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Another Digression

A response for the meantime. Let me wonder first at what you said, think--and grin.

George Frederick Watts, Hope, 1886,
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Hope sits on top of the world, supporting its weight and easing its difficulty (impossibility). Otherwise, "hope floats" and goes astray, having to fly without rest and direction. I do not know yet what that means, really.

But what is obvious is this: Hope is an activity which I choose to do. It is not passive (like expectation, waiting helplessly). Hope is to continue playing a harp which has only one string left. All the other strings have been broken. Life does that to you, you know. It breaks strings and tempts us into believing that it is useless when it is incomplete and almost destroyed. But precisely, these are the conditions of the possibility of truly hoping. We can most truly hope when it seems we can no longer go on and keep playing. To hope is to continue the music playing even when you find it difficult to hear any music. Yet you continue playing. You just have to listen, listen closely. And that's absurd, you see. That's almost impossible because there is no sense in it.

And there is no sense in hoping because you do not see anything anymore which can give you any proof to still believe and to nevertheless love. Hope is blind--or blindfolded. The problem is we think that "to see is to believe." That's the very problem of hope. And that is its beauty. It continues playing songs which we can faintly hear. You just have to listen closely. Hope has nothing to do with seeing, you see. Faith and love, yes, these depend on vision. But hope is of another power. Thus it is more difficult. Thinking about it, I am more afraid of silence than of darkness. But it is that very silence which enables me to hear the songs I play. Or more importantly: so that my faint song may reach him. So that he may hear it. Like a silent prayer that I hope reaches him.

And that's absurd, you see. Almost impossible. There's no reason to offer songs played on broken instruments. Or actually, there's no reason to continue living with a broken life and a wounded heart. Now I see. It was the other way around. Hope does not rest on the world; the world rests on it. Hope keeps the the world in orbit, from going astray, from falling into the abyss of nothingness--its death or explosion. It's the other way around.

Continuing to live everyday is only possible because it rests on hope. It is supported by it. Otherwise we'd go astray. Out of orbit. Without rest. Otherwise there's no point to all this drama and weariness. Otherwise why go on living when I sometimes see that there's no meaning? When I do not see any point. Any direction. But hope keeps us in orbit. It enables us to go on living. You just don't know it. But it's there. We just don't see it because, as we 'saw', hope is invisible (or we're blindfolded when it comes to it).

But sometimes, you feel it. Sometimes you hear the faint music. But you have to listen closely. You have to be silent. And what wonderful music you play now with the strings of your thoughts. Hopeful thoughts. Thoughts played in the silence of the heart. Thoughts that resonate and echo in the mind of your teacher. You just don't know it yet, my student.


I caution sounding pedantic and 'teacherly', too philosophy-of-man-like, but just the same, since I also miss teaching the course, here goes a kind of late summary of the various philosophers we encountered.

Let us consider the opposite case: What if we knew? What if there would no longer be any space for belief because everything is or can be known? At bottom, what if I no longer have the opportunity to believe (or not believe) in God and his works because I already know his existence (or non-existence) and his reasons (or their absence)? What if everything has already been revealed and made known in a clean formula or by clear evidence?

To be sure, on the one hand, there would be less confusion, anxiety, and risk because, as you said, there remains no mystery (literally, something dark or hidden). There will be no more shadows (remember Plato?). Everything is seen, obvious, and thus easily accounted for and manipulated with (nature, money, etc.). I can live comfortably in this way, the way of the many today. Everything can be planned technically, because everything is seen already.

On the other hand, what is deprived from me by evidence and thus (in principle) absolute knowledge is possibility, danger, and wagers. What need I have for these? Because for some, it is these very uncertainties and questions which may make a life worth living. Man does not live on knowledge alone; and generally, and I generalize too much here, religion answers to that need within man to 'search for something more'--beyond evidence and clarity, causes and effects, in other words knowledge. Not that religion, at least in this instance, is merely an easy excuse for man's ignorance, a thin disguise for his helplessness (e.g., I do not know where I came from or where I am going, therefore I must have been created by God and I am going back to him). But while religion does indicate ignorance on man's part, it also is an evidence that we are never satisfied with what we see and know.

Whence Kant's third and fourth questions. Because I cannot know everything, and since I will always fail in accomplishing everything that I ought to do, I must ask what I may hope. I seek what can be there beyond the limits of knowledge and action. Perhaps a god, an ultimate reason that I may someday know, or perhaps nothing at all. Our most important questions are trained and focused on that which is beyond our knowledge and action. And one such question is Why is there something rather than nothing? This question, precisely because it is meta-physical, is also a question of hope: Either all this is absurd, or there is meaning even if I cannot know it yet. This question enables me to thus either despair (suicide) or revolt (Camus' Sisyphus)--or hope.

Whether or not one chooses to despair or hope is irrelevant; what is important, demands Camus, is that one answers and draws these answers to their extreme conclusions, that is, to live them out. We all have to decide and answer even if we may not be sure or certain. And that is the beauty of the question and of mysteries: they reveal to ourselves our own freedom. And freedom is precisely what distinguishes a man from all other innerworldy beings because it enables him to decide on the destiny of his existence. 

These are not answers, of course. Apologies if these questions were left hanging years ago. I also did not know I was supposed to answer them. I thought I was just supposed to ask them. 

And by the way, you were a very good student. The really good students, like the most profound philosophers, just don't know it or even deny it.


  1. Anonymous5/24/2012

    I also did not know I was supposed to answer them. I thought I was just supposed to ask them.

    I understand that, now. I didn't, but somewhere along the way, I did. You couldn't have, you shouldn't have.

    Thank you, Sir. I think I fell in love with Philosophy in your class. Not that that's a good thing. Haha.


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