Richard Cocks is Not Narrow-Minded and Should Not Consent to Become So

“For the narrow-minded man, though worthy of  good things, deprives himself of what he is worthy of.”

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (350 B.C.), iv. 3.

Richard’s latest post set me to puzzling over the meaning of the word narrow-minded.  I poked around and discovered that I had unknowingly swallowed the word as a liberal slogan, that the word narrow-minded has another meaning in ancient philosophy, and that Richard is the very opposite of narrow-minded in the ancient sense when he is most narrow minded in the liberal sense.

Like many of you, I had until then taken the word narrow-minded simply as the antonym of broadminded.  A broadminded man is open to new experiences and generous in his sympathies.  A narrow-minded man is intolerant, illiberal and prejudiced.  A man narrow-minded in the extreme is a bigot filled with fear and hatred of everything that is new and unfamiliar, and of everyone who does not think and act exactly like himself.

I believe there are men with minds that are too narrow and too broad—and happily offer my own mind as a model of the ideal golden mean—but the proper limits of intolerance and tolerance is not my theme today.  I wish instead to discuss an altogether different narrowness of mind.

In Richard’s latest post, he said, no doubt correctly, that there are many who would accuse him of (liberal) narrowmindedness because, after thirty years of study and reflection, he has pretty well made up his mind with respect to the answers to certain metaphysical questions, and because he is now more or less “prejudiced”* against all other answers.

But to such critics I would say, that to have the courage of one’s convictions after thirty years of narrowing one’s mind by study is simply self-respect, and that a man deficient in self-respect is what the ancient philosophers meant by a narrow-minded man.  Indeed I believe that Aristotle would say:

“If Richard Cocks has studied and pondered a question for thirty years, it would be narrow-minded of him to say that his conclusions are no better than the conclusions of eighteen-year-old blockheads or bimbos hunched on barstools.”

The reason that Richard is not narrow-minded in Aristotle’s sense is that he knows that his considered opinions are more worthy than the opinions of blockheads and bimbos.  Moreover (to make this even more harrowing for liberal readers), Richard is not narrow-minded in Aristotle’s sense because he accepts all that is entailed by the fact that Richard Cocks is more worthy than any blockhead or bimbo.  Here is Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics:

“He who estimates [his own worth] less highly than he deserves, is narrow-minded, whether his worth be great or middling, or if even when his worth is small, he estimates it still more lowly: and the man of great worth appears most truly narrow minded [when he does not accept all that is entailed by that great worth].”

The word “narrow-minded” in this quote is a translation of the Greek Μικροψυοχος, which I transliterate as micropsychos.  Aristotle’s narrow-minded man therefore suffers from a small, stunted, or underdeveloped soul; and owing to this grievous handicap, Aristotle’s narrow-minded man cannot do justice to himself.  Because he cannot do justice to himself, Aristotle’s narrow-minded man does and suffers that which is unworthy of a man who is as worthy as himself.

To put this in a nutshell, a narrow-minded man wills his own degradation.

Aristotle offers this definition in his discussion of magnanimity, a word that literally means large-souled.  Aristotle’s idea of magnanimity is complicated, but for our purposes means a man who correctly understands his own worth, and who neither does nor suffers anything that is unworthy of a man who is as worthy as himself.  To do and suffer nothing unworthy is self-respect, and self-respect is justice towards one’s self.

When a man unjustly magnifies his own worthiness, and consequently demands more respect than he deserves, Aristotle says that man is vain.  Vanity and narrow-mindedness are therefore perversions or defects of magnanimity, which is acting with justice towards one’s self.  Here is Aristotle

“The character [of magnanimity] in defect is narrow-minded; that in excess, is vanity.”

Now it seems to me obvious that when a liberal tells Richard that he is being narrow-minded in the liberal sense, he is actually demanding that Richard be narrow-minded in the Aristotelian sense.  This is because the liberal demands that Richard degrade his own worthiness as a philosopher, and that he therefore deprive himself of the just desserts of that philosophic worthiness.

“for the narrow-minded man, though worthy of  good things, deprives himself of what he is worthy of.”

This liberal at the same time respects, and demands that Richard respect, the philosophic vanity of blockheads and bimbos.  Treating the worthy and unworthy as equal is, of course, a liberal’s reason for being, but for anyone else to participate in this gross injustice is degrading narrowmindedness.

Thus I suggest that Richard answer the liberal’s charge of narrowmindedness this way:

“I am not narrow-minded, and I will not become narrow-minded to please the likes of you.”

*) I have placed the word prejudiced in scare quotes because I am using in the way that liberals use it, as an indiscriminate dysphemism for non-liberal opinions, be they considered, ill-considered, or unconsidered.

4 thoughts on “Richard Cocks is Not Narrow-Minded and Should Not Consent to Become So

  1. That’s interesting, JMSmith. That’s what I get for writing such a self-referential piece in the first place. I didn’t know that about Aristotle.

  2. Indeed, having an unrealistically low opinion of yourself is a kind of inverse vanity, with the same underlying motivation, namely a desire to be superior to others. Inverse national chauvinism is a similar phenomenon, often observed among certain liberals, who rather than accepting that we all live in societies with imperfect but still admirable histories, pretend to be heirs to uniquely irredeemable evil. This way, they can still feel special.

    • There is certainly a form of ostensible self deprecation that is in fact a claim to superiority. I’m so big I can afford to put myself down. And there is some of that in the pseudo-masochism of successful countries. But there remains a will to personal degradation, a desire to be a man (or country) of lower status. The roots of this will to degradation are not simple, but an important one is the desire to escape high responsibility. Aristotle insists that the self-respect of an honorable man requires him to do things. The warrior, for instance, has a right to public honor and a responsibility to wade into the thick of every battle. I think great men (and countries) will often wish to escape into the reduced expectations of little men (and unimportant countries), and that they wish this more often when they are in decline.

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