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.