Issue 62: Try again, fail again, fail better

How to overcome defeat?

What does it mean to fail today? How can we overcome a fear of failure? Is there value to be found in defeat?

“New year, new you”. A phrase synonymous with January and the tide of resolutions it announces. We make vows to exercise more, eat less, be more productive, be less stressed: become better people, essentially. Yet studies show 80% of these resolutions fail by February.

While few of us are spared the spectre of failure in January or elsewhere in our lives, in a world of Instagram perfection, falling short seems out of fashion. Yet proverbial wisdom reminds us that “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, and some of the greatest philosophical minds agree. Confucius said ‘Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail’ while Beckett quipped: “Try again, fail again, fail better.”

So is failure good for us? Is there value to be found in the midst of defeat, and if so, what is it? Should we always get back on that horse? Can we learn from our mistakes and become better riders? And is it true that failure, as Margaret Atwood said, “is just another name for real life?”

These are the questions asked in this issue of IAI News. From the empowering pessimism of philosophical nihilism to overcoming the physical failings of disease or fatigue, we seek out the value of defeat and, against the backdrop of a cold and gloomy January, map out a path from failure to success.

Yoga is Philosophy of Mind in Practice

T.S Rukmani, scholar of Hinduism and yoga

Yogis claim their practice is more than simply exercise but is it true that yoga can radically change our interaction with the world? T.S. Rukmani argues for its power to strengthen resolve and patience in the face of life’s difficulties. 

Are we doomed to fail?

Costica Bradatan, author of the upcoming In Praise of Failure

Is our notion of a failure a return to the Calvinist notion of a sinner predestined to do wrong? Costica Bradatan makes the case that the modern failure, expelled and cast out from society, has echoes of the reprobate, condemned not because of anything he does, but simply because of who he is. 

How Illness Transforms Philosophy

Havi Carel, philosopher at the University of Bristol

Illness fractures our understanding of ourselves and the world so why has it been dismissed by philosophers? Havi Carel explores the phenomenology of illness, of what happens when the body fails, and what this means for our sense of identity and agency.

Does Pessimism Have a Future?

Eugene Thacker, author Cosmic Pessimism 

Pessimism is the ultimate philosophy of failure, claiming defeat to be inescapable and doom inevitable. But might creativity, from music to philosophy, save us? Eugene Thacker explores the most pessimistic of philosophers: Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Buddha and Cioran.

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patricia foster 2 June 2021

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