Symposium Introduction

Mark Anderson’s Thinking Life: A Philosophical Fiction is a layered philosophical novel. The first set of layers is that of the fictionalized relationship Anderson has to the novel itself. Anderson portrays himself as the mere editor of a manuscript by the eclectic scholar of ancient philosophy Michael Tomassi. The novel, by Anderson’s telling, is Tomassi’s production, one that is an intellectual autobiography of an imagined and never named philosophy professor. So, by Anderson’s layering, we have three doctors of philosophy recounting the tale—the fictional narrator and his life, Tomassi, the purported author, and then Anderson himself, the later discoverer and editor of Tomassi’s manuscript.

Anderson’s second layering is his method of unfolding the professor’s story. The program proceeds in four movements. At first, the professor suffers from the anxieties and disappointments of professional work in the academy. So he retreats to the mountains. Second, in the mountain retreat, the professor meets the curious and compelling thinker-artist, who provides a critique of the life of professional philosophy and a model for how to live intellectually independently, away from the quotidian grind of university administration. Third, the professor’s new idea of himself and his future germinates as he exchanges the occasional letter with the thinker-artist. Fourth and finally, the professor is his own independent mind, a creative individual. He draws down his obligations to the university, and he embarks on his own unique creative intellectual path.

The vision emerging from Anderson’s work, both with this novel and his other books (Pure: Modernity, Philosophy, and the One; Moby Dick and Philosophy; Zarathustra Stone; and The Thinker-Artist) is both a diagnosis of modern intellectual melancholy, but also a picture of creative construction as an alternative. There are, on the one hand, classical influences of Platonic mysticism, but on the other hand, there is the anti-Enlightenment pull of Nietzschean personal development and creativity. Anderson’s book, with its picture of the life of professional academics, is a searing case that something has gone wrong with the university and the lives of the scholars there. The question, then, is whether the model of the thinker-artist Anderson proposes is the fix so desperately needed.

Alyssa Lowery

Response

Bringing the Thinker-Artist Down to Earth

Mark Anderson’s book Thinking Life: A Philosophical Fiction, aims to be an instance of artistic philosophizing, a work of the “thinker artist.” For me, it succeeds in this aim; it was both a pleasure to read and yet also philosophically stimulating. I found myself reflecting on the kind of philosopher I aim to be, having been offered at least two figures against whom to helpfully compare myself. There is plenty to commend, but here I’d like to direct attention to one area of critique, that of the role of ideals in the text, particularly as they are expressed in one, the protagonist’s choice to leave his university position for the mountains, and two, the sort of philosophy lauded in the text.

A central theme of Nietzsche’s work, and the one which strikes me as most challenging in an attempt to reconcile Plato and Nietzsche, is Nietzsche’s critique of transcendent ideals. Putting off one’s potentially rich, contemporary present for the sake of a distant future of imagined happiness undermines the good of the now; we ought to embrace our material existence, rather than privilege a pristine, painless future. And yet, this is the orientation I see in our protagonist, first, with regard to his final choice in the novel, when he decides to leave his job as a professor and his life in the city for the mountains. We may leave off whether Platonism and the Christianity which took it up actually represent Plato’s views, but regardless of the success of this interpretation of Plato (I leave it to the Plato scholars to make such determinations), Nietzsche’s critique is clear. Even if we absolve Plato of the claim that he privileged transcendent futures, what is at issue here is that our narrator seems to present such a view. That is, the protagonist entertains an idea of a world free from dissatisfaction, a representation of an impossible ideal.

