A non-solopsistic account of grieving

In order to understand one’s reasons for grieving, let us return to this scene:

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.’

To imply that that Aleksandra gives me a reason for living may mean that, were she to be gone, I would be worse off or that my life would be impoverished. In what sense worse off? How impoverished?

In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle claims that the virtuous human being is self-sufficient but yet he also wants to surround himself with friends. While the excellent human being may be self-sufficient in important respects, he requires (says Aristotle) friends of virtue (and let us add: a lover who is also a friend of virtue) in order to exercise the virtues of generosity, courage, temperance, and the like.

In the context of grief, I take it that, were Aleksandra to pass away before I did, I would no longer be able to be grateful to this person who elicits my gratitude; I would no longer be able to exercises certain virtues that she, as a matter of fact, brings out in me; and I would no longer be able to demonstrate my love for this person who is worthy of my demonstration of love. I am partial to her and with reason. It is not simply that this person provides me with occasions for, say, being grateful, virtuous, and loving. It is more emphatically that she (and not some other) draws gratitude, a suite of salient virtues, and love out of me.

All of which is to say, I think, that we want to be involved in the most excellent activities in human life, that this person is a constituent of these activities, and that this person helps to make our best dialogical self actual.

On abstention from voting

What reasons might one have for not voting? Ineligibility: it could be that someone would like to vote but, for whatever reason, does not qualify as a voter. Physical incapacity: someone may want to vote but be unable to get to a voting booth or fill out his ballot, etc. Mental incapacity: one may be eligible to vote but, due to some considerable ailment or illness, not be of right mind.

A more interesting reason would be that someone claims to be indifferent. Perhaps, when asked, the person says that he can’t see any difference (in substance or consequence) between the candidates; or that all politicians, e.g., are corrupt or ineffectual or whatever; or that he can’t make out how his vote, counting only for 1, ‘matters’ overall. Or perhaps he feels good and alienated from his fellows such that he can’t see himself as belonging to one group or another unless ‘belonging to some group’ translates into being, say, a member of a band.

The indifferent person above is reminiscent of a rebel, a towheaded dissident, a rebellious youth. Suppose, though, after growing up some and learning a thing or two about the world, he were to say that he is not indifferent to voting per se but that he does not believe that liberal democracy has any moral legitimacy. (Maybe he scrunches his nose at Right Hegelianism.) Then his not voting could be counted (so to speak) as a form of abstention.

We need to examine what it means to vote or, really, to take a test of any kind. When I take a particular test, I am measuring my performance against some standard already set by this test. At the same time, however, I am testing the ability of this particular test to stand as a standard against which I measure a certain ability. It is possible that this test is not, as we say, an accurate depiction of my ability to do whatever it is that the test is said to be testing. To clarify things, let’s call the first test that of my performance and the second test that of its validity.

The third test of any test is the legitimacy of the system to pose as a system in which my performance is tested and the validity of this test is reasserted. Any time I take, e.g., the SAT I am tacitly throwing my weight behind the idea that the system in which the SAT is offered is legitimate. Yet if I do not take the SAT because I reject its claim to legitimacy, then I can be said to be abstaining in some more robust sense.

By analogy, any vote I cast tests my performance (as a good voter), the validity (of, say, this kind of voting apparatus), and the legitimacy of voting as a practice on behalf of the State. I may decide not to vote because I may not believe in the modern conception of politics that goes by the name of liberal democracy. Abstention, one hopes, would not (just) be No to this type of politics but rather Yes to some other form such as anarchism, civic humanism, direct democracy, or (in my case) revolutionary Aristotelianism.

What makes the wrong question wrong? (I)


One aim of a good inquiry, I have urged, is clarity in the broadest possible sense. Only a good question can allow for an inquiry to get underway. I would like to examine what makes a wrong question the wrong one (Part I) and what makes the right question the right one (Part II).

What makes a wrong question wrong?

To begin with, it does not allow for an inquiry to get underway. A necessary condition for an inquiry to count as being an inquiry is that it can ‘move’ somewhere. In what ways might might inquiring be impossible from the very start?

  1. One could ask a question whose answer is or is said to be obvious or self-evident. We might think of the know-it-all child who knows for sure that the state capital of New York is Albany.
  2. One could ask a question whose answer is or is said to be unknowable. “Why is there something rather than nothing” has remained unanswerable either because of the way that it is posed or because it goes beyond the bounds of human compehension.
  3. One could ask a question in such a way that she cannot but be at a loss as to what to say. To say that one is “at a loss” is just to say that one has no idea what a possible answer could “look like.” Perhaps, this sense of being “at a loss” implies that the question is unwieldy or overly narrow or devilishly unwieldy.
  4. One could pose a simulacrum of a question or a pseudo-question. When a father asks his son, “Why are so bloody stupid?,” he is not actually asking a question. Depending on the context, he is making a moral appraisal or posing a threat of harm.

The first reason a question is not a good one is that it does not allow for an inquiry to get off the ground. Let’s consider a second reason why a wrong question could be wrong. In this case, an inquiry can get started but ‘goes nowhere.’ What do I mean when I say that it ‘goes nowhere’? I mean

  1. that it ‘arrives’ at doxa, i.e., at common sense. Someone concludes that this is what everyone believes; this is (just) the way we do things here; that this is how things have always been; this is what is commonly held to be true. The problem with common sense is that it cannot take us anywhere–into an inquiry into what we do not know but would like to understand.
  2. that it ‘arrives’ at stuckness. The inquirer feels stuck because he senses that he has reached these conclusions before. The person who is stuck believes that there is only A or B (etc.) and neither is palatable. Stuckness suggests that, in truth, the inquirer went nowhere, only repeating or rehearsing what he had already thought before. The stuck person is perhaps doing no more than registering his dissatisfaction. I’m not sure that I would count this genre as thinking.
  3. that it ‘arrives’ at discord, creating a sense of dissonance. I may say that conclusion P is true but I don’t want to believe it (cognition). Or I may say that I should do Q but I don’t want to do that (volition).

So, I am claiming that a wrong question will make it impossible for us to gain greater clarity either because it won’t allow for an inquiry to get underway (the first reason) or because it won’t let an inquiry ‘go anywhere’ (the second reason). Perhaps there is a third reason, something I mean to inquire further about.