The word flashed before my mind when the alarm went off. The love of wisdom is real in some of us, but the attainment of wisdom may be forever beyond all of us. To live well, however, we must live as if wisdom is attainable, if not in this life, then in the next.
First off, hats off! to the Brits, or at least to those of their number who voted Leave.
But now what should we do financially speaking? Expect turmoil in the markets. The stock market was down when I checked it a few hours ago. But gold and other precious metals were up. Good news to those of us who had the foresight to buy the stuff, and who held it, even when we could have made a pile by selling. ('Lead' is also a precious metal these days, and not just for the protection of gold.)
The Never Hike Alone warning found in most hiking books is not just a piece of CYA boilerplate required by publishers. It is good advice. I have violated it numerous times in unforgiving country in quest of my inner Thoreauvian, but then I am extremely cautious. But I don't go quite as far as Henry David's harsh, "I have no walks to throw away on company." It's a balancing act: the wilderness explorer seeks solitude but he also hopes to return to hike again. A competent partner will raise the probability of that.
The following disclaimer is my favorite, from local author, Ted Tenny, Goldfield Mountain Hikes, p. 4:
The risks of desert hiking include, but are not limited to: heatstroke, heat exhaustion, heat prostration, heat cramps, sunburn, dehydration, flash floods, drowning, freezing, hypothermia, getting lost, getting stranded after dark, falling, tripping, being stung, clawed or bitten by venomous or non-venomous creatures, being scratched or stuck by thorny plants, being struck by lightning, falling rocks, natural or artificial objects falling from the sky, or a comet colliding with the Earth.
Still up for a hike?
If you lose the trail, or have the least doubt that you are still on trail, stop. Do not plunge on. Retrace your steps to where the trail was clear and then proceed. Thus spoke the Sage of the Superstitions.
To make good use of your time in this world, think of your life above all as a quest, a seeking, a searching, a striving. For what? For the ultimate in reality, truth, value, and for their existential appropriation.
One appropriates reality by being authentic, truth by being truthful, values and norms by living them.
It may all be absurd in the end, a "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." But one cannot live well on the assumption that it is.
So assume that it is not and explore the question along all avenues of advance.
It is admirable to speak the truth courageously in your own name, but the exercise of civil courage might cost you and yours dearly. So I feel duty-bound to warn my younger readers. This is a time to be very careful. The following from Journal of American Greatness:
Who Are We?
Who are you?
You mean in the Samuel Huntington sense? We are American patriots aghast at the stupidity and corruption of American politics, particularly in the Republican Party, and above all in what passes for the “conservative” intellectual movement.
No, literally—who are you guys?
None of your damned business.
Why won’t you tell us?
Because the times are so corrupt that simply stating certain truths is enough to make one unemployable for life.
A philosophical paper ought to record the results, not the genesis, of the author's thought about a topic. In this hyperkinetic age it is a good writerly maxim to state one's thesis succinctly at the outset and sketch one's overall argument before plunging into the dialectic.
We should anchor our thought in that which is most certain: the fact of change, the nearness of death, that things exist, that one is conscious, that one can say 'I' and mean it, the fact of conscience. But man does not meditate on the certain; he chases after the uncertain and ephemeral: name and fame, power and position, longevity and progeny, loot and land, pleasure and comfort.
Wealth is not certain, but the grave is. So meditate on death, asking: Who dies? Who survives? What is death? Who am I? What am I?
Death is certain, but the when is uncertain. Do not try to make a certainty out of what is uncertain, or an uncertainty out of what is certain.
"What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." (James 4:14)
To be neither poor nor rich is best for the truth seeker. The poor can think only of their poverty and its alleviation, the rich of their wealth and its preservation. The few exceptions 'prove' the rule.
Beware of internalizing your parents' and relatives' attitudes, their harsh, unsympathetic, 'practical' attitudes and suggestions especially as regards what is tender, fledgling, open, searching, trusting, idealistic and unworldly in yourself. Beware of dismissing or discounting your young self, the young self that was and the one that still is. One must treat oneself critically but with sympathy.
