We interpret wisdom as that which permits us to live harmoniously, at peace with ourselves, with humanity around us, with our human condition and our environment, while at the same time rejecting false gratifications.
It is therefore natural that we should seek wisdom when we lack it and rejoice when we succeed in acquiring it; also that we should make strenuous efforts to hold on to every gain we make in that respect and to progress ever further.
This is known as 'the love of wisdom' and it leads us on to the study of philosophy -- which may be defined as the conscious and deliberate cultivation of the love of wisdom.
Whatever importance, for ourselves and in our lives, we attach to our relationships with others and with the world about us, there can manifestly be no substitute for our own selves in our search for wisdom. This remains true even, and especially, if this search is to have the effect of encouraging us to join with others in pursuit of it, rather than withdrawing into ourselves. At all events, in the initial stages philosophy can only be a personal exercise of our freedom: an exercise of the mind.
The need we feel to describe our initiative implies the existence of some kind of a recipient, or correspondent, and this leads us not only to try to create an itinerary for our own guidance but, equally, to endeavour to bring it to the attention of this 'recipient', in an attempt to put ourselves, in a manner of speaking, in his place, for the purpose of encouraging him to embark on an analogous path, perhaps by a kind of consensual imitation but certainly freely and of his own accord.
This justifies the presentation of this exposition, at least in the initial stages, in the first person.
THE POINT OF DEPARTURE
This path, which I am going to describe as if it were my own, will follow an itinerary whose point of departure must be chosen with great care.
The over-riding need to avoid false gratifications might suggest a starting point from which all hypothesis is absent: to concede nothing from the very beginning would tend to predispose one to accept, in what follows, only that which appears, in every instance, as irrefutable to the person -- to me, that is -- who carefully monitors the self-evident truth of every new gain as he travels along his chosen path.
But after all, if one concedes nothing then one doubts everything. This idea of starting with a 'clean sheet' is comparable to that of Descartes when he set himself the task of questioning everything that he na•vely believed to be true -- except for the basic fact that he doubted.
I may, of course, support this state of universal doubt verbally -- I may even seek to convince myself of it mentally -- but is it possible that these words and these thoughts are genuine and sincere? Are they not more likely to be feigned?
If I reflect for a moment, I am obliged to admit that the 'sheet' with which I start could not possibly be totally 'clean': it is just not feasible to rid myself, simply by an act of will, of everything that I have become up to the present moment -- with all the ideas and preconceptions fostered in me by my upbringing and, above all, by the language that I have acquired through contact with other people. This language has been responsible for the formation of my mind and especially of my capacity for coherent thought. But this problem of avoiding false gratifications makes it essential for me to choose as my point of departure -- from amongst the 'all' that I have become and actually am (an 'all' that is real and established, but confused and difficult to analyse) -- something about which I can have no possible doubt.
So, from this 'all' which I have become and actually am, I must, first of all, exclude everything which is outside of me (of which I may have a less-than-perfect understanding). Secondly I must exclude my past (of which I may have an inaccurate recollection) and my future (which I cannot possibly predict with any degree of certainty). But the exclusion of these things still does not leave me with an adequate definition of everything that is indisputable for me here and now. I must also discount all those things which are buried deep within myself -- those mental images and memories, those secret desires and intentions which lurk in the dim regions of my consciousness: the subconscious being which I am without knowing it.
The only viable starting point for my journey -- the only irrefutable basic fact which is left to me, it seems -- must be my living-experience -- that is to say, the experience of the present moment which I am living through, feeling and contemplating here and now.
Of this living-experience, which is happening at this moment, I can have no possible doubts. Let it be understood that, included in the make-up of this living-experience, there may be elements which will come to light only in the course of subsequent analysis, and these could include inaccurate perceptions, erroneous beliefs, opinions which will be altered by future events, hopes that will not be fulfilled or vague impulses that will come to nothing; this is not important. However, these elements -- including those which will eventually be invalidated -- have, at that stage, their substance, both shared and individual. They have their truth and their quality of certainty within the unit that is my present experience as I live it. It is therefore made up of a single whole -- a single flash of knowledge incorporating all these elements that it may eventually be possible to distinguish, one from the other, but which are, for that moment, linked in this unique momentary flash.
