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  • Writer's pictureAli Assareh

The “hedgehog's dilemma”

The “hedgehog's dilemma” is a metaphor about the challenges of human relationships, first raised by one of my favorite philosophers, Arthur Schopenhauer (who also brought many Eastern/Buddhism principles into Western philosophy).

Here’s the dilemma: Two hedgehogs want to move closer together to share heat during winter. But when they get closer, they hurt each other with their sharp spines. When they get farther, they get cold again.

Schopenhauer used this analogy to suggest that, despite goodwill, human intimacy cannot occur without mutual harm.

At a societal level, “[t]he moderate distance which [people] at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told—in the English phrase—to keep their distance. By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied.”

What to do?! It’s a dilemma 😅

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