In the following series, I am going to discuss three personal virtues that I find prevalent among what are generally recognized as the “great” philosophers. These virtues are (1) Openness, (2) Criticality, and (3) Altruity. Arguably all persons possess these attributes to differing degrees; my contention is that the philosopher possesses one or several of these attributes to an extent noticeably greater than the average man. This first article discusses openness to being.
Openness to Being
Being (existence) is multi-faceted, complex, mysterious, and vast. The totality of existence is not comprehendible by limited beings such as ourselves. We constantly speak of existence, think about existence, and meditate on existence and yet constantly the totality exceeds our grasp. The best of the philosopher’s have been well aware of the exceeding immensity of the totality of reality. They wonder at it’s complexity. They long to know of it’s principles. They are well aware of the finitude in relation to the seeming infinitude of their experience. They are aware that their language is too inadequate to describe, their minds too dull to understand, and their hearts too weak to adequately feel the totality of joy, pain, loss, peace, hope, and longing – in short the all – that constitutes our present experience.
In the best of philosophers this experience of the exceedingly immense multiplicity of experience leads to three constitutive virtues if appropriated rightly: Openness to being rightly appropriated consists in (1) humility, (2) modesty, and (3) harmony. Humility is the rightly reasoned attitude of a finite human in relation to his seemingly infinite experience coupled with his inability to encapsulate that experience because of his finitude. This experience of reality is constantly evading his intellectual capacities to understand, his verbal capacities to communicate, and his emotional capacities to experience in the deepest possible way such that his posture is not “lifted up” to reality in his thoughts, words, and feelings; rather, he is lowly, respectful, and gentle.
In the community of other minds, communicating his beliefs, his position is, in general, modesty. Being under the weight of the finitude of self in relation to the totality of possible perspectives on any given issue and with regard to the whole, his aim should be only to say that which is true and nothing more. His goal should be to present his beliefs with a sincere regard for the relative degree of justification with which he holds them. His modesty is not a failure to speak dogmatically on things justifiably known, but rather to recognize that this tendency, left unchecked, and the tendency of those around him, is to speak dogmatically about things unknown.
Thus, his approach to the totality should be the goal of harmony. Seeing as his perspective on the totality, and most things with regard to the totality, is limited, his goal should be the harmonization of his limited perspective with the perspective of others. Frame makes this point well when he states, “Knowing the world, then, is a complicated process in constant change. It is a matter of interacting with our multitude of perspectives and with the perspectives of others…” (Frame, 8). This harmonization is not the rejection of criticality. There are true contradictions between worldviews and propositions, but sometimes (often-times) the contradictions we assert between persons and worldviews is not real, but only apparent. The conflict lies in our finite pride, not in reality.
Openness therefore consists in humility, modesty, and a desire for intellectual harmony; harmony, modesty, and harmony are the ingredients which, when organically united, compose part of the bread of intellectual life. Still yet there is an immoral expression of openness. Socrates famously stated that the only thing he knew was that he knew nothing. In formulating his experience of existence this way, he maintains his openness to being against the backdrop of a closedness with regard to the reality of truth. This truth, it must be maintained, is, in one sense, the foundation upon which the whole of righteous “openness” is based. How could we exist as beings open to existence if existence could exist and not exist at the same time in the same sense? Such would be absurd. This is why the philosopher while always open to being must also be open to being in a distinctly logical way. This sensitivity to logic, which is sensitivity to the form of truth, is, in part, what I refer to as criticality which I will discuss in the next article.
- Frame, John. Theology in Three Dimensions: A Guide to Triperspectivalism and its Significance. P&R Publishing, 2017.