Changing path is not a failure, but a strength

It’s been a while I haven’t been writing on here, and I know the reason why.

Ever since my last post, in November 2016, I’ve been in a complicated and pretty stressful process of changing path. It’s been a bumpy road, but now that I’m back on tracks, I can say that what I saw as a failure has become a strength. Let’s start from the beginning.

Last year, in September, I was starting a masters’ degree in philosophy at King’s College London. I had just graduated in University of Geneva, where my philosophy teachers where passionate, motivating and brilliant. They had made me think of following an academic research path, by doing a M.A. followed by a P.h.D. I was fully motivated by that choice when I arrived in London.

It lasted a month.

After a few weeks, I was slowly starting to lose interest. I had only 6 hours of class a week. None of the subjects interested me fully. The way of thinking and interacting was not the same as in Geneva. I had lost the vibe that had made me love philosophy so much, and that was probably specific to the department in Geneva.

Moreover, London was too big. Too fast. I was overwhelmed. London is a great city, but I’m persuaded that one must have a specific reason to live there, in order to enjoy it. If you don’t have a precise goal that you wish to realise in that city, you’ll get lost. That’s what happened to me. Soon, I had no idea why I was there anymore, as my studies were my only reason to go to London and I wasn’t enjoying them as much as I should’ve.

In February, I decided to stop my degree. It took me a few months to be sure that it was the right decision, but then I knew I had to do something. It wasn’t getting better. I passed the first semester’s exams, got my grades, and went back to Geneva.

“You could force yourself to finish, it’s only one full year”, “It’s one of the best universities in the world, it would be sad not to finish your degree”, “Are you sure you won’t regret?”, people were advising me, and most of them were skeptical.

But I found the strength in myself, to not give a fuck. It was hard, but I was following my instinct. I wasn’t happy in London, and it couldn’t stay that way. Even though it was only for 6 more months.

In March and April, I took some time to think. It soon appeared as an evidence that I had to try studying law, as it was already an idea back in high school. I could always come back to philosophy later. I had acquired the basic tools, and they would always be helpful, even in law studies. So I applied in law at university of Geneva.

I also wrote a lot.

From May to August, I’ve been travelling. First, I spent a month in Berlin to get a bit of my German back. Then I took the transsiberian train through Russia, Mongolia and China. That travel deserves its own post. And I came back to Geneva, ready to start studying again. All over again.

Now, I am enjoying law. Everything is very new and there is a lot to learn, but my previous studies help me so much. I can see how my analytical and research skills make it a lot faster for me to apprehend the legal bases and organise them. Moreover, I have a critical way of thinking about laws, thanks to philosophy. For example, many words used in laws are not well defined, therefore their extension – the things that fall under that definition- is not clear. That could be improved. Also, the logic we’ve worked with in philosophy is broadly the same as the one used for developing legal syllogism. It’s interesting to see that in law, they are not as strictly respectful of the rules of logic as analytical philosophers would be.

All in all, I’m starting to see that having studied different subjects is a real advantage. I am proud to have found the strength to listen to my instinct and to stop my degree without culpability, because I knew that it was better for me (even though society did not objectively think it was a good choice). I had lost my path for a few months, but after getting lost, what a pleasure it was to feel back on tracks again. More than that, I don’t see this whole experience as a failure, but as a short detour that gave me time to listen to my needs and wishes.

The sinuous road might be longer than the highway, but you can see beautiful things on the way and get to know the surroundings a bit better. And in the end, you’ll get to the same place as those who took the highway. So don’t be afraid to take your time.

– The Dilettante


On the election of Trump and what it says about our ethical values

Now that I’ve had time to process the information, here’s a thought.

What scares me the most in the election of Trump is that the majority of American citizens are openly praising unethical behaviours. Each of us is morally responsible for our behaviour and for the set of values we choose to base it upon. Of all of the things we do, some are worthy of praise and some are worthy of blame. Normally, we praise behaviours based upon positive values, and blame those based upon negative values. Normally, the values that are praised are love, trust, respect, and acceptance.

