The starting point of philosophical self-reflection

Philosophical thinking begins in severance, in cleavage, in destruction and loss. Something once as familiar as morning light has fled, and its return is in doubt. Our feet, once paddles, have morphed into trunks.

Severance begets pain, pain shuddering, and shuddering puts forth philosophical words: self-reflective words, ungainly words, coarse concepts, bedraggled thoughts.

Oh but when people come to me, they tell me one of three stories.

“Something’s Missing,” they tell me. “Something’s missing in my life, and I’m not really sure what it is. But I have the sense that whatever it is it must be something that matters greatly.”

His is a story of longing, of longing for completeness and wholeness. Whatever’s missing can’t be this or that, as if it were misplaced keys or tip-of-the-tongue memories. It must be something of a different order, some intimation of another way of being, a way of being other than the way that has been sundered and stretched.

On this picture, philosophical inquiry is the quest for wholeness (integritas).

“I’ve come unsettled,” they tell me. “I don’t feel at home, not anymore, and yet I can’t figure out why this is so.”

Hers is a story about being out of joint. You wouldn’t seek philosophy were it only that you’d recently moved from one house to another or picked up the kids and cantered one town over. It must be that you’ve come unsettled in some more basic sense, as if you’d been wandering for years with nothing more than the sound of water in your ear but without the taste. It’s as if wandering had rubbed out memory but not desire.

On this picture, philosophical inquiry aims to put you at home in our own skin.

“I’ve lost my way,” they tell me. “When I was younger, I’d imagined my life going this way. Now that I’m older, I can’t understood how I got to where I am now–wherever I am today, never having conceived of my life in quite these terms. When I look at my life, I’m not sure what to make it of it. How did I get here and how do I go on now?”

 His is a story of life’s heading down a path that hadn’t been in the cards. You’d planned for this, you’d conceived of that, but then life–that cad, that stooge, that bastard–had swerved so slowly perhaps as to sneak you past yourself and deposit you in the middle of no man’s land. I’m afraid the life you’d imagined is gone; the life you’d sought or sought to set up is not available, no, available no longer. And now–sapere aude!–you must search for a new path with no guidebook in hand but with promises held like warming snowflakes softly in your palm.

On this picture, philosophical inquiry aims to show you how you got here at the same time that it leads you toward a radiant life out on the hinterland.

As I look at these three stories, I’m not sure whether they’re 3 different ways of saying the same thing or 3 different stories all in search of a homeland. I suppose, my friend, we’ll have to figure that out along the way.

Further Reading

Andrew Taggart, “An Image of the Kantian Sublime, or, how philosophy gets under way”


Found this in my Inbox this morning. The second sense of frondescence really got me.

frondescence \fron-DES-uhns\, noun:

1. Leafage; foliage.
2. The process or period of putting forth leaves, as a tree, plant, or the like.

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