You wander in philosophy in order to turn homeward

Wolfe was wrong when he said that you never can go home again. He was wrong because philosophy leads you home after your wandering. Only once you get there, you realize that the idea of home has changed, changed blessedly, blessedly changed.

I

Reading philosophers from all times and climes, I am struck by the accuracy of this perception of the central inspiration behind philosophical speculation, by the constant recurrences–from the earliest Indian thinkers recorded to twentieth-century existentialists–of the theme of alienation. (5)

–David E. Cooper, World Philosophies: An Historical Introduction

II

In many of Plato’s earlier dialogues Socrates interrogates one or more Athenians as to the nature of some virtue–courage in the Laches, piety in the Euthyphro, justice in Republic I–in such a way as to convict the other of inconsistency. The casual modern reader might easily suppose at first that Plato is contrasting Socrates’ rigour with the carelessness of the ordinary Athenian; but as the pattern recurs again and again, another interpretation suggests itself, namely that Plato is pointing to a general state of incoherence in the use of evaluative language in Athenian culture. When Plato in the Republic produces his own coherent well-integrated account of the virtues, part of his strategy is to expel the Homeric inheritance from the city-state. (123)

–Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

III

I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas 2 glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

–Molly, “Penelope,” final episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses

IV

I do not say with Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living–that is unnecessarily harsh. However, when we guide our lives by our own pondered thoughts, it then is our life that we are living, not someone else’s. In this sense, the unexamined life is not lived as fully. (15)

–Robert Nozick, The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations

Further Reading

On philosophy as the setting out of stepping stones, see Andrew Taggart, “Public Philosophy and Our Spiritual Predicament,” Butterflies and Wheels.

On the sense of alienation and the longing for reunion, see Kathy Page, “The Perfect Day,” Carte Blanche.