But the system has been inverted. The values that are being praised right now, by electing Trump as a president, are hate, manipulation, selfishness, and racism. You can argue all you want that Trump’s words are not why he’s been elected, that his policies are. Nevertheless, as a supposedly rational and free agent, he is morally responsible for his words, and for the values he conveys by publicly saying them. By voting for him, people are not only voting for policies, they are also choosing their ethics, and showing the values they praise.

Praise or blame are tools for educating the youth. The youth choose their own set of personal values depending on how they experience the worth of values. By voting for Trump, people are sending a message to the youth that his values are not blameable, that they are worthy of praise. They’re saying, “Go on, youth of America, you can despise women, Blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, the LGBT community and everyone who is not a white man. Go on, youth of America, it’s ok to be selfish, it’s ok to be hateful. You see, it’s so ok that a person with these values has become the president of the most influential country of the world”- They’re saying, “it’s ok to publicly speak of grabbing pussies, it’s ok to think that Blacks are lazy, it’s ok to build walls”. More than saying it’s ok, they’re saying it’s valuable, and worth of praise. Is it really how we want to influence the youth?

I’ve read a really interesting post by Alex Ebert, who wrote: “Many of you are frightened. Overwhelmed. Tripping on “them”. I write this to remind you that Trump and his supporters are not ethical outliers. This is not something that you are clean of. You cannot stand aghast in horror at the movie screen- because it is not a screen- it is a mirror. Perhaps it is our duty to smash it.” (link to his Instagram post)

This inversion of the worth of values is really, deeply disturbing, but it is not only “theirs”. It’s ours. Including you and me. We should ALL reflect on what we want our values to embody. Now is the time to wake up, and to take ethical responsibility: Do we really want to praise hate, manipulation, selfishness, and racism? Or is there still a hint of love, trust, respect, and acceptance within us? If there is, now is time to act upon it, and to smash the mirror.

With love,

The Dilettante

What Is Money? From Aristotle to Socially Responsible Investments

A month ago, I started working at a bank as a summer job. I figured it would be nice to see something a bit different. Indeed, I have never really been interested in the financial and economic world. As I study philosophy and literature, I thought it didn’t matter so much that I didn’t know about these subjects. But I was quite wrong, I admit.

In a very short time, I had to understand things I had never tried to learn. I was taught about bonds, hedge funds, macro-economy and how investors choose the assets they put in their clients’ portfolio. All of this was very new for me, but I was aware that if I wanted to understand better the world we live in, I needed to understand how the « money world » worked.

I realised soon that my main problem could be expressed in one single question: What is money? That is where philosophy gets involved, and it gave me food for thought. The nature of money is something that is really hard to understand, but we never question it although we use it everyday.

Aristotle wrote about the nature of money in the Nicomachean Ethics. He stated that money has three functions: it stores value; it is a measure of value and a medium of exchange. The interesting fact is that money is still defined the same way by modern economists.

Aristotle already identified that one of these functions was dangerous for ethics. Indeed, the fact that money has the capacity of storing value means that it is possible to grow a capital and to get richer. If getting richer becomes a goal, both the seller and the buyer want to generate a value-added product, which creates money from money. Money becomes a goal in itself, but it is only supposed to be a medium. Aristotle calls the accumulation of money chrematistics, and opposes it to economy. Indeed, economy etymologically from oikos (house) and nomos (rule, law), is supposed to be the art of maintaining a household. So in an Aristotelian philosophy, adding value to products only to get richer is opposed to economy (in its original meaning), where money is used for a good and necessary end. Aristotle goes even further: for him, chrematistics should be illicit because it leads to greed, which is opposed to moral self-improvement.

