I. Locate a statement confidently described as common sense.
Acting courageously involves not retreating in battle.
Being virtuous requires money.
II. Imagine for a moment that, despite the confidence of the person proposing it, the statement is false. Search for situations or contexts where the statement would not be true.
Could one ever be courageous and yet retreat in battle?
Could one ever stay firm in battle and yet not be courageous?
Could one ever have money and not be virtuous?
Could one ever have no money and be virtuous?
III. If an exception is found, the definition must be false or at least imprecise.
It is possible to be courageous and retreat.
It is possible to stay firm in battle and yet not be courageous.
It is possible to have money and be a crook.
It is possible to be poor and virtuous.
IV. The initial statement must be nuanced to take the exception into account.
Acting courageously can involve retreat and advance in battle.
People who have money have be described as virtuous only if they have acquired it in a virtuous way, and some people with no money can be virtuous when they have lived through situations where it was impossible to be virtuous and make money.
V. If one subsequently finds exceptions to the improved statements, the process should be repeated. The truth, in so far as a human being is able to attain such a thing, lies in a statement which it seems impossible to disprove. It is by finding a what something is not that one comes closest to understanding what it is.
VI. The product of thought is, whatever Aristophanes insinuated, superior to the product of intuition.
PAGE 24 / THE CONSOLATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY / ALAIN DE BOTTON