Wandering babies in Topanga Canyon…

Early in Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby exuberantly proclaims that there is no place he would rather live than in a cottage and, in particular, in a cottage that in all respects resembles the one the Dashwoods have let. Eleanor replies–come, come now, dear Willoughby–that the hallways are dark and the quarters are cramped. Would he really change nothing? No, nothing at all.

Willoughby is right and wrong to confuse his love of the Dashwoods with his fondness for their cozy cottage. He is wrong to claim that this cottage is exactly answerable to the best sort of life, yet right to draw our attention to the close-knit relationship between the excellences of a home and the excellences of a form of life. Just as a home is cluttered with chtokes, so a human life can be stuffed with dross and filler.

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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.

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Radiance in the key of graceful action

I define radiance as virtue manifested in the ‘keys’ of natural eloquence, a gentle demeanor, and graceful action and resonating throughout the entirety of one’s being (Episode 1. Manifestation Thesis). Dissonance is the name I use to designate the lack of harmony evinced when one has become naturally eloquent but lacks of gentle demeanor, etc.

Each ‘key’ is in need of definition. Today I define graceful action. By ‘graceful action,’ I shall mean that an act exemplifies (i) the appropriate virtues in (ii) a beautiful manner with (iii) a sense of self-surrender construed as second nature (Episode 12. Self-Abandonment as Second Nature).

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Lines composed the morning after the Noreaster (Plotinus, Ennead 1.6)

Lovers love the beautiful. Plotinus inquires what about the beautiful makes it so. Early on in Ennead 1, he says (pace the Stoics) that it is not the mere proportions of the thing that make whatever the thing is beautiful, hence not the proper relations of part to whole. For cannot a line be beautiful and cannot a single ray of light? What lovers love, then, is not physical beauty but, at another order of being (or–on an epistemic reading–a different way of perceiving), moral beauty. Plotinus addresses his words to lovers:

[Y]ou feel like this when you see, in yourself or in someone else, greatness of soul, a righteous life, a pure morality, courage with its noble look, and dignity and modesty advancing in a fearless, calm and unperturbed disposition, and the godlike light of intellect shining upon all this. (Ennead 1.6)

Here we have beauty of soul, here the harmony of the salient virtues. Lovers seek home, the most real, and discover kinship in that in the other being that also partakes of home. Understood metaphorically, lovers’ rejection of ugliness and concomitant ascent toward the Intellect is meant to occasion a change in their perspective on earthly life, a change in their mode of existing. In the most real, the really existing, the good, lovers perceive, is the beautiful and the beautiful soul–a redundancy as much as an achievement worthy of praise–is already longing for oneness, the space of tranquility.