Prospective, hypothetical inquiry

Most of the work in my philosophy practice is focused on making sense of what has happened to someone where this “making sense of what has happened” involves fitting this event into a conceptual framework. Elsewhere, I have called this ‘philosophical holism’–a part is only intelligible in relation to a whole–and the insight into how this part fits into this whole seems to reveal to both inquirers how the past can be put into order with the present, how the diachronic can be wedded to the synchronic. In other contexts, I have spoken of ‘lived logics’ and have urged that their primary purpose is to show us how something will likely play out given the requirements and constraints already set into place. A lived logic, on this understanding, is a demonstration of how a way of life, given these conditions, will have to unravel, is fated to do so. The first kind of inquiry is retrospective and speculative while the second kind is prospective and actualizable.

To me it came as a surprise, then, to find myself ‘brought to the question’ two nights ago where this ‘bringing my life into question’ was of a different mode entirely: the genre was hypothetical and prospective. That is, if X were to be true and X’s being true brought about–some steps much further into the argument–some possible future state in which we might live, then what would be the conclusion that we would reach? In this case, my inquirer and I felt fear, incredible horror at the place we could not see coming during the carrying out of the inquiry but which we came to, like an intimation of death, as an unforeseen result of our inquiring. She was visibly shaking; I was speechless and lightheaded.

We need to examine the relevance of this hypothetical, prospective mode of inquiry for leading a philosophical life. My thesis–in what follows, only posited, hence unproven–will be that the goal of hypothetical, prospective philosophical inquiry is to guide us, by means of the dramatic performance of the conversation itself, to the brink of death. By this means, we have a dramatized experience of death (my death which is not hers, hers which is not mine, but both individual deaths grasped as a feeling of loss of everything that matters most), we recognize the pain we feel in relation to the other’s death, we note the following morning that life has become urgent and new and flush. Provided we are vigilant, the experience lingers on, in the weeks and months ahead, as a reminder of what matters most to us.

The French philosopher Alain Badiou has spoken of truth as living “in fidelity with” an event. Similarly, the living results of a prospective, hypothetical inquiry are that we want to be otherwise than we could end up being not primarily so that this possible future state be avoided but in the hope that we will remain faithful to this insight, become attentive to and aware of our daily peccadillos, be open to the smallest apertures for the possibility of world-sundering, be vigilant through and through, and remain joyful in this life from dawn onward.