Alain de Botton and Schopenhauer on status

In the course of a very interesting lecture on status, author Alain de Botton draws attention to the inappropriate way in which we often accord undue importance to the casual views of uninformed strangers.

In the course of his discussion, he quotes a scathing passage from 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer:

“We will gradually become indifferent to what goes on in the minds of other people around us when we start to acquire an adequate knowledge of the superficial, futile, and stupid nature of many of their thoughts – of the narrowness of their views, of the paltriness of their sentiments, and of the perversity of their opinions. The Earth quite simply swarms with people who are not worth talking to.”

The view is a misanthropic one, but it is a useful reminder of the excessive tendency people often have to assume the opposite: that the views of other people are generally well-reasoned and informed, that they are accurate and worth influencing in our favour. Closely connected to this is to seek the approval of those who we really have no reason to want to impress.

The essential corollary to this is that we mustn’t overestimate our own capabilities. Just as we should pay little regard to the casual views of a stranger on a complex subject requiring specialized knowledge for comprehension, we need to maintain internal awareness about which of our own views are grounded upon a rigorous evaluation of the subject matter, and which are mere guesses backed up by our intuitions or scanty background knowledge.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

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