While it is certainly possible to pursue a life free from administrative duties, what is impossible is a life free from the demands, responsibilities, and gifts of our interactions with other people. The protagonist writes that, as a reader of Epictetus, he knows to expect to be splashed if he enters the baths; he will therefore simply avoid the baths altogether by going to the mountains and “avoid the raucous bathhouse of contemporary culture” (140). But isn’t this to miss Epictetus’ point, that there is no escape from being splashed? Bathing was a necessity, and even if one bathes in private, one will always be encountering some other displeasure from some other necessity. Having to make one’s own food, having to acquire more paper and books, all of these will be troubled by some “splashing” appropriate to the task. The narrator, though, indulges that he can live a splash-less life, troubled by only his own melancholia in the mountains. But regardless of the Stoic view, the choice to go into the mountains alludes to an idealized life beyond the present one. As Kaufmann puts it, “the deprecation of this world” is the product of a fixation on a life after death, and can lead people to “condone their imperfection,” and, “instead of striving to become perfect here and now . . . put their trust in the distant future” (346). I see something similar in the protagonist’s choices to bemoan his obligations, his opportunities in the world of academia, in favor of his idolized future in the mountains. Notably, we don’t see this future, akin to the end of a romantic comedy when the happy couple rides away into presumably domestic bliss, though it’s never depicted on screen. There is even a kind of death and rebirth in the novel’s final paragraph, mirroring Nietzsche’s critique of a fixation on the afterlife: “And so now I am done . . . with this phase of my life . . . now at last I shall begin to live. But not here, not in the hubbub of the modern city, with its shallow culture and dying universities. I am leaving all this behind. I am returning to nature, ancient and profound. I am going into the mountains” (151). Just as it is unlikely that the protagonist will be able to build the robust life of “pure art” and wild, free philosophizing he desires given the constraints of his inherited prejudices and tradition, so it is unlikely that he will develop a life in the mountains which is truly beyond the baths (127).

I see this problem of idealization not only in the protagonist’s choice to enter the mountains, but second, in the type of philosophy lauded throughout the text. Just as the professor reaches for an idealized future, so is the thinking-artistry he ultimately advocates for a kind of idealized project, in spite of its presentation of itself as able to engage the messy, poetic facets of philosophy rather than merely its clean lines of reason. In other words, it is ironically the protagonist’s treatment of philosophy I find narrow and even unsatisfying by the close of the book. In the editor’s note, he remarks that “the problem, from [his] point of view has less to do with the work the professionals produce than with their stifling of work composed in a different style for different ends” (155). If the key message of the book is that there ought to be more venues for philosophy to be composed in different styles, I find it hard to disagree. But the message also seems to be that philosophy is properly “joy in intellectual creativity . . . radical exploration . . . the exuberant subversion of entrenched pieties” and “free-spiritedness,” and that anything else is just “profession” (154). Philosophy here is only what satisfies the criteria and approach of the thinker-artist. What about people for whom philosophy is a valuable tool, having illuminated for them the contours of their oppression and the way in which they may be able to begin correcting it? Why tie to philosophy the fixation on creativity and self-attention too tightly; ought philosophy really be only for ourselves? This strikes me as a conclusion divorced from the concrete, even if challenging, practical power philosophy has historically and currently offered. Access to knowledge is a gift for many people unlucky enough to be of the sort that they may have never gotten an education in a different world. Liberation from ideology and forced ignorance (something I’m particularly grateful to philosophy for, having grown up a household that restricted the use of reason) are noble goals, perhaps the highest philosophy can aspire to. Next to them, pursuing creative self-reflection reads to me as a clear second, and as a goal which valorizes an idealized kind of philosophy removed from many of its benefits. My guess is that the protagonist would think of this as either a call for instrumentalizing philosophy, or as ends best served by philosophy as conceptualized by him, the thinker-artist. Here we may have to agree to disagree. For those not blessed with excesses of reason throughout life, a heap of it is a great gift. The truth is that to subvert entrenched pieties and liberate people in real need of liberation, careful, close, reasoned attention and professionalization are necessary.

In short, I argue that what is needed by the text—and the philosophy it offers—is a coming down to earth, a taking up of the challenges and opportunities provided by our entanglements with others. While this is a kind of redemption I associate with Nietzsche, there is certainly a tension between his resuscitation of the material world and his efforts to develop a set of values befitting the superhuman, and perhaps I have overemphasized the former. Ultimately, I’m grateful for the opportunity to engage with a work as creative and innovative as this one, a text which renders readable and engaging some of the fascinating insights of ancient and nineteenth-century philosophy, and so has served to make philosophy more accessible, a brave and commendable endeavor indeed.

 

Works Cited

Anderson, Mark. Thinking Life: A Philosophical Fiction. Nashville: S.Ph. Press, 2018.

Kaufmann, Walter. Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. 4th ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974.

  • Mark Anderson

    Mark Anderson

    Reply

    Reply to Alyssa Lowery

    I suppose I should begin by pleading guilty to not particularly caring whether my philosophy tends toward the liberation of oppressed individuals or peoples. I am happy to dissent from the contemporary consensus that everything is, or must be made to be, political. I aim to be an apolitical thinker, even anti-political. Yes, yes, I know: but this is in itself a political position. Fine. If this is the sort of dialectic one wants to adopt, I won’t complain. But neither will I play along. I accept Nietzsche’s call to go my own way, and to resist the seductive urge to escape this task by engaging in the easier, and more publically rewarding, performance which today we know as social-political activism. With Nietzsche, I would “lay the skin of at least three centuries” between myself and my today (GS 338). In sum, I want to be on the wrong side of history.