You envy me? What a wretch you must be to feel diminished in your sense of self-worth by comparison with me! I have something you lack? Why isn't that compensated for by what you have that I lack? You feel bad that I have achieved something by my hard work? Don't you realize that you waste time and energy that could be used to improve your own lot?
You ought to feel bad, not because I do well, but because you are so foolish as to indulge envy. Vices vitiate, they weaken. You weaken yourself and make yourself even more of a wretch by succumbing to envy.
I have always been an admirer of your philosophical writing style--both in your published works and on your blog. Have you ever blogged about which writers and books have most influenced your philosophical writing style?
Yes, I have some posts on or near this topic. What follows is one from 21 September 2009, slightly revised.
From the mail bag:
I've recently discovered your weblog and have enjoyed combing through its archives these past several days. Your writing is remarkably lucid and straightforward — quite a rarity both in philosophy and on the web these days. I was wondering if perhaps you had any advice to share for a young person, such as myself, on the subject of writing well.
To write well, read well. Read good books, which are often, but not always, old books. If you carefully read, say, William James' Varieties of Religious Experience, you will learn something of the expository potential of the English language from a master of thought and expression. If time is short, study one of his popular essays such as "The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life." Here is a characteristic paragraph:
But this world of ours is made on an entirely different pattern, and the casuistic question here is most tragically practical. The actually possible in this world is vastly narrower than all that is demanded; and there is always a pinch between the ideal and the actual which can only be got through by leaving part of the ideal behind. There is hardly a good which we can imagine except as competing for the possession of the same bit of space and time with some other imagined good. Every end of desire that presents itself appears exclusive of some other end of desire. Shall a man drink and smoke, or keep his nerves in condition? — he cannot do both. Shall he follow his fancy for Amelia, or for Henrietta? — both cannot be the choice of his heart. Shall he have the dear old Republican party, or a spirit of unsophistication in public affairs? — he cannot have both, etc. So that the ethical philosopher's demand for the right scale of subordination in ideals is the fruit of an altogether practical need. Some part of the ideal must be butchered, and he needs to know which part. It is a tragic situation, and no mere speculative conundrum, with which he has to deal. (The Will to Believe, Dover 1956, pp. 202-203, emphases in original)
One who can appreciate that this is good writing is well on the way to becoming a good writer. The idea is not so much to imitate as to absorb and store away large swaths of such excellent writing. It is bound to have its effect. Immersion in specimens of good writing is perhaps the only way to learn what good style is. It cannot be reduced to rules and maxims. And even if it could, there would remain the problem of the application of the rules. The application of rules requires good judgment, and one can easily appreciate that there cannot be rules of good judgment. This for the reason that the application of said rules would presuppose the very thing — good judgment — that cannot be reduced to rules. Requiring as it does good judgment, good writing cannot be taught, which is why teaching composition is even worse in point of frustration than teaching philosophy. Trying to get a student to appreciate why a certain formulation is awkward is like trying to get a nerd to understand why pocket-protectors are sartorially substandard.
But what makes James' writing good? It has a property I call muscular elegance. The elegance has to do in good measure with the cadence, which rests in part on punctuation and sentence structure. Note the use of the semi-colon and the dash. These punctuation marks are falling into disuse, but I say we should dig in our heels and resist this decadence especially since it is perpetrated by many of the very same politically correct ignoramuses who are mangling the language in other ways I won't bother to list. There is no necessity that linguistic degeneration continue. We make the culture what it is, and we get the culture or unculture we deserve.
As for the muscularity of James' muscular elegance, it comes though in his vivid examples and his use of words like 'pinch' and 'butchered.' His is a magisterial weaving of the abstract and the concrete, the universal and the particular. Bare of flab, this is writing with pith and punch. And James is no slouch on content, either.
