The testing of souls

I still ascribe to the quaint notion that philosophy is ultimately about living well. Everything else — epistemology, ontology, ethics, metaphysics, etc. — is valuable to only to the extent it is interesting, since interest points us toward what is vital in life. A corollary (too often neglected) is that each of us should apply ourselves to abstract notions of living well only to the extent they illuminate the concrete act of living well. (This is why I shrink from teaching classes in ethics — the academic concern tends to overwhelm the performative.) Whatever habit formation is required to translate from abstract philosophical theory into the concrete cultivation of practical wisdom is also part of philosophy, in fact, its most important part. Let me therefore distinguish the theoretical component of philosophy from its performative component. The former can be inscribed with ink on paper, but the latter can only be inscribe on a living soul and is not reducible to ink.

I can, by own admission, therefore only point or gesture toward this difference. One of the first things to understand both (more…)

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On Defective Reading

I call my project the “Defective Reading” of Platonic philosophy. My working hypothesis is that defects can only be experienced as defects if there is at work an anterior/immanent norm of completion or wholeness. The defect is “seen” by the “light” provided by the sense of wholeness/completion animating the beholder. The light is not seen, but seen by. Once one become aware of a defect, in an argument for instance, an inner norm becomes energetic and operative. Defects excite such norms, whereas self-satisfied opinions depress them. Moments of such defective awareness thus present the best chance (more…)

Provisional Aims of My Book Project

I intend to write a book about Plato’s Republic, particularly about his notion of doxa (opinion/seeming) as it relates to the quest for wisdom. My working title is “A Defective Reading of Plato’s Republic.” A truncated list of the theses I intend to defend in my book and to begin airing out in my blog:

1) That knowledge is something above (not reproducible to) doxa and yet the communication of knowledge must be mediated by opinion/doxa.
2) That opinion/doxa is defective in relation to knowledge and its defect must become focal in order to ascend to knowledge.
3) That desire/eros requires an awareness of defect joined to an anticipation of satisfying what is missing, what I am calling “felt absence.”
4) That the question arising from the defect in opinion/doxa, that shapes a search, is properly erotic.
5) That the Divided Line is the interpretive key to the Republic and that its function is to establish a form of erotic exhortation/protrepsis to overcome the intentional defects of the dialogue.
6) That the constructions of the “city in speech” in the Republic is a concrete illustration of the groping toward Form schematized in the Divide Line
7) That the Platonic educational program is one devoted to the liturgical shaping of philosophical desire.
8) That dialogic irony is a rhetorical form that attempts to avoid the premature satisfaction of scandalized belief.
9) That the conversion/periagoge which constitutes the end of education cannot be reduced to doxa.
10) That forms are heuristic anticipations of the overcoming of doxic defect produced by nonrivalrous forms of mediation.
11) That friendship/philia  is an essential component of true philosophical praxis.
12) That the Republic is intentionally defective and its true teaching is not given in the dialogue itself.

I realize that these theses are too truncated and thus incapable in themselves of communicating my interpretation of Plato’s thought. (This incapacity of direct speech to communicate vital truth is something that I believe Kierkegaard learned from Plato.) But one can point, direct attention and provoke thought in a particular direction. One of the ironies of my book is the attempt to say directly what cannot really be said directly. Wallace Stephens wrote that “The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.” I am worried that my book will be all too successful in this resistance!