On resilience and postulates

Living by making postulates has helped me, even in the darker moments, not to fall into despair. Individuals in failing marriages despair that their lives could go otherwise. Institutions in free fall have lost the capacity to wonder whether they could be organized in some other, more robust fashion.

Despair marks a defect in logic and imagination. In The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant offers that the scientist who wishes to investigate nature must postulate that it is organized in a such and such a way despite the fact that he does not know (yet) whether it is organized in such and such a way. The logical point seems to be that in order to inquire seriously we must first posit some hitherto unknown possibility that is as good as, if not better than the reality we are living through. Do we have reason to think that there is some better embodiable possibility? Certainly not if we draw our reasons only from the fund of past experience, history, and the current evidence of the senses. Certainly yes if we dare to imagine that there must be something, if only we look in the right way.

Accordingly, a postulate is inquiry-guiding yet, importantly and as the inquiry gets underway, it does not run contrary to the mounting evidence. A postulate thus dares us to think seriously even while it cautions us to keep our eyes on the evidence of the senses. It provides us with two kinds of ‘looks’: the well beyond and the right here.

It is fashionable today in social entrepreneurship circles to speak about resilience. What, it is asked, is involved in a system’s being resilient in the face of change and uncertainty? Or–to change the scale–what explains why one person can sail through the end of a marriage while another is brought low and is inconsolable unto death? Is it constitution or general temperament? Possibly. Luck (tuche)? Quite possibly. But it could also be that one has cultivated his imagination and a lived logic and, by means of both, has become adept at formulating postulates. Even though he does not know that a new life is possible, he sets his course according to the ‘must’–and then feels his way through to the end, wherever the path should take him.

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