    In saying this, however, I imply an exaggerated version of Lowery’s criticism. I expand on her concern to address not only her worry, but related worries that might go even farther than hers. And besides, in one sense I quite obviously do care about the liberation of individuals. It’s one of the central themes of my book: intellectual and existential freedom, realized through the rejection of the hyper-professionalized standards of the contemporary academy. Or perhaps “transcendence” is better than “rejection” here, for in my book I mean to portray an individual who has mastered the demands of the profession but moved beyond them. He has worked to acquire the skills and knowledge of a scholar, but now he aims for more than a scholar’s life. Creativity without knowledge tends toward pure meretriciousness; but expertise without artistry is insipid. The ideal as presented in the book is an amalgamation of the two, the thinker-artist, and this presented as the highest manifestation of the philosopher. I model the image on Nietzsche himself, and on Plato too.

    Given her stress on the liberating possibilities of philosophy, it’s a surprise that Lowery begins her essay by objecting to my protagonist’s search for a more fulfilling mode of existence. Surprising in at least two ways. First, she appeals to “Nietzsche’s critique of transcendent ideals” to suggest that Nietzsche would condemn the aspiration to live a better life. But surely we don’t want to identify a better life here and now—or anyway in the near future—with a Platonic “true world” or a Christian heaven. There are no Hinterwelten in my protagonist’s conception. The comparison might be more appropriate, if still a stretch, if he really aimed for the “impossible ideal” of “a world free from dissatisfaction.” But that’s not his goal at all. Perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I could have been in the text, but when he goes into the mountains he doesn’t run off to the isolated existence of a hermit. Most all his encounters with the Nietzsche figure take place “in the mountains,” very much among people and civilization; and it’s to the mountains in this sense that he withdraws. So he’s not hiking into the wilderness, Grizzly Adams style; he’s adopting a more deliberate mode of life at a distance from the hurly-burly atmosphere of the city and the daily grind of artificial professional demands. We may assume that even in the mountains he’ll assume various responsibilities and confront his share of the usual disappointments of life. But, even so, there’s still the possibility that his new life, whatever its problems, will suit him better than his current life as an academic.

    The second surprise in Lowery’s objection is that it overlooks the fact that Nietzsche himself changed his life just as my protagonist does. Indeed, I based my two main characters in part on Nietzsche’s biography. Nietzsche retired from the University of Basel after a decade teaching there, and he spent his remaining years wandering between northern Italy and southern Switzerland. A major factor contributing to Nietzsche’s retirement was of course his illness (and my protagonist suffers similarly from migraines), but by the time he left his teaching post he had long since come to reject most every premise of the academic life. He felt constrained and distracted in and by his work, frustrated that his duties as a philologist impeded his progress toward the free life of the philosopher. Therefore he abandoned his present for a brighter future, with no hint of any dubious longing for the transcendent.

    In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche wrote: “To live alone one must be either a beast or a god, says Aristotle. He omits the third case: one must be both—a philosopher.” This has always struck me as capturing a fundamental truth about the philosopher as a type. It’s exaggerated, of course. Nietzsche never shied away from hyperbole if by indulging he could make a point or turn a phrase with greater force. But be that as it may, I mean to call attention to Nietzsche’s image of the philosopher as a free spirit, unconstrained by conventional boundaries of intellect or action. This is the image I see reflected in Nietzsche’s aphorism. Thinking Life is my attempt to adapt that image to our own time and circumstances.

Chance Woods

Response

Thinking Life through Modern Mythopoeia

A Response to Mark Anderson

Only as creators can we destroy.

—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

 

