Saturday, October 03, 2009

Part of a Worldview

Mine is a pragmatic worldview. This means that I believe in using differing vocabularies or perspectives – scientific, mystical, rational, poetic, practical, religious - to engage the differing encounters we have in life. I’m mostly naturalistic in my choice of perspectives, which means that I like using science, reason and experimentation to understand things, and am suspicious of supernatural explanations. But, if in the struggle to live a good life someone believes in or has a personal experience of God, or finds astrology useful, and they do good, then they should use it. Of course, determining if anyone is using a perspective or vocabulary well is a debatable matter and one has to bring one’s array of ethical beliefs to the evaluations and debate. There is no superhuman arbiter of right and wrong, or if there is, we can’t prove to all participants that we are the ones who know it.

So while the natural and social sciences can be great tools for understanding the world, poetry is also a great vehicle for understanding and experiencing nature which science often neglects, and, in its hyper-instrumentality often hinders. While psychoanalysis fairs poorly in scientific tests of its truth, it can be used well as a means for understanding human life. And, as with most things, it can be abused and used for ill. So one must be careful to evaluate on an individual basis the various uses that people are putting their worldviews, but each worldview will be understood and evaluated according to the assumptions, beliefs and criteria of the evaluating worldview.

Because of this view, there is a great emphasis on how people interact to resolve their differences. Since there is no, non-human higher power to appeal to: whether God, the Law, Truth, Goodness, Reality, we must direct our attention not only to our vision of how things are but how the other sees things and why. In order for that discussion to be a fair one in which the best arguments prevail, the context of the argument has to be uncoerced. Jurgen Habermas describes the “ideal speech situation” in which power differentials of varying kinds are absent so the force of the better argument can win.

But what of worldviews that emphasize a practice or experience in order to know and deemphasize rational argumentation? A Buddhist practitioner could say that you have to do the practice and see for yourself. One alters one’s being then one knows. The question of what a discussion is and how to interact must be questioned.


Joshua Nash said...


I have waited until reading all of your blog before making any comments of my own. I actually happened across your work a number of years ago when I grew tired of Wilber's simplistic and evasive tendencies and eventually read your "Bald Ambition." I quite enjoyed it and your matter-of-fact critique of his "scholarship."

Although I enjoyed "Bald Ambition," I truly LOVE your blog. You write with a skillful balance of nonchalance and passion that is both inviting and comfortably intimate. For that, I thank you.

Having read the entire blog to date, plus comments, I have found the style, tone, and content of those comments quite interesting. You have offered your audience a lucid and intimate view of your existential struggles with your own self-identity and the way to (or through) knowledge and maybe "isness." Even so, most of the comments seem altogether impersonal and "intellectual." I find this striking.

What do you make of this? Having been directed to Rorty through your strong praise of him, I find it interesting that many (most) comments strike a very objective stance, rather than a stance of solidarity.

I'm trying not to make this comment too long, but I did want to point this out and ask you: how would you know you've reached "somebodyhood"? I have experienced a great deal of connection with your struggles, as they mirror much of my own struggles to "be what thou art" and "Know Thyself." So if you, or me, or anybody became a somebody, how would we know? Thanks!

Jeff Meyerhoff said...


Your letter satisfied a yearning I didn’t know I had. I didn’t realize I wanted someone to write from “solidarity” and not only from “objectivity.”

I’m gratified that you liked "Bald Ambition" and love the blog. I always thought the blog was different or a bit odd, what with its combination of subjective-revelation and objective detachment (hence the name philosophy/autobiography). I’m very conscious of writing style and glad you like it. I have a stable of clear academic writers I try to emulate: Rorty, Richard Bernstein, Robert Pippin, Hilary Putnam, Stanley Fish, Paul A. Robinson.

I think most comments take an objective stance because people mostly come to the site because it has philosophy in the title or from These are people who are mostly in their heads. Also it’s uncomfortable for most people to reveal personal things and safer to respond intellectually.

The way I defined “sombodyness” I’d be a failure if I achieved it. See:

Of course being somebody could be defined differently, but in the language of my self- and psycho-analysis it is a pejorative term and exists on a pernicious spectrum with “being a nobody” at the other end. To be a somebody here is to be valued for intellectual brilliance by some respected others. My self-value would come from without instead of from within. This is different from the entirely healthy need to express oneself and enjoy some affirmation from others. The difference between the two is how much of my self-worth is riding on getting others to appreciate me. The great danger of living on the somebody-nobody spectrum is failing to get the recognition and so ending up being a nobody. The alternative is to get off the spectrum and become, as you say, who you are (“what thou art”). That is, become your own person (mostly) regardless of what people think; acting from the desires that arise from within instead of trying to get acclaim from without.

Don’t apologize for writing too much. Write as much as you want. One rarely gets a reader like you.


