Monday, September 16, 2013

Meta-thinking


Actually what I write down here are mainly thoughts about thoughts, or meta-thoughts. Some time ago, in a blog called “What thinking can” (Jan. 14, 2013), I wrote also about meta-thinking but from another perspective. There I discussed the question whether meta-thinking (and thinking as such) influences our behaviour. I think it does. Even more, it’s an important means for stimulating our basic thinking and that’s what I want to talk about here.
My written work has always been full of quotations. Not only my blogs are but I begun extensively quoting already long ago when I wrote papers as a student. I used citations  as a kind of evidence for my thoughts, but when looking for them and when reading the articles or books where I found them, they stimulated my thoughts as well and they led to new ideas in me. The thoughts of other writers made me think and brought me to new meta-thoughts. Therefore, I do not understand why some authors commit plagiarism. I am happy that I can stand on the shoulders of other people and that I can go to the top by doing so. And also that I can give the opportunity to others to stand on my shoulders. By committing plagiarism you run away for yourself – apart from what is further wrong with it–, for have you ever seen a person who shaped his own world without any help? Once I said to a photographer: “When I make photos, actually I copy what others have already done”. When I photograph a shop-window, for instance, I simply copy the work of the window-dresser. “No”, he said, “you give your own view of it and you put it into your perspective, and just that makes your contribution special”. It’s true, I think. To take another example, there is much misery in the world, but by making pictures of it, the cameraman doesn’t make an objective report but makes other people taking action. So, for philosophy we can say that meta-thinking helps take the best in a person out, and I think the more so if you consciously admit what you are doing.
One of the thinkers who most of all used this method was – my dear readers will have guessed already his name – Montaigne. His works is full of quotations from and references to the works of other authors, especially classical authors. Montaigne did not hesitate to mention those who influenced his thoughts and brought him to the ideas that still make him famous today. There are even some essays in which he mentions this approach explicitly in the title. One is his “Of a saying of Caesar”. Referring to a quotation from Lucretius Montaigne says there: “Whatever it is that falls into our knowledge and possession, we find that it satisfies not, and we still pant after things to come and unknown, inasmuch as those present do not suffice for us; not that, in my judgment, they have not in them wherewith to do it, but because we seize them with an unruly and immoderate haste”. I do not know whether Schopenhauer was aware of this passage, but in his The World as Will and Representation we find it as the idea that man quickly becomes bored and again and again looks for new activities. For Schopenhauer it is an argument that to live is to suffer since man is continuously desiring, without ever being satisfied. For Montaigne this restless searching means, following Epicurus, that we don’t know how to enjoy in the right way. And since we think that it is our own fault, we look for support elsewhere and outside us and give it honour and respect. Or as Caesar formulated it according to Montaigne: “ ‘Tis the common vice of nature, that we at once repose most confidence, and receive the greatest apprehensions, from things unseen, concealed, and unknown.”
Trust yourself and do not only stand on the shoulders of others, but find out also whose shoulders they are. 

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