Mark Anderson’s book Thinking Life constitutes one of the most imaginative philosophical ventures in recent memory. The timeliness of this work, both for considerations of modern academia as well as for the personal enterprise of philosophical reflection, is profound. Over the last six decades there has been no shortage of trenchant critiques of modern university life, ranging from the landmark publications of Jacques Barzun (The House of Intellect, 1959) and Allan Bloom (The Closing of the American Mind, 1987) to the more recent work of Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt (The Coddling of the American Mind, 2018). What distinguishes Mark Anderson’s book, I would argue, is its supreme synthesis of narrative and critique, artistic expression and exacting analysis. Indeed, the mode of expression in Thinking Life has only a few analogues in the grand history of philosophy. Foremost among these analogues are points of reference to which Thinking Life draws explicit attention: the works of Plato (~427–347 BCE) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900). Like these precursors, Anderson draws upon a wellspring of traditions to engender a wholly new and idiosyncratic project. In the brief space I have here I would like to suggest that Thinking Life enacts a mode of philosophical reflection that hovers tensely between the realm of fiction and existential meditation, or what ancient Neoplatonists (especially Plotinus) deemed mythopoeia. While completely unique, Thinking Life participates in what Stephen R. L. Clark and Peter Struck have helpfully termed the “Plotinian imaginary”: the unfolding of metaphysical principles through a myth which “expresses synchronic realities in a diachronic narrative form.”1 The myth of Michael Tommasi’s life, ingeniously fabricated by Anderson, dramatizes the making of a philosophical life in more ways than one. The result is not some banal critique of modern intellectual life, but rather a mythographical presentation of life at its most philosophically brilliant and destructive.

Upon reading Thinking Life for the first time, the reader is immediately struck by the heightened degree of self-reflexivity that the text enacts through its many layers of fictionality. In the “Editor’s Introduction,” for example, the imagined editor notes: “For me the value in studying the lives of thinkers and artists resides in the consequent insight into their manner of becoming who they were, insight one may incorporate into one’s own life” (x). As he goes on to suggest, an intense meditation on the lives of thinkers should not inspire imitation as such, but rather reflection on the very process of psychological formation involved in philosophy as a way of life. In this respect, the editor and the subsequent narrative address the same limitations of the Romantic ideology of Bildung that Nietzsche wrestled with and diagnosed in his lifetime. Michael Tommasi’s life draws profound attention to the shallow forms of self-awareness brought about by modernity and university life. There is, in the early pages of the narrative, a profound description of how the attenuated pressures of academic life quite literally manifest themselves in somatic configurations of intense pain and melancholy. For a long while, he is unable to conceptualize himself in an organically genuine way. Thus, as the editor’s preliminary remarks attest, the narrative about to unfold gestures beyond superficial self-consciousness (one’s understanding of one’s place within a larger cultural scheme) to a more radical kind of self-reflexivity that transcends the artificial boundaries of society and academia toward true individuality.

It is upon meeting the anomalous Platonic stranger in the Alps that Tommasi charts a new direction of his own intellectual evolution. Tommasi is awoken from his scholarly slumber by the startling comment of the stranger: “My worry is whether your life as lived moves you to exult in your being, in your being here and now. Satisfaction and scholarship are distinct from cheerfulness and life, no? A man might well be satisfied with his work while nonetheless pained by the conditions of his existence, and the virtues of an industrious scholar can produce an inferior man” (32). These early remarks, in addition to resonating tremendously with many thinkers today (including myself), resound throughout the entire mythical framework of the book. The distinction made by the stranger, between an attenuated scholarly life and the more limitless scope of the true philosopher’s vision, establishes a problem that the casual reader of Thinking Life may wonder ever gets fully resolved within the narrative flux of the story itself. Indeed, the Platonic stranger’s diagnosis becomes a clarion call for Tommasi to reform his sensibilities toward greater authenticity as a philosopher.

The stranger’s continued critique of academic philosophy establishes the problem that, as I read Anderson’s work, Thinking Life attempts to outline in profoundly existential detail:

And let’s be frank and acknowledge the reality of the situation, which is this: the philosophy professor does not profess philosophy—instead he is a drone for pedantry, a book-man, a desk-man, a stunted and sallow lecturer. At best—or is this worse?—the academic philosopher translates the insights of his greatest predecessors into conceptually precise terms, rearranging the revised propositions into formal arguments, then analyzing the results as to validity and soundness. (34)

The point of this striking passage is that philosophy cannot be reduced to the rather fruitless enterprise of translating the grand insights of past thinkers into modern scholarly paraphrase. Not only is this endeavor completely servile to the rudiments of the modern research university’s methods, it also completely stifles the possibly of creating new insights and new systems of meaning. The first half of Thinking Life contains a series of critiques of formal academic philosophy in the vein of the passage above, while the second half stages remarkable vignettes of Tommasi’s determination to revise his outlook to escape the cul-de-sac of academia. By the end of the narrative, he comments:

Needless to say it is not my intention to compare my work to Plato’s, no more than to associate the consequence with the source of inspiration. The dialogues moved me to explore my every resource of creativity, and to interweave my artistry with my intellect. It may well be that here the similarity ends. I can live with that, for the person I have come to be through this interweaving is a man with whom, and as whom, I am happy to live. (137)

The narrative culminates in this tremendous notion of interweaving artistry with intellect, which shifts the focus from one-dimensional scholarly rumination to creative intellectual existence. The latter can only become manifest, as we have seen, through a story (mythos) of life.

