On Contemplative Philosophy

D3fzM13UIAAWpjvThe phrase “contemplative philosophy” denotes a specific understanding of theory and practice that transforms the meaning of both terms. One could say that this transformation implies a recursive relationship between theory and practice, but this move doesn’t go far enough.

A real contemplative philosophy marks a crossing over of theory into practice and practice into theory. In other words, on this view, theory is itself a kind of practice, and practice delivers what we normally think of as theoretical insight.

Theory involves marshaling a significant degree of attentional resources in the mode of discursive expression. It’s a training in a certain kind of directed thought, often afforded by the tools of writing and symbol use. Theory’s purpose is to feed back into action and perception.

Nondiscursive practices, such as meditation, craftwork, and athletics, also deliver insight and transform perception, action, and understanding. Practices create affordances for iterative and adaptive modes of sensing into the depth and complexity of the world.

In this sense, both theory and practice proceed via what phenomenologists call an intentional arc, a recursive interlocking of world, action, and understanding. Contemplative philosophy for this reason is grounded in the metaphor of tactility, of learning how to grasp the world.

Another meaning of contemplation is to “mark out a space for observation.” It’s not about observation itself, but about creating the grounds for seeing. It’s also about holding steady attention on an idea in the mind, perhaps to let it unfold by itself in new and unexpected ways.

In both cases—creating a space for observing & cultivating a sustained awareness—the contemplative act is itself something like an athletic skill, it’s a trainable exercise, a practice. The contemplative philosopher is an existential athlete, a trainer of new modes of awareness.

The Ecology of the Concept Essay

Over the summer, I submitted a reworked version of my PACT conference paper to a fairly well-respected journal in the fields of philosophy, phenomenology, and cognitive science. When I received the paper’s rejection letter, I wasn’t too surprised, nor was I too discouraged by the news. I knew going into the submission process that the journal has a pretty high rejection rate, and that it’s a bit above my current pay grade as graduate student. Still, I found the comments that I received from both reviewers to be quite helpful and generous, and I’ll be working on updating the paper in the coming months to take advantage of that helpful feedback. Right now my attention is focused on preparing for an upcoming comprehensive exam on the work of Pierre Hadot, and it’ll be some time before I can return to this paper and its future iterations. So, for now, I’m sharing the paper below, and I’m uploading a pdf here. Continue reading

Dreyfus and the Intentional Arc

51ckNtCwYrL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_-1Hubert Dreyfus is most well-known for offering an account of intelligent human coping without appealing to explicitly cognitive or rational sources of action. Following philosophers such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Martin Heidegger, Dreyfus instead roots human intelligence—theoretical or otherwise—in our embodied everyday comportment with the world, in our practical actions and responses to the immediate environment. In Mark Wrathall’s words, “Rather than starting from cognition as the primary locus of intelligence, and building out to an account of action, Dreyfus starts with the premise that skillful activity itself is the consummate form and foundation of human intelligence, and derives an account of cognition from coping.”[1] In placing practical engagement before theoretical cognition, Dreyfus builds a new picture of what it means to skillfully cope in the perceptual world that unfolds before us.

Continue reading