In the course of my readings, I have spotted a certain propensity for arrogance among gifted people, particularly among the most celebrated philosophers. Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, of course, but even doubting Descartes and happy Hume appear to have had their moments. 'I hope that posterity will judge me kindly,' said Descartes, 'not only as to the things which I have explained, but also to those which I have intentionally omitted so as to leave to others the pleasure of discovery.'
A recent study conducted by Paul Silvia and his team at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro suggests that there is indeed a link between arrogance and creativity. The researchers found that undergraduate students who think of themselves as being creative and who regularly engage in creative activities score less than average on a measure of honesty and humility. This in turn indicates tendencies for some or all of self-importance, entitlement, immodesty, greed, and deceit.
Here is a top 10 of some of the most arrogant things ever said by some of the most gifted people ever, from Plato to Picasso and Socrates to Schopenhauer. Needless to say, I do not condone or subscribe to these opinions — or at least, not to all of them. Some may raise a laugh; others are just vile.
Whilst compiling the list, a number of questions came to my mind. What is arrogance? How does it come about? How, if at all, might it be helpful? And can it ever be excused or justified?
Your answers on the back of a card, please.
1. My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso. —Pablo Picasso
2. At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since. —Salvador Dali
3. To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful. —Karl Gustav Jung
4. I do not break my head very much about good and evil, but I have found little that is ‘good’ about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all. —Sigmund Freud
5. Ah, women. They make our highs higher and our lows more frequent. —Friedrich Nietzsche
6. Only a male intellect clouded by the sexual drive could call the stunted, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped and short-legged sex the fair sex … More fittingly than the fair sex, women could be called the unaesthetic sex. Neither for music, nor poetry, nor the plastic arts do they possess any real feeling of receptivity: if they affect to do so, it is merely mimicry in service of their effort to please. —Arthur Schopenhauer
7. Again, it is characteristic of the proud man not to aim at the things commonly held in honor, or the things in which others excel; to be sluggish and to hold back except where great honor or a great work is at stake, and to be a man of few deeds, but of great and notable ones. He must also be open in his hate and in his love (for to conceal one’s feelings, that is, to care less for truth than for what people will think, is a coward’s part), and must speak and act openly; for he is free of speech because he is contemptuous, and he is given to telling the truth, except when he speaks in irony to the vulgar. —Aristotle
8. There was a time when I was running about the world, fancying myself to be well employed, but I was really a most wretched thing, no better than you are now. I thought that I ought to do anything rather than be a philosopher. —Plato
9.. …if you mean to share with me and to exchange beauty for beauty, you will have greatly the advantage of me; you will gain true beauty in return for appearance—like Diomede, gold in exchange for brass. —Socrates
10. Arrogance on the part of the meritorious is even more offensive to us than the arrogance of those without merit: for merit itself is offensive. —Friedrich Nietzsche
Neel Burton is author of The Meaning of Madness, The Art of Failure: The Anti Self-Help Guide, Hide and Seek: The Psychology of Self-Deception, and other books.
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