Skepticism: Vain Thinking, 1

A fresh-ish start on a difficult topic.  Bear with me.

I take vanity to be the central concept of Montaigne’s writing:  it is the concept that joins his Christianity to his skepticism, in fact it is the concept that makes his skepticism Christian.  I suppose this claim might be a stumbling block for many, and for a variety of reasons.  The one I want to address now is this:  “You take the Essays (particularly the Third Book) as deeply colored by Ecclesiastes.  For you, the line, “Per omnia vanitas” is the running heading of the Essays.  But Ecclesiastes is, remember, a description of life “under the sun”–uncompromising, cold, objective, human–a description of a world without God.  So how can Montaigne’s Ecclesiastes-saturated essays be a form of Christian, again:  Christian, skepticism?”  But that is not how I understand Ecclesiastes.  Ecclesiastes I understand as itself revelation:  What is shows us is human life as revealed by God.  What it shows us is not something we can lift ourselves out of by coming to faith in God, as if faith in God undid the vanity of human life.  It doesn’t. God is Mystery; faith is Mystery; and the relationship of both to the vanity of human life is Mystery. That does not mean that we know nothing about God, faith or the relationship of human life to each or both, but it does mean that we cannot make simple, formulaic comments about it.  (It is not safe to say, for instance, that the view of human life in Ecclesiastes is one that simply requires the supplementation of grace in order for it to undo its vanity.  There’s something right about that, sure; but it is not a matter of simple supplementation.)  Human life is vanity.  God and faith in God do not change that straightforwardly, although God and faith in God allow for hope and patience in the vanity of human life.

Montaigne’s skepticism is his way of reckoning with the vanity of human life–a vanity still present in human life even when it is lived in Christian categories, a vanity in fact most fully disclosed in such living.  This does not mean that human life is devoid of value or of values, but it does mean that those values are, in an important but difficult sense, contradictory.  Happiness is vanity; but we should gather such happiness as we can.  Work is vain; but we need to work.  Neither happiness nor work is fully satisfying, but neither is without value.  Their value is enigmatic, contradictory.  As such, the role of each in human life is not open to easy survey–and to think either is so open is to fail to reckon with the view of human life God reveals, to fail to remember life’s existential deficiency. (Note that the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, the Church-Man, has had this revealed to him not in ecstatic vision but in the midst of his own life’s striving:  “I marked…”, “I found…” “I learned…”.  It is important that the book is written first-personally. But what is marked, found and learned is not something that the Church-Man takes himself to have come to know independently of God’s revelation of it to him. What is true under the sun is not anyway available to be known under the sun.)

For Montaigne, as for the Church-Man, knowledge is vain.  We should seek it, cannot, in one sense, help but seek it:  “There is no desire more natural than the desire for knowledge.”  But even when we have it, each of us must ask:  “What do I know?…I am an investigator without knowledge.”  –No matter what we do, we are all unprofitable servants.  –We know what we know, but knowing it does not eliminate our emptiness or neediness, as we expect it to do.  Nothing we can know can change what we are, make us new and different and better creatures.  More often than not, what we know turns out to be an encumbrance, a burden, a curse; knowing what we know makes us worse. (The Serpent’s lesson, taught in the Garden.)  At best, it tends to puff us up.  Puffiness is Montaigne’s aversion.

More soon.

Rogers Albritton on Skepticism: “Words and their meanings are as ‘external’ as trees.”

We break in on Albritton mid-argument (from Philosophical Issues 21):

…What we know (as some unfortunate men and women might not, though they’ve heard of both baboons and human beings) is that we are human beings, not baboons, a fact (if “fact” is the word for it) from which it does not follow that we can’t be baboons or must be human beings. No such modal remarks are in order, as far as I can see, in our present situation. And it seems equally out of order that the earth may or can’t be supported by a huge tortoise or a transparent column with holes in it for the moon and so forth. Out of order in our actual situation, that is, which I can’t help. I didn’t invent it. Nobody did. One can invent others. What one can’t invent is a position outside all such epistemic confines, in which the question “Is it possible or not?” nevertheless has its usual purchase and from which it is evidently possible after all that the earth is supported by a huge tortoise and we are baboons. That position, in which, as one imagines it, no question would have an answer already, and we would be free to think absolutely anything possible (what else could we think?) would on the contrary be one in which the question, whether it is possible or impossible that p, could not have its usual sense, and indeed no question could have its usual sense, since its sense would be in question too, so to speak. In the position from which one would see that anything’s possible, if one could see anything, one couldn’t see anything, or think anything either. The idea of this position in which nothing is settled yet is illusory, as far as I can see, and so is the idea, which might seem more promising, of the position in which nothing a posteriori is settled yet, or nothing a posteriori except that it looks as if there were physical objects about (and the like), which might seem still more promising. Words and their meanings are as ‘external’ as trees. If I have to think that perhaps there are no such words, then I have to think that perhaps my very own as it were words have no meanings either, and therefore I am not, as I would have thought, thinking. And that isn’t thinking…

