Honestly Modest

I want to talk about the burden of modesty and the conflict with honesty which results from this. By modesty is meant a somewhat vague concept which I will attempt to clarify here. At a first approximation, it seems to correspond to the opposite of conceit. Conceit is to hold oneself in very high esteem and as more worthy than others, whether merited or unmerited, and is specifically detested depending on the manner in which it is expressed. It consists in what is colloquially known as bragging and being self-centered and self-absorbed. But, can it really still be called conceit if it is merited? That is, if someone truly does possess superior intellectual capacities than the majority of people, is it conceited to display these in public and to be genuine about this? The majority seems to exclaim YES in loud unison. Perhaps what they object to is simply the manner in which the superiority is demonstrated, that is, when it is scornfully and condescendingly flaunted, contrasting sharply with a humble and respectful air. It is arguable, however, that the objection is only because they refuse to accept that the proclamation of superiority is merited, and particularly when the superior intellect belongs to someone of the same or lower social status than them. They continue to whisper to themselves in the secret voices that fill their minds that none can be their superior and any who proclaims so is being conceited. Or at least, they find ways to bend and distort their perceptions in ways that lend evidence to this notion. But in the case where the intellectual superiority is true, this train of thought is evidently delusional. Perhaps one may wish to argue that even intellectual capacities are relative and that there can be no absolute better or worse in the comparisons of these. But upon deeper reflection, it becomes clear that this is false. As we have navigated the waters of society throughout our lives, it has always been clear to us that some are endowed with greater mental abilities than others, for whatever reasons. Along all the various stages of life, we have been constantly reminded of this gradation in the actions and behaviors of those around us. Thus we have always felt, even if only in some deep recess of our minds, that some are simply more able to manipulate concepts or can do so quicker than we can and that others are slower or weaker at this. To demonstrate this, let us begin by analyzing the matter more closely.   Intellect and its capacity are defined herein as the representing function of the brain. This is involved in both perceptual synthesis as well as abstract thought. The former consists in the projection of the forms of space and time into the exterior of the brain and the referral of inferred causes thereto. What this means is that when a sensation arrives to a sense organ, the immediate, and even unconscious, response of the brain is to apply its understanding of causality to the sensed effect and to infer from this the correct cause, which is subsequently projected outwards and given a physical and empirical reality. Abstract thought, or more properly called the faculty of reason, is involved in stripping away what is special in percepts and maintaining only the commonalities, and representing these as concepts. This is a second-order representing activity since it is a representation of a percept, i.e. a representation. Thus is “tableness” abstracted away from the countless different tables we have seen in our lives, differing sometimes radically from one another in the perception, but united in the concept which retains only what is common to all tables. Now, in the perceptual world, the law of causality operates as that which determines what is perceived. Likewise, in the conceptual world, the law of causality determines what is conceived, and does so by the necessary entailment of the consequent from the ground, and thus by the evaluation of the intersections of concepts with one another. An example of this is the evaluation of the concept “animal” and whether or not this intersects at all with the concept “conscious being”. In order for this evaluation to proceed, the concepts must be clearly defined, and this by their being derived from clearly apprehended percepts. Since all concepts are derived foremost from percepts, the clearer one’s apprehension of these will yield the more clearly defined concepts. Armed with these, the clear thinker can then proceed to understand the conceptual structure that unites all concepts coherently and in an arrangement that delineates the most general and subdivides this into increasingly specialized concepts until at last a percept in the imagination can be visualized from this. Thus concepts can then become a tool for understanding the world in that they allow for a knowledge of what is most general by the abstracting away of everything unique and specialized until nothing is left but the most general concepts of all, such as existence and being, and doing so in a manner that retains the connections and intersections of the concepts as one proceeds to the general. From all that has been said, it can be inferred that intellectual capacity consists in the clarity of the apprehension of percepts, and consequently, concepts, as well as the proficiency in the understanding of, and indeed the application of, the law of causality. One would be wary of asserting that these are given to all humans in equal measure since there is, in general, nothing that is given to humans in equal measure, but rather in a continuous gradient that by and large takes the form of the normal distribution. It is, in fact, inconceivable to assert such a claim since to do so one would require the absolute equivalence of all brains in all respects, that is, in all their properties. And since all brains differ to a certain extent, so must their abilities to apprehend external reality and construe concepts derived therefrom. That this is the case is immediately clear and so no further comments on this are required.   Accordingly, if one is to practice perfect honesty, one cannot in any way hide or mask the difference obtaining in between his/her intellect and another’s if one is directly questioned about it or if there is some other occasion to speak of it. So, to return to the prompt of this discussion, the requirements of modesty that this society places on us seem to put us in a conflict with our effort to practice honesty if we are in a position of intellectual superiority. Since people are typically resistant to accepting the superiority of others, we are thus expected to respect their delusional pride and refrain from even exhibiting our superiority in their presence. We are forced to pretend to be less intelligent than we actually are, all in the name of modesty. In fact, we are not literally forced to walk this path, only insofar as we desire companionship. For if we but once demonstrate how far our mental power exceeds that of those around us, it is as though we have issued a decree delineating their stupidity; it comes as an insult to them. This is immediately revealed in the expression that manifests on their faces, or in the urge to change the subject, preferably to one with which they identify and can feel some sense of superiority, even if this is really delusional. That this is all true is irrefutable to me, but will undoubtedly generate considerable controversy since the entire mass of humanity, excepting but a select few, are the very ones who are ensnared by this web of delusion of which I speak, and so upon hearing or reading this, will immediately react by labeling me as someone who is conceited and self-centered, discrediting me with no more than that accusation, for if they sincerely investigate the matter, they would not be able to reject what I say as false. I know that I live in an age of relativism and that making strong assertions of certainty like this is viciously condemned, but still I cannot escape the realization of this as a fundamental truth originating in the natural egoism that displays itself in the conduct of the great majority of humans.   I would like to add to this the consideration of humility and its distinctness from the analysis of modesty given above. Although modesty has been portrayed here as something which may be in conflict with honesty, humility is not. This latter concept is more concerned with the shedding of the prideful element in ego. And it is, in fact, this prideful element itself which leads to the over-exaggerated estimation of one’s capacities. And this exaggeration is itself what the proponents of modesty complain against. It is this exaggeration which leads to arrogance and hubris and conceit proper. However, as I have defined my concepts here, modesty is not simply the negation of this exaggerated hubris but in certain cases extends to dishonesty, as has been shown above. Humility is the proper negation of pride and arrogance, and as such is a desirable and virtuous quality. The difference between humility and modesty is that while the former enables one to remain honest in one’s estimation of one’s ability, the latter drives one to pretend to be less capable that one actually is. The special quality of humility is simply that one never exaggerates or behaves condescendingly to others because of superiority, unduly feeling oneself to be above others in terms of value, whereas modesty requires one to mask one’s superiorities in order to avoid injuring the pride of others, and as such helps to maintain and protect that pride.   So, I have shown that to be honestly modest is a contradiction in the cases where one is superior to others, but that on the other hand, humility is a virtue which does not come into conflict with honesty and hence does not lead to moral trouble, and as such is a desirable quality to cultivate. 

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