More Adventures of Socrates

March 31, 2017 § Leave a comment


Explanation: In what is sort of the founding myth of Western Philosophy, the Oracle of Delphi told Socrates that he was the wisest man in Athens. Socrates couldn’t believe it, so he interrogated all the wise men of Athens on various subjects, such as the nature of virtue, piety, justice, etc. He found that none of them really knew what they were talking about, although they all believed that they did. He then concluded that he was indeed the wisest man in Athens, because although like them he didn’t know anything, he at least “knew that he knew not.”

More at Existential Comics

Socrates’s Test of Three

March 15, 2017 § 5 Comments

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this, but a friend sent it, and it’s so full of wisdom that I could not resist sharing it …

In ancient Greece (469 – 399 BC), Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom. One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance, who ran up to him excitedly and said, “Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?”

“Wait a moment,” Socrates replied. “Before you tell me, I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Test of Three.”

“Test of Three?”

“That’s correct,” Socrates continued.

“Before you talk to me about my student let’s take a moment to test what you’re going to say. The first test is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

“No,” the man replied, “actually I just heard about it.”

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second test, the test of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?”

“No, on the contrary.”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him even though you’re not certain it’s true?” The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued, “You may still pass though because there is a third test – the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?”

“No, not really.”

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?”

The man was defeated and ashamed and said no more.


I Think, Therefore I am, I Think

August 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

Existentialism for Millenials, by Sarah Solomon.

Moving Beyond Thought

May 21, 2015 § 6 Comments

The law is a rational convention. No wonder, then, that it attracts thinkers — those among us who rely on thought and logic as our primary means of understanding and relating to the world in which we live.

In law school, we are taught to use thought and logic in our approach to the law.

But, it seems to me, thought and logic are only two of many approaches to grasping reality — approaches, not reality itself — and because reality has so many variables and is so complex, limiting ourselves to those approaches alone may not produce a complete comprehension of the truth. And isn’t grasping the truth what the law should be about?

When I ran across some passages from Eckhart Tolle’s Stillness Speaks, I found them enlightening and helpful in understanding the distinction between what we think we know, and what is real. I hope you find these passages of some use:

Most people spend their entire life imprisoned within the confines of their own thoughts. They never go beyond a narrow, mind-made, personalized sense of self that is conditioned by the past.

In you, as in each human being, there is a dimension of consciousness far deeper than thought. It is the very essence of who you are. We may call it presence, awareness, the unconditioned consciousness. In the ancient teachings, it is the Christ within, or your Buddha nature.

Finding that dimension frees you and the world from the suffering you inflict on yourself and others when the mind-made “little me” is all you know and runs your life. Love, joy, creative expansion, and lasting inner peace cannot come into your life except through that unconditioned dimension of consciousness.

If you can recognize, even occasionally, the thoughts that go through your mind as simply thoughts, if you can witness your own mental-emotional reactive patterns as they happen, then that dimension is already emerging in you as the awareness in which thoughts and emotions happen – the timeless inner space in which the content of your life unfolds.


The stream of thinking has enormous momentum that can easily drag you along with it. Every thought pretends that it matters so much. It wants to draw your attention in completely.

Here is a new spiritual practice for you: don’t take your thoughts too seriously.


How easy it is for people to become trapped in their conceptual prisons.

The human mind, in its desire to know, understand, and control, mistakes its opinions and viewpoints for the truth. It says: This is how it is. You have to be larger than thought to realize that however you interpret “your life” or someone else’s life or behavior, however you judge any situation, it is no more than a viewpoint, one of many possible perspectives. It is no more than a bundle of thoughts. But reality is one unified whole, in which all things are interwoven, where nothing exists in and by itself. Thinking fragments reality – it cuts it up into conceptual bits and pieces.

The thinking mind is a useful and powerful tool, but it is also very limiting when it takes over your life completely, when you don’t realize that it is only a small aspect of the consciousness that you are.


Wisdom is not a product of thought. The deep knowing that is wisdom arises through the simple act of giving someone or something your full attention. Attention is primordial intelligence, consciousness itself. It dissolves the barriers created by conceptual thought, and with this comes the recognition that nothing exists in and by itself. It joins the perceiver and the perceived in a unifying field of awareness. It is the healer of separation.


