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August 02, 2003

Oakeshott on Conversation

Friedrich --

After much too long an interval, it's time for another passage from my favorite philosopher, Michael Oakeshott. (His great book Rationalism in Politics can be bought here.) This is from an essay entitled "The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind."

In a conversation the participants are not engaged in an inquiry or a debate; there is no 'truth' to be discovered, no proposition to be proved, no conclusion sought. They are not concerned to inform, to persuade, or to refute one another, and therefore the cogency of their utterances does not depend upon their all speaking in the same idiom; they may differ without disagreeing.

In conversation ... thoughts of different species take wing and play round one another, responding to each other's movements and provoking one another to fresh exertions. Nobody asks where they have come from or on what authority they are present; nobody cares what will become of them when they have played their part. There is no symposiarch or arbiter, not even a doorkeeper to examine credentials. Every entrant is taken at its face-value and everything is permitted which can get itself accepted into the flow of speculation...

This, I believe, is the appropriate image of human intercourse, appropriate because it recognizes the qualities, the diversities, and the proper relationships of human utterances. As civilized human beings, we are the inheritors, neither of an inquiry about ourselves and the world, nor of an accumulating body of information, but of a conversation, begun in the primeval forests and extended and made more articulate in the course of centuries. It is a conversation which goes on both in public and within each of ourselves. Of course there is argument and inquiry and information, but wherever these are profitable they are to be recognized as passages in this conversation, and perhaps they are not the most captivating of the passages. It is the ability to participate in this conversation, and not the ability to reason cogently, to make discoveries about the world, or to contrive a better world, which distinguishes the human being from the animal and the civilized man from the barbarian.

Gad: makes my heart flutter and my eyes water with gratitude, pleasure, and delight.

(Between you and me, 2Blowhards seems to me to be one the places where just this kind of conversation takes place. All credit and thanks for that goes to the many people who stop by, and especially to the handful who pause to comment.)



posted by Michael at August 2, 2003


Utter tosh and balderdash. ;-)

Posted by: Felix on August 2, 2003 01:55 AM

Felix! You're blushing!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 2, 2003 11:33 AM

Michael's heart is fluttering and Felix is blushing...what's goin' on here?

Posted by: annette on August 2, 2003 01:03 PM

Any minute now Felix and I are likely to elope.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 2, 2003 01:33 PM

Brings to mind a quote from long ago by John Cage: "We no longer have time for the good, the beautiful or whether or not something is true. We have only time for conversation."

Don't know why, but it does bring it to mind.

Posted by: Van der Leun on August 2, 2003 06:17 PM

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