Running, freedom, pluralism

Really enjoyed Nick’s CoPhi report the other day on running, experience, and subjectivity. He told us about all he could about how his own experience as a runner feels to him like freedom and spontaneity, striking out without a set route or destination and just running. He then admitted that the experience generates an emotional penumbra he lacks words for. Precisely so, for every heartfelt joy. This is what William James called the “springs of delight” in life, so personal and inexpressible… but so real.

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….In the religious sphere, in particular, belief that formulas are true can never take the place of personal experience.

Jamie spoke to us in A&P of similar sentiments, and of the ways in which our identities are wrapped up in our attachments. He declared himself a pluralist, which in my book trumps all other ‘isms (theisms included). We’re constitutionally and habitually blind to others’ delights, enthusiasms, identities. But such blindness is

not simply deplorable but also emblematic of the deepest spring of our shared humanity, our subjectivity. And for James subjectivity is to be celebrated, as the ground of purpose in our lives; and reflection on the moral implications of subjectivity leads to a principle of caution whereby we refrain from denigrating and dismissing any process of life whose subjective sources we cannot comprehend. Springs

That’s also what makes me a pluralist, and a “friendly atheist.”

But let me just add: this semester in A&P we had a surplus of “strident” atheists who were as friendly as could be, and undogmatic theists (and Wiccans and quasi-New Agers and others beyond familiar categorization). And in CoPhi we had a bunch of friendly, open theists. They all made pluralism easy, too.

I’m missing those classes already.

Wait, I buried the lead: it’s the last class date for CoPhi this semester, before finals. Still haven’t found better parting words than Uncle Albert’s: “the important thing is not to stop asking questions.”

Nor have I found a better farewell song than Carol Burnett‘s.

But this semester I have found a new parting poem:

Empedocles on Etna

Is it so small a thing,
To have enjoyed the sun,
To have lived light in the Spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanced true friends, and beat down baffling foes;
That we must feign a bliss
Of doubtful future date,
And while we dream on this,
Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?

-Matthew Arnold

In other words: have a nice summer. Don’t stop asking questions.


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