C. S. Lewis somewhere says something to the effect that reading one's prose out loud is a way to improve it. I would add to this Nietzsche's observation that
Good prose is written only face to face with poetry. For it is an uninterrupted, well-mannered war with poetry . . . (Gay Science, Book II, Section 92, tr. Kaufmann)
A well-mannered war, a loving polemic. There is a poetic quality to the James passage quoted above, but the lovely goddess of poetry is given to understand that truth trumps beauty and that she is but a handmaiden to the ultimate dominatrix, Philosophia. Or to coin a Latin phrase, ars ancilla philosophiae.
Finally, a corollary to the point that one must read good books to become a good writer: watch your consumption of media dreck. Avoid bad writing, and when you cannot, imbibe it critically.
"Self-control is infinitely more important that self-esteem." (Dennis Prager)
Delete 'infinitely' and you have an important truth pithily and accurately expressed. With self-control one can develop attributes that justify one's self-esteem. Without it one may come to an untimely end as did Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, who brought about his own death through a lack of self-control.
Whether it is haiku or not, it is 17 syllables, and a good addition to the Stoic's armamentarium:
Avoid the near occasion Of unnecessary conversation.
Avoiding the near occasion is not always practicable or even reasonable, but pointless conversation itself is best avoided if one values one's peace of mind. For according to an aphorism of mine:
Peace of mind is sometimes best preserved by refraining from giving others a piece of one's mind.
The other day a lady asked me if I had watched the Republican debate. I said I had. She then asked me what I had thought of it. I told her, "I don't talk politics with people I don't know extremely well." To which her response was that she is not the combative type. She followed that with a comment to the effect that while in a medico's waiting room recently she amused herself by listening to some men talking politics, men she described as 'bigots.'
I then knew what I had earlier surmised: she was a liberal. I congratulated myself on my self-restraint. At that point I excused myself and wished her a good day.
Companion post: Safe Speech. "No man speaketh safely but he that is glad to hold his peace. " (Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Chapter XX.)
Did you catch the fiery Judge Jeanine Pirro's 'opening' on Saturday evening? Here is the clip.
But let my inject a word of caution. Gun ownership is a grave responsibility. You can't just buy a gun, load it, and stick it under the bed. You must know the law. You must take care that your weapons are not stolen. You must get training. You must practice with your weapons. A gun instructor told me that until you have put a thousand rounds through a piece you shouldn't consider yourself proficient in its use. You must have a plan as to how you will deal with certain contingencies. You must know yourself. In the heat of a conflict will you have the stomach to shoot a human being? Hesitation can get you killed. These are points that the good Judge failed sufficiently to underscore, not that I blame her for it.
As for the foolish Obama, he has proven to be the poster boy for gun sales in these United States. Way to go, dude.
And don't forget what the agenda is: confiscation. Being mendacious to the core, Obama, Hillary, and their ilk won't call it what it is; they call it gun control, as if we have none. The same pattern as with Islamic terror. They won't call it what it is.
The attitude of gratitude conduces to beatitude. Can it be said in plain Anglo-Saxon? Grateful thoughts lead one to happiness. However you say it, it is true. The miserable make themselves miserable by their bad thinking; the happy happy by their correct mental hygiene.
Broad generalizations, these. They admit of exceptions, as goes without saying. He who is afflicted with Weilian malheur or clinical depression cannot think his way out of his misery. Don't get hung up on the exceptions. Meditate on the broad practical truth. On Thanksgiving, and every day.
Liberals will complain that I am 'preaching.' But that only reinforces my point: they complain and they think, strangely, that any form of exhortation just has to be hypocritical. Besides not knowing what hypocrisy is, they don't know how to appreciate what actually exists and provably works. Appreciation is conservative. Scratch a liberal and likely as not you'll find a nihilist, a denier of the value of what is, a hankerer after what is not, and in too many cases, what is impossible.
Even the existence of liberals is something to be grateful for. They mark out paths not to be trodden. And their foibles provide plenty of blog fodder. For example, there is the curious phenomenon of hypocrisy-in-reverse.
