Rehearsing a line of thought

Rehearsing a line of thought has its place in philosophical life. Saying this seems, however, to present us with a puzzle. If a philosophical inquiry is “an unrehearsed genre whose principal aims are, first, to reveal to us what we don’t know but thought we did and, second, to bring us a greater sense of clarity than we could have possibly imagined,” then how could rehearsing a line of thought play any part  in a philosophical conversation?

Let us rehearse a line of thought, paying close attention to what we already know.

1. A necessary (but not a sufficient) condition of a philosophical life is that it consist of philosophical conversations.

2. A philosophical conversation consists of at least one philosophical inquiry. (Definition from The Guidebook for Philosophical Life)

Attend to the second thesis, since it leaves room in any philosophical conversation for other genres to come forth. In this meditation, the genre under consideration I am calling ‘rehearsing a line of thought’ or sometimes simply ‘rehearsing.’

I can think of two reasons why rehearsing a line of thought might be valuable. The first reason is that my conversation partner and I may need to establish what it is we already know. Knowing what we already know opens us up to the possibility of inquiring into what we do not already know but are looking for. Knowing what we already know thereby draws forth the virtue of openness (without which we would not be able to inquire into what we do not know) at the same time that it allows us to perceive that something specific and significant is missing. What is missing is precisely what we do not know but have some inkling of. Hence, the purpose of ‘rehearsing a line of thought’ is to call us back to what we know in order for us to to inquire properly about what it is that bewilders us.

The second reason rehearsing a line of thought might be of benefit to us (provided, of course, it occurs at the right time and in the right way) is that it reminds us of the conclusions we have reached in some prior inquiry, conclusions that we must ensure are ‘tied down’ before we can hope to go any further. The rehearsal is a memory device (rather like a chant or song or meditation) as well as a call to resolve, to gentle vigilance. (I have been told that some conversation partners reread old blog posts perhaps for this very reason.)

Speaking of rehearsing, I have been rereading Hadot’s book on Plotinus. Hadot writes, “Knowledge, for Plotinus, is always experience, or rather it is an inner metamorphosis. What matters is not that we know rationally that there are two levels of divine reality [Hadot is referring to the Intellect and the One in Plotinus], but that we internally raise ourselves up to these levels, and feel them within us as two different tones of spiritual life.”

From argument above, we can conclude that rehearsing a line of thought does not tell us something new about ourselves (as inquiry seeks to do) but rather deepens our experience of the ‘different tones’ of self-understanding.

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