Emerson on Montaigne 1

Here is one of the great passages in Emerson’s essay on Montaigne:

Let us have a robust manly life, let us know what we know for certain.  What we have, let it be solid, and seasonable, and our own.  A world in the hand is worth two in the bush.  Let us have to do with real men and women, and not with skipping ghosts.

This, then, is the right ground of the skeptic, this of consideration, of selfcontaining, not at all of unbelief, not at all of universal denying, not of universal doubting, doubting even that he doubts, least of all, of scoffing, and profligate jeering at all that is stable and good.  These are no more his moods, than are those of religion and philosophy.  He is the Considerer, the prudent, taking in sail, counting stock, husbanding his means, believing that man has too many enemies, than that he can afford to be his own foe; that conflict, with powers so vast and unweariable ranged on one side, and this little conceited vulnerable popinjay that a man is, bobbing up and down into every danger, on the other.  It is a position taken up for better defense, as of more safety, and one that can be maintained, and it is one of more opportunity and range; as, when we build a house, the rule is, to set it not too high nor too low, under the wind, but out of the dirt.

The philosophy we want is one of fluxions and mobility.  The Spartan and Stoic schemes are too stark and stiff for our occasion  A theory of Saint John, and of nonresistance, seems, on the other hand, too thin and aerial.  We want some coat woven of elastic steel, stout as the first, and limber as the second.  We want a ship, in these billows we inhabit.  An angular dogmatic house would be rent to chips, and splinters, in this storm of many elements.  No, it must be tight, and fit to the form of man, to live at all; as a shell must dictate the architecture of a house founded on the sea.  The soul of man must be the type of our scheme, just as the body of man is the type after which a dwellinghouse is built.  Adaptiveness is the peculiarity of human nature.  We are golden averages, volitant stabilities, compensated or periodic errours, houses founded on the sea.

The wise skeptic wishes to have a near view of the best game and the chief players…

The terms of admission to this spectacle are, that he have a certain solid and intelligible way of living of his own, some method of answering the inevitable needs of human life; proof that he has played with skill and success:  that he has evinced the temper, stoutness, and the range of qualities which, among his contemporaries and countrymen, entitle him to fellowship and trust.  For, the secrets of life are not shown except to sympathy and likeness.  Men do not confide themselves to boys, or coxcombs, or pedants, but to their peers.  Some wise limitation, as the modern phrase is; some condition between the extremes, and having itself a positive quality, some stark and sufficient man…These qualities meet in the character of Montaigne.

Emerson here complicates together a remarkable number of lines of thought.  It will take me more than one post to identify some and to follow them out.  The line of thought I want to identify and follow out now is the characterization of Montaigne’s skepticism Emerson offers.

What strikes me about what Emerson offers is its modulating from an epistemological, through a moral and finally to an existential register.  Montaigne’s life is skeptical, he lives skeptically.  But that is not to say of his life that it centers on doubt.  Like Kierkegaard’s Climacus, Emerson’s Montaigne mistrusts De Omnibus Dubitandum Est.  For a skeptic of Montaigne’s sort, any reconsideration on knowledge is not ultimately so much epistemological, an attempt to determine how much, and exactly what, we know, as  axiological, a reconsideration of the value and place of knowledge in our lives.  What we need, we might say, is shipshape knowledge, knowledge fit for our billowy life.  The point is not whether knowledge is possible, but what value knowledge can have in a properly solid and intelligible way of living.  The secrets of life do not yield themselves up to epistemological methods, not even the method of doubt, but instead to a life lived in wise limitation–where that limitation is experienced, either by the person living it or those living lives he touches, as a fullness, a kind of charm–as something to rally to.  It is not experienced as mere self-denial, as a disownment of robustness, good temper, stoutness.  Quite otherwise.  The wise limitations limn the soul of man, allowing it to be taken as the blueprint for a house always already launched on the sea, built and rebuilt afloat.  It is with the sea that we need to find sympathy and likeness.