Loaded with double-aught buckshot, the instrument of home defense depicted below has the power to separate the soul from the body in a manner most definitive. Just showing this bad boy to a would-be home invader is a most effective way to issue a 'trigger warning' in a reality-based sense of that phrase.
But let Uncle Bill give you a piece of friendly advice. You really don't want to have to shoot anyone. No matter how worthless the scumbag, he is some mother's son and a bearer, somewhere deep inside under a load of corruption, of the imago Dei. Taking a human life must always be the last resort, and this for moral, legal, prudential, and psychological reasons. You should aspire to die a virgin in this regard, assuming you are still 'intact.'
So here's my advice. Secure your home so that the miscreants cannot get in. That's Job One.
And of course never, ever, vote for criminal-coddling, criminal-releasing and gun-grabbing Democrats or liberals and always speak out loudly, proudly, and publicly for your Second Amendment rights. It is the Second that is the real-world back-up of the First and the others.
If you are blessed by a good thought, do not hesitate to write it down at once. Good thoughts are visitors from Elsewhere and like most visitors they do not like being snubbed or made to wait.
Let us say a fine aphorism flashes before your mind. There it is is fully formed. All you have to do is write it down. If you don't, you may be able to write only that an excellent thought has escaped.
"But there is more where that one came from." No doubt, but that very one may never return.
Only 100 semolians? Get out of here, and take your crappy journal with you.
If you need to pay to publish, then you shouldn't be publishing. It is not that difficult to publish for free in good outlets. If I can do it, so can you. Here is my PhilPapers page which lists some of my publications. My passion for philosophy far outstrips my ability at it, but if you have a modicum of ability you can publish in decent places. When I quit my tenured post and went maverick, I feared that no one would touch my work. But I found that lack of an institutional affiliation did not bar me from very good journals such as Nous and Analysis.
Here are a few suggestions off the top of my head.
1. Don't submit anything that you haven't made as good as you can make it. Don't imagine that editors and referees will sense the great merit and surpassing brilliance of your inchoate ideas and help you refine them. That is not their job. Their job is to find a justification to dump your paper among the 70-90 % that get rejected.
2. Demonstrate that you are cognizant of the extant literature on your topic.
3. Write concisely and precisely about a well-defined issue.
4. Advance a well-defined thesis.
5. Don't rant or polemicize. That's what your blog is for. Referring to Brian Leiter as a corpulent apparatchik of political correctness and proprietor of a popular philosophy gossip site won't endear you to his sycophants one or two of whom you may be unfortunate enough to have as referees.
6. Know your audience and submit the right piece to the right journal. Don't send a lengthy essay on Simone Weil to Analysis.
7. When the paper you slaved over is rejected, take it like a man or the female equivalent thereof. Never protest editorial decisions. You probably wrote something substandard, something that, ten years from now, you will be glad was not embalmed in printer's ink. You have no right to have your paper accepted. You may think it's all a rigged wheel and a good old boys' network. In my experience it is not. Most of those who complain are just not very good at what they do.
Immanuel Kant was born on this day in 1724. He died in 1804. My dissertation on Kant, which now lies 37 years in the past, is dated 22 April 1978. But if, per impossibile, my present self were Doktorvater to my self of 37 years ago, my doctoral thesis might not have been approved! As one's standards rise higher and higher with age and experience one becomes more and more reluctant to submit anything to evaluation let alone publication. One may scribble as before, and even more than before, but with less conviction that one's outpourings deserve being embalmed in printer's ink. (Herein lies a reason to blog.)
So finish the bloody thing now while you are young and cocky and energetic. Give yourself a year, say, do your absolute best and crank it out. Think of it as a union card. It might not get you a job but then it just might. Don't think of it as a magnum opus or you will never finish. Get it done by age 30 and before accepting a full-time appointment. And all of this before getting married. That, in my opinion, is the optimal order. Dissertation before 30, marriage after 30.
Now raise your glass with me in a toast to Manny on this, his 291st birthday. Sapere aude!
