Wanting to Learn Philosophy

This post is an excerpt from my freewriting today. I was thinking about what I did differently than other people, and what my initial DD/TCS/etc learning was like. One of the major things is: I did it a lot – put in a lot of time and effort – because I wanted to and liked it.

I don’t quite know what to tell people about learning CF. You have to want philosophy. You have to choose it. Structure and organization and project planning can’t fix that for you. They can help if you have secondary problems like poor scheduling. But if those aren’t your core problem, then they won’t work well. They can actually be problematic. If you want X but claim to want Y, then design plans/schedules/organization around doing Y, you’ll hate your schedule, procrastinate on your plans, be lazy, find planning is awful, etc.

I think a big problem on CF is people are lying about wanting to learn philosophy. So then they pretend they have various obstacles they need help getting past, but actually they are creating obstacles because they want to do other stuff with their lives.

Partly what they want or mean is: change me to be rational, help me want good things, etc. But they don’t say or admit that usually. Sometimes they do briefly but they won’t consistently acknowledge and face it. And trying to help those people is a mess because they don’t actually want it. Some part of them does but more of them doesn’t so they sabotage, work against the help, quit, flake, etc.


I think that people think they want to learn philosophy. But they don’t want to actually learn it, they just want to already be good at it.

This same thing comes up with lots of other stuff too. Like, people will say they want to learn a foreign language, or how to play an instrument. And they will even say that they wish their parents had made them take (or stay in) music lessons or language courses.

But the issue is that they don’t want to learn how to play piano or how to speak French. They want to already know it. They want to be good at it now.

If they just wanted to learn it, they could just learn it now, instead of regretting not having learned it earlier.

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i don’t join a knitting league and think i want to want to be a knitter

when ppl start diets they know they partly hate dieting

They are pretending to themselves, not just to you or the outside world.

They mostly don’t realize they are creating the obstacles themselves. In their mind, they think that they want to do the thing. They are just tired right now. Or busy with work. Or they just started a new hobby, so they are busy with that. Or just just got a dog, so they are busy with that. But once things settle down and they have time, they think they will totally want to start.

One thing that often happens to people is that they will have an excuse for not doing something – like, say, I can’t read that book right now (or start my online French or piano course or whatever) because I have plans this weekend to help a friend move. But then if they friend cancels and says actually the moving isn’t happening this weekend, they still won’t do the thing. They will just not feel like it anymore, or get tired, or think of another thing they have to do.

If they are not able to do the thing, they will feel like that really want to do it right now. But then as soon as they are able to do the thing, they just won’t feel like it anymore. (Or something else will just “come up”.) They don’t recognize this process as being controlled by them.

They do the same thing to just keep their lives full. They come up with new hobbies and projects to fill their time, and then they also feel like they can’t possibly keep up with all their work, home, and family commitments, so they always feel like they are running around putting out fires, and they always feel like they are too busy to take on anything new. So they use that as an excuse to not do the things they say they want to do (philosophy, French, piano, whatever). But if some time opens up in their schedule, they will just fill it with something else instead of doing the thing that they keep saying they want to do, but never actually doing.



those are really standard excuses in our culture. they should set off red flags if used much.

it reminds me of my idea about learning about several things, including about lying or introspection: learn what’s normal first. learn to recognize common patterns and errors using other people as examples. apply it to yourself only after you have a solid grasp on it.

if someone isn’t seeing red flags with this stuff, it sounds like maybe they don’t know what most people are like. but there are times ppl would totally catch stuff if someone else did it but are still blind about themselves. idk how common that is. i do think being unable to catch red flags in others is pretty common so ppl could work on that…

This wording is problematic. I know what you mean. By “not able” you mean there is something blocking them right now, like the activity requires a keyboard and they are out of the house with no keyboard. You do not mean that they are incapable of doing it due to lack of skill.

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Some people think they want to be a knitter, but don’t actually want to put in the effort of learning how to knit. Or they know how to knit a bit, but not well, and they don’t want to put in the effort to actually get better. Or they can knit well, and they think they want to, but they just never get around to it.

Lots of people actually spend a bunch of money on knitting stuff, and have lots of knitting needles, yarn & wool, patterns, etc. Some of them have never even finished a project, but they have a bunch of unfinished projects around. Some of them have never even started a project, and they just have a bunch of knitting stuff for projects. And then for some reason they don’t want to get rid of the knitting stuff, they don’t want to admit that they aren’t actually going to start knitting, that they don’t really like doing it.