So the fact that money stores value is dangerous, but the fact that it is a medium of exchange might cause problems too. Let’s speak about currency for example. Currency works as a medium of exchange only if the person in front of you believes (just like you) that the piece of paper you give to them has value. It means that we believe in the value symbolically stocked in currency as long as people in the same society trust each other and moreover trust their state. Indeed, governments define currency, and their decisions can be more or less reliable.

What really gets my attention is that currency has no intrinsic value. If you give it to people in a society that doesn’t accept its symbolic value, it is worthless. Currency replaced barter because it was easier to store, easier to count and easier to exchange. But barter has other advantages: it is a direct exchange that takes place between individuals or concrete groups of people. The exchange is physical for the seller as well as the buyer. Contrarily, with currency, the seller receives a paper stocking symbolical value in exchange for what was bought, and that paper is supposed to keep the same value until it can be used to buy something else. But who knows if the value stocked in the banknote will still be the same after some time? Who knows if the next seller will recognize the banknote as valuable or not? Nowadays, we all think that currency is pretty stable and that we can trust what it represents. But it is becoming more and more abstract, and I feel like it doesn’t represent anything anymore. Digitally, in the traders’ computers, billions and billions are being exchanged everyday. Can we even grasp what a billion is worth?


More than that, the fact that money is becoming digital implies that we have no idea who we are exchanging with. Everything can be bought on the Internet and this is what our future will be made of. I think that we are losing the social value of exchange, the relationship that should be created between the seller and the buyer. There is something that sounds ironic about it, because we need to trust the money we’re using more than ever, as it is not physical anymore, but in the same time we have little regard for the value of trust, as we do not care buying things without having a concrete entity in front of us.

I think society gave so much power to money that people are starting to fear the economic future, because they know it is out of their control. It is known that in times of crisis, barter and other more direct mediums of exchange come back in the spotlight because people tend to trust easier in each other than in abstract entities.

Of course, even though Aristotle would cry about it, people want to make money. The world works like this. But more and more, we realize that accumulating money should not be considered a goal in itself, because it is absurd. Many studies concerning Millennials (the generation of people who were born between 1975 and 2000) showed that they are willing to direct their investments toward social and environmental good (as well as a little financial return). It is called socially responsible investments (ISR), and it keeps growing and growing. People still want to make money, but they also want to do it well. And it is already a good change of mentality. “A 2013 U.S. Trust report found that 64 percent of high-net-worth Millennials said that they were more comfortable investing in physical assets than stocks. Interestingly, despite their reservations and skepticism about stock markets, they are actually willing to accept a higher risk profile or receive lower returns to invest in companies that create positive social or environmental impact.”[1] Moreover, the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2015 found that “Millennials overwhelmingly believe (75 percent) businesses are focused on their own agendas rather than helping to improve society”.

I think the fact that our generation gives more regard to social and environmental issues shows that the greed feared by Aristotle might be overcome in the next decennials if we keep making small steps toward social consciousness. If we believe that we have the power to change the economic and financial trend by making our relationship with money healthier, we might build a brighter future.

[1] Millennials Will Bring Impact Investing Mainstream, J. Emerson and L. Norcott, Stanford Social Innovation Review,, 2014

The Dilettante

Why are young adults not treated as “real” adults?

We are often told that we, young adults, must respect our elders. But do we often say that they must also respect us? Unfortunately, there are many young people who don’t respect adults and it is a common society complain. But there are also many adults who don’t respect young people, and I think it is important to discuss about it too.

These past few months, I have been disappointed by several incidents, which all happened in places where they are not used to see young people very often. I am going to tell you about three of these events: The first took place in a café, the second in a luxury department store and the third at a conference in a very distinguished literature society. As I usually go to these places with my mother, I could easily see the huge difference of treatment between her and me, and I was not at ease with that. The three incidents that I am about to tell you made me realize that age should not be a reason to give a different treatment to the people you have in front of you. As long as they are polite, interested and that they smile, why would there be any difference? Our culture is used to privilege adults, because they have money and experience, but is it a reason to disrespect young adults who sacrifice their fragile economies for the things they love? I think young adults, who already have difficulties finding their way through adulthood, should be encouraged and shown as much respect as any “real” adult.

