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June 25, 2021

'In Praise of Inconsistency' — Leszek Kolakowski

The Polish philosopher's 1964 essay has become celebrated as an iconic statement of belief in the essentially unquantifiable nature of man.

Below, excerpts from his piece.

In Praise of Inconsistency

Inconsistency is simply a secret awareness of the contradictions of this world. By contradictions I mean the fact that the various values are, notoriously throughout history, introduced into society by mutually antagonistic forces. If convictions of the absolute and exclusive superiority of a given value to which all else is subordinate were to spread and be practiced widely, they would of necessity transform the world into an ever-larger battleground — which indeed does occur from time to time. The lack of consistency checks this tendency.

The problem of the antinomy inherent in the principle of tolerance is eternal and eternally unresolved: how to preach and practice tolerance towards ideas and movements which are intolerant. We act against our basic tenet if we silence these ideas and movements by force; we also act against our principle if we tolerate them, for we thus enable them to triumph and destroy the principle of tolerance in social practice. And it is cold comfort under the circumstances to hope that this contradiction will resolved in the process of historical development, either because, having slaughtered all the enemies of tolerance, we shall be able to apply it boundlessly; or else because these movements will in the course of time discard their tolerance. In practical everyday actions and in our daily participation in society, such perspectives help us minimally in making decisions.

These examples are not fictitious. Our lives are bound up in conflicting loyalties that we must choose between in concrete situations. We must break one bond in favor of another, while still not questioning the first. Loyalty to the individual, to one's own outlook on the world, to human communities in which we find ourselves either accidentally or of free choice, loyalty to nations, parties, governments, friends, to ourselves and those close to us, to our own nature and our convictions, to the present and the future, to concrete things and universalities — there are as many insurmountable contradictions as there are loyalties. An authentic synthesis resolving chronic conflicts rarely occurs; most often the supposed synthesis is superficial and fraudulent. We deceive ourselves with it in order to appear consistent, for one of the values instilled in us since childhood is consistency. Our proposition, aimed at making us realize that in these conditions consistency is an ideological fiction, is thus also intended to remove at least one kind of conflict: that which results from a belief in consistency as a value. So, proclaiming the contradictory nature of the world, we strive to attenuate it at least at one point, for, as we see, conflicts multiply because they are not recognized as such. In other words, praise of inconsistency is at the same time the rejection of a specific value, that of the consistent life and that of a basically reasonable one belongs to the species of conflict which may perhaps be removed unilaterally not by synthesis, but by the repudiation of one of the sides to the dispute.

June 25, 2021 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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