We believe that above the surface of the water, in the sky, there is security, a world that would not require of us skill or success; we believe that below the surface of the water, in the depths, there is security, a world that would not require of us skill or success.  But a world in the hand–on the surface of the waters–is worth two in the bush, whether we figure the bush as sky or depths.  We want to live without having to adapt, despite the fact that adapting is what we do, natural to us.  But Montaigne will have us adapt, have us exercise our skills and strive for success.  Compared to the bush-worlds, the world Montaigne tells us we are in is a world in which we must be gamesters, must be game.  But we can play the odds, so to speak, and build neither too high nor too low.  We may not have security but we can defend ourselves.  Our seafaring lives can be both stark and sufficient.

The Transcendental Way with Solipsism

A favorite passage from my teacher, Lewis White Beck.  It is from his book, The Actor and The Spectator.

Only A. C. Ewing, I think, has indicated a possible transcendental argument against solipsism.  He said, “If solipsism is true, there are no solipsists, since I am not one.”  This short way with solipsism, almost a throwaway that Ewing consigned to a footnote, seems to me to be profoundly important.

The solipsist position has never been maintained if it is true, because if it is true I alone could have maintained it, and I have not done so…

I believe this argument, invented by Ewing, is likewise usable by others and not discountable when extended to others.  This argument will carry no weight, of course, with another person if he is a genuine solipsist who knows his business.  But, if there is such a person, I know that solipsism is false since that person is not I.

A Vignette on Sense-Data

To convince someone that what he really sees is sense-data, it won’t do to ply him with arguments while he is doubtful about what he sees. If he questions his own eyes, he will be in no receptive state for your gospel—your good news about a medium of unvarnished news. You can insist; he will blink and rub his eyes. He takes himself to be in a poor position to see something. You do not aid him by insisting that he is a perfect position to see something poor. He wants to move closer, to turn on a light, to visit an optometrist. You want him to listen to argument. To convince him you need him convicted by his sight. He needs to take himself to be in optimal conditions for seeing. He should stare and not blink; rub his head and not his eyes. He should not doubt his eyes; he should doubt sans phrase. He should not feel compelled to move closer, to turn on a light or to visit an optometrist. He should listen to your argument while staring fixedly at whatever he takes himself to see. Sense-data only show themselves to doubt sans phrase. Seeing them requires vision mixed with argument. They hide themselves from someone who simply doubts his eyes.

Philosophical Doubt: A Snippet

(From a forthcoming paper co-authored with Keren Gorodeisky.)

It sometimes seems to the skeptic (or to her opponent) that her philosophical doubt is a particularly high degree of ordinary doubt.  But underlying that seeming is a mistaken understanding of the generality of the conclusion of philosophical doubt as opposed to the specificity of the conclusion of ordinary doubt.  The former does not show that philosophical doubt is on the far end of a spectrum it shares with ordinary doubt.  The sort of talk we often indulge in around skepticism, talk for example of ‘hyperbolic’ doubt, thus contains a strong suggestio falsi and needs to be handled carefully.

Note that attitudes toward philosophical doubt may be degreed.  For example, a person might be very excited about philosophical doubt or might be thrown into deep despair by it.  But neither of these reactions to the doubt is an intensification of it.  Neither makes it a particularly high degree of ordinary doubt.

Descartes’ Broom of the System: An Apple? No, Doubt.

(A little ditty for my Intro students–to push them into the Meditations’ deep sea.)

Descartes has gone wrong.  He knows it.  Between the true and the false there is a double yellow line, and he’s been swerving from lane to lane.  He’s been suckered.  His senses are untrustworthy, his dreams betrayals and his God, well, maybe his God has been a cheat.  His mind, his home, his castle, has been invaded.  The walls are full of rats and the roof leaks and the foundation shakes.  He needs a fresh start, a spring-cleaning, a clean sweep.  He needs repair.

But to repair he needs to test.  What does he have worth keeping?  How can he decide?  He decides to doubt.  Not a pale, will-I-make-it-on-time? had-those-leftovers-gone-bad? daily double doubt.  No, he wants to doubt a real doubter’s doubt, steroidal doubt, fertility be damned.  He will drive out the rats, patch the leaks, and secure the foundations.  He’ll rid himself of falsity.  He will throw open his windows, prop open the door, let some air in.  Breathe deep.

