Book Review: Soros on Soros – And the Role of a Worldview

Warren Buffett and George Soros might be two of America’s most famous and successful investors, but Soros seems the less covered in business circles, which is odd, because I find him infinitely complex and interesting (though my knowledge of him at the moment is still scant).

Soros on Soros is a Socratic dialogue with himself in which he details his philosophies on investing, politics, and living life. It’s a good read.

Soros will join Gates, Ford, Carnegie, and others, who will likely be known more for their philanthropy than for their business success. I imagine Soros’ Open Society work will be a more enduring than his breaking the Bank of England. His work in Eastern Europe supporting open societies (that is, a democratically elected government with human rights and a rule of law), for example, or founding Central European University, are achievements that are far more meaningful than the ups and downs of his billionaire wealth (though maybe only possible because of it).

Soros is also famous for being, in his own words, a "failed philosopher". He has a well refined worldview: the concept of fallibility. By fallibility Soros means our own imperfect understanding of the world; the disconnect between how we view the world and how the world actually is; our tendency to cover our blind spots with knowledge, experience, or insight we have gained to areas it does not cover (similar to how we cover blind spots in visual perception by constructing a "periphery"). Soros extends this philosophy to practical issues, such as the imperfections of markets, to abstract constructs such as our inability to at once utilize knowledge (be a participant) and be independent from it — if you participate you cannot be independent; thus, you are acquiring imperfect views due to your own entanglement in the process.

Since I’m not sure even I understand my previous sentence, let’s focus on the simple concept of worldview. Soros says:

Philosophy has deteriorated into an academic profession, but it ought to play a more central role. We cannot live without a set of reasoned beliefs. The question is, can we have a set of beliefs based on the recognition that our beliefs are inherently flawed? I believe we can, and in my own life, I have been guided by my own fallibility.

Yes! We all have a worldview, even if we aren’t always aware of how it animates our actions. As Soros says, a worldview is a set of beliefs — a philosophy, an ideology — that underpins our approach to understanding the world.

When I studied this issue several months ago, I learned a worldview is usually comprised of belief in a higher power (or not), determinism vs. free will, and morality. The most sophisticated worldviews maintain consistency in beliefs — ie you don’t believe in free will and an omnipotent, omnipresent higher power at the same time. However, most of us hold inconsistent beliefs which cohere into a cobbled worldview.

Anyway, wouldn’t it be interesting to line up the worldviews of 50 really successful people and see how they approach life at the meta level? Soros is fallibility, Robert Rubin is "the world is an uncertain place", Nassim Taleb is "randomness reigns supreme", and so forth. Who else enthusiastically presents a life philosophy? Do you have one?

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