, in fact, connected to a wonderful lack of solipsism. As this commenter points out, “quiet knowing” has been personified in some of the greatest people in history who demonstrated supreme strength rather than the weakness assumed to accompany tranquil personalities.

      • Raunak said

        Sylver, I love the fact that every comment of yours uses a term that I am completely unaware of…and then I look it up on wikipedia. Its great to be learning so much from your well informed opinions! A zillion thanks to you šŸ™‚

        It is very difficult to lead a life of humility. It does need a lot conviction and courage. The world around us is designed to coax you into eschewing humility. The temptation is great!

  3. very well written and expressed….

  4. Good Deed said

    This is one of questions which are complicated and heavy to solve. I’m not sure about what Benedict said, but it has a lot of sense. Now I will be waiting to read something different so I could find my middle… Thanks for making me think about this

    • Raunak said

      You know another thing I realized today…From where I am, the more east I go the importance of humility increases proportionally to how far east it is from me. The maximum is reached at Japan.

      The same law applies to the west. The importance of Humility decreases proportionally to how far west it is from me. And it becomes minimum at US.

      • Good Deed said

        Yes… I know what you are talking about, at least from you till the US. The rest of world I don’t know, because we, from western part of world, we don’t know much about east. We know only about America and Europe, and that’s also selectively… Our news is concentrated on promoting American and European “values”. It is unbelievable that even after globalization, this is happening…

      • Raunak said

        and even we in the east know more about the west…for some reason we are all obsessed with the west! the west must be doing something right!

  5. Just a thought, but the whole idea of open source software, indeed the cooperative nature of the internet itself, suggests a merging of the philosophies of east and west. We have to be humble faced with the collective wisdom of the network but we still have to strive to innovate to make our nodal contribution felt.

    • Raunak said

      Malcolm, I’ve been a big fan and supporter of FOSS. It does indeed reflect the true spirit of oneness. And I couldn’t agree more with your thought that a balance has to be attained between collective wisdom and nodal contribution. Both are extremely important.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and contributing to the post.Really appreciate it!

  6. I do think humility is highly regarded in the west! I just don’t think as many people have found it. šŸ™‚

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