How now to doubt, really doubt?  One needs a plan.  –He doesn’t want to doubt willy-nilly, randomly.  He wants to doubt systematically.  The doubt should be endeavored with a bankerish caution.  A little doubt first, and then more, and then yet more, until all that can be doubted has been doubted.  Then:  what is left is for keeps:  doubters keepers, believers weepers.

Descartes starts.  He starts with eyes and hands, suchlike.  –They’ve fooled him.  Hands have been faster than eyes.  –He can’t believe his eyes.  His hands go numb.  He has heard without hearing.  Things smell funny.  He has failed taste tests.  So much senseless sensing.

Still, some of that sensing seems sensible.  Can he really be wrong about his hand before his eyes?  Can that be doubted?  Maybe not by doubt like the doubt he’s been doubting.  But turn that doubt up.  He had dreamt his hand before his eyes when he was asleep, when he saw nothing.  He could be dreaming even now.  So much for his senses.

But Descartes realizes that not everything in his mind was deposited there by his senses.  He believes, well, like math and stuff.  Does dreaming doubt doubt that?  Maybe not.  To turn doubt all the way up Descartes looks heavenward.  Maybe there exists a creature like God, but rotten, rotten to the core, wormy.  A creature like the Garden-creature, but more seductive.  An apple-giver of the worst sort, coiled around the Tree of Knowledge, choking it, all the while smiling its villain’s smile.  Maybe that creature, that evil demon, has been fooling Descartes.  Not just about hands and eyes, but even about math and stuff.  Maybe everything has to go.  Maybe nothing is left.  Walls, roof, foundation—all to go, and not just rats, leaks and shakes.  Nothing left, no, just bits of stone and rubble.  –Descartes’ mind gone to ruin.  Demonized.

Wait, though; wait just a demon-damned minute!  Descartes’ mind gone to ruin.  Right.  Right.  There is something left.  Descartes.  Someone’s standing in the stone and rubble.  Our doubter!  (Bless his doubting heart!)  The demon can do his worst, has done his worst, but he has to do it to someone.  Someone’s got to be his patsy, his fool.  And Descartes is the man for the job.  Fool him once, shame on you, fool him twice, shame on you, –all you are doing is establishing his foolish existence.  Because he can be fooled, he exists.  Because he can get everything wrong, he exists.  What the demon can’t fool him about is his fitness to be fooled.  To be the jester in the demon’s court Descartes must be.  He submits, as all do, to the dialectic of Hamlet:  to be or not to be.  And while that is the question, Descartes knows the answer.  To be.  He is.  He thinks, maybe foolishly, but he thinks, so he is.

There, in the midst of doubt, stands Descartes.  He’s waiting for the midst to clear.

Some Underdeveloped Thoughts on Montaigne’s Style

What should be said about the way Montaigne writes?  He writes essays–as he says, if his mind could gain a firm footing, he would not make essays, he would make decisions, but his mind is always in apprenticeship and on trial.  On apprenticeship and on trial:  what Montaigne says of his mind I apply to his words.  His words are on apprenticeship and on trial.  His words are apprenticed to his subject, they are on trial by their use.  The question is:  will this word do?  Do what it needs to do, stand the test it must stand, carry the burden it must carry.  Above all, his words must portray passing, not being.  They must be capable of illumining the moment of obligation in experience, where ‘moment’ means both a brief period of time and an important point in a course of development.  But they must be able to do so in a way that does not make of the moment of obligation anything that steps free of the experience, that steps free of time.  Even the moment of obligation in experience passes.  So his words must be chosen in such a way that they do not arrest time or run from it.

One of the deepest peculiarities of Montaigne’s essays is that they too pass in time, in his time and in the reader’s time.  Consider the way in which most essays are organized spatially and not temporally, even where on occasion their logico-rhetorical form is temporal.  Most essays are written in such a way that the entire essay is to be understood as ultimately present to the reader’s mind all at once, in a timeless present, as it were.  The introduction to the essay is not earlier than the body, or the body earlier than the conclusion; no, the introduction is above the body, which in turn is above the conclusion.  Although it may take the reader time to work from top to bottom, all the parts of the essay are compresent, and understanding it means coming to hold all its parts together in compresence, in what Augustine might have called the present of the present, available to one contemporary summary observation.  But Montaigne’s essays pass.  The introduction become the past of the body which becomes the past of the conclusion.  Each part jettisons the earlier part, takes its place in the present.  The essay is thus not available to observation, but instead to memory, where it is still not present all at once, but rather passes in review.