The first incident took place in an empty café on a cold morning. I went there at 10:30am to have coffee and breakfast, but as I asked to the fifty years old waitress if she had a croissant left for me, she answered, after taking a brief moment to think, that she didn’t. I was a bit disappointed to have nothing in the stomach, but well, I drank my coffee while reading the newspaper, and I was happy.

The thing is, ten minutes later came four old ladies who sat on a table behind me. I distinctly heard them ask for four croissants, and I also heard the waitress answer: “Yes of course! I’ll bring them to you”.

How was I supposed to react? I think I should have said something, but I did not feel like having an argument. So I quietly paid and left.

Two weeks later, my mother and godmother were having lunch at the same place, so I joined them for coffee. As I sat at their table, the same waitress came and asked my mother: “ Is this your daughter? Oh my, she’s absolutely beautiful! Yes I remember now, she comes often for breakfast! Let me offer you a piece of cake my darlings”. And then she came back with the cake, pretending to know me very well. All of a sudden, she was the nicest person on Earth. Indeed, my mother had the potential to become a good client and I guess using me was the best way to ensure she would come back. She actually never came back, but I did. I was curious of how the waitress would treat me. Well, she never even bothered to come to my table to serve me. I waited for forty-five minutes and the café was not full at all.

The second incident took place in December. I was strolling in town with my mom, when she decided to take a look at the shoes in a very well known luxury department store. So we entered and climbed the stairs to the ladies’ department. There, a beautiful shirt caught my eyes and I just couldn’t resist: I tried it and decided that I was in love. As I finished paying at the cash desk, the saleswoman did not say thank you to me, nor goodbye. The woman had seen me trying the shirt, had taken my money, had given me the bag with the shirt inside, but she only said thank you and goodbye to my mother. She didn’t even look at me. I had just paid a shirt two hundred bucks and I did not deserve a smile.

The third and last incident is the one that upset me the most, because it was an intellectual denigration. The worst thing about the difference of treatment between adults and young people is the fact that the younger ones are not taken seriously intellectually- their opinion, their ideas, their disapproval, none of these matter because they do not “have experience”. I think the experience argument in an intellectual discussion is a very poor defense if it is used improperly and with despise.

My mother had given me two tickets for a philosophy conference at a very distinguished literature society, where I went very often with her to listen to authors speak about their books. This time she could not come so I asked one of my friends to accompany me.

The author was a French, continental philosopher who came to speak about philosophy of art. The thing is, I did not agree with what he was saying, as it was contradicting almost everything I had been taught in my class of aesthetics at university. So at the end of the conference, I took my courage in both hands and asked him in an aside what he thought about my opinion on philosophy of art. As I told him that I studied in an analytic department of philosophy, he immediately answered: “Poor girl, I pity you. I hope you realize soon enough that everything you’ve learnt at university is mostly intellectual bullshit far from reality. I know that if you forget those complicated analytical systems, you’ll understand that what I said this afternoon was the truth. Maybe you’ll think about it in ten or fifteen years.”

I knew we would not agree on anything as he did not want to lose more time trying to explain his point of vue to a lost cause like me, and preferred thinking that I just couldn’t understand. So I thanked him for giving me a different opinion on the matter and left. But as I was walking away, a friend of my mom’s who had not recognized me came to me and said: “you know, I listened to everything. He was right, you are too young, you cannot possibly understand what art really is, if I was your age I would only have understood bits of this brilliant conference. You are too young, my darling, that is why you didn’t understand anything.”

What really bothered me was not the philosopher himself, because the only thing he did was confirm the unsolvable and eternal fight between continental and analytic philosophers. What bothered me was that the lady felt like it was OK to listen to the private conversation I had started with courage (if I had wanted to ask a question in front of everyone, I would have done it at the end of the conference by raising my hand), but also that she felt like her advice was asked and needed, and worse, that she thought it was a normal thing to say.

