Testing whether someone is cheerfully ready to inquire with me

When I want to determine whether someone is cheerfully ready to inquire with me, I ask him five questions. Each question is to be assented to wholeheartedly.

1.) Can you let yourself be led?

This question helps to rule out the skeptic, the insincere person, and the coward. How so? The skeptic wants to begin with a fight; his view is that anyone occupying a position of authority is to be challenged first. But this is not how inquiring works, and the philosophical guide is not out to defeat the skeptic. The insincere person wants to simply follow along without having to go along as if he could be a spectator and not the actor–the one whose life is being put to the question. The coward wants to be able to go along so far as it is a pleasant journey and disembark the moment things get hard. Asking someone, ‘Can you let yourself be led?,’ therefore means can you step forward, go along, and continue to go along wherever the inquiry ends up taking us? Remember Nietzsche’s tightrope walker.

2.) Can you speak with me outside of clock time?

This question rules out the inattentive, the one focused upon the before and after, and above all on the next. Impatience, inattention, and fear (of chaos, of loss, of lack of understanding) govern those who cannot step out of clock time. Whereas those who can are able to hold their attention for as long as necessary.

3.) Can you speak with me directly?

Directness involves saying what you believe and only what you believe. There is a beautiful argument made by Bernard Williams in Truth and Truthfulness that gets at what I mean by ‘directness’:

[I]n the case of belief (and more broadly in cases of expressing some feeling or attitude) there is a further and very important point, that in their most primitive form expressions of belief are spontaneous. This does not mean that the utterance is involuntary, though even that can be true in some circumstances. While in the most basic case the utterance is not, as we might put it, involuntary as to whether, it is involuntary as to what: in the first instance and in the simplest cases, we are disposed spontaneously to come out with what we believe. (75)

4.) Can you speak with me simply?

Simply, plainly as opposed to complicatedly. Plainness and simplicity are to contrasted also with jargon and argot: with all utterances of speaking around something or avoiding something. Jargon-laden speech is usually an expression of vanity, pride, ignorance, or fear.

5.) And can you say, ‘I don’t know’ when you do not know the answer to the question I have asked?

This question is centered not on the investigation of any kind of ignorance whatever but with that of newfound ignorance. Saying ‘I don’t know’ in the context of a philosophical inquiry implies, as Socrates might put it, that you know something that you did not know before: namely, that you do not know this. The implication is that ‘I don’t know’ is to be followed by ‘Let us inquire further in order to find out.’ This implication follows from 1.) and 5.) together: if you do not know yet you are committed to letting yourself be led, then surely you are also committed to letting yourself be led into what you do not know in hopes of finding out.

If someone can wholeheartedly say Yes to questions 1.)-5.), then he is cheerfully ready to inquire with me.

Advertisements