Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sophistry and Amory

I sometimes think I am as much a poet as I am a philosopher, sometimes that I am as little a philosopher as I am a poet. In any case, I believe that there must be some balance between one's love of wisdom and the wisdom of one's love. To develop in feeling at the expense of thought, or in thought at the expense of feeling, is to become a monster.

Over the past two and a half millennia, sophistry—"wisdomizing" if you will—has been given a bad rap. It has been considered in bad taste to openly declare one's expertise in thinking, and especially gauche, of course, to charge a fee for carrying out the function. Today, there's a whole industry, rooted in both Easten and Western traditions, that more or less credibly produces "gurus" to help people think. They are often also considered sophists.

I would like to coin a corresponding poetic notion. In Western, Christian culture, what can be called "amory" has been derided as mere philandering in the amateur and denounced as a prostitution in the professional. (Sophists are of course correspondingly denounced as intellectual "whores", which we have to remember is also a slur against sex workers.)

Socrates was supposed to have made both love and wisdom respectable. He charged no fee and it is said he loved his students rather more chastely than his fellow pederasts. Those who involved "baser" activities (lucre and lechery) in their practices are presented as fools and perverts. "Once, a philosopher, twice, a pervert," said Voltaire of the orgy. Today our poets bear the burden of slanders against their reputations. How we love to hear of their debauchery!

Last year, I suggested an analogy between wisdom and love:

the stillness of the mind in which things are what they are,
the movement of the heart through which people become themselves.

I want try to get beyond the denunciation of people who make specific efforts to think clearly and feel intensely. Surely, given the stakes (i.e., our capacities for wisdom and love), these efforts are not simply silly or creepy. Though they may often be in error, their experiments are wholly necessary.

Sophistry is just the open pursuit of wisdom as a lifestyle. Amory, the open pursuit of love. There must be limits, of course, but I indulge in the hope that they provide natural limits for each other if pursued together.

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