To know thyself

Do you know your premises? Not the four walls around you or the many trees and buildings beyond them. A philosophical premise is what you have always accepted as truth, without even trying to think about questioning it. Calling it a strong belief would be an understatement. It is the basic building block of your character.

You are defined by your actions and changing premises changes you elementally as a person—for you are constantly guided by them in every action you take, though you may not be conscious about it. In essence, changing your premises would change your philosophy of life. Needless to say, not many are ready to change their stinking socks, let alone their premises. But the problem is, premises are not always rational. That is to say, they do not always conform with logic.

Let me share a fact with you. It doesn’t matter what your premises are, but as long as your actions are true to them, you are not morally guilty, though the popular verdict may go against you. Your premises determine whether your actions are right or wrong, although it is quite common for people to judge you according to their own premises. In fact, the laws in any society are governed by the premises of its majority.

Society plays its role in influencing the design of your premises, until you consciously assume that role for yourself, which in most cases would never happen. The process of your social conditioning started on the day you were born. You were labelled with a name, a nation, a religion, you were forced into a particular type of education, and were being systematically fed specific sets of information, deliberately designed over generations to reinforce particular premises, and mould your personality to further the existing societal goals.

But it is important that you do not corrupt your premises, whatever they are. Simply because inner-peace is a condition possible only when your actions are consistent with your premises. And without being at peace with yourself, there would be no clarity in your thoughts, and thus in your actions. The best you can hope for, would then reduce to mechanical repetition of the same loops of actions, and gain and regain the same results. Some would hope for different results, but that is called insanity, as defined by Einstein.

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Quite a few however, realise their freedom to form their own premises, but most would willingly inherit and chew and digest the premises offered to them and unable to handle them, eventually corrupt themselves with inconsistent actions, and join the zone of mediocrity. Those who influenced the course of history are those who clearly defined their own premises, and stayed brutally true to them, even at the finest levels of their activity, aka their thoughts. The problem is again, not all of them had rational premises.

For instance, Adolf Hitler developed two clear premises, which he never wronged till his own death, and that of millions of others. That Germany is inherently superior to any other nation, and that all Jews are traitors to the German cause. His premises guided his every move, his heart was guilt-free, and his head was clear, until the day he put a bullet in it.

He was an extremely moral person, in his own strange way. If you observe his public speeches, you can actually feel the powerful waves of self-righteousness radiating from him, which effectively brainwashed the entire German population and influenced their premises. You do not need to understand German to understand that.

It is a popular belief that Friedrich Nietzsche influenced Hitler’s premises. But Nietzsche’s philosophy never advocated genocide. Nietzsche wrote down his ideas in short and pithy phrases, since he couldn’t focus for longer periods, owing to his constant splitting headaches. After his death, Hitler rendered to his works, the colours of racism, and popularised them with the help of Nietzsche’s sister—who was a supporter of Hitler—to further his military ambitions. For that matter, Hitler did everything in his power to gain popular support.

Some believe that it was Nietzsche’s mistake to allow ambiguity in his writings. But his philosophy was a terrific breakthrough in a period of depressing stagnancy, and his merits far outweigh any criticism levelled against him. And Hitler eventually did more harm than good to himself and his utterly loyal followers, because his premises were not rational.

Now that you see the significance of having rational premises, do you know your own premises? You do remember Socrates asking you to know thyself, don’t you? What he meant was to know your own premises. If you truly try that, you can hope to gain a degree of control over them, and may be, change them for your own good and that of the ones you love, before it’s too late.

– Avinash Kumar