Now I should say that I am not venturing into the metaphysics of composition or of reading here.  Instead I am picturing two different processes and two different understandings of composition and reading.  The crucial idea is that the parts of Montaigne’s essays replace each other, they do not exist together with the other parts.  That does not mean that the earlier parts do not bear on the later, but rather that they bear on the later parts in a different way.  Montaigne changes as he writes the essay.  Sometimes he intends to change; sometimes he just does.  And the moment of obligation in his experience changes too.  So what he writes now may not agree or harmonize with what he wrote earlier.  But since what he is presently writing supplants what he wrote earlier, he sees no reason to treat the disagreement as vitiating the essay.  The essay may contradict or be in tension with itself but it does not contradict and is not in tension with the truth.  The conclusion of his essay concludes the essay but it is not a conclusion in the logical sense.  The essay starts and ends but its beginning is not a function of its ending in any argumentative sense, although the beginning and the ending are thematically united, united by subject.

The essay I have been leaning on as I have written this is Montaigne’s “Of Repentance”.  I have been leaning particularly on its opening paragraphs.  That essay’s title provides a way of focusing what I have been struggling to say.  Montaigne’s words are always in apprenticeship and trial.  Because of this, Montaigne writes so as not to have to repent for his essays:  He does not teach, he tells. He tells us what he sees as he sees it.  What Montaigne tells now may contradict what he told earlier, or at any rate may not chime perfectly with it, but what he tells now never contradicts him–he remains always in creative fidelity to himself.  He also remains in creative fidelity to the relevant moment of obligation in experience.  But he does not worry about remaining in creative fidelity with what he has already told; that is, in an important sense, gone.  He did his best with it as he does with what he is telling, but he is no longer responsible to it.

Spending time trying to unify a Montaigne essay wastes time.  If an essay is out of agreement with itself, then it is.  There is no deeper unity.  But that does not mean that each essay is out of agreement with itself.  It may be that the later parts of the essay are such that, although they do not follow from the earlier, they follow the earlier, in the sense that they progressively enrich and deepen the creative fidelity of Montaigne’s treatment of himself and of his subject.

Now the lines of my painting do not go astray, though they change and vary.  The world is but a perennial movement.  All things in it are in constant motion–the earth, the rocks of the Caucasus, the pyramids of Egypt–both with the common motion and with their own.  Stability itself is nothing more than a languid motion.

Reading “RM” 11: “The Grace of Our First Certainties”

Now to address the final section of Merleau-Ponty’s “Reading Montaigne”.  The section winds together the earlier sections, attempting to describe the conditions and motives for Montaigne’s “return to the world”.  The initial paragraphs of the section set the tone:

It is not a question of reaching a reassuring conclusion at no matter what cost, nor of forgetting at the end what has been found on the way.  It is from doubt that certainty will come.  So we must measure the extent of it.  Let us repeat that all belief is passion and makes us beside ourselves, that we can believe only by ceasing to think, that wisdom is a resolution to be irresolute, that it condemns friendship, love, and public life.  And so here we are back to ourselves again.  And we find chaos still, with death, the emblem of all disorders, on the horizon.  Cut off from others, cut off from the world, incapable of finding within himself…and in an inner relationship to God the means of justifying the world’s comedy, Montaigne’s wise man, it would seem, no longer has any conversation except with that life he perceives welling madly within him for a little while longer, any resource except the most general derision, any motive except despising himself and all things.  In this disorder, why not give up?  Why not take the animals for a model–these neighing horses, these swans who sing as they die–why not join them in unconsciousness?  The best thing would be to go back to the puerile security, the ignorance of beasts.  Or to invent, against the feeling of death, some natural religion:  the extinction of a life is the way to a thousand other lives.

This movement is to be found in Montaigne.  But there is another one, too, which appears just as often…[T]he mind’s movement and irresolution are only half of the truth.  The other half is the marvel that our volubility has stopped, and at each moment stops again, in appearances which we may indeed show cannot withstand examination, but which at least had the air of truth, and gave us the idea of it.  Though, when it questions itself, never stops prolonging and contradicting itself, but there is a thought in act which is no little thing, and which we have to take into account.  The critique of human understanding destroys only if we cling to the idea of a complete or absolute understanding.  If on the contrary we rid ourselves of this idea, then thought in act, as the only possible thought, becomes the measure of all things and the equivalent of an absolute.  The critique of passions does not deprive them of their value if it is carried to the point of showing that we are never in possession of ourselves and that passion is ourselves.  At this moment, reasons for doubting become reasons for believing.  The only effect of our whole critique is to make our passions and our opinions more precious by making us see that they are our only recourse, and that we do not understand ourselves by dreaming of something different.  Then we find the fixed point we need (if we want to bring our versatility to a stop) not in the bitter religion of nature (that somber divinity who multiplies his works for nothing), but in the fact that there is opinion, the appearance of the good and true.  Then regaining nature, naiveté, and ignorance means regaining the grace of our first certainties in the doubt which rings them round and makes them visible.

