Interview with Jacques Rousseau

Jacques looks something like this In what will hopefully be the first of many interesting interviews I'll publish on this site, I talked to Jacques Rousseau about the aims and philosophy of the Free Society Institute, a South African non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting free speech, free thought and scientific reasoning.

Jacques describes himself "as a voluntary exile from professional philosophy, where having to talk metaphysics eventually became unbearably irritating. He now spends his time trying to arrest the rapid decline in common sense exhibited by his species, both through teaching critical thinking and business ethics at the University of Cape Town."

It's in the latter occupation that I encountered him most recently, giving the inaugural lecture of the FSI at the University of Cape Town in March 2013. The questions I asked him in this interview were inspired by that lecture.

We talked for the better part of two hours about a range of things: the value of combativeness in debate, the role of a naturalistic worldview, the validity of the trans-rational, mindfulness as a practice, devotion, and coaching!

For easier digestion, the interview is edited by topic and presented in six parts. Related links are provided below.

Part 1

  • Taking a right-or-wrong stance vs. a live-and-let-live stance
  • The value of antagonism, challenge, combativeness in debate
  • Querying the idea of a viable epistemic middle-ground between truth and falsity
  • How best to achieve the goal of inspiring rational and critical thought
  • The importance of not believing too strongly that we’re right, being prepared to be wrong

11:41, 10.9 Mb

Part 2

  • Provincialism: if we’re prepared to be wrong, what limits to query and challenge can we reasonably set on the premises that underpin our own initiative, such as the Free Society Institute?
  • The FSI’s commitment to a naturalistic worldview, and the reasons for that
  • A naturalistic worldview or a naturalistic method?

8:50, 8.2 Mb

Part 3

  • What lies beyond a naturalistic worldview? Is it worth asking?
  • What about a first-person empiricism?
  • Hoping to distrust oneself if one claims a unique first-person experience.
  • Mystical experience and the rational safeguards against self-delusion.
  • Explicablity and the possibility, in principle, of a ‘God’s-eye-view’
  • Does truth sit in scientific knowledge or in experience? Is it for itself or is it instrumental?
  • How to separate “convenient fictions” from what is actually true? Conceptuality itself as a convenient fiction, and where that might lead our thought. Straying into woo-woo?
  • Does “transrational” mean anything? Language, conceptuality and paradox.
  • Contextual orientations to certainty.

24:22, 22.8 Mb

Part 4

  • Mindfulness
  • Sam Harris’ mindfulness session at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne
  • Jacques’ ideas of what mindfulness practice might enable
  • How to introduce mindfulness accessibly to atheists and secularists, a la Harris
  • How mindfulness creates perspective around our own meaning-making
  • Jeff Bridges and Dudeism

9:01, 8.4 Mb

Part 5

  • Life stories: Jacques’ past life as a religious person
  • Devotion – to what? Different forms of devotion and religious devotion
  • What of value in religion we might access without the religious bits
  • Do we want to be right or do we want to change the world?

10:50, 9.9 Mb

Part 6

  • Coaching
  • Coaching as a self-regulated industry; Jacques’ initial impressions of coaching
  • What can a coach do that a good friend can’t? Or that a good psychologist couldn’t?
  • How coaches can challenge clients and vice versa
  • Life traumas as catalysts for transformation and growth

8:21, 7.6 Mb

Related Links:

The Free Society Institute of South Africa

Liberalism and Religion – We Should Talk by Ken Wilber (mentioned in Part 3)

Nagarjuna and the Limits of Thought (mentioned in Part 3)

Sam Harris’ talk to the Melbourne Atheist Convention: Death and the Present Moment (mentioned in Part 4)