Opening My New Talk

Here’s a draft of the opening paragraph of my new talk on Merleau-Ponty’s lecture, “In Praise of Philosophy”.  The paragraph is meant to be a compendium of the topics the talk addresses, as well as a hat tip to Stanley Cavell.

I find that I am always educating myself in front of others. There is, I suppose, an effrontery in this: I admit I feel ashamed somewhat in so doing. And I realize you may wonder what I take myself to be doing, since, “Surely,” you might mutter, “he ought to tell us something he knows or takes himself to know, something he has learnt, not something he is learning”. But I confess I understand philosophy to be a matter of educating oneself, of coming into knowledge, and not a matter of having knowledge that is then simply or complicatedly imparted. At least since Socrates, philosophy has countenanced a distinction between loving wisdom and being wise, and has chosen the first as the better part, or at least as its, as philosophy’s, part. A philosopher is someone who is crucially concerned with his own becoming—and in particular with his own becoming-a-knower. Thus is ignorance always internal to philosophy, and the recognition of his own inner disorder internal to any philosopher’s sense of himself as a philosopher. I write this out of my own inner disorder, my own ignorance of what to say about philosophy. —Can I speak for philosophy?

6 responses

  1. That’s excellent! I tell students something similar every year, but only a few actually get it. The frustrating part is how many see this stance of knowledge as a mere guise for ignorance or lack of confidence. I find it’s a strikingly hard lesson for students to fully understand or believe.

    • not surprising since most education is about figuring out how to match what is in the teacher’s answer key/book. that kind of habituated socialization is very hard to give up even if one is motivated to, this is why I’m very suspicious of most claims to be teaching ‘critical’ thinking as there really isn’t enough time/attention in higher-ed to be changing lifelong habits, also the “confidence” issue is striking since this is what is most often prized an emphatic expression of one’s feeling (regardless of basis) of certainty.

  2. Very nice beginning, Kelly. We are eager for more! Perhaps creeping in here somewhere are discussions of the other (or is this to go off on a tangent?). I have been ruminating over that Derridean idea that, through conversation (and sex?), the other (by reflections) helps us better know, explore ourselves. I would like to think, in this regard, that the other is also of interest for his or her self and for its being different. So, with this in mind, the philosopher who is educating himself or herself in front of others (e.g., through ostensible teaching) may be using the reflections of and from these others as part of his or her educational process, and we hope that these others (the students) are doing something similar, working with the reflections from the teacher to do their own exploring. But where — and this is an entirely open question — is the room for others to exist (in an educational environment) in a way that is at least somewhat independent and not “for me”? Perhaps in my ruminations I should come back to Socrates (to Plato’s character Socrates). I think it is fair to ask whether he was indeed learning from his conversations, his students. Plato often emphasizes their otherness, e.g., their imperviousness to learning (e.g., Alcibiades, Critias). I should stop here, and apologize if I have headed off on a tangent. This is my otherness rearing its head! Meanwhile, again, I am eager for more of you on Merleau-Ponty! Best, Wm.

    • if memory serves one of Derrida’s always-alreadies was narcissism-without-end (and so with Levinas no end in reach to obligations/understandings), John Caputo writes after Derrida/Foucault of his love/desire for the Impossible and a theo-logical ethics that would allow us to be open/available to the coming of the we know not what what coming (or not) we no not when.
      Ed Mooney, in conversation, has suggested that one way of letting others become their own creatures is to allow our projected images of them to go even unto death, to risk our loves for their futures and to do the work of mourning.

      • oops, one too many “whats” there in the coming of we know not what coming…and than should be we know not (not we “no” not) when, typing too early in the morn, sorry.

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