From a reader:
I have been and continue to be an avid reader of your wonderful blog ever since I stumbled upon your post on Wittgenstein’s anti-philosophy some years ago. And I must say that your assorted musings and reflections – even your polemical jabs - have given me many valuable lessons, even if I do not necessarily agree with every point and detail. For all that, you have the gratitude and admiration of this humble correspondent and junior fellow-traveler in philosophy (male, hailing from the Philippines, partly of Chinese descent through my father).
Now even though we do not stand on the same side with regard to several matters of value and praxis -- as I am far to your left and you are far to my right -– I nonetheless wish to civilly discuss some topics surrounding the more heated disputes. Specifically, there are some nagging political-philosophical questions in my mind that I happily share with you, and your thoughts on them (either as brief responses to each query or perhaps a sustained post or series of posts on a cluster of selected issues) would be very much appreciated. Pardon if it took me so long to reach the heart of the matter, of if I seem to ramble on too much, but here goes:
1. To what extent can one extend hospitality, generosity, or charity to the arguments and premises of one’s opponents or rivals in polemical situations? It seems to me that apart from the unflinching commitment of many of the parties involved to their respective positions despite the absence of perfect justification, there is also the issue of mutual misunderstanding and misrepresentation (unintentional or otherwise), exacerbated by the fog of war. For instance, many conservatives, libertarians, and socialists appear to be rarely acquainted with the intricacies of each other’s theoretical standpoints and values, even as they dispute about practices and proposals.
MavPhil: How far extend hospitality, etc. in a polemical situation? Not very far if the situation is truly polemical and one's interlocutor is an opponent or adversary. I make a sharp distinction between polemical discourse and strictly philosophical discourse, and I engage in both. I engage in both because both are needed in the world as it is. It is a mark of the conservative that he deals with the world as it is without illusions or evasions or escapes into u-topia (no place). In a phrase of Richard M. Weaver, the conservative stands on the "terra firma of antecedent reality," a reality logically and ontologically antecedent to one's hopes, dreams, wishes, and desires.
As I see it, philosophy ceases to be philosophy when it becomes polemical. That goes for political philosophy as well which ought not be confused with political discourse in general, most of which is, of course, polemical.
Philosophy is inquiry. It is inquiry by those who don't know (and know that they don't know) with the sincere intention of increasing their insight and understanding. Philosophy is motivated by the love of truth, not the love of verbal battle or the need to defeat an opponent or shore up and promote preconceived opinions about which one has no real doubt and refuses to examine. When real philosophy is done with others it takes the form of dialog, not debate. It is conversation between friends, not opponents, who are friends of the truth before they are friends of each other. Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas.
There is nothing adversarial in a genuine philosophical conversation. The person I am addressing and responding to is not my adversary but a co-inquirer. In the ideal case there is between us a bond of friendship, a philiatic bond. But this philia subserves the eros of inquiry. The philosopher's love of truth is erotic, the love of one who lacks for that which he lacks. It is not the agapic love of one who knows and bestows his pearls of wisdom.
What I have described above, however, is rare in this fallen world of contention and strife. No philosophy without spectatorship, but here below we are embattled spectators. Hence the necessity of self-defense in several forms, from verbal polemic to shooting wars. The spaces of civility, wherein philosophy, science, the arts, humane living, and everything civilized flourish have always been encircled by evil forces against which one must be prepared to deploy violent remedies. Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war. (Cf. Plato, Laws, 628d) Civility is for the civil only. One must oppose and in extreme situations kill the enemies of civilization. Last century, Nazis among others; this century, radical Muslims.
But why not stick to one's stoa and cultivate one's specialist garden in peace and quiet, neither involving oneself in, nor forming opinions about, the wider world of politics and strife? Why risk one's ataraxia in the noxious arena of contention? Why not remain within the serene precincts of theoria? For those of us of a certain age the chances are good that death will arrive before the barbarians do. Why bother one's head with the issues of the day? Many of us will most likely collapse before the culture that sustains us does.
We enter the arena of contention because the gardens of tranquillity and the spaces of reason are worth defending, with blood and iron if need be, against the barbarians and their witting and unwitting leftist enablers. Others have fought and bled so that we can live this life of beatitude. What has been passed on to us, we must passon. And so though we are not warriors of the body we can and should do our bit as warriors of the mind to preserve for future generations this culture which allows us to pursue otium liberale in peace, quiet, and safety.