This heroic crescendo of the book, remarkable though it is, might easily obscure the even more brilliant accomplishment that Mark Anderson achieves through his narrative. Indeed, the whole of Thinking Life reveals Anderson to be an artist-philosopher himself: what one could call a philosopher-poet (in the Greek sense of poet as maker: ποιητής, poētēs). While Tommasi has, by the end of the narrative, resolved to foster his own life as an artist-philosopher, the larger meta-literary framework of Thinking Life represents a mythographical unfolding of philosophical principles that are imaginatively explosive and made completely unique by Anderson. The specific moments in the life of Tommasi are charged with a philosophical import that transcends the biographical details. In this respect, Anderson’s work reminds the reader of a crucial passage from Plotinus’ Enneads where he elucidates the philosopher’s diverse and creative ways of speaking via myth, what he calls “our way of speaking”:

“Our way of speaking”—for myths, if there are to serve their purpose, must necessarily import time-distinctions into their subject and will often present as separate, Powers which exist in unity but differ in rank and faculty; and does not philosophy itself relate the births of the unbegotten and discriminate where all is one substance? The truth is conveyed in the only manner possible; it is left to our good sense to bring all together again.2

Conveying the truth “in the only manner possible” was extremely important for Plato, Plotinus, and Nietzsche, for all three understood the profound limitations that language and culture set upon the genuinely free philosophical mind. This is why, in part, that the various myths of Prometheus, Hermes, and Dionysus succeed philosophically where even the most dynamic philosophical treatise fails. Their stories “bring all together again” the strands of life that escape syllogistic summation and, what is more, scholarly pedantry.

What this entails for Mark Anderson is an exercise in mythopoeia that is philosophically dynamic: he uses narrative language, specifically the mythos of Tommasi’s life, to gesture beyond philosophical and linguistic constraints established by modernity and the university. This in turn allows him to demonstrate, following the metaphysical precedents of Plotinus and the existential urgency of Nietzsche, that transcendence is never fully understood except through the intermediations of the immanent world and its consequent representation in the intellectual imagination. Life itself is a form of art, though not the shallow theatricality on display in a university context. Life is art, as Mark Anderson’s work demonstrates, precisely to the extent that self-reflexivity can engender new narratives of discovery that may very well ultimately destroy the institutional foundations of formal academic philosophy. Thinking Life constitutes a dynamic myth, enacted by Tommasi but made manifest by Anderson, wherein existence itself becomes true philosophy.


  1. Stephen R. L. Clark, Plotinus: Myth, Metaphor, and Philosophical Practice (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2016), 149. I borrow the quoted phraseology from Peter Struck’s helpful overview: “Allegory and Ascent in Neoplatonism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Allegory, ed. Rita Copeland and Peter Struck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 58.

  2. Enneads, III.5.9. All references to Plotinus are to Stephen MacKenna’s famous translation of The Enneads (London: Faber and Faber, 1969). Cf. Robert Lamberton, Homer the Theologian: Neoplatonist Allegorical Reading and the Growth of the Epic Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986); and Luc Brisson, How Philosophers Saved Myths, trans. Catherine Tihanyi (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 187–206.

  • Mark Anderson

    Mark Anderson

    Reply

    Reply to Chance Woods

    Woods’s remarks on mythopoeia call to mind Plato’s account of the construction of the cosmos in the Timaeus. As Plato has Timaeus tell the story, in the beginning there were only two-dimensional triangles, free-floating shapes, which the Demiurge took in hand and manipulated to construct the so-called Platonic solids, which compose the elements of earth, water, air, and fire, which are in turn the building blocks of the universe. It’s a tale not unlike the creation stories with which we’re familiar through various religious traditions, with the difference that Plato was happy to acknowledge, and even to insist—as the founders of traditional religious narrative usually are not—that his account is a mythos rather than a logos (Tim. 29d2). This inevitably raises the question why Plato would choose to present his ideas in these terms.