Once again, I left without saying anything.

A few hours later I told my mother the whole story and she told me:” you know very well that she would never have said that if I was with you. On the contrary, she would have congratulated you for being interested in such matters, and for having the courage to disapprove of what the philosopher said.” I answered:” That would have been dishonest, and I am glad, in a way, to know what she obviously really thinks.”


Why does it seem OK to disrespect young adults? Every person has the right to be taken seriously, no matter how young or old they are. The denigration of youth is a real society problem that needs to be solved, because it is part of the reason why young adults feel so insecure about their future. If young adults were given a real place in society, then they would feel like they are needed and trusted by the older generation.

Have you ever been in a similar situation? How have you reacted to it?

I would be glad to hear about your experience.

PS: I beg you, never lose your self-confidence or faith in future over a bunch of disrespectful people. There are a lot of adults that believe in our generation, and we must fight for them- and for ourselves.

With love, The Dilettante

Autumn is here! Oh, melancholy, you came too!

Autumn is here, and it makes me feel very, very happy.

Indeed, I consider that as soon as the temperature outside becomes lower than 10°C, I can rightfully hide under a ton of blankets, scroll Tumblr – Everyone knows Tumblr loves fall… see: autumn on Tumblr) -, read regressive books – Harry Potter anyone? – and drink so much Chai Tea that I need to pee twelve times a day. To make it short, I become a child again. But why? Well, Autumn makes us want to do things we do not usually do, and I think I have found an explanation for this weird mood: we have to fight melancholy, aka “spleen”, the feeling that comes hand in hand with autumn.

Let me explain myself. Autumn is a transitional season, and we are affected by the sudden change of weather and temperature. Indeed, the return of cold days tends to make people sad and nostalgic. This feeling is found in many romantic novels and poetry of the nineteenth century, but it has first been named by  the french poet and critic Charles Baudelaire in Les Fleurs du Mal. Baudelaire calls it “spleen”. Wait, no! Not the organ. But what is the connexion between melancholy and the organ called “spleen”?

Well, humorism explains it all. Humorism is a philosophical and medicinal system based on the fluids found in the human body. The predominance of one of the four fluids corresponds to one of four temperaments. Maybe a table will help you:

Humour Season Element Organ Qualities Ancient name Ancient characteristics
Blood spring air heart warm & moist sanguine courageous, hopeful, playful, carefree
Yellow bile summer fire liver warm & dry choleric ambitious, leader-like, restless, easily angered
Black bile autumn earth spleen cold & dry melancholic despondent, quiet, analytical, serious
Phlegm winter water brain cold & moist phlegmatic calm, thoughtful, patient, peaceful

See? Black bile. Black bile is produced by the spleen, and its season is autumn. Melancholy, for ages, has been associated with autumn. And my best way to deal with melancholy is to become a child again. That way, I feel protected and I don’t worry about any responsibilities. But there is a million ways to deal with melancholy, for example doing sport, seeing family, but also drinking alcohol- which I do not recommend, exception made for mulled wine, here is a nice recipe–  or drawing.

If you have no idea how to overcome your nostalgic mood, you can:

1. Go to the movies! GQ magazine made a list of the movies you don’t want to miss this fall.

2. Go for a walk! Go hiking! You can even use this tree guide to identify the beautiful trees you walk by.

3. Go shopping! I swear, it works every time. Chunky sweaters… Cosy cardigans… Oversize wool coats… Are you already drooling?

4. Sleep. There is no better way to be in a good mood.

5. Read/watch Harry Potter/The Lord of the Ring/Narnia/a Marvel movie/every movie that can propel you in another world.

To conclude, here is a beautiful poem by Carl Sandburg, Autumn Movement, 1908:

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go, not one lasts.


The Dilettante