Though it is not knowable, every one of us has a hypothetical ideal self: an entity that acts out the best possible set of behaviors in any given circumstance.
We cannot know for sure what this ideal would do, but we can, by examining our past, determine what is fundamentally opposed to the morals and sensibilities of this higher version of ourselves. In the realms of science and moral development, failures are among our most useful data points.
“Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”
But as useful as such reflections can be, they are not sufficient for the attainment of what is greatest within us. We must not only identify what is contemptible and worst within us, but also what is most noble and excellent not through speculation, but experience.
Philosophies and belief systems, like any scientific hypothesis, must be falsifiable. There are none so lost and undeveloped as those great intellects who do not throw their ideas against the walls of the world and watch for the reaction.
An untested idea, belief, or behavior is a blind spot, and the more we cling to such an idea, the blind we become. By focusing on a blind spot, we see nothing at all.
By acting out our beliefs, and facing success or failure, we move towards perfection. However distant and impossible perfection may be, it can be moved toward.
Until we have attained a life congruent to our highest ideals, until we have embodied those traits that would allow us to move through the world with grace and courage, it is best not to lapse into comfortable patterns of action.
We must continue to test ideas, not just without our minds, but out in the world, where they can be confirmed or destroyed. Only then can we receive course correction data, and direct ourselves towards the highest good, in accordance with our own limitations and the demands of objective reality.