Antifragile 17. Fat Tony Debates Socrates

Following the schedule of our reading calendar.

There are two kinds of knowledge. On one side, definitional knowledge, the one that can be expressed clearly with non ambiguous words and can be found and developed by use of our reason. The other kind of knowledge, the complex and opaque, the one that words cannot convey, has to be acquired through living and trying and failing.

It is a central idea of our culture that only the definitional knowledge is knowledge. The other one is poetry or superstition or simply trivial practicalities. This idea is central to western civilization and we can trace it to Socrates. It has conquered the intellectual world, the Academia and the educational system and finds its apotheosis in the Enlightenment.

Our world has progressed by blind trial and error. At the same time, we have fooled ourselves convincing us that our progress comes from the rational understanding of the world and we have created an education system according to this idea which is not only useful to live but can even be very damaging to our innate abilities to interact with reality outside the classroom.

There has been along history, of course, thinkers that have reacted against it. Nietzsche calls for the Dionysian that has to complement our rational side. Without the Dionysian, reason falls dead without energy, and randomness to search for solutions.

Enlightenment had its critics at its time. They were call reactionaries and for most people now they are just nothing more that a bunch of black fanatics fighting against the progress of civilization. However, they have a lot of interesting things to say. What they were fighting was the naive rationalism that thought that we could dismiss the lore of knowledge acquired through generations and received in the form of tradition thinking that we could find out better solutions just turning on our brains.

Taleb cites also some contemporary anti Enlightenment writers and ideas and I have take note of John Gray to read some of his books.

This is exactly the reason why the killed Socrates. Because he tried to convince the youth that they can despise the received tradition and look into his intellects for the answers to the riddles of the world.

Fat Tony believes that they were totally justified in putting Socrates to death. (p. 249)

And finally, as a curiosity, Taleb, hints at us how two of his (and my) most admired thinkers: Popper and Hayek, are in fact also victims of the rationalistic fallacy.

2 thoughts on “Antifragile 17. Fat Tony Debates Socrates

  1. I have to admit I found this chapter a little disappointing. However I agree with the general idea, those arguments about reason versus practice have been argued for centuries and more an expression of tendencies or prejudices that real, powerful arguments. Enlightenment is such a complex system, ideology and structure, and so is rationalism, and they deserve more than just one chapter full of tongue-in-cheek jokes.
    Plus, there is a big difference between being rationalistic and using reason. Popper was rationalistic in some of his view (like his position of three worlds, the third one the world of objective contents of thoughts) but I’d say that in The Open Society and his Enemies he is just being rational.
    I still haven’t read Hayek, so I can’t tell in detail, but like you pointed before, lots of ideas of Antifragile seem to come from the libertarian side.

  2. Pingback: Straw Dogs by John Gray | El Pla Subtil

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