I remember the first time I encountered the power of not knowing. It was my second year of college taking my first course in Intro to Political Theory with Dr. Wells – hail my alma-mater, Carson Newman (former) College, now (University). I had never met the experience of education quite like this. It was like encountering a higher power, a power that held the key to my identity before I understood it as such. The deepest parts of me, my paradigm, and the seeds of my motivations seem to have been known to Dr. Wells. After a few years of study I began to grow suspicious as I witnessed this power operate on others. It was an operation, a surgery of sort. Only looking back now to I realize what was happening. (or do I?) We were literally moving through history, deconstructing and reconstructing our world-views. It left a strange feeling through. It was a bit more specific than I can explain … This change of worldview, this paradigm shifting, held a deep, quazi-sacred sense, with an undeniable, though subtle, hint of betrayal. The change was strange, liberating, destabilizing all at the same time. It was an encounter, an event that was at the same time a process. I encountered a teacher, or a teaching that exposed my mind as something known… by or for or to something larger than me. This is philosophy.
An emergence from the cave of shadows… who can leave the allegory?
What can said about the presence of wisdom? More and more I find myself answering questions with stories. Are you a Christian? Do you believe in God? Are you gay? What are your plans for marriage? Do you pray? How long have you been a teacher? The Chinese I have met have asked me these questions. They seem reasonable enough, and not at all different from the questions of contemporary cultural identity. Still, the distance between my story and their understanding of my English, the nuance, the person behind the appearance… is pretty fascinating.
The purpose and power questions are outstanding. Would you like a relationship with me? Do you feel me? May I ask… how can I love you best? My thoughts wonder to Derrida and Jabes – A people of the question. But the question was never just Jewish. It is also a human response, a Greek response.
At some point in every class I have taught (three now?) I write the word “Philosophy” on the board. I always refer to philosophy as the “Love of Wisdom.” I have a fondness and sensitivity for this meaning. The other definitions feel exhausted and trite in comparison… perhaps their value is more to the point of a specific age or culture of mentality, “the use of reason to investigate fundamental questions,” or “The passionate and relentless quest for truth.” Yes… of course this is philosophy.
But something about the invocation of love and wisdom makes words like “reason” and “investigation” feel flighty in comparison. I suppose that love and wisdom somehow extend beyond the calculations and the quest, they subsume the experience. The thing about seeking enlightenment is that once experienced the identity that sought the quest will be no more. I did not become a philosopher to squabble about ontology. I became a philosopher to live an ontology. So that I might commit to living axioms like the following from Bill W.:
“We will want the good that is in us all, even in the worst of us, to flower and to grow.” … As Bill Sees It, pg. 10.
I remember having the privilege of choosing the quote for my undergraduate philosophy honors fraternity. I was fond of medieval thought at the time and still a bit bitter at the Christian paradigm I was wrestling free from so I went with a quote from John Scotus Erigena, in what I though would be a subtle stab at fundamentalist Christianity and their conceptions of salvation, religion, and the role of philosophy. “True philosophy is true religion, and conversely true religion is true philosophy… no one can enter heaven except through philosophy.”
I believe the conditions for wisdom require humility. If philosophy is a character or a person or an event… surely the largest quality must be that of humility. Humility – the door of wisdom, the power of knowing that you do not know, surely this is not Philosophy’s only quality! …but it might be…