A Really Alive Person–A Comment from Gabriel Marcel

A really alive person is not merely someone who has a taste for life, but somebody who spreads that taste, showering it, as it were, around him; and a person who is really alive in this way has, quite apart from any tangible achievements of his, something essentially creative about him…

A Philosophy of Considered Experience?

Can a philosophy be grounded on the considered experience of its author?  –So grounded, we could understand it as open to analysis and to disagreement, but not as straightforwardly vulnerable to argument based on general principle.  I ask because it strikes me that many of the philosophies I care most about can be understood as grounded in this way, as grounded in their author’s considered experience.  Montaigne’s, of course; but Cavell’s too, of course.  Many philosophers who turn in the direction of ’empiricism’, ‘experience’–can I think be best understood as appealing to his or her own considered experience.  They are not best understood as appealing to experience (full stop), are not worried about (or much worried about) theorizing the rational or a-rational bearing of experience (full stop) on belief or knowledge.  They are neither rationalists nor empiricists, although stretches of their philosophical terms, constructive or critical, sound empiricistic.

A give-away for the sort of philosophy with which I am concerned is a moment at which the philosopher talks of experience as something to which we can be loyal, something to which we can rally, something that can obligate us, something that can be educated.  Another give-away is talk about experience as accumulating, as having weight.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Marcel)

My post on combative clarity (immediately below) was in part, and roundaboutly, a reaction to a point made in the closing sections of Marcel’s Introduction to The Mystery of Being.  He summarizes the point so:  Philosophical research is “research wherein the link with the result cannot be broken without loss of all reality to the result.”

I want to attend again to that Introduction.  It ends in a way particularly appropriate to the Nativity season.  Marcel mentions the notion of good will found in the Gospels, and goes on:

It would be folly to seek to disguise the fact that in our own day the notion of ‘the man of good will’ has lost much of its old richness of content, one might even say of its old harmonic reverberations.  But there is not any notion that is more in need of reinstatement in our modern world.  Let the Gospel formula mean “Peace to men of good will” or “Peace through men of good will,” as one might be often tempted to think it did, in either case it affirms the existence of a necessary connection between good will and peace, and that necessary connection cannot be too much underlined.  Perhaps it is only in peace or, what amounts to the same thing, in conditions which permit peace to be assured, that it is possible to find that content in the will which allows us to describe it as specifically a good will.  ‘Content’, however, is not quite the word I want here.  I think rather that the goodness is a matter of a certain way of asserting the will, and on the other hand everything leads us to believe that a will which, in asserting itself, contributes towards war, whether war in men’s hearts or what we would call ‘real war’, must be regarded as intrinsically evil.  We can speak then of men of good will or peacemakers, indifferently.

A philosophy of peace, a weapon of peace–that is Marcel’s thinking.  Marcel writes philosophy so as to seek peace and ensue it.  –There are less noble motives.

Clarity, Combative Clarity

Does philosophy have results?  –As I practice it (ahem!), I guess not.  Or at least it has no results that are not internal to philosophical investigation itself.  I am Wittgensteinian enough, or Kierkegaardian enough, or Marcelian enough to believe that what philosophy aims for is clarity.  But one is always becoming clear; one is never finally clear.

Clarity.  Clarity is internal to philosophical investigation:  it is not a separable result, isolable from the activity that realizes it and such that it confers value onto the activity because of a value it has independent of that activity.  If a result is separable, isolable and independent, then it has a career cut off in an important way from the process that realized it.  Indeed, in one sense its history only begins after the process that realizes it is finished.  The result can be seized and put to purposes quite different from anything that those involved in the process of realizing it intended or foresaw.

But clarity is valuable because of the process of philosophical investigation that realizes it.  And there is no clarity in isolation from the philosophical investigation that realizes it.  Philosophical investigation does not realize a clarity that someone could hope to enjoy who is no longer involved in philosophical investigation.  (“I got clear, you see; and now I am enjoying my clarity, although, thank God!, I am no longer involved in the travails of philosophical investigation.”)  –Kierkegaard’s Climacus talks about the true Christian, the subjective Christian, as “combatively certain” of Christianity, as certain in a way that requires that the certainty be daily won anew.  “Eternal certainty” (his contrast-term) is not something that the subjective Christian can enjoy on this side of the blue.  Similarly, the clarity realized by philosophical investigation is combative clarity, not eternal clarity.

