Introduction to Alter Ego
My name is Socrates. You might know me as the father of western philosophy and a relentless seeker after truth.
I'm here to become your personal mentor and to guide you on your path of living a fulfilling and meaningful life.
We’re going to study and examine a subject that anyone should consider one of the most important and relevant — what kind of life one should live.
As far as I can tell, even in your time, the importance of this subject is often neglected. It is no longer taught neither in school nor university.
Though you might exclaim: "What can some old man from Ancient Greece teach me? He lived in the time of crass ignorance.”
Perhaps you’d say: "Nowadays, we are equipped with sophisticated and scientific knowledge about every subject matter.”
Yes, my friend. You and the people around you indeed have a vast knowledge of different subjects — physics, math, biology, way more advanced than in my era.
But do you know the subject of what kind of life one should live? Do you know what a good life is and how to live it?
This subject requires much more than mere factual or theoretical knowledge. It requires the cultivation of wisdom. The ultimate art of living a happy and fulfilling life.
In contrast to factual or theoretical knowledge, wisdom brings about a radical personal transformation, including one’s mind, character, and ways in which one perceives the world and participates in it.
Let’s leave the question of how this transformation can happen for the next lessons, and first see how essential wisdom is for living a good life. Imagine someone called Alcibiades.
He is smart, educated, and holds a degree from the most prestigious academia.
Let’s even say he has won the life lottery: good-looking, coming from a wealthy family, has many female admirers, is pretty popular, and has access to the fanciest pleasures.
Would you consider these conditions to be sufficient to live a good life? If not, why do you think so?
Perhaps you considered these conditions to be insufficient. Let’s see why it could be so. What is Alcibiades lacking for living a good life?
Suppose Alcibiades gets easily frustrated and falls into despair when things don’t go his way.
He also can't be grateful for what he has and constantly compares himself with others, feeling petty jealousies.
Alcibiades is also obsessed with how others perceive him so much that he is constantly overwhelmed by intense social anxiety and distress.
When people around don’t pay him as much attention as he wants, he feels deeply insecure and worthless.
Alcibiades runs after pleasures like a hamster on a wheel. As a result, he suffers from the lack of meaning and purpose that a pleasure-seeking lifestyle inevitably brings about.
Would you now say Alcibiades lives a good life? I guess, no. So what is Alcibiades’ problem?
One cannot call Alcibiades ignorant since he is smart and educated. But he is foolish in the sense that the quality of his life is undermined by the bad habits and dispositions of character.
His bad character makes his responses to different life conditions harmful to himself and those around him.
So what does he need to have in order to live a better life then? More knowledge? More social success, wealth, and entertainment?
Definitely, not these things. He needs mental strength not quickly to crumble under hardships. He needs gratitude to appreciate life for everything he already has and not take it for granted.
Alcibiades needs self-sufficiency to find happiness within himself rather than in the opinions of others, moderation to know the limits of pursuing pleasure.
All those qualities — gratitude, mental strength, self-sufficiency, moderation, and others — are virtues, or strengths of character.
Virtues are different aspects of what it means to be a wise person. They constitute the character of someone who has been constantly improving himself and as a result has grown into the fully realized, best version of himself.
Virtues are essential for going through life in the best possible way. External things like health, beauty, wealth, and reputation are, at most, advantages or opportunities rather than being good in themselves.
They become good only if one has the right attitude to them and uses them wisely. Without the guidance of wisdom social, material, and physical advantages only give unwise individuals more opportunities to harm themselves and others.
Look at some famous or rich people who make their sudden fortune. They often end up more unhappy than they could have imagined.
Wealth and fame often become the source of their attachment, provoking the constant threat of loss and anxiety. To lose these things would mean to them the end of their lives.
In contrast, a wise, virtuous person may flourish even when faced with loss, sickness, or poverty. He embraces the ups and downs of life and sees misfortune as an opportunity to develop a stronger character.
That is why wisdom is the ultimate condition of living a good life. No matter how lucky one is in external success unless wisdom and virtues are cultivated, one cannot hope to live a good life.
Which character traits and qualities do you want to cultivate in yourself?
Very good! To explore in greater depth what is a good life and why being virtuous is so essential for living it, I give the floor to my successor Aristotle.