To live beyond society, beyond the need for recognition and status. To live in truth, alone with nature and nature's God and the great problems and questions. There are the ancient dead ones for companionship. They speak across the centuries. With them we form a community of the like-minded in nomine scientiae.
. . . if you do not share the universities' values, it could be a big mistake to send your children to college before they are intellectually and morally prepared for the indoctrination-rather-than-education they will receive there. Therefore, prepare them morally and intellectually and, if possible, do not send them to college right after high school. Let them work for a year, or perhaps travel . . . . The younger the student, the less life experience and maturity they have, the more they are likely to embrace the rejection of your values.
The sad fact is that if you love education, revere the life of the mind, care about the pursuit of truth, think young people need to receive wisdom from their elders, and value moral clarity, the university is the last place you would want to send your 18-year-old.
What is the quester after? What does he seek? He doesn't quite know, and that is part of his being a romantic. He experiences his present 'reality' as flat, stale, jejune, oppressive, substandard. He feels there must be more to life than work-a-day routines and social objectifications, the piling up of loot, getting ahead, "competitive finite selfhood" in a fine phrase of A. E. Taylor's. He wants intensity of experience, abundance of life, even while being unclear as to what these are. He casts a negative eye on the status quo, the older generation, his parents and family, and their quiet desperation. He scorns security and its living death.
Christopher J. McCandless was a good example, he whose story was skillfully recounted by Jon Krakauer in Into the Wild. In McCandless' case, the scorn for security, his fleeing a living death, led to a dying death. In an excess of self-reliance he crossed the Teklanika, not realizing it was his Rubicon and that its crossing would deposit him on the Far Shore.
Here again my annual Thanksgiving homily, addressed as much to myself as to my Stateside and worldwide readers:
We need spiritual exercises just as we need physical, mental, and moral exercises. A good spiritual exercise, and easy to boot, is daily recollection of just how good one has it, just how rich and full one's life is, just how much is going right despite annoyances and setbacks which for the most part are so petty as not to merit consideration.
Start with the physical side of your life. You slept well, and a beautiful new day is dawning. Your breath comes easy, your intestines are in order. Your mind is clear, and so are your eyes. Move every moving part of your body and note how wonderfully it works, without any pain to speak of. Brew up some java and enjoy its rich taste, all the while rejoicing over the regularity of nature that allows the water to boil one more time, at the same temperature, and the caffeine to be absorbed once more by those greedy intercranial receptors that activate the adrenalin that makes you eager to grab a notebook and jot down all the new ideas that are beginning to percolate up from who knows where.Finished with your body, move to your mind and its wonderful workings.
Then to the house and its appliances including your trusty old computer that reliably, day after day, connects you to the sphere of Nous, the noosphere, to hijack a term of Teilhard de Chardin. And don't forget the country that allows you to live your own kind of life in your own kind of way and say and write whatever you think in peace and safety.
A quotidian enactment of something like the foregoing meditation should do wonders for you.
Dave Bagwill referred me to this entry from Zen Habits:
If you feel overwhelmed, breathe. It will calm you and release the tensions.
If you are worried about something coming up, or caught up in something that already happened, breathe. It will bring you back to the present.
If you are moving too fast, breathe. It will remind you to slow down, and enjoy life more.
Breathe, and enjoy each moment of this life. They’re too fleeting and few to waste.
Much good comes from daily, mindful, deep breathing. It is essential as a preliminary to meditation, but is also valuable throughout the day. Just remember to do it. In these hyperkinetic times, it is important to have at the ready various techniques for slowing done. For more on this theme, see my category Slow Down!
One needn't subscribe to the metaphysics of Zen Buddhism to make good use of its techniques.
If Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri fame had been properly brought up to have self-control and to respect authority he might be alive today. Police have the authority to issue commands in certain circumstances as when people are violating laws by, say, walking in the street. Cops are often rude and arrogant. No doubt about it. But you still must obey their lawful commands even if rudely barked. Here is where self-control and respect for authority come in. If Brown had possessed self control, he would have kept a lid on his feelings and would have refrained from stupidly initiating an altercation with an armed officer of the law. Apart from questions of morality and legality, fighting with cops is almost always a highly imprudent thing to do. And if Brown had been properly brought up, he would have known that in a situation like this he had a duty to submit to the cop's legitimate authority. What's more, it was imprudence on stilts for Brown to act as he did right after stealing from a convenience store and roughing up the proprietor.