When you no longer believe everything you think, you step out of thought and see clearly that the thinker is not who you are.


Prejudice of any kind implies that you are identified with the thinking mind. It means that you don’t see the other human being anymore, but only your concept of that human being. To reduce the aliveness of that other human being to a concept is already a form of violence.


Become at ease with “not knowing.” This takes you beyond the mind because the mind is always trying to conclude and interpret. It is afraid of not knowing. So, when you can be at ease with not knowing, you have already gone beyond the mind. A deeper knowing that is nonconceptual then arises out of that state.


In don’t know about you, but I find it liberating to understand that the rational approach that is so necessary to the law is not the only way to interact with the world. Indeed, it is not — and should not be — the only way to interact with the law. There are deeper ways of understanding, if we will only use them.

And I know that some pan Tolle for his eclecticism. I agree that he’s no Nietzsche, but we shouldn’t snub a valuable message because the messenger isn’t sophisticated enough.

I found these passages in the May issue of The Sun Magazine, which I commend to any of you who are seeking a deeper understanding of human nature, and not merely confirmation of your existing notions.


The Laws of Stupidity

August 8, 2014 § 5 Comments

My posts have taken on a somewhat sententious tone lately, so I am going to temper that for a while. But before I do, I want to address a subject that lawyers and judges deal with every day: stupidity.

One might expect that stupidity is a force that ricochets through human nature unconstrained by the basic principles of physics and rationality that underlie the affairs of humankind.

Not so, says Italian Economic Historian Carlo Maria Cipolla (1922 – 2000), who came up with the idea that there are actually laws that govern the operation of stupidity. By stupidity in this context, we are talking about conduct that involves unthinking and irrational behavior, willful ignorance, brutishness, obtuseness in the face of overwhelming evidence that such a course of action is self-destructive or destructive to others, and senseless activity.

Cipolla posited five fundamental Laws of Stupidity:

  1. Always and inevitably each of us underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
  2. The probability that a given person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic possessed by that person.
  3. A person is stupid if they cause damage to another person or group of people without experiencing personal gain, or even worse causing damage to themselves in the process.
  4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the harmful potential of stupid people; they constantly forget that at any time anywhere, and in any circumstance, dealing with or associating themselves with stupid individuals invariably constitutes a costly error.
  5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person there is.

You can reflect on these and come up with your own thoughts. Mine:

  • Law #1. As the old saying goes, “Never ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained as stupidity.” Most people who operate rationally assume that everyone else does also. That’s simply not so. Many people bumble along unthinkingly, leaving a wake of damage on themselves and others. The only way to protect yourself from stupid people is to recognize them and neutralize or protect yourself from their impact on your life as much as you can.
  • Law #2. Just because a person is suave and urbane, or shares your religion or political party, or is extremely likeable or has a forceful, commanding personality, does not mean that that person is not stupid. Also, bear in mind that there are stupid people who do stupid things, and there are non-stupid people who do stupid things. The former are dangerous; the latter are unfortunate (and, alas, include most of us).
  • Law #3. There are serious ramifications when we vest authority in stupid people. These are the people who clamor that the house needs to be burned down because it needs painting. In the name of principle or dogma or doctrine they ignore the possibility of unintended consequences and exhort their followers to embrace self-destructive ways. If reason conflicts with their convictions, reason be damned.  
  • Law #4. See Law #3. Too often, we realize only in hidsight that we have made the costly error of placing our welfare in the hands of stupid people, or have allowed them to lead us into a swamp that is hard to get out of.
  • Law #5. Collateral damage from stupid people can be especially galling. Despite our best efforts to protect ourselves, the ripple effect of stupidity can blindside us, capsizing us into waters that can threaten to overwhelm us.  

While we’re on the topic, it’s important to distinguish between ignorance and stupidity. Knowledge cures ignorance; knowledge is irrelevant to the stupid. Many of us make the mistake of wasting time and effort to address stupidity by elucidating facts and posing rational arguments. That approach will avail for the ignorant person, but it is absolutely ineffective on the stupid.