It was once fashionable to charge that clarity is not enough. Someone (Austin, I believe) rejoined that we could decide whether clarity was enough once we’d gotten clear about something.  I worry that both the charge and the rejoinder treat clarity too much as if it were a separable result.

Sufficient unto the day is the clarity thereof, I reckon–the combative clarity thereof.

Marcel on ‘Performatives’ and the Self (Kierkegaardian Subjectivity and Austinian Performatives 2)

When I say that my act commits me, it seems to me that it means just this:  what is characteristic of my act is that it can later be claimed by me as mine; at bottom, it is as though I signed a confession in advance:  when the day comes when I will be confronted by my act, whether through my own agency or that of another…I must say:  yes, it is I who acted in this way, ego sum qui fecit; what is more:  I acknowledge in advance that if I try to escape, I am guilty of a disownment.  Let us take a specific example.  The clearest, the most impressive example, is doubtless that of promising, to the extent that promising is not “mere words,” just words.  I promise someone that I will help him if he gets into difficulty.  This amounts to saying:  “I acknowledge in advance that if I try to escape when these circumstances occur, in thereby disavowing myself I create a cleavage within myself which is destructive of my own reality.”

Bringing Philosophy Peace?

Wittgenstein wants to bring philosophy, the philosopher-in-us-all, peace.  When we encounter this aim in PI, it is easy to believe that what he wants to bring philosophy, the philosopher-in-us-all, is knowledge.  And of course there is something right about that, especially if we modulate the claim to one about self-knowledge.  (After all, Wittgenstein cares particularly about the philosophical questions that bring philosophy itself into question, questions that bring the philosopher-in-us-all himself into question.)  Crucially, however, self-ignorance involves alienation from ourselves more than it involves any failure of introspective acuity.  And so acquiring the peace of self-knowledge is less learning something about ourselves than it is acknowledging something about ourselves.  (Self-knowledge is typically bitter for good reason.)

So the peace Wittgenstein wants to bring is the peace of self-knowledge; we might even call it the peace of faith.  But faith in what?

Before answering, I want to help myself to an idea of Marcel’s.  Marcel talks about faith, about fundamentally pledging oneself, as reaching so deeply into the person pledged that it affects not only what the person has, but who the person is.  His term for this, the idea I want, is existential index.  When person’s belief has an existential index, ‘(e)’, the belief absorbs fully the powers of the person’s being.  For Marcel, beliefs(e) are incompatible with pretension:  A person who believes(e) is humbled by that in which he believes(e).

And now I want to say something that I know sounds paradoxical.  Wittgenstein wants to bring the philosopher-in-us-all to belief(e) in himself, so that he is no longer tormented by questions that bring himself into question.  But this will be a belief(e) in himself–a rallying to himself, to borrow another idea of Marcel’s–that involves no pretension.  In fact, it will be a form of humility, a form of true love of himself.  He will have faith in himself, but a faith that acknowledges his own nothingness.  This is a faith that allows the philosopher to be filled with the spirit of truth (although not, notice, with the truth); it is a faith that allows him to be light seeking for light.  Such humility does not protect the philosopher-in-us-all against error.  It does protect him against depending on himself.

When the philosopher-in-us-all is tormented by questions that bring himself into question, his has fallen prey to self-dependence.  He has lost his sense of his own thinking as a creative receptivity, a dependent initiative.  He believes he has to be responsible for himself, that he has to support every response to a question by responding to questions about that question.  To believe that is to fall into the predicament of being unable to make philosophical problems disappear.  Pretension on the part of the philosopher-in-us-all guarantees the appearance of the philosophical problems.  Pretension is a lack of faith, the surety of peacelessness.

(Probably a bad idea to try to write about such things when it is so late and I am so tired.)

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