How Stoicism Teaches us to Welcome Refutation
Nobody likes being wrong, we’re told. Least of all those individuals who suffer from pathological narcissism. They have to believe that they were right all along, even when it becomes obvious they are very much in the wrong.
Figures who live in the public eye, such as celebrities and politicians, if they become overly-incentivized by praise, risk turning this into a habit. As Aristotle once said, habits become our “second nature”. They solidify into character traits if we’re not careful.
Perhaps sometimes the person who gains the most is the one who loses the argument.
So do we always have to be right? The ancient Greek philosophers — who loved paradoxes — said the opposite: maybe true wisdom requires the capacity to delight in being proven wrong. My favourite expression of this idea comes from Epicurus:
In a philosophical dispute, he gains most who is defeated, since he learns the most. — Epicurus, Vatican Sayings, 74
How crazy is that? Perhaps sometimes the person who gains the most is the one who loses the argument. The one who wins the argument gains nothing, except perhaps some praise — but what does that matter? The one who loses, though, gains knowledge, and perhaps gets a step closer to achieving wisdom. It wasn’t just Epicurus who had this paradoxical insight. The rival Stoic school of philosophers taught essentially the same thing.