I’d like to have a non-argument

My friend A. in Alabama, epistemologist and (Rod) Chisholm trail guide extraordinaire, reports an epiphanic breakthrough (my characterization… I was going to call this a concession but that might be perceived as gratuitously provocative) and I’m eager to reinforce it before he changes his mind.

A. is now prepared to acknowledge “the possible limits of my view that the unit of philosophical discussion is the argument.” (As in You got an argument for that? Or, for Python fans, I’d like to have an argument, please.) Arguments, ordered chunks of verbal discourse involving premises, inferences, and conclusions, make effective discursive units just to the extent of our confidence in the range and depth and transparency of our words. But what of experiences that don’t crack the shell of articulate language? The peculiar felt quality of the sunrise I’m glimpsing right now, or the tang of coffee on my tongue, or the personal emotional resonance of living with the permanent loss of a parent? They’re experiences I can evoke with words to some degree, but cannot replicate. A. continues:

“…one way to do philosophy might be to present a way of looking at things to see whether it is faithful to one’s experience. This does not require discursive argument, it seems.”

William James said a similar thing in Pragmatism, as I never tire of repeating:

The philosophy which is so important in each of us is not a technical matter; it is our more or less dumb sense of what life honestly and deeply means. It is only partly got from books; it is our individual way of just seeing and feeling the total push and pressure of the cosmos.

James also said, in Varieties of Religious Experience,

Philosophy lives in words, but truth and fact well up into our lives in ways that exceed verbal formulation. There is in the living act of perception always something that glimmers and twinkles and will not be caught, and for which reflection comes too late. No one knows this as well as the philosopher. He must fire his volley of new vocables out of his conceptual shotgun, for his profession condemns him to this industry; but he secretly knows the hollowness and irrelevancy.

Beliefs, even justified true beliefs, can’t replace personal experience.

Therefore,

She’s a witch!

No, that’s not the right conclusion. This might be:

“…lots of culture can be seen as philosophical despite the fact that it falls outside my narrow conception of it.”

Yes, I vote for that one. Not that truth can be put to a plebiscite, but popularity just is one. In these troubled times, we state-sponsored philosophers can’t afford to ignore vox populi. The question is: can it be done well? Another question: are we the guys to do it?

Further analysis seems indicated, A. Or perhaps not?

(Meanwhile, don’t forget to order your copy of Jimmy Buffett and Philosophy, and to tune in a popularizing philosopher on the radio this weekend.)

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