Joshua Nash said...


I'm glad I struck a nerve. As a counselor, it tells me I'm doing something right. :)

You wrote this in your introductory post: "To be a somebody by my standards requires the creation of a brilliant and original piece of intellectual work that is recognized by respected peers and gives one a place in society as the creator of this great thing." Man I can't tell you how similiar this rings true for me as well.

Lately, though, it's dawned on me to ask myself who I might compare myself to. (and how) You have made mention of discussing the lived life of philosphers alongside their work. I often wonder myself if a seemingly excellent bit of philosophy about the human condition is as valuable if it comes from a person who can't live it him/herself.

Also, and I don't know about you, but my yearnings for somebodyness definitely have a flavor of a desire for immortality. Living beyond my narrow scope of earth that I'll inhabit for so brief a moment.

To nitpick: are we too identified with the body? Surely Rorty (and I'm loving him!) means something larger than the individual when he speaks of solidarity?


Jeff Meyerhoff said...

Ah, you’re a counselor. That’s why you can listen and receive.

How do you relate to your desire to be the one who creates a great thing?

In thinking about how I wanted to be regarded as “great” I ran into contradictions in my semi-conscious desire to be an intellectual somebody. I thought of Einstein. First, he’s dead, what does his fame matter now to him. Second, what time frame are we talking about? Species arise and pass. Ninety-nine (or some such number) of all species are gone. What will it matter my human fame if I judge it from the perspective of an increased the time scale? And third, eventually we are forgotten, what does it matter if we hold onto some peoples’ memories for a few generations after we die? And there are more contradictions to the desire for intellectual fame in life and after death.

I think a person’s writings can be as valuable even if they can’t live it. Rilke wrote beautiful things about how to live and he acted like a bastard. Authors not living up to their stated ideals of living could be evidence that it’s not possible, but it could be that they just failed at it, and that others could live up to it. Generally, the piece of philosophy has to stand on its own.

Yes, my desire for somebodyness were closely connected to death, and closely connected to yearning for recognition in this life. A substitute for being myself was to be a somebody. But if I became a somebody I might never be myself.

Here’s an apropos quote from Goethe: “Everybody wants to be somebody; nobody wants to grow.”

I don’t know if you’ve heard of Ernest Becker’s book “The Denial of Death”. It’s about how much of our actions in life are unconsciously a way to deny our mortality.

I’m so glad you’re loving Rorty. Besides what he says I love the jaunty way he writes. I’m not sure what you’re saying about being too identified with the body. Rorty means the society, the community, when he talks about solidarity, not just the individual.


Joshua Nash said...


I am finding this such an interesting conversation. Like you, I've got plenty of contradictions running around in my head about how to be better or grander than I am now.

A big contradiction comes in with the notion of somebodyness. I have for quite some time tried (logically and in practice) to wrap my head around the Buddhistic notion of being a "nobody." In the sense that I understand it, being a nobody in this context would actually be more unique than all the somebodies combined.

Here, I'm talking about the drive (or push, perhaps?) to truly and deeply know myself. The more I develop, mature and grow (and I loved the Goethe quote!) the more I recognize the inherent detachment I've always harbored against...myself.

You see, I think ultimately that "being a somebody" is only in reference and comparison to oneself. Also, and I could be off on this, but the folks in this world that have created amazing whathaveyous did so less out of desire to create something grand or novel (which I'm sure was there) and more because they HAD to. It was part of their own development.

Perhaps I'm being naive here, but I'm hoping the grand thing arises naturally out of the search for a deeper connection with Self-in-World. Really, how many truly awake individuals do you know? I like (for myself) this more internally-defined idea of somebodyness.

Jeff Meyerhoff said...


You wrote:

'I have for quite some time tried (logically and in practice) to wrap my head around the Buddhistic notion of being a "nobody." In the sense that I understand it, being a nobody in this context would actually be more unique than all the somebodies combined.'

Yes it would, but if you related to your nobodyness in that I'm-superior-to-all-sombodies way, you wouldn't be a nobody because you'd still be clinging to an aspect of self.

I'm not sure I understood the part about the detachment from myself you mention, but I strongly agree with the rest of it. Here's my gloss on what you wrote.

As we mature or grow, as opposed to being a somebody, we become detached from or see as problematic the part of ourselves that wants to be a somebody. It is replaced by our unique self pursuing what we are interested in. We don't know exactly where that will lead, but the desire comes from within and we go with it because it's what we like. We may find and desire opportunities to present our creations to the world and could get some recognition. And if we do we like it, but it isn't the primary driving force of our actions.

I think people have done it both ways. From biographies I've read there have been creative people who were extremely ambitious. They were also talented, in the right place at the right time and got acclaim. But there were also people who just liked or were driven to pursue their interest and were either not recognized or were recognized but not out of a great ambition.