Having unfinished projects is actually common in people who do regularly knit too. But it’s totally normal to have people who don’t ever feel like knitting or have time to knit, but also still think they want to knit, to have this kind of stuff lying around.

But I think it’s more common for people to think they want to learn a language or an instrument than to do this with knitting because there is a social difference. People have an idea of being like an educated smart person who can play an instrument or speak a second language. It seems impressive to them. Knitting isn’t really the same in that way.

I think philosophy is more like the language or instrument thing – people want to be smart, educated, respected, etc. They think knowing philosophy will be impressive. And also some of them have some idea about how philosophy will help them live better lives, make better decisions, think more clearly. (FI talked about that, and so did Rand.) And they think they want those things.

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Right, that’s what I meant.

People often claim to be “interested” in more things than they can do. They won’t say “no” to things directly. Instead they do a kind of conflict-and-negativity-avoidance where they say “yes” to lots of things and then let some not fit into their schedule.

Instead of saying “no” to activities they have stuff fall through the cracks. It’s a more indirect way of rejecting things. There is something people like better about stuff being neglected due to being busy rather than being chosen against.

How do they know they don’t really like doing it when they haven’t even tried it yet? Maybe if they got started they actually would like it.

Why are they avoiding it without even trying it?

Yeah. A lot of people don’t notice.

I saw some memes about this during the beginning of the pandemic, when everyone was staying home. Like, making fun of the fact that for their whole adult lives, people had been saying things like “if only I had a bunch of time at home, I would get my house clean & organized” or “if only I had time, I would learn to cook better” or “if only I had time, I would finally do that online course I’ve been meaning to do”. And then during the pandemic, a bunch of people had a lot of time at home and didn’t do any of the things they thought they wanted to do.

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But they don’t actually want to “live better lives, make better decisions, think more clearly”? How can they not care about those things in a serious, motivating way? Maybe they just want to conform and fit in and don’t treat doing better as realistic?

Did they learn any lessons or fix anything though? Or just laugh about it and stop thinking!?

Yeah, I’ve recommended this to people before too.

But one problem that comes up is that people can be mean about it. They don’t know how to point this kind of thing out without socially attacking.

One thing people can do is try using TV shows and movies first. Criticize fictional people instead of real people.

People sometimes object to those criticisms by saying that TV is too dramatized, it’s not real life, people aren’t really like that. And it’s true that TV characters often act in ways that are too over the top for regular life. But you can still tell a lot from them. Like, people watch those movies and shows and like those characters. They think the characters are good and they want something like what the characters have. They wish that they had a guy who pursued them like the guy in the movie does, or that they had friends or family like that, a relationship like that, etc.

The fact that people watch those shows and movies and like the characters and want their lives says a lot, even if people don’t actually act exactly like that in real life.

Being able to actually see what’s wrong with them is valuable.

And if you can’t see what’s wrong with TV and movie relationships, families, social stuff, etc, that is indicative of a problem. The people who say TV is unrealistic are right – it is dramatized and unrealistic. But that should make those kinds of problems easier to spot in some ways.

Edit - also, just wanna say, I know that you have recommended people find flaws in tv/movies too. Like, you recommended people watch “How to Train Your Dragon” before. Kids TV/movies are even easier to start with, because they dramatize things even more, make them even less realistic & less nuanced.

Ya fiction tends to make some problems easier to point out while also obscuring some others. That makes sense. You take life and you change it, and now it’s easier to analyze in some ways and harder in other ways. Some problems get extra screen time and others are left out, glossed over, etc. So if you struggle to at least find some problems in fiction that’s a sign you’re bad at this. If you can find deemphasized problems in fiction – ones that are harder to spot than IRL – that’s a sign you’re actually good at this.

I recommended watching and analyzing around 60 seconds of clips from How to Train Your Dragon 2. I provided the clips on YouTube. Curiosity – Analyzing How Culture Manipulates You by Pulling Your Puppet Strings

If they could analyze the whole movie that’d be good but there’s so much. For an example of how much analysis you could be doing, see my analysis of ch. 1 of Atlas Shrugged. Chapter 1 · Learn Objectivism Or you could take my analysis of the 1 minutes of clips and multiply by the number of minutes in the movie and see how long that would be.

