It’s not a bad time to think amid the unsettled restlessness. After a plane from New York deposited me somewhere in the South. As the grass lies yellow and the moors I don’t see but imagine settle in. Might not be a bad time, then, to return to where we’ve begun, to add a few more daubs of paint.
“What now? Where to?”
Allow me to clarify. For a couple of years, I’ve been working through a life-puzzle: how to write a short public biography that “unhands” me from earlier forms of legitimacy and that “transvalues” my conception of a successful life. Last summer, I put the puzzle this way:
Are all public bios, those one to two paragraph haikus, true but misleading?
Before offering my latest version, I want to give some reasons for thinking that rewriting our public bios may be vital today.
A Short List of Criteria for What Counts as a Good Public Bio
1. The virtues should receive top billing. Spotlight on accuracy, honesty, truth-telling; on courage, resilience, and judgment, and the rest.
2. Modern forms of legitimacy should be ‘unhanded.’ No appeal, then, to institutional affiliation, social distinction, number and kind of degrees, prestige, ‘expertise,’ who’s who, etc.
3. We should laud a dignified person. Not, therefore, someone who confesses in public, not the person who is caught in a tabloid, not the individual who presents an overly professionalized brief.
4. We must transvalue our conception of success. From public reputation, social recognition, public accolades, happiness as feeling good just now to a radiant vision of a well-led life.
The Latest Version of my Public Bio
I’m a philosopher at home in New York. I wasn’t always at home. I was raised in a family of gentle virtues but modest concerns, I almost married a woman who was beautiful and strong but sad, and I abandoned an academic career just before it began. When I ask myself whether I’ve learned to love what’s gone without wishing for its return, I can now say yes: yes without reservation. In my present life, I seek to lead, and to help others lead, a virtuous, radiant existence. We set out together to make life work. For us, life is sweet.
On Dec. 21, NYT Philosophers’ Stone included a link to one of my short essays, “Public Philosophy and Our Spiritual Predicament.” If you’d like, have a look.