QA 60. None the wiser (On the obligation and cultivation of wisdom)

Last week, I had the pleasure of addressing a conference of family mediators in Cape Town on the topic of “Wisdom in mediation”.

byzantine philosophy

Two stories

First story. An ethics professor once said to an undergraduate philosophy class, “If you believe that a professor of ethics is an ethical person, you are making a category mistake.” The students recognised that this was true. At the same time, at least one of them thought, “Yes, but you ought to be.”

Second story. Václav Havel, the writer and dissident who became the last president of Czechoslovakia, was hypersensitive to the temptations of political power. In 1991, he spoke about the perks of his office – the chef, the chauffeur, the personal assistants, the special access to medical attention – and the “unassailable logic” of their necessity: “It would be laughable and contemptible for me to miss a meeting that served the interests of my country because I had spent my presidential time in a dentist’s waiting room, or lining up for meat, or nervously battling the decrepit Prague telephone system.” Read more

equivocation, ambivalence

These “mixed feelings” of yours.

If you have no reason to feel the way you do, and yet you do, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no reason (you are irrational), or that you’re wrong to feel that way (you are mistaken), or that you should feel otherwise (you are dissolute).

But it might. It’s worth investigating.

As is the relationship between reason and feeling and you. You could think in terms of  equi’vocation and ambi’valence.

QA 58. “But it doesn’t work like that!”

Annals of philosophical counselling/practice with others

“But it doesn’t work like that!” I say this in response to some proposed scheme or strategy of yours. I mean that, in terms of what you want to achieve, what you are doing seems either futile or malicious because you have a mistaken view about what’s going on. (I could be wrong, of course. We can talk about that.)

My basic theory is that, although there’s no saying how something will turn out, the world generally makes sense and we are basically equipped to take part in that. And  we always are taking part in that. Sometimes we get the wrong end of the stick. We can do better. Philosophical practice is how we learn to do that by our own lights. That is why I call it “emancipatory”.

push the pull

Read more

QA 56. Four touchstones for thinking about peace

mandelaFor Nelson Mandela’s birthday, and because I’m reading Thula Simpson’s Umkhonto We Sizwe: The ANC’s Armed Struggle, thinking about and respecting the lives of everyone who stood against apartheid, those whose names are known or unknown, remembered or forgotten. Thinking that the aim of the struggle was peace, and how we’re not there yet. Thinking that peace without justice isn’t good enough, but neither would be justice without peace. Read more

QA 55. Tenebrae

tenebrae
Tenebrae (L. darkness) is the only Christian service I ever trusted. It’s made up of psalms of grief and lamentations of the lost and forsaken. The evening of Holy Saturday. The messiah is crucified, god has abandoned his people to their enemies. Why God? There are no signs for us to see; there is no prophet left; there is not one among us who knows how long. Read more

QA 50! Thoughts at sea

castaway_by_ascentem-d4a7u8m

A funny thing happened at the Philosophy Café last month. I got lost. We all set sail on a conversation about “sadness”, but I didn’t know what they were talking about. My mind was clear and present. I just couldn’t relate, couldn’t get a grip, couldn’t participate. And the good ship “we” sailed on without me. Huh.

It’s been a chance to rediscover that – so long as you’re not in real danger, so long as you don’t panic – being all at sea is philosophy’s home ground. Not knowing what’s happening is a condition of wonder, in every sense of the word. It’s also kind of sad. Read more

QA 47. Motion of confidence (Part 2)

MariaIHaveConfidenceLast week’s philosophy café offered another conversation about confidence. As noted before, confidence has two levels. One is conditional: the conscious trust in one’s abilities or worth, developed through experience and familiarity (“or entitlement”, as someone pointed out, referring to the social confidence of private-school girls). The other is what John Dewey described as “unconscious faith in the possibilities of the situation”, or “the straightforwardness with which one goes at what he has to do”.

One man, I’ll call him Anthony, spoke about a friend he’d had in his twenties who led the two of them on rigorous mountain hikes. One day Read more

QA 46. Motion of confidence (Part 1)

I’ve been thinking about confidence and security: how they are related, how they operate within intimate relationships, how we get it wrong and how we could do better. “Getting it wrong” is when one person’s insecurity undermines the other’s confidence, or one’s confidence reinforces the other’s insecurity, or any other twist of neediness, dependence and power. Read more

QA 44. Thinking about dignity

dig ni ty [L. dignus ‘worthy’] n. the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect

“Dignity comes from using your inherent human resources, by doing things with your own bare hands – on the spot, properly and beautifully. You can do that even in the worst of the worst situations, you can still make your life elegant.” Chögyam Trungpa

“Sometimes I feel that the more we feel like moral failures the more material possessions we adorn ourselves with. Yes, me included.” Khaya Dlanga

“Theoretically there is a perfect possibility of happiness: believing in the indestructible element in oneself and not striving towards it.” Franz Kafka

Dignity is inherent in human being. Self-evident and immeasurable, it is an aspect of the wonder of life which calls for honour and respect. There is dignity in one’s bearing, how one carries oneself. To have dignity is to have face. It shows in your eyes.

And yet dignity is vulnerable to insult, violence and loss. How is this possible? Read more

QA 43. The meaning of transgression

But the poet’s task, Kafka says, is to lead the isolated human being into the infinite life, the contingent into the lawful. ~ Anne Carson

The contingent: what sommer happens to be and could just as well be otherwise. South Africans drive on the left side, Canadians on the right. Some people wear black for mourning, and some wear white. Statutory and customary laws are mostly contingent. We submit to these rules because they’re sensible and orderly for our particular contingent of humanity. It’s what one does here.

Kafka

This kind of code has everything to do with being “one of us” and nothing to do with “me”. Under its light, we are interchangeable Tweedledees and Tweedledums. Some philosophers rail against this mundane morality, but it’s mostly innocuous and useful. As long as I don’t feel unduly constrained, as long as the rules are reasonable and reasonably fair and reasonably clear, I’m willing to go along. Even if I cut some corners of the letter of the law, I accept the spirit of its social contract. If I get caught, I’ll take the consequences. If not, lucky me! Read more