Letters from an Epicurean (3)

Let’s continue with Robert Sokolowski’s Phenomenology of the Human Person.

The fourth [philosophical layer of language use] is parasitic on the third [declarative level], and the third finds its completion in the fourth. In carrying out philosophical discourse we enhance the agency of truth that occurs on the third level, but that agency must already be there waiting to be enhanced.” (Sokolowski, 2008, p. 34)

Before addressing Sokolowski’s passage, a short side-note is in order. A useful thinking tools, formally introduced by Daniel Dennett, is the so-called sorta operator. We can say, for example:

Before there were bacteria, there were sorta bacteria, and before there were mammals, there were sorta mammals, and before there were dogs, there were sorta dogs, and so on.” (Dennett, Intuition Pumps & Other Tools for Thinking, 2013, p. 96)

So we can say, with regard to the third and fourth layers of language:

Before there were philosophical conversations, there were sorta-philosophical conversations. Let’s now proceed, with Sokolowski’s help, to identify what it is that makes some conversations sorta-philosophical or, stated differently, what gives them the features such that they become potential domain for, and potential target of, philosophical work.

What makes the sorta-philosophical conversations different from ordinary use of language is, according to Sokolowski, the capacity to refer to oneself and to take ownership over one’s language. I can say, “The Stoic philosopher will arrive next week“, but I can also say: “I am certain that the Stoic philosopher will arrive next week“, or “I am pleased that the Stoic philosopher will arrive next week“, or “Because the Stoic philosopher will arrive next week, I must soon plan a meeting with him“.

The original [red] statement in each case is embedded within another statement and the second statement brings the speaker into view in some manner. The speaker is aware of himself, or perhaps he is sorta-aware of himself, his own role in the statements, and consequently he has access to the fact that his role, point of view, and framing of the statements could change or could have been otherwise.

These are the elements of a proto-philosophical conversation, and they are grounded in a rather simple declaration of a person’s presence.

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