Consider that a philosophical conversation is centered on asking and seeking to answer the most basic questions of human existence. But not just this, for it is also concerned with our lives becoming the answers we’ve come to so far.
Grant as much. Then when I have a philosophical conversation, I’m looking–intuitively, that is–for a matter that carries ‘existential weight.’ Something has ‘existential weight’ just in case it (a) implicates my interlocutor while going beyond my interlocutor, (b) grips him or her right here and right now, and (c) is such that we can’t yet put a finger on what it is. The matter is ‘around here’ or ‘in this vicinity.’ It has ‘something to do with’ such and such, but what it is we do not know yet. Hence, from here we rightly begin in mystery.
Suppose by means of philosophical inquiry that we’re able to elucidate the matter of existential weight. Then the person has just articulated what I call an ‘existential truth.’ A truth is ‘existential’ just in case it
- comes from one–specifically from an intuition–or, what may be the same thing, is an expression or articulation of a “felt sense” within one;
- it justly elucidates the matter of existential weight (we say, “That’s it!”);
- and it carries its own immediate certitude.
I suggest that the idea henceforth is to ‘live in the light of’ this existential truth (a) by assimilating it into one’s being, (b) by drawing out its life implications for one, (c) by seeing the places of resistance with one, and (d) by integrating the rest of one’s life in such a way that it is in harmony with this existential truth. (Of course, there can be, and often are, other existential truths as well. In which case, the idea is to repeat this spiraling process.)
Therefore, the great virtue here is fidelity to those philosophical investigations whose concern is for one to ‘live in the light of’ this existential truth whereas the great vice is ‘existential betrayal.’ By the latter, I mean the act of denying, dodging, avoiding, evading, and/or turning away from the existential truth one had already articulated. In other words, an existential betrayal is first an act of forgetting this truth and then a second-order forgetting that covers over, if only partially, the fact that one has forgotten.
Let us say that being heroic, according to this understanding, entails actually, that is, faithfully, and fully living one’s life in the light of the existential truths that one articulates, assimilates, and integrates.