Similar lessons may be gleaned from the fateful encounter of Trayvon Martin with George Zimmerman. The case is worth revisiting.
One 'take-away' is the importance of self-control. If Martin had been taught, or rather had learned, to control himself he would most likely be alive today. But he didn't control himself. He blew his cool when questioned about his trespassing in a gated community on a rainy night, cutting across lawns, looking into people's houses. He punched a man in the face and broke his nose, then jumped on him, pinned him down, and told him that he was going to die that night. So, naturally, the man defended himself against the deadly attack with deadly force. What George Zimmerman did was both morally and legally permissible. If some strapping youth is pounding your head into the pavement, you are about to suffer "grave bodily harm" if not death. What we have here is clearly a case of self-defense.
Does race enter into this? In one way it does. Blacks as a group have a rather more emotional nature than whites as a group. (If you deny this, you have never lived in a black neighborhood or worked with blacks, as I have.) So, while self-control is important for all, the early inculcation of self-control is even more important for blacks. Otherwise, the case has nothing to do with race. It has to do with a man's defending himself against a thuggish attack.
Hard looks, hateful looks, suspicious looks -- we all get them from time to time, but they are not justifications for launching a physical assault on the looker. The same goes for harsh words.
If you want to be successful you must learn to control yourself. You must learn to control your thoughts, your words, and your behavior. You must learn to keep a tight rein on your feelings. Before leaving your house, you must remind yourself that you are likely to meet offensive people. Rehearse your Stoic and other maxims so that you will be ready should the vexatious and worse heave into view.
Unfortunately, too many liberals in positions of authority have abdicated when it comes to moral education. For example, they refuse to enforce discipline in classrooms. They refuse to teach morality. They tolerate bad behavior. They abdicate their authority when they refuse to teach respect for authority. So liberals, as usual, are part of the problem.
But that is to put it too mildly. There is no decency on the Left, no wisdom, and, increasingly, no sanity. For example, the crazy comparison of Trayvon Martin with Emmett Till. But perhaps I should put the point disjunctively: you are either crazy if you make that comparison, or moral scum. You are moral scum if you wittingly make a statement that is highly inflammatory and yet absurdly false.
I just deleted a suspicious looking e-mail that claimed that I had to appear in court in Costa Mesa re: illegal use of software. I of course did not open the zip file that would have invited a trojan horse or some other piece of malware into my motherboard. One dead giveaway was that while Mesa is not far from here, Costa Mesa is in California. I am a native Californian. (Which fact implies, by the way, that I am a native American!)
It is hard to fool a philosopher. We are trained skeptics. It is especially hard to fool a philosopher who knows his Schopenhauer. Homo homini lupus, et cetera.
Never click on any link thoughtlessly. To be on the safe side, delete suspicious looking e-mail from the subject line. Don't even open them.
Another rule of mine is: Never allow your body or soul to be polluted. So if I get an e-mail with a nasty subject line, I delete it straightaway. If the subject line is OK but the first line is hostile or nasty, same thing. Go ahead, punk. Make my day.
The worldly wise live by the probable and not by the possible. It is possible that you will reform the person you want to marry. But it is not probable.
Don't imagine that you can change a person in any significant way. What you see now in your partner is what you will get from here on out. People don't change. They are what they are. The few exceptions prove the rule. The wise live by rules, not exceptions, by probabilities, not possibilities. "Probability is the very guide to life." (Bishop Butler quoting Cicero, De Natura, 5, 12) It is foolish to gamble with your happiness. We gamble with what is inconsequential, what we can afford to lose. So if there is anything about your potential spouse that is unacceptable, don't foolishly suppose that you will change her. You won't. You must take her as she is, warts and all, as she must take you.
