Skyping blindfolded

Yesterday, I advanced the counterintuitive thesis that my philosophical friends and I are better off having philosophical conversations over Skype than we would be were we to have philosophical conversations in person. I promised that I would prove why this thesis is nonetheless true and, in so doing, that I would show how Skype can serve as a platform that makes possible philosophizing as living discourse.

What stands in my way of making this case is a set of four interlocking assumptions concerning how we know ourselves and each other. I will call this picture a ‘naive empiricism,’ one that we have taken to be common sense and one that stretches back to the birth of philosophy. The ‘naive empiricist’ believes

I know this living person because

    1. I can see him (the visible);
    2. he is near me in space (here);
    3. he and I occupy the same time (now); and
    4. it is often true that 1-3 hold (frequency/reliability).

Metaphorically speaking, then, I know myself because

    1. I can ‘see’ myself (introspection: the ‘mind’s eye’);
    2. I am ‘near’ myself (being present 1);
    3. I am ‘on time’ with myself (being present 2); and
    4. it is often true that 1-3 hold (frequency/reliability).

(One could conjecture that this is a rather ‘tribal’ conception of knowing: I see John here and now and quite often and thus I say that I know John.)

As we examine each assumption, however, we soon discover that each is not true. First, seeing another or ‘seeing’ myself provides no guarantee that I know the other or myself. For a family member may see me but never know me. And I may introspect but never find out anything illuminating about myself. Next, someone’s being near me or my being ‘near’ myself may grant me no privileged access to knowing him or myself. I may stand in a crowded subway car, yet I wouldn’t say that I know my neighbor. Or I may be hyper-aware of my physical location without ascertaining anything significant about myself. Next, my being in the same punctual ‘now’ as another may be nothing more than contingent: John and I, say, happen to be good with clock time, but apart from that we have never said a word to each other. Last, the claim that these things are often the case either with another or with myself may only lead to glossed-over familiarity, to taking something for granted, as when I see the same landscape each and every morning without the sense of aesthetic appreciation.

This ‘naive empiricism’ may run deep within us, but it does not follow that it is true. It runs so deep, in fact, that when one goes and seeks guidance, one likely believes that the guide must be here, now, and before one’s face. These are all mistakes.

Instead, I want to explore how we actually come to self-understanding. On my account,

  1. one comes to know oneself and another best (i.e., in a philosophical sense) through the ear and living voice and thus through the invisible dialogue;
  2. each voice is here in the sense of being properly responsive to the uttered words of the other; and
  3. each does not occupy clock time (1, 2, 3,…) but rather the unhurried time of philosophical inquiry (slowness beyond slowness);

Living discourse, thus, unfolds as a genre in which philosophical guide and philosophical friend cannot see each other yet are properly responsive, in an unhurried way, to the basic question put to the philosophical friend. In this fashion, the philosophical friend can come to know himself.

In the following post, I will try to show how Skype can facilitate living discourse so understood. When we converse via Skype, it is as if we were going about things blindfolded.

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