The Gift of Insightfulness

HUMAN BEINGS SURPASS ALL OTHER LIVING CREATURES with regard to the capacity to be insightful. Here is a simple definition of insightfulness: The wherewithal to make an accurate judgment regarding how a person will behave even though that person has not in any way stated that she or he would so behave. Human beings can exhibit foresight in all sorts of contexts. Here are a few contexts: (1) a person’s behavior in the check-out line at the grocery store; (2) a person’s behavior when someone takes the seat next to her or him on the vehicle of public transportation that the person is on; (3) a person’s reaction when one passes her or him on the street. And so on.

Most significantly, an instance of insightfulness can take place in a split-second. Indeed, human beings would have to be very different creatures, if it necessarily took several hours or days to exhibit any insightfulness whatsoever. In fact, if it invariably took several days to exhibit any insight, then it would follow that be insightful would be far less beneficial. For part of what makes insightfulness so very significant is that being insightful typically involves the wherewith to have the right view about one has perceived in a very short period of time.

To be sure, there are degrees of insightfulness; and it is manifestly clear that some people are more insightful than others with respect to a given area of thought or aspect of life. Indeed, it is an indisputable truth that human beings can be insightful about quite different things. Susie Que can be absolutely brilliant at picking-up on whether or not a person is lying; whereas Scott is equally insightful at picking-up on whether or not a person thinks that she or he is better than others. And Leslie may be breathtakingly insightful regarding the proclivity of an individual to exploit others.
It would seem that no one is insightful about everything. Indeed, it seems to me that one of the very gifts of friendship lies in the fact that friends bring to one another different ways in which they are insightful, which in turn speaks to the majesty of trust that is characteristic of friendship at its very best. Aristotle referred to such friendship as perfect friendship. However, I refer to such friendship as companion friendship.

The very appreciation of a companion friendship is fundamentally tied to the considerable insight that the two friends ever so graciously contribute to the reflections of one another, where there is no desire whatsoever on the part of either to be superior to the other. In his work, A Treatise of Human Nature, the philosopher David Hume remarked that “. . . the minds of human beings are mirrors to one another”. As far as I can tell, Hume’s remark applies far more significantly to deep friendship than it does to human beings in general; and so to human beings who are complete strangers to one another. After all, we must certainly not at confuse the difference between (1) A person learning how she or he is generally perceived by the members of society and (2) A person learning from another about the very depths of her or his character owing to the way she or he is generally perceived by the members of society. Claim (1) can certainly happen with respect to perfect strangers. But not so with claim (2), since what individuals think about a person can be misguided in substantial ways if it is routinely the case that the members of have a misconception of the person.

Alas, one of the most fundamentally important insights that someone who is unequivocally a morally decent person member of a society can have is tremendous clarity with regard to whether or not in general the members of the society view her or him in either () a positive moral light or () a negative moral light. If the answer is (), then a quite significant and sublime truth is that the person is experiencing a tremendous measure of basic (but ever so fundamental) social affirmation even from complete strangers. Alas, that is one of the defining features of a just society.

© 2017 Laurence Thomas

About Laurence Thomas

Laurence Thomas is Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Department of Philosophy at Syracuse University. His most recent book is The Family and the Political Self and his most recent article in French is "Juifs et Noirs: Au-delà du Mal" in Trigano (ed.) Juifs et Noirs: du Mythe à la Réalité. Thomas has published numerous essays on the topic of friendship. The essay "The Character of Friendship" has appeared in volume on friendship, entitled Thinking About Friendship, edited by Damian Caluori and the essay "Friendship in the Shadow of Technology" has appeared in the anthology Moral and Moral Controversies edited by Steven Scalet and John Arthur. His most recent essay--entitled "Being Moral and Handling the Truth"--is about circumstances under which it is morally permissible to lie. Indeed, an example is given in Section IV of a lie being morally virtuous.
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One Response to The Gift of Insightfulness

  1. Connor Hakan says:

    Wow I really like this post! Very insightful!!! Very very cool!

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