Who are the teachers of virtue and inquiry?

‘If virtue can be taught,’ Socrates asks time and time again, ‘then who are the teachers of virtue?’

Yesterday I argued:

1. If we are living through unsettled time, it follows that inquiring is the most important genre of discourse.

2. We are living through unsettled time.

3. So, inquiring is the most important genre.

What makes an unsettled time unsettled, I claimed, was that the everyday taken-for-granted has been churned up and brought into question and that there is near-universal skepticism concerning the claims to good authority. (In 2011, I made the latter case at considerable length in this paper on speculative philosophy.) The result is that there are inchoate questions about the most basic subjects of everyday life, yet no trust or faith that there are any teachers who can help us move out of this state of unsettledness.

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‘I don’t know… Let’s find out.’

Earlier this week, one conversation partner asked me to give him a better account of the art of inquiry. I replied that a certain genre of discourse would arise and would be suitable for a certain age. Panegyric and encomia would arise during, and be suitable for, a heroic age, since the poet’s job would be to praise the victor. During an age of victimization, in which many are given to accusations of having ‘been offended,’ one might expect to find the apology as the dominant genre of discourse.  I argue that the art of inquiry springs forth during, and is especially fit for, unsettled time.

But why is this genre, rather than some other, ‘no longer a luxury’? In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein shows that there is a ‘multiplicity of language-games,’ a diversity of ways in which words and sentences can be put, so that one would like to have a reason for believing that inquiry is the most proper genre for our time. In paragraph 23, Wittgenstein writes,

But how many kinds of sentence are there? [His interlocutor replies:] Say assertion, question, and command?— [Wittgenstein:] There are countless kinds:

Review the multiplicity of language-games in the following examples, and in others:

Giving orders, and obeying them—

Describing the appearance of an object, or giving its measurements–

Constructing an object from a description (a drawing)—

Reporting an event—

Speculating about an event—

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Can what really matters pass the test of being a joke?

‘How do you know that what you’re making–or what you’re thinking of making–really matters?’ This was the question that my friend Dougald Hine and I were discussing over Skype at the end of last week. We started joking, he recounted how he’d come up with the one liner that ‘there’s something joke-like about the nature of reality,’ and I came up with the following test.

Suppose you were to tell a joke that no one else could think to tell in the hope that some like-minded others would get it and they, in turn, would retell it.

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‘Yet here I am in my wretchedness’

The end of Chapter 6 of Chuang Tsu’s Inner Chapters is startling. It has been raining for 10 days, and one friend, Tsu Ysu, believes his friend Tsu Sang to be in a bad way. When he arrives at Tsu Sang’s house, he hears a lamentation. ‘O Mother! O Father! Is it heaven, or is it man?’

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Yen Hui’s progress

We read in The Inner Chapters of Yen Hui’s progress. He had given up ‘doing good and being right,’ but Confucius tells him this is ‘not quite enough.’ He goes away and returns. He had given up ‘ceremony and music,’ which is also good but ‘not quite enough.’ Sometime later, he comes back to Confucius, relating that ‘I just sit and forget.’ Confucius is surprised. Sitting and forgetting?

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