protean life
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an American politics of virtue

gary e. davis
October 8, 2020
Suppose you’re considering a set of importances that are profoundly so, to and for you. Your sense of importance gathers the set. There’s no essential relationship among the importances other than their belonging together in your kindred sense of importance, which is ultimately the singular importance of your life—the meta-importance of importances, so to speak.

A conception of importance as such could be derived, but what draws them together is their complementarity of selected preference. You’re primarily interested in advancing and sustaining a good life, not deriving a conception of importance as such (unless that is an importance—a conceptual, academic interest usually).

Those importances are gathered like a constellation of stars: No intrinsic form emergent from the importances themselves being together, yet they’re construable as an identifi-able constellation by oneself. The agency of selection and gathering gives the constel-lation of stars stature of belonging together.

So, a set of ideas may be salient due to whatever background of selection without suppos-ition of their sequential appeal. That is, the set could be presented in any sequence, yet presentation requires presenting one at a time, just to establish the set.

A pointillism is made point by point. What the -ism of that is, for a painting, is its gestalt, emergent point by point. Indeed, that emergence is a separate issue from the aggregate gestalt. A gestaltist mystery of the constellation may be a basis for retrospectively attending to the constellating, the emerging.

Martha Nussbaum, like any author, presents a sequence of chapters altogether constel-lated as Political Emotions: why love matters for justice. Chapter 5 is titled “The Aspiri-ng Society: Equality, Inclusion, Distribution.” Equality, inclusion, and distribution are a set of foci gathered into the theme of the aspiring society. The pole star here is aspiration, relative to a society’s interest.

But society is an abstraction. There are literal lives that are the elements of the concept, but there is no literal society, except as stipulated relative to a given set of lives. Other-wise, the notion is a generality that is presumed to pertain to any number of sets or ecospheres of lives, altogether an ecology of humanity.

A life aspires. A group of “us” assert our belonging together as a shared aspiration. Is it
an aspiration in common? Or is that pole star—that centripetal appeal—a set of life-oriented different senses of a nebulously defined, but specifically named, aspiring?

The appeal gathers different lives into shared appeal of the star, thus creating the belong-ing in the centripetal appeal of the importance as “ours.” We say the importance is “the same” for everyone; yet, it’s questionable how—to what degree—the importance is the same to everyone. Sense of the star—an author, say (or celebrity—or leader)—varies, maybe profoundly so, inasmuch as lives are authentically different, thus profoundly differentiable to-and-for each person drawn into the appeal.

But everyone wants the belonging to be stable, the appeal to be reliable, for the sake of why the appeal is shared.

And so it goes for a life: An array of appealing interests draw Self enhancement over the years into being the identity bearing a genealogy of stars constellating, let’s say, into Ideas to Live For, which professor Giles Gunn gathers “toward a global ethics,” which I mention not to focus on Gunn, but to exemplify a lovely cohering of one life: Professor of Global Studies and English and Religious Studies and Comparative Literature. What is ultimate cohering of such a career—such an “inventive and informed humanism” (reviewer)?

I imagine him agreeing—because I know that he, unmet, would—that “disorientation from the north star of our humanity disorients our capability for making good lives” (Barack Obama).

Exemplary, even paradigmatic, of climbing into the heights of Our humanity might
be Martha Nussbaum: Poetic Justice: the literary imagination and public life… The Therapy of Desire… Love’s Knowledge… Upheavals of Thought… Cultivating Human-ity… Aging Thoughtfully… The Cosmopolitan Tradition (just to name a few of her virtu-ous book-length excursions). She’s a stellar appeal, leading intelligence, responding to The Appeal in Itself.

As event of appropriation, I can imagine a conceptual partnership of Nussbaum and Gunn constellating a global ethics of fair flourishing—fairly beautiful, fairly just.

So, what of “the” idea of fairness?

No wonder a philosopher who survived unbearable suffering turns to poetic thinking, as if all the Earth and Sky and Divining ideas can still enspirit one’s mortality graciously (re: Heidegger).

In a new morning, a natural landscape (no gardening) is a bricolage implying (troping: metonym-ing) an ecosphere that’s presumably ecological because it’s healthy.

A soul of Self interest is a gardening whose ecosphere may be no more than itSelf wishing upon some missing pole star that’s exemplary, if not politically generative—centripetally horizoning, progressive and potentially evolutionary.

Modestly, a person (a selfidentity) is wise to distinguish soulfulness from a pragmatic scale of being: life-oriental (relative to leading importances), cultural, ethical (norm-ative), social (networkly), and political (broadly public).

Yet, what’s the telic cohering of that? There is no “the.” There are ways of understanding, some better than others.

So, what distinguishes the better way, always relative to interest, if not the prevailing winds (spirit) of aspiring?

That question is always ultimately open, being the condition and joy of conceptual gardening.


next—> transpersonal humanity



  Be fair. © 2020, g. e. davis