The Post-Martial Orientation: Cultivating Toughness

Long the pride of place among the educated, compassion, empathy, and presentness are giving way to a completely different order of supreme virtues. This is because, at a more general level, the post-religious outlook is being supplanted by a post-martial outlook. It has to be so, since history is uncompromising.

This is what I see. The post-martial order carries forward the essence of physical courage in the forms of mental toughness, defiance, determination, perseverance. We have no single word for this hearty disposition: I could call it cheerfulness or something else. We are in the midst of reinventing a vocabulary for our time, one that should enable us to speak clearly about standing firm, holding our ground, and going on in the face of what once was believed to be known yet now is known to be unknown. Our own ignorance is what we are and will continue to be confronted with.

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The virtues corresponding to our economic relationships

I have been discussing three ways of making a living, which correspond also to three kinds of economic relationships. Cast as maxims, these ways are:

I. Use what you’ve got.

II. Exchange what’s in hand.

III. Offer what you can.

I. ‘Using what you’ve got’ is a territorial as well as a (for lack of a better word) practical claim. I own a home, and I use it to shelter family members and guests. Or I find some rosemary on my land, and I use it to flavor tonight’s dinner which is served to my wife. Historically, I believe the addressee of ‘use what you’ve got’ is me and mine (tribe, clan, family, community, etc.).

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The bullshitter vs. the philosopher

There are at least two kinds of considerations of truthfulness that a bullshitter categorically refuses to acknowledge: sincerity and accuracy. These are the virtues of truthfulness that Bernard Williams writes about in his last book Truth and Truthfulness. By ‘sincerity,’ Williams means the expression of a belief. By ‘accuracy,’ he means a concern with getting things right. When saying something he does not believe to be the case, an insincere person may obfuscate, mislead, lie, conceal, equivocate, or bullshit. Someone who cares nothing for accuracy has no trouble with the idea that he is missing the mark or not even within range of the target. He may not be taking aim at it anyway when he is horsing around.

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Philosophical Portraiture: Courage and Nobility

About a month ago, Aleksandra completed a philosophical portrait of a woman who is seeking to live the life of a modern mystic (below). In her work on philosophical portraiture, the claim Aleksandra wants to make is that she is not rendering the subject in a too literal form of mimesis as if the photograph of the subject were simply being reproduced in the form of a portrait. To do that would be to assume that the living subject has already, as it were, been transformed or is already finished. Rather, her claim is that philosophical portraiture is a spiritual exercise–both in its activity and in its production–in drawing out what is potentially good and beautiful in the subject but has yet to be fully realized. Specifically, which virtues have yet to be brought out, and how would it be possible–indeed, how best–to do so?


In the original photos, the subject on the viewer’s left showed a touch of timidity while the subject on the viewer’s right was slightly discomposed, flinchingly discomposed. What had to be revealed or realized, therefore, was courage in the face of hardness and hardiness (left) as well as a noble composure in view of her own death (right). I suppose there lies, in the background to this particular work, one of Aleksandra’s larger themes: what, in the present time, does it mean to age well and to live and die nobly?

Philosophical portraiture: ‘What the eyes cannot see’

In Aleksandra’s recently completed philosophical portrait (visible below), the man exhibits soft concentration while the woman exudes a soft composure attained through experience and contemplative practice. Both appear to be thinking together about the non-discursive.


The allusion in the title is to an early Daoist text called Inward Training. In Verse 4, the authors write,

As for the Way:

It is what the mouth cannot speak of,

The eyes cannot see,

And the ears cannot hear.