The principle applies not only to marriage but across the board.
You blogged that doing philosophy has great value in itself; even if philosophy is aporetic. But how often, or how long per day or month, should one devote to it? Doing philosophy seems (to me at least) to have diminishing returns, if philosophy is aporetic. Or has your experience been different?
My approach to philosophy could be called radically aporetic. Thus I hold not only that philosophy is best approached aporetically, via its problems, but also that its central problems are insoluble. Thus I tend, tentatively and on the basis of inductive evidence, to the view that the central problems of philosophy, while genuine and thus not amenable to Wittgensteinian or other dissolution, are true aporiai, impasses. It is clear that one could take a broadly aporetic approach without subscribing to the insolubility thesis. But I go 'whole hog.' Hence radically aporetic.
I won't explain this any further, having done so elsewhere, but proceed to V.'s question.
I take our friend to be asking the following. How much time ought one devote to philosophy if philosophy is its problems and they are insoluble? But there is a deeper and logically prior question lurking in the background: Why do philosophy at all if its problems are insoluble? What good is philosophy aporetically pursued?
1. It is good in that it conduces to intellectual humility, to an appreciation of our actual predicament in this life, which is one of profound ignorance concerning what would be most worth knowing if we could know it. The aporetic philosopher is a Socratic philosopher, one who knows what he knows and knows what he does not know. The aporetic philosopher is a debunker of epistemic pretense. One sort of epistemic pretense is that of the positive scientists who, succumbing to the temptation to wax philosophical, overstep the bounds of their competence, proposing bogus solutions to philosophical problems, and making incoherent assertions. They often philosophize without knowing it, and they do it incompetently, without self-awareness and self-criticism. I have given many examples of this in these pages. Thus philosophy as I conceive it is an important antidote to scientism. Scientism is an enemy of the humanities and I am a defender of the humanities.
There is also the threat emanating from political ideologies such as communism and leftism and Islamism and their various offshoots. The critique of these and other pernicious worldviews is a task for philosophy. And who is better suited for debunking operations than the aporetician?
2. Beyond its important debunking use, philosophy aporetically pursued has a spiritual point and purpose. If there are indeed absolutely insoluble problems, they mark the boundary of the discursive intellect and point beyond it. Immersion in philosophical problems brings the discursive mind to an appreciation of its limits and raises the question of what, if anything, lies beyond the limits and how one may gain access to it.
I take the old-fashioned view that the ultimate purpose of human life, a purpose to which all others must be subordinated, is to search for, and if possible, participate in the Absolute. There are several approaches to the Absolute, the main ones being philosophy, religion, and mysticism.
The radical aporetician in philosophy goes as far as he can with philosophy, but hits a dead-end, and is intellectually hnest enough to admit that he is at his wit's end. This motivates him to explore other paths to the Absolute, paths via faith/revelation and mystical intuition. The denigration of the latter by most contemporary philosophers merely shows how spiritually benighted and shallow they are, how historically uniformed, and in some cases, how willfully stupid.
But once a philosopher always a philosopher. So the radical aporetician does not cease philosophizing while exploring the other paths; he uses philosophy to chasten the excess of those other paths. And so he denigrates reason as little as he denigrates faith/revelation and mystical intuition. He merely assigns to reason its proper place.
Now to V.'s actual question. How much time for philosophy? A good chunk of every day. Just how much depending on the particular circumstances of one's particular life. But time must also be set aside for prayer and meditation, the reading of the great scriptures, and other religious/ mystical practices.
For one ought to be a truth-seeker above else. But if one is serious about seeking truth, then one cannot thoughtlessly assume that the only access to ultimate truth is via philosophy. A person who refuses to explore other paths is like the churchmen who refused to look through Galileo's telescope. They 'knew' that Aristotle had 'proven' the 'quintessential' perfection of celestial bodies, a perfection that would disallow any such 'blemishes' as craters. So they refused to look and see.