A grizzled, old lawyer told me in my youth that, “If they ever stop making stupid people, the legal profession will be doomed.” Cynical, yes. Inaccurate, no.


February 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

Summary judgment is basically about nothing. Meaning that if there is nothing there for the factfinder to determine, then the lawsuit should be summarily disposed of. Here’s a nifty thought to throw into your next summary judgment argument …

If there was a time when nothing existed, then there must have been a time before that — when even nothing did not exist. Suddenly, when nothing came into existence, could one really say whether it belonged to the category of existence or of non-existence?  – Chuang-Tzu

It might not win the case for you, but you it’s sure to get a reaction from the judge.


September 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Football season is here.

Lawyer 1:  When did you learn that your husband had used the retirement funds to pay off his debt?

Lawyer 2:  Objection.  Irrelevant.

Judge:  How is that relevant?

Lawyer 1:  It’s probably not.  I just threw a “Hail, Mary” hoping to hit something.

Judge:  Well, the pass is incomplete.  Call another play.

These referee signals might come in handy next time something like that comes up again in court …

Having a logic referee might help.  But even with a referee, things usually look more like this …

A previous post with a link to a catalogue of logical fallacies is here.

Referee signals from Marginal Revolution.


January 7, 2011 § 5 Comments

This is a faux Canadian appellate case that I remember studying in law school and ran across recently.  It was actually written by a law professor as a parody of legal reasoning, but, scarily, it could easily be mistaken for the real thing. 





Blue, J. August, 1965

This is an appeal by the Crown by way of a stated case from a decision of the magistrate acquitting the accused of a charge under the Small Birds Act, R.S.O., 1960, c. 724, s. 2. The facts are not in dispute. Fred Ojibway, an Indian, was riding his pony through Queen’s Park on January 2, 1965. Being impoverished, and having been forced to pledge his saddle, he substituted a downy pillow in lieu of the said saddle. On this particular day the accused’s misfortune was further heightened by the circumstance of his pony breaking its foreleg. In accord with Indian custom, the accused then shot the pony to relieve it of its awkwardness. The accused was then charged with having breached the Small Birds Act, s. 2 of which states: “2. Anyone maiming, injuring or killing small birds is guilty of an offence and subject to a fine not in excess of two hundred dollars.” The learned magistrate acquitted the accused holding, in fact, that he had killed his horse and not a small bird. With respect, I cannot agree.

In light of the definition section my course is quite clear. Section 1 defines “bird” as “a two legged animal covered with feathers.” There can be no doubt that this case is covered by this section.

Counsel for the accused made several ingenious arguments to which, in fairness, I must address myself. He submitted that the evidence of the expert clearly concluded that the animal in question was a pony and not a bird, but this is not the issue. We are not interested in whether the animal in question is a bird or not in fact, but whether it is one in law. Statutory interpretation has forced many a horse to eat birdseed for the rest of its life.

Counsel also contended that the neighing noise emitted by the animal could not possibly be produced by a bird. With respect, the sounds emitted by an animal are irrelevant to its nature, for a bird is no less a bird because it is silent.

Counsel for the accused also argued that since there was evidence to show accused had ridden the animal, this pointed to the fact that it could not be a bird but was actually a pony. Obviously, this avoids the issue. The issue is not whether the animal was ridden or not, but whether it was shot or not, for to ride a pony or a bird is of no offence at all. I believe counsel now sees his mistake.

Counsel contends that the iron shoes found on the animal decisively disqualify it from being a bird. I must inform counsel, however, that how an animal dresses is of no consequence to this court.

Counsel relied on the decision in Re Chicadee, where he contends that in similar circumstances the accused was aquitted. However, this is a horse of a different colour. A close reading of that case indicates that the animal in question there was not a small bird, but, in fact, a midget of a much larger species. Therefore, that case is inapplicable to our facts.

Counsel finally submits that the word “small” in the title Small Birds Act refers not to “Birds” but to “Act”, making it The Small Act relating to Birds. With respect, counsel did not do his homework very well, for the Large Birds Act, R.S.O. 1960, c. 725 is just as small. If pressed, I need only refer to the Small Loans Act, R.S.O. 1960, c. 727 which is twice as large as the Large Birds Act.

