‘Were I to die first, would you grieve for me?’

I am not satisfied with my understanding of the reasons we give when we are grieving. So I begin again, this time with an intimation.


We are speaking of our deaths.

‘Were I to die first, would you grieve for me?’ Aleksandra is speaking.

‘Yes,’ I reply.

For a while, I say nothing. Then I go on: ‘I would have to figure out why I was still living.’

What is it that we are grieving for?

When we grieve for someone, some being, or something, what is it that we are grieving for? Surely, we cannot grieve for some inanimate or inorganic thing; it follows that this being has to have–or, rather, has to be imbued with–life. Just as surely, we cannot grieve for some being unless that being has passed out of existence. And, thirdly, we cannot grieve for some being unless we take its life as mattering to us, as valuable to us, as having filled our lives with significance.

These basic claims about a being’s life, its transience, and its value make for preliminary remarks only and not just because a being could be finite in nature yet be of little value to us when it is gone and not just because a being may be of some value to us yet that value is not, somehow or another, the right kind or the right amount to take us over into grief. So, we must inquire:

What kind of value does the other have for us in order for us to be ‘warranted’ (if that is the word) in our grieving for this being?

I can answer only in a tentative fashion. I would venture that I grieve for another being if and only if

1.) I am  or I was once grateful to this other for something of great significance that he has given to me;

2.) I admire him for the kind of life that he led or embodied or for the kind of character that he had and that kind of life made a difference to my own; and/or

3.) I love him just because he is good and beautiful, and I want that goodness and beauty to continue.

Continue reading “What is it that we are grieving for?”

Website transformed: Radiance Pianissimo (Winter 2014)

Dear Reader,

Each season Aleksandra and I make changes to the main website–andrewjamestaggart.com–so that it accords with the changing rhythms of nature. Our theme for winter 2014 is ‘Radiance Pianissimo.’

AJT winter site screen shot

This winter, though, we took things much, much further: we reworked the main website from the ground up.

We wanted

1.) to show more and tell less;

2.) to make the relationship between word and image much cleaner and clearer (ekphrasis);

3.) to make the categories more recognizable to those not already familiar with my work (e.g., Individuals, Pairs & Groups, Guides for Living, etc.);

4.) to treat the site as a beautiful manifestation of a philosophical way of life (cf. radiance).

With these ends in mind, we added a number of helpful, beautiful features:

We wanted, in short, for the one coming up the site to pause, slow down, and take notice. We hope you’ll find the experience of strolling through the website both illuminating and edifying. As usual, if you’d like to get in touch with me, you can do so through the Contact Form, which is located on the main site.

Kind thoughts,


Sustaining life is not the good life

I write this post after spending time this morning contemplating the nature of things. This post is not a ‘product’ of that contemplation.


In Sources of the Self, Charles Taylor has some remarkable things to say about the disappearance of the higher forms of the good life during the passage to modernity. He argues that the life of contemplation as well as that of civic participation were replaced, for the most part, by the ‘affirmation of ordinary life.’ What is distinctive about modernity is not just that for the first time in human history individuals have come to affirm the spheres of production (work) and reproduction (family) but also that ‘the good’ has come to be regarded as manifesting itself fully through work and family. Once we are alerted to this strangeness, we cannot but feel bewildered.

I do not think this move toward the affirmation of ordinary life is warranted, and the reason is that it seems to me a form of ‘passive nihilism’: it can answer the question, ‘How to go on living?,’ yet it cannot possibly furnish an answer, let alone acknowledge the question, ‘What is a reason for living?’ Sustaining life is not identical with leading a good life.

My negative thesis is that the affirmation of ordinary life amounts to passive nihilism. My positive thesis is that a philosophical version of a gift economy recuperates the proper relationship between life and the good life, the lower and the higher, the material and the intelligible.

Let us see how this two-part argument unfolds.

Continue reading “Sustaining life is not the good life”

Invitation: 3 months, 3 small patrons, 1 life transformed


This post is  an investigation of a perplexing case concerning how a young person and I can work together as well as an invitation to a young person who would like to. If the following scenario applies to you and you’d like to get in touch with me, you can do so through the Contact Form of my main website.

I begin first by setting up the puzzle.

The Puzzle of Proper Generosity

It’s not uncommon for me to speak with a young person who would like to have some philosophical conversations with me but who would not be able to offer much, if anything, in order to meet my material needs. He would like to be more generous if he were so able, yet as things stand being properly generous would prove to be a financial burden for him. Indeed, were he to offer more than he should, it could soon be impossible for him to care for what matters most, to care properly for himself.

Now, proper generosity requires that each see to the other without putting one in another’s (bad) debt. In the scenario above, however, proper generosity is held to be desirable yet appears to be impossible. Either something will have to give, or something novel will have to be introduced.

In what follows, I want to consider the introduction of A Third. What further could be introduced in order to bring about proper generosity?


Let us specify first. This young person (let’s say) would like to speak with me once every two weeks for a season (3 or 4 months).  Let us also say that we are both committed to an immanent aim: namely, putting him or her on the path to transforming his or her life.

Candidate Solutions

How would it be possible for this person to speak with me 6-8 times in order to set forth on that path?

One could look to crowdfunding. Here, two immediate problems arise. The first is that the ‘genre’ of crowdfunding is the project, not the project of self-cultivation. Crowdfunding is about getting something or other done, not about caring for the state of the self.

Secondly, crowdfunding builds into its design the free-rider problem: most will look on, some would be willing to use whatever the project intends to complete, but few will actually chip in. This is to say that most won’t care or care enough that this thing (or person) come into being. Better: most won’t care so much that they would feel impelled to help make it possible for this thing to come into being.

Rule out crowdfunding, then. Another approach would be to find a patron who cares about the project of self-cultivation. The objection, though, is clear: although this patron may care about the project of self-cultivation, he may not care that this person be so transformed. Who is this person to him? the skeptic might ask.

The inadequacies of the first two approaches enjoin us to think more about how we could specify more narrowly what sort of funding model we are after. We can say at least two things:

First, that whoever is to support this young person (call this ‘whoever is to support’ The Third) must not only know him and care about him but also care that he be so transformed.

Second, that The Third must also not feel that supporting this young person’s project of self-cultivation for 3-4 months would be onerous.

A Couple of Clues

1. The reconsideration of the concept of collateral in microfinance provides one clue. Someone who wishes to start a business but who has no collateral may get assistance from a group of community members who would serve as guarantors.

2. Rites of Passage: When someone is going on a journey, he may be paired up with an elder who may (while in the background) hold him to account.

The Answer: Three Small Patrons

The answer to the puzzle lies in the young person’s seeking out and securing (say) three small patrons who already know him, care about him, and care that he transform himself into a more excellent human being. Each patron would provide a small contribution that altogether would count as ‘proper generosity.’ No patron would find himself burdened not least because generosity would be ‘spread over’ the three. (We are imagining a number between The One (the single patron) and the Demos (the crowd).)

To each patron, the young person would have to ‘render an account’ at the end of each month in order to show that he  or she is on the path to becoming a more excellent human being. During our philosophical conversations, the young person and I would go through directed inquiries to ensure that the questions continue to lead to answers he is living by. That is, we would have a clearly laid-out path.

At the end of the 3 or 4 months, the young person would have to show that his practice of living can ‘manifest’ itself in some artistic way. That is, he would have to provide evidence (a self-portrait? a spoken word performance? a night of hosting friends?) that demonstrates that he is transforming his vision of the world.

The Invitation Re-Issued

If you fit this profile and wish to get in touch with me about ‘3 months, 3 small patrons, 1 life transformed,’ you can write to me on my Contact Form.