One of my correspondents is a retired philosophy of professor and a Buddhist. He maintains that one ought to spend as much time meditating as one spends on philosophy. So if one philosophizes for five hours per day, then one ought to meditate for five hours per day! A hard saying indeed!
My grandmother is on her deathbed. My mother flew out to Boston to be there with her when she dies. Of course my grandmother is putting up a good fight; however, they expected her to die yesterday. My mother had a conversation with her while she was lucid. She asked her, “Why are you fighting so hard? Do you fear something?”
My grandmother’s reply, “I fear that there is nothing on the other side.” Here is a woman who has spent eighty nine years of her life devoting herself to the [Catholic] church and her family. Now, when it comes down to death she is clinging on because her entire life is behind her and the only thing that she faces in front of her is the uncertainty of whether there is a heaven awaiting her in the coming days.
If you were there at my grandmother’s deathbed and she would convey to you her fears, what would you tell her?
I'm a philosopher, not a pastor, and what a dying nonphilosopher needs is pastoral care, not philosophical dialog. But if I were to play the pastor I would say something along the following lines.
"You have lived your long life faithfully and devotedly in the embrace of Holy Mother the Church. She has presided over central events in your life, your baptism, first communion, confirmation, and your marriage. She has provided guidance, moral instruction, comfort, and community as you have navigated life's difficulties and disappointments. She provided meaning and solace when your parents died, and your husband, and your many friends and relatives. If your faith was a living faith and not a convenience or a matter of social conformity, then from time to time you had your doubts. But through prayer and reflection you have repeatedly reaffirmed your faith. You faith was made deeper and truer by those doubts and their overcoming."
"I ask you now to recall those moments of calm reflection and existential lucidity, those moments when you were at your best physically, mentally, and spiritually. I ask you to recall them, and above all I ask you not to betray them now when you are weak. Do not allow the decisions and resolutions of your finest and and clearest hours to be taken hostage by doubts and fears born of weakness. Your weakness has called forth the most vicious attacks of the Adversary and his agents. You have lived in the faith and now you must remain true to a course of life judged right at the height of your powers. Your doubts are of the devil and they must be put aside. Pray, and remain true to a course judged right."
So that is what I would say to the old Irish Catholic woman on her deathbed. I would exhort her to remain true to a course judged right in the moments of her highest existential lucidity and to bring her life to a successful completion. The hour of death is not the time to grapple with the devil of doubt!
To myself and the others for whom the hora mortis is still a ways off, to those in the sunshine of their strength, physical and mental, I say the following. Now is the time to wrestle with doubts and either defeat them or succumb to them. Now is the time to get serious about The Last Things. It is far better to get serious about them before they get serious about you. Now is the time to face the reality of death without evasion and to prepare for a happy death. Now is the time to realize that you don't have all the time in the world, that as the Zen Master Dogen says, "Impermanence is swift." Now is the time to stop fooling yourself about how you are going to live forever. For "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." (James 3, 14)
We must learn to accept people's love, good wishes, and benevolence as gifts without worrying whether we deserve these things or not, and without worrying whether we will ever be in a position to compensate the donors. Similarly, we must learn to accept people's hate and malevolence as a sort of reverse gratuitous donation whether we deserve them or not.
We are often unjustly loved and admired. So why should it bother us that we are often unjustly hated and contemned? Try to see the latter as balancing the former.
It may be that moral and intellectual progress is possible only here. After death it may be too late, either because one no longer exists, or because one continues to exist but in a state that does not permit further progress.
It is foolish to think that believers in post-mortem survival could have no reason to value their physical health and seek longevity. Even a Platonist who believes that he is his soul and not a composite of soul and body has reason to prolong the discipline of the Cave. For it may be that the best progress or the only progress is possible only in the midst of its speluncarchiaroscuro.
Philosophia longa, vita brevis. It is precisely because philosophy is long that one ought to extend one's earthly tenure for as long as one can make progress intellectually and morally. And this, whether or not one has the hope that Vita mutatur non tollitur.