    Aristotle in his Physics (251b14–26) writes as if he takes Plato to have meant the account of construction in time literally. He employs it as a foil to argue that the cosmos, and indeed time itself, must be eternal. Xenocrates insisted to the contrary that the account was merely a figurative exposition to facilitate understanding. Although the cosmos can be analyzed into the regular solids, and these into triangles, there never was a time when these parts existed independently and on their own (without naming Xenocrates, Aristotle mentions his interpretation in On the Heavens, at 279b32–280a1).

    If Xenocrates is right, then Plato’s construction story is an example of (to quote Woods quoting Clark and Struck) “the unfolding of metaphysical principles through a myth which ‘expresses synchronic realities in a diachronic narrative form.’” It’s undeniable that Plato writes in this mode at various places in the dialogues, and this is noteworthy in itself, as an example of a style of philosophizing. But even more remarkable is the characterization of Plato as a philosophical type suggested by the disagreement between Aristotle and Xenocrates. Both these men knew Plato personally, Aristotle as a student at the Academy for nearly two decades, and Xenocrates as a man sufficiently intimate with the master to accompany him to Sicily. Given their acquaintance with Plato, I wonder: could they not simply ask him how to take the relevant section of the Timaeus? If not, why not? Or maybe they asked, but Plato declined to answer. Or maybe he did answer, but with different answers to different men, or with one ambiguous answer. However we imagine the scene playing out, it suggests to me that Plato in person was anything but a straightforward expositor of truth. Rather, he was more like a poet, employing images when it suited him, and declining to translate his figurative language into literal propositions for the sake of strict clarity.

    I myself draw inspiration from Plato’s manner of writing. The dialogues at their best invite the reader to explore ideas without insisting on any one proposal or approach as obviously superior to every other. This is not to say that Plato never intimates his preferences, but hints and gestures are ambiguous—they raise the question not only of what precisely the author means to indicate, but even whether he means to indicate anything at all, for maybe after all he only appears to do so. Intimations in this way are radically ambiguous, for their ambiguity is also self-reflective. The text of my Thinking Life is perhaps less ambiguous than this, but I do attempt to present ideas in such a way as to encourage readers to think along with the text—in which activity I include thinking against the text as well—rather than to lead them toward predetermined conclusions.

    But there’s another motivation behind my writing in the mode of what Woods calls “a dynamic myth,” and that’s my desire to intermingle substantive ideas about truth, say, or the nature of philosophy, with, as Woods puts it, “existential meditation.” If philosophy is a way of life, as the ancient Platonists believed it to be—and I agree—then it seems to me that philosophers should make a point to address life in more than just its intellectual aspect. As I write in the book, it has always baffled and disappointed me that Plato nowhere addresses such psychological or emotional themes as melancholia or nihilistic despair. The author of the Problemata names Plato specifically as one who suffered from melancholia (953a28), and I cannot believe that the condition was unrelated to his philosophical activities—as either a consequence of his thinking life or an impediment to it. It’s worthy of consideration as it bears on the attainment, or not, of eudaimonia, and also as a powerful force in the life of the philosopher. In short, how should we, as humans in general or as philosophers specifically, manage such conditions? Thinking through this and related questions is at the center of my own philosophical life, inextricably bound up with more traditional philosophical concerns. And it seems to me that to engage the reader with such themes, it’s best not only to write about them abstractly, but to evoke them in the reader’s mind, to make the reader feel them. Narrative is better suited to this task than conceptual analysis or abstract reasoning. In short, to capture philosophy as a way of life in words, one must include all the elements of a philosophical life lived.

    With such thoughts as these in mind, I conceive of philosophy as an enterprise more expansive than the elaboration or analysis of arguments. The philosopher constructs and explores thought-worlds—some do, anyway—and this is both an intellectual and a creative activity. At times it involves operating with logoi, but only as elements of a broader mythos. Think, as an analogue, of Magritte’s realistic depiction of individual objects in a more broadly surrealistic composition. Or, better, consider Plato’s incorporation of arguments into the artistic whole that is the Phaedo. Indeed, most all of Plato’s works strike me as mythoi in this sense, as works of mousikê, broadly speaking. And, in all honesty, I sometimes suspect that Plato was the dreamer of the dream reported by Socrates in the Phaedo: “Plato, don’t confine yourself to Socratic rationalism, to the logos as opposed to mythos. These are only apparent opposites, and logos is but a mode of mythos. Plato, wake up! Wake up and be a philosopher-artist! Practice mousikê!”

Dan Larkin

Response

May 23, 2019, 1:00 am

Scott Forrest Aikin

Response

May 30, 2019, 1:00 am

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