Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010


There are three kinds of cowardice that are immediately distinguishable to me: character cowardice, intellectual cowardice, and moral cowardice.

The first kind, character cowardice, is typically what is meant when somebody calls another a coward. "You don't have any balls!" The cowardice is part of the person's character, their personality, their very being. It denotes a failure to physically act on account of upholding something, to do the physically courageous thing. If one action upholds honor, or decency, or civility, or some higher purpose besides the purpose of basic selfishness, and another action does not, choosing the latter action is cowardly.

In contrast the other two forms of cowardice are limited to subsets of a person's being, they're more specific. They are both shades of this core form, but I think they're important enough to highlight individually.

Intellectual cowardice is failing to learn and continue learning and challenging what has already learned. It goes hand-in-hand with intellectual laziness. Reading only one author, one source, one viewpoint, one opinion, that is the way of an intellectual coward. Ignoring things that cause personal offense, another. Ignoring the difficult subjects the human brain can comprehend because they're difficult is another way of an intellectual coward. Avoiding the truth when the truth is inconvenient is also cowardly. (This does not mean lies cannot be useful or even good, however. There are more important things than courage and cowardice after all.)

Moral cowardice is failing to do the right thing when you know you should. Does every human have a conscience? I'm not so sure anymore. But I know a lot of people certainly do, and I know a lot of people go against their conscience and feel bad about it. Some try to drown out that feeling with alcohol or some other mindless pursuit. It's just an observation of mine that moral cravenness is rampant in the society I find myself in (and the societies I look at from afar).

What can be done to improve the state of things? Courage and cowardice aren't the most important things, but they are still very important. How can one move a society towards being more courageous and less cowardly, for all shades of cowardice?

Posted on 2012-09-04 by Jach

Tags: morality, philosophy, thought


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