Philosophical Portraiture: Courage and Nobility

About a month ago, Aleksandra completed a philosophical portrait of a woman who is seeking to live the life of a modern mystic (below). In her work on philosophical portraiture, the claim Aleksandra wants to make is that she is not rendering the subject in a too literal form of mimesis as if the photograph of the subject were simply being reproduced in the form of a portrait. To do that would be to assume that the living subject has already, as it were, been transformed or is already finished. Rather, her claim is that philosophical portraiture is a spiritual exercise–both in its activity and in its production–in drawing out what is potentially good and beautiful in the subject but has yet to be fully realized. Specifically, which virtues have yet to be brought out, and how would it be possible–indeed, how best–to do so?


In the original photos, the subject on the viewer’s left showed a touch of timidity while the subject on the viewer’s right was slightly discomposed, flinchingly discomposed. What had to be revealed or realized, therefore, was courage in the face of hardness and hardiness (left) as well as a noble composure in view of her own death (right). I suppose there lies, in the background to this particular work, one of Aleksandra’s larger themes: what, in the present time, does it mean to age well and to live and die nobly?

The good life and sustaining life: Early reflections on my fall course at Kaos Pilots

With special reference to the neighborhood dugnad


The subject of my fall course at Kaos Pilots is the connection between the good life and sustaining (or bare) life. Logically and chronologically, the question of the good life must come before that of sustaining life. It is not the case, I shall be arguing, that human beings first seek to secure their basic needs in whatever way this is possible, and then build up an account of their reason for living. Nor is perdurance identical with flourishing. Quite the contrary, human beings must begin with some kind of a conception of the good or of the good life and then seek to secure the goods required for their survival in the light of this conception. Of particular relevance to our time is the ‘thematization’ or ‘making explicit’ of this question:  in what way do I have most reason to live and, by implication, what sort of economic models would be not only consonant with but also an enhancement of this way? I doubt that this question would have so easily fascinated so many in other ages. In the modern age, the question spellbinds us.

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‘This place would fall apart without me…’

‘This place would fall apart without me.’ Is that so? ‘Yes, were it not for my efforts, it would have already collapsed.’ So it teeters on the brink–is that it? ‘Not so long as I keep intervening. It’s a question of constant vigilance.’ Oh? Then suppose you were to let it go for a day. ‘Just walk away?’ No, just step to the side. ‘And?’ And observe what goes on. ‘What are you getting at?’ Only the barest of things: its perdurance and your extinction.

The function of systems

In an earlier post, I wrote that something that is broken has lost its sense of wholeness. While this is true at a formal level (formal cause), it leaves out the clearer implication that this machine has ceased to function as we would like it to. Quite naturally, we think that broken things are broken when they stop performing their requisite functions, fulfilling their assigned tasks, or executing our commands perhaps in virtue of having lost their integrity. Here, we might speak of malfunctions as well as dysfunctions. We might also speak of something’s still performing, albeit less efficiently or effectively.

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Calling tool talk into question

On the assumption that the world is broken, one of the concepts that would come in handy (so to speak) would be that of the tool. The tool is an instrument for working on some bit of reality in order to improve it, repair it, or restore it. The tool is to be wielded in such a way that one can do greater work, get greater leverage on reality. Tools begin to come into prominence, it could be hypothesized, once it becomes self-evident that reality is mainly ‘here’ in order to be worked on and, in some stronger cases, bent to our wills. By saying this, I do not mean to imply that humans have not been using and availing ourselves of tools for as long as we have been around; we surely have. I mean instead that there is now greater talk of abstract tools (ideas as tools, concepts as tools, approaches as tools, models as tools, etc.) than ever before. And this new phenomenon has to be accounted for.

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