Volubility, versatility, visibility; a truly astonishing passage.  Focus for now on the two Critiques, one of human understanding and one of human passion.  Merleau-Ponty reads Montaigne as a Critical philosopher, even as anticipating Kant’s first two Critiques, although Kant’s Critiques and Montaigne’s are deeply different.

But the idea of reading Montaigne as a Critical philosopher, for me a philosopher of limits, is deeply right.  Kant cartographizes transcendentally, finding reflection’s limits as reflection plays out.  Montaigne cartographizes existentially, finding his own limits as he plays himself out.  And what he finds is that unacted reflection plays itself out in a sickly, kill-joy chortle, chilling life itself in the pallor of thought; and that unreflected action plays itself out in pointless passions, vaunting vanities as lasting values.  Thought in act, as Merleau-Ponty says, becomes the equivalent of an absolute.  Thought in act:  the meeting point of the two Critiques, a place from which we can see what is genuinely precious and can see how we distort it, devalue it, by dreaming dreams of complete possession of ourselves in understanding or of completely dispossessing ourselves of our passions.  

The point is not, of course, that thought in act is always true–‘always true’:  both not false and not faithless.  We are all too often false and faithless.  But when we manage thought in act, we make ourselves available to the world and to others while remaining handy to ourselves.  Such availability and such handiness are not to be understood as complete self-possession or as complete apatheia.  In fact, such availability and handiness are irreconcilable with complete self-possession or complete apatheia, since thought in act is humble and vulnerable, not sequestered, aware of our opacity to ourselves and of the permanence of our passions.  We have to acknowledge that we are ringed round with doubt, like an island in an ocean, but acknowledging that allows us to start westward to Eden, to leave our nodding dreaminess.  It allows us to once again be graced by our first certainties:  graced—acknowledging that here where we are and there where we are going there are no Pelagian certainties.  Our original sin is our conviction that we can achieve the absolute.  All we can hope for is to live in an absolute relationship to it.  And, surprisingly perhaps, that requires that we live in a relative relationship to ourselves, without derision never taking ourselves fully seriously, never forgetting that we are investigators without knowledge, magistrates without jurisdiction, and, all in all, the fools of the farce.

O. K. Bouwsma on Ecclesiastes (1958)

Consider the life of the professor.  He studies.  He reads.  “Of the reading of many books there is no end and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”  He talks.  He, fortune favoring, learns to understand a few things.   He teaches young people, who again, fortune favoring, learn to understand a few things.  He teaches young people who, again fortune favoring, praise him at lunch and quote his words, sometimes correctly.  They may think he’s bright.  He writes a book, or more than one book, and once more, fortune favoring, he receives a check for royalties, twice each year, invests this money in common stocks and eventually buys his wife a fur coat.  He makes his mark in knowledge, in praise, and some money.  He serves on committees.  He wins a prize.  He has his say at faculty meetings.  Once he gave a public lecture.  There was applause.  He is known as a solid citizen.  At sixty-five he says that he has had enough, and perhaps some others join him and say that they have had enough, too.  So he retires.  He grows old and dies.

Is there any special way of adapting the words of the Preacher to the life of the professor?  It is common, no doubt, and in the name of Aristotle to give special honor to the intellectual life.  What about that?

The point of Ecclesiastes is certainly that how you go on in life seeking to achieve distinction, the immortality, you so much set your heart upon, in this world, makes no difference.  You may leave your name in the rock, but your name in the rock will mean nothing to anyone.  How you carve it, what initials you write after it, Ph. D., will not keep it alive.  The harm in your life, your mistake, your sin, does not consist in your becoming rich, or in your being famous, or in your knowing so much.  It is in your expectations, in your esteem of any one of these, in your expecting a profit.  So we are back to the original corruption.  Why should your life, your labor, serve you?  If you look upon your life in these terms, then, of course, you must see that your labor will not serve you.  Your labor can serve only greed, to make you more greedy, insatiable you.  Must you be paid for your life, which is a gift to you?

“Your life is not your own.”

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