It remains then to state my reason for judgment which, simply, is as follows: Different things may take on the same meaning for different purposes. For the purpose of the Small Birds Act, all two-legged, feather-covered animals are birds. This, of course, does not imply that only two-legged animals qualify, for the legislative intent is to make two legs merely the minimum requirement. The statute therefore contemplated multi-legged animals with feathers as well. Counsel submits that having regard to the purpose of the statute only small animals “naturally covered” with feathers could have been contemplated. However, had this been the intention of the legislature, I am certain that the phrase “naturally covered” would have been expressly inserted just as “Long” was inserted in the Longshoreman’s Act.

Therefore, a horse with feathers on its back must be deemed for the purposes of this Act to be a bird, and a fortiori, a pony with feathers on its back is a small bird.

Counsel posed the following rhetorical question: If the pillow had been removed prior to the shooting, would the animal still be a bird? To this let me answer rhetorically: Is a bird any less of a bird without its feathers?

Appeal allowed.


October 22, 2010 § Leave a comment


October 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Okay, I sort of stole the title of this post from Jon Sewart’s RALLY TO RESTORE SANITY (now the RALLY TO RESTORE SANITY and/or FEAR, since Stephen Colbert added his March to Keep Fear Alive to Stewart’s effort).  Whether you like Stewart or hate him, the idea of restoring sanity to our national debate is a concept all rational people should embrace.  It’s one I certainly wish for, especially on the eve of the congressional elections as the tone sharpens from strident to shrill. 

I ran across the following article in the AARP Bulletin the other day, and it puts into words my thoughts on the state of our political discourse in this country today much better than I could, so I am posting it here. 


Today’s rancorous politics is dividing America by: Jim Leach| from: AARP Bulletin | October 1, 2010

Politics has high and low moments. Sometimes it brings out the better angels of our nature; sometimes baser instincts. This season of shouting and name-calling is one of our lower moments, but it is not the worst period in American history. In 1804, Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, our greatest secretary of the Treasury, in a legal act of incivility — a duel. Five decades later, Congressman Preston Brooks caned Sen. Charles Sumner unconscious on the Senate floor in an argument over slavery.

The Burr-Hamilton duel followed the most inspiring nation-building debate in world history. The Brooks-Sumner caning preceded the most uplifting presidency in our country’s existence. Higher moments have been characterized by expansions of political tolerance; lower moments by debilitating political discourse, often accentuated by the casting of religious slurs. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, was described as anti-Christian by partisan critics. At the zenith of anti-Catholic sentiment in the 19th century, rumors were circulated that Abraham Lincoln was Catholic. In the 20th century, in an era of rampant anti-Semitism, it was suggested that Franklin Roosevelt was a Jew.

Today, President Obama, like George W. Bush, has been referred to as a fascist. And in a period of rising Islamophobia, our president is even described as a secret Muslim.

What is wrong with false accusations and preposterous hyperbole? Plenty. Some frameworks of thought describe rival ideas; other frameworks define enemies or, worse yet, infidels.

Today’s rancorous politics is becoming radicalized in manipulative ways that divide Americans. That is why, in this election season, fidelity to civility may be as important as any stand a candidate may take.

Civility is not simply about manners. It doesn’t mean that spirited advocacy is to be avoided. What it does require is a willingness to consider respectfully the views of others, with an understanding that we are all connected and rely on one another.

Seldom is there only one proper path determinable by one individual or political party. Public decision-making does not lend itself to certitude. Everybody can learn from somebody else. That is why civility is a central ingredient of a democratic society.

Citizens should be expected to disagree vigorously with each other and take their disagreements to the ballot box. But the outcome that matters most after divisive campaigns is whether the prevailing candidates have the commitment to work together for the common good. A government of, by and for the people is obligated to conduct the nation’s business in a manner that respects dissent.

We cannot lead the world unless we morally rearm, not with intolerance for others, but with faith in traditional American ideals — honor, dignity, love of or at least respect for neighbors, near and far. As Lincoln noted in words borrowed from Scripture, a house divided cannot stand.

Jim Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, was a Republican member of Congress for 30 years.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Philosophy category at The Better Chancery Practice Blog.