Who are the teachers of virtue and inquiry?

‘If virtue can be taught,’ Socrates asks time and time again, ‘then who are the teachers of virtue?’

Yesterday I argued:

1. If we are living through unsettled time, it follows that inquiring is the most important genre of discourse.

2. We are living through unsettled time.

3. So, inquiring is the most important genre.

What makes an unsettled time unsettled, I claimed, was that the everyday taken-for-granted has been churned up and brought into question and that there is near-universal skepticism concerning the claims to good authority. (In 2011, I made the latter case at considerable length in this paper on speculative philosophy.) The result is that there are inchoate questions about the most basic subjects of everyday life, yet no trust or faith that there are any teachers who can help us move out of this state of unsettledness.

Continue reading “Who are the teachers of virtue and inquiry?”

‘I don’t know… Let’s find out.’

Earlier this week, one conversation partner asked me to give him a better account of the art of inquiry. I replied that a certain genre of discourse would arise and would be suitable for a certain age. Panegyric and encomia would arise during, and be suitable for, a heroic age, since the poet’s job would be to praise the victor. During an age of victimization, in which many are given to accusations of having ‘been offended,’ one might expect to find the apology as the dominant genre of discourse.  I argue that the art of inquiry springs forth during, and is especially fit for, unsettled time.

But why is this genre, rather than some other, ‘no longer a luxury’? In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein shows that there is a ‘multiplicity of language-games,’ a diversity of ways in which words and sentences can be put, so that one would like to have a reason for believing that inquiry is the most proper genre for our time. In paragraph 23, Wittgenstein writes,

But how many kinds of sentence are there? [His interlocutor replies:] Say assertion, question, and command?— [Wittgenstein:] There are countless kinds:

Review the multiplicity of language-games in the following examples, and in others:

Giving orders, and obeying them—

Describing the appearance of an object, or giving its measurements–

Constructing an object from a description (a drawing)—

Reporting an event—

Speculating about an event—

Continue reading “‘I don’t know… Let’s find out.’”

On the 3 most important virtues for unsettled time: Patience, courage, and phronesis

Lately, I’ve been speaking with a number of conversation partners about what I’ve found to be the three most important virtues for unsettled time. Recall that our old way of life that has gone under or is the midst of collapse. Observe that a new, more flourishing way has yet to be immediately visible. You can imagine how difficult living through unsettled time must be.

Since I began practicing philosophy, I’ve put out my hand countless times and have asked others to walk with me. Most, in fear, pulled their hand back almost immediately, retreating to an old life that is still unendurable. Many walked a long for a short time but lost courage or became impatient. The rest–patient, courageous, good judges–are coming to embody a radiant way of being in the world. Hunger first, joy always.

Patience

Patience is that very long breath. Coming in all and going all the way out.

Patience is listening for the silence amid all the notes you hear.

Patience is time giving way to the unmeasured, hence eternity.

Patience is not waiting for the long something to pass because patience is not waiting for anything to pass because patience is not waiting.

Patience is drinking water before you knew there was wine. And afterward too.

Courage

Courage is living with patience, courage and patience being bound together, as the will is bound to time: courage in the face of uncertainty, patience in the presence of doubt.

Courage is knowing when to stand firm and when to turn on your heels. (Patience packs the ground firmly but not so firmly that your feet can’t pivot and move.)

Courage is persisting with the question despite the strife. Here the dark sky at midnight, the darkness not engulfing because my breathing–my breathing–rising up into the chill.

Courage, being contrary to flight, yet admits with a clean heart that my time, for now, may be best spent in the cloister. Courage does not eschew respite.

Courage is strength, infinity to infinity, but also weakness, darkened eyes letting in the first light.

The courageous one smiles with torn lips.

Phronesis

 How long to be patient, how courageous to be: here we call on good judgment (phronesis).

Phronesis is fernesis: humble, at home everywhere, especially amid the cool soil.

Phronesis says what way now with which touch on whose shoulder for what purpose. It says all this with ease and, perhaps, in a single word.

“Once more,” says patience. “Take heart,” commands courage. “This way come,” says phronesis, so invitingly.

Phronesis is a clodder, a strainer, a dancer, a stroller, a wiseacre, a shoulder-crier all, when it’s right.

Friends, do not ask phronesis how but watch and do. How is one word too many.

 —

Thanks to one conversation partner for sharing with me this beautiful drawing from our second conversation together. Take another look at the words stenciled in the background: Hunger, the point of departure for philosophical inquiry, and Joy, its running mate.

Phronesis is fernesis. Ever, A.