Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Philosophy, Or Risky of Education for Grownups: On Reading (Part 2)


Every philosophy is tinged with the colouring of some secret imaginative background, which never emerges explicitly into its trains of reasoning.

A.N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World p. 7

Man is always becoming human, and thus also remains inhuman, animal. Philosophy is not an academic discipline, but a way of measuring oneself up to this even that never stops taking place and which determines the humanity and inhumanity of mankind; very much vital questions.

Giorgio Agamben, "Thought is the Courage of Hopelessness: An Interview"
Reading as Confrontation and Conversation

Before we turn to how do read in such away, it might be worth saying something more about why reading in a risky way is important. This involves answering why read. An answer imminently suggests itself, Cavell's answer, viz., it is education for grownups. But what is education for grownups (philosophizing)? It is confrontation. A confrontation of one's life with the criteria of one's culture. And what is our lives, our culture, our language other than that of philosophy, of that peculiar founding of our Hellenistic civilization? - “It is what human beings say that is true and false; and they they agree in the language they use. That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life." (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations §241; Cf Heidegger, Being and Time p. 269) Then we are confronting our form of life.

Why do we - if we do - need to confront our form of life? Well as Plato tells us in his 'Allegory of the Cave' that are direct experience is nothing but shadows on the wall. Or as the Hindu fable of man who comes across a snake one night which frightens him due to how dangerous the snake is but then as the moonlight shines down it is revealed that the snake is in face nothing but a length of the rope. What appears to us as really is really just appearance. We need to confront our appearances in order not to live in illusions. We need to step outside of our form of live. Otherwise how are we to confront our form of life? Where are we to stand to confront our form of life? How does reading, even risky reading, provide this standpoint? Through education?

What, then, is education?
“Education, properly speaking, is an initiation into the skill and partnership of this conversation in which we learn to recognize the voices, to distinguish the proper occasions of utterance, and in which we acquire the intellectual and moral habits appropriate to conversation. And it is this conversation which, in the end, gives place and character to every human activity and utterance.” (Michael Oakeshott, “The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind” p. 498) 
For us, those of us who are of this Hellenistic civilization, who have adopted - is this a choice? - as our ancestors that peculiar, heterogeneous group of Hellenistic men - at least at the center for there as always been others but we are becoming increasingly rhizomatic - of the past, from Homer onward, who started - did they start it? can a conversation every be started? - our conversation. To be a part of this conversation is to ask, to discover, what is alive and what is dead in their voices, which possibilities are open to us (Cf. Heidegger, Being and Time ¶74). And to ask who else to adopt? To ask, what other voices ought to be heard in their own voices, or, as Carol Gilligan puts its, "in a different voice"?

These questions are now an imperative for us, an imperative in reading responsibly. This is because as we have become self-conscious, historically effected being we are no longer able simply to carry on. We are aware of the historicity of our prejudices, intuitions, concepts, practices and values. We become aware of this through confrontations. When we are through into the uneasy and unsatisfying state of doubt (C.S. Pierce, "The Fixation of Belief" §3) of how to carry on. For most of us this will occur when we are faced with a choice between to competing social roles - competing 'me's'. It is the fictitious 'I' which must rebel against the 'me's' and invent a novel way of carrying on: 

In every act of rebellion, the rebel simultaneously experiences a feeling of revulsion at the infringement of his rights and a complete and spontaneous loyalty to certain aspects of himself. Thus he implicitly brings into play a standard of values so far from being gratuitous that he is prepared to support it no matter what the risks. (Albert Camus, The Rebel Pt. 1)

The 'I' must restore its unity or it will be unable to act; one will simply abandoned the self to a form of despair in an unjust condition. In this way we are condemned, cursed, and blessed with the choice of how to carry on. Unlike irrational animals we must decided how to live in that we are have been able "[t]o rise above the pressures of what impinges on us" from the environment (Truth and Method p. 460; Cf. John McDowell Mind and World p. 116). We are not just accountable to our criteria; we are responsible for it: "today we bear a greater responsibility than ever for the proportion of continuity and discontinuity in the forms of life we pass on." (J├╝rgen Habermas The New Conservatism, p. 263). But this is not a simple matter. Rather "the renewal of traditions depends more and more on individuals readiness to criticize and their ability to innovate." (Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action Vol. 2 p.146)

Yet, we are not on our own in our endeavours to find what is alive and dead in our Hellenistic culture. Nor are we alone in our attempt to innovate, to renew, our form of life. As when we are confronted by contradictory roles in our daily life we can also be confronted by alien forms of life - "diversity among human communities is essential for the provision of the incentive and material for the Odyssey of the human spirit" (A.N. Whitehead Science and the Modern World p. 207). This, I suggest, is one reason to read. But to read in this manner is risky. We risk our very identities by engaging unfamiliar cultures, traditions. This risk is also always an imperative. As (adult) children - as in that place between maturity and immaturity - we must still learn from others, i.e., from our ancestors and from other traditions as well as other people. Peter Winch summaries this beautifully in the following way: 
"My aim is not to engage in moralizing, but to suggest that the concept of learning from which is involved in the study of other cultures is closely linked with the concept of wisdom. We are confronted not just with different techniques, but with new possibilities of good and evil, in relation to which men may come to terms with life." (Peter Winch, Ethics and Action p.42; Cf. Hilary Putnam Words and Life p. 185ff)
Then the question is not about knowledge (episteme) - reading is not about knowledge! - but about wisdom (sophia). Of course we can and go acquire propositional knowledge from reading but if this is what we are after than surely the voiceless Wikipedia would be perfectly acceptable, it would be all we need. We do not need a voice to learn lifeless facts.