Skyping ‘without a body’

Quaestio 1: What is living discourse?

1.) ‘Philosophical Death.’ There is no face-to-face, only the voice-to-voice. As Socrates makes plain when he converses with his friends in Phaedo, philosophizing is an ‘impersonal’ activity. It occurs not in the personal (evidenced in the face or ‘in the body’) but in the trans-personal (which is possible through the voice).

When we say that ‘to philosophize is to learn how to die,’ we mean that we are conceiving of ourselves as the kinds of beings who can go beyond empirical predicates (hair color, skin color, etc.), narrow concerns (whether the electric bill is due later on today), the appetites of the body (hunger, thirst, etc.), and cramped self-interests (e.g., how the guide ‘feels’ about me, etc.). Thus we engage in following along the line of thought wherever that thought may take us.

(Compare analogous genres: Catholic confession, the blindness or impartiality of justice, John Rawls’ veil of ignorance.)

2.) Equal Footing. Living discourse takes place only when both philosophical guide and philosophical friend can put each other to the question and stand beside each other in mutual understanding.

3.) One-pointedness. Living discourse is one activity concerned with the subject matter in hand. It does not admit of wandering, straying, of being two or more activities, and so on. This one-pointedness distinguishes living discourse from everyday social exchanges.

4.) Live Voice. What is distinctive about living discourse is that it is live. It cannot be reproduced or recorded, manufactured or mimicked.

5.) Responsiveness. The philosophical friend does not know what questions will be asked during any philosophical conversation and, specifically, what question will come next. Thus, he must be agilely responsive to the question that comes his way without being announced beforehand. That question may catch him off guard.

Quaestio 2: How does Skype, when best understood, make possible philosophy as living discourse?

When philosophical friends and I have philosophical conversations over Skype,

  • We are neither in a public space nor in an office. Miraculously (due to Skype), we are both at home: I am at my home and he is at his. This ‘other space’ encourages us to begin each conversation on equal footing.
  • We meditate in silence at least 30 minutes beforehand.
  • We sit in cross-legged (possibly lotus or half-lotus) position.
  • We do not use the video feature during the duration of our conversation. Thus, we cannot see each other.
  • We turn the brightness of the computer screen down to zero.
  • Ideally, we set the computer outside of our field of vision.
  • We begin each conversation at the exact starting time, yet neither of us knows how long the conversation will last or at what time it will end.
  • Throughout much of the conversation, I have my eyes closed.
  • We pay attention to the sound of each other’s voice and to the line of inquiry we are following wherever that inquiry is leading us.

Conclusions

1.) We are better off having philosophical conversations over Skype than we would be were we to have philosophical conversations in person.

2.) Skype can serve as a platform that makes possible philosophizing as living discourse.

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