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They don’t think they want to diet. They see it as a necessary evil to accomplish a goal. They think that they want to be thin.

They are thinking of thin as something that they can just be, independent of their lifestyle and eating habits.

So instead of trying to actually change their lifestyle and eating habits in a longterm way, to those of a thin person, they try to make a short-term temporary change to become thin. And then they think that once they are thin, they can just go back to normal.

Diets don’t actually work for the majority of people who use them: most people don’t actually lose the weight. And then of the people who do lose weight on a diet, the majority of them gain it back within something like 5 years. I’ve read things like 80% of people regain the weight they lost or even more.

(The reason diets don’t work is not just that they go back to normal. There is also some research about people’s metabolic rate changing when they diet, so that they require fewer calories for their baseline needs than a person of their size would normally need.)


I think it’s common for people to be able to catch at least some things in others that they can’t catch in themselves.

people are actually discouraged from doing that though. you can get called a hypocrite if you point it out, even if you aren’t trying to do it in a mean way, you aren’t trying to put the other person down, etc. And I think some people are afraid to be mean to others even in their own heads.

It’s weird though, because people are mean all the time. Out loud & in their own heads. They have just learned to do it in socially calibrated ways that don’t get called out.

Yeah, people are better at seeing some types of red flags than others. There are some things they can notice & criticize in other people. But there are other types of things that they don’t see at all. They don’t even see it in TV & movies.

There are lots of examples with movies. Like, people thought The Notebook was really romantic when it first came out. Now there are several blogs, articles, videos, etc, calling it out as problematic, pointing out flaws in the male lead and how he pursued his romantic interest. So people will complain specifically about The Notebook now, and notice it is bad in those particular ways. But then they watch a bunch of other movies that are bad in the same ways, and they don’t notice that. Cuz the behaviour isn’t exactly the same. And they don’t actually know how to analyze it themselves.

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This reminds me of the story of Ayn Rand explaining why the government should stop meddling in one industry to someone. They discussed at length. He conceded. And then he said about about [another industry that all the same arguments apply to]? I think one industry was oil and the other was steel, or something kinda like that.

One take on the story is that he’s concrete-bound, not a conceptual or principled thinker.

I forgot the source. Could probably find it if I put in some work, and Justin might know, but idk if it matters.

It’s also related to Feynman’s story about teaching in Brazil and the students having super fragile knowledge. If you ask in the way they’re used to, they will give the answer, but if you explain the question a different way then they can’t answer. They memorized stuff but don’t know what it means.

Happened to know where to find this offhand (I knew it was in VoR and searched for “what about the”.) From Leonard Peikoff’s essay “My Thirty Years With Ayn Rand: An Intellectual Memoir”, published as the epilogue to The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought:

Ayn Rand started thinking in terms of principles, she told me once, at the age of twelve. To her, it was a normal part of the process of growing up, and she never dropped the method thereafter. Nor, I believe, did she ever entirely comprehend the fact that the approach which was second nature to her was not practiced by other people. Much of the time, she was baffled by or indignant at the people she was doomed to talk to, people like the man we heard about in the early 1950s, who was calling for the nationalization of the steel industry. The man was told by an Objectivist why government seizure of the steel industry was immoral and impractical, and he was impressed by the argument. His comeback was: “Okay, I see that. But what about the coal industry?”

I think there might be a longer and more detailed version of the story somewhere but I’m not sure.

Oh. Like how some of them think “rocket scientist” or “elite computer hacker” is something one can just be, separate from the rest of one’s life. There are multiple ways to be those things, but one can’t just have any kind of personality and lifestyle and expect them to work.

TV sometimes presents them as things you can just be. Sometimes those characters are nerdy and it’s part of a broader lifestyle, but other times it’s e.g. the spunky young fashionable girl who is the great hacker, and there’s nothing else in her life or personality that supports her skillz, she just has them because girls can be coders too.

DD/TCS with its anti-foundations and stuff was kinda like “you can start anywhere, and be any kind of person, and learn philosophy”. That’s not fully wrong but it’s misleading. Philosophy fits better with some lifestyles, traits, tastes, interests, etc., than others. Realistically if you want to be a good philosopher you’ll need some other stuff that goes with it well instead of treating it as a fully isolated thing.