Philosophers as Lovers

This is going to be a spit-out wondering. What am I wondering about? Philosophy and love. Not the love of wisdom – that’s the obvious thing to wonder about – though I suppose what I’m proposing is like an extension of philosophers as lovers of wisdom. (And, lest you’re one of my teenage siblings, neither am I talking about the romantic side of a philosophically inclined person. Sorry, young tykes, this is not a post announcing marriage as you so keenly wish your sister were about to do.)

Now, I realize that I haven’t yet told you what I mean by this title “Philosophers as Lovers.”

Let me try this: I just finished reading The Elusive God (by Paul Moser). One of Moser’s later chapter is titled “Philosophy Revamped.” In it he sketches what I take to be his vision of Christian philosophy. In a nutshell, he claims that Christian philosophy is to be subordinated to the central command and force of Christianity, love. So the project of philosophy is subordinate to (the church’s?) project of love.

Appropriately so, I think! But I started squirming at a few points in Moser’s chapter. Looking back, I think that some of those squirms derive from the fact that Moser was largely speaking past me. All things considered, I am a naive little undergraduate philosopher, comfortable with having an identity outside the academy, well aware of philosophy’s shortcomings, in tune with the fact that I have obligations to love that (ought to!) trump my philosophical projects. And Moser wasn’t writing to such people. So keep that in mind, if you’re reading this as a review of Moser’s book.

But back to the squirming. What was bothering me? I think it was the fact that I see the discipline of philosophy as itself a form of love.

I don’t think that philosophy is sufficient for redemption. You’re not going to undergo the volitional changes (learning how to love God, obey God) necessary for redemption simply by virtue of being a philosopher. Philosophy will probably hinder you from this, frankly, because it’s all about what you know.

And I think that the redemptive love God calls us to is far and beyond the love that is the discipline of philosophy. I’ll go on to talk about philosophy as a kind of loving, but I’m well aware that my need to relate lovingly to others is different and above this philosophical love.

Maybe this philosophical love is uniquely vocational. I suspect that it is: certain people are called to this form of loving. But now that I have my caveats in place:

it’s still loving.

When I do philosophy it’s not (necessarily!) a self-interested business. It’s not just about me and what I want to know, think I know, etc. Philosophy done best is outward oriented and interested in the nature of the other (Spinoza and company aside…). I consider myself to fall within the tradition of analytic philosophy, and when I’m most fulling doing analytic philosophy I feel like I’m burrowing around in the world – exploring only a tiny, tiny corner, perhaps, but carefully feeling and examining and rolling in that bit of the world nonetheless.

And doing this well requires that I love what I’m probing, that I have an interest in and a curiosity about and a care for the place I find myself within, abstractly speaking.

I haven’t worked out exactly what this looks like, this philosopher-as-lover vision that conceives of philosophy as loving the world via close examination of the world.

But I have a few ideas, that I’d like to spit out here. All are discovered in things I’ve been reading lately.

-One source of inspiration has been Norman Wirzba‘s Food and FaithI don’t have my copy with me right now, so I can’t give you quotes, but I found Wirzba’s chapter on place to include some sort of extension on my ruminations here. Wirzba admonishes us to know the places in which we inhabit, in order that we might understand these places and thereby care for them not only better, but more lovingly. And I want to say that if philosophy doesn’t lead us to care better/more fully for the world, even in a tremendously abstract way, then something is going wrong.

-Also Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (which is, *gasp!*, driving me bonkers right now – but this isn’t a book review). Relevant quote: “Some unwonted, taught pride diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the neighborhood, view the landscape, to discover at least where it is that we have been so startlingly set down, if we can’t learn why” (emphasis not mine).

-And finally, but certainly not least, Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain. In speaking of Mark Van Doren as a man influencing Merton so as to prepare Merton for the good seed of scholastic philosophy, we read, “The truth is that Mark’s temper was profoundly scholastic in the sense that his clear mind looked directly for the quiddities of things, and sought being and substance under the covering of accident and appearances.”

You might wish to object that there’s nothing necessarily involving love, there – one can look into the quiddities of things without love. But isn’t the first impulse to do just this a sort of love-impulse, or at least love-born impulse? When I probe into being and substance, I do so out of care.

A distant cousin of redemptive love this may be. But it seems to me to still be love. Something to dwell on, at least.

And since you can’t mention quiddity without Hopkins and his love for Duns Scotus coming to mind, a Hopkins poem, to close:


As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Cabbage by Flint-Hill