My living-experience of the present as I am living it -- and with which 'I', in my clear consciousness of it, may even become confused -- beyond all doubt, all questioning, simply is. In fact for me this constitutes the principal meaning of the verb 'to be'. This, my personal living-experience, is (or 'I am', for at this stage the two are interchangeable) in actuality, and not as some kind of possibility or pure virtuality. This remains true whatever the role played by the possibilities or potentialities that may affect the various elements that make up this unit of living-experience, and which may perhaps be brought to light by later analysis.
Thus my living-experience 'is' -- and I am ('sum' in Latin) this experience in actuality, even before I subject it to examination for the purpose of analysing what it is and into what elements the unit as a whole may be broken down -- elements which, within the whole, are elements only in potentiality. At the same time it is, in potentiality only within my living experience, all that which we have been obliged to exclude in order to define it: that which is external to me, my past and my future. Even that primitive 'me' which is my subconscious and the 'I' of my living-experience 'is' only in potentiality.
At first sight, there is nothing which appears to me to be so completely undeniable as this, my immediate, unique and one, living-experience. All that is to be found 'outside' it, including that which goes beyond it in respect of this 'dimension of depth', seems to me, here and now and for this very reason, to be uncertain, unseen, and fraught with possibilities. One can see here to what extent the inevitable spatial description remains metaphoric and requires its own correction, a little like Augustin designating that which is 'interior intimo meo'.
But these elements, which are only in potentiality 'within' my living-experience of the actual moment, cannot be made distinguishable, that is to say represented and made objective, except 'within' a new living-experience which would include, as an ultimately distinguishable element, this very act of representation and 'objectivisation'.
However, these experiences, or elements of experience, which can occur in the wake of -- or, more generally, in the 'without' (which also includes 'by way of the interior') -- of my present living-experience, must not be repudiated or taken for nothingness. In particular, a constant build-up is taking place -- 'in front of' or 'on the edge of' my subsequent living-experiences -- of a depicted world, a world of objects, which is also a world of exteriority and which is coherent and valid to other people because it is structured according to the rules of the language which I have learned from other people and which has been the basic tool of my development.
The fact that my present living-experience seems, for the moment, to be the only completely indisputable fact upon which my departure can be based, in no way precludes the possibility that my subsequent path will reveal other, equally indisputable facts and possibly also other areas of existence where doubt, uncertainty and even a certain obscurity, reign. In that they will exert an influence on my way forward, these facts and areas, in common with my initial living-experience, cannot fail -- at least in one relevant sense -- to have being, for without it they would be of no concern either to it, or the path which it inaugurates.
Thus, from the very start, the path to philosophical study comes under the heading of ontology -- a discourse on being. For the moment, this discourse is concerned first with the fact that my present living-experience 'is'; then it will be concerned with 'what' it is. The discourse has a bearing, too, on the period of waiting, while other areas -- since they will play a part in my progress -- come to be recognised as being together with this initial living-experience. All these experiences, or elements of experience of all kinds, which we may thus encounter, derive from 'being', or 'are', in a sense which includes 'will be', 'could be' or 'have been', etc -- although it is not necessary to define the tense or style. In other words, they are 'beings' in a sense which also includes 'should be', 'capable of being', 'having been', etc -- in short, everything that is in any way connected with 'being'.
Now, from the moment I begin to look at the living-experience which forms my point of departure and to analyse the elements of it, I must also examine it closely and attempt to define it. This is where it gets away from me!
In defining it, examining it, looking at it, I am no longer merely living it; as soon as I begin to put it under examination, I distance myself from it -- it is no longer my immediate present. Can I, therefore, continue to be certain that, for me, it is beyond doubt? Will I not find that, from then on, there is no longer a dependable point of departure for my philosophical journey, and consequently no way in which the study of philosophy can be honestly practised?
But the character of unassailability which my living-experience of the immediate present loses, the moment I subject it to scrutiny, is promptly invested in this new experience in which the first one is being examined. There must be, therefore, within these two life experiences -- either potentially or in actuality, but in a recognisable way -- enough common elements so that the former can be said to be taken into account by the latter.
The beginning of my philosophical journey is, therefore, not irredeemably compromised. One may redefine it thus: at each moment, I live, instantly, an experience which is beyond doubt; certainly, what might be called the content of this experience passes with each moment, but only partially; for if the sequence of experiences were totally unrelated there would no longer be any continuity or even difference between them, but only the non-existence of one for the other.
For me, this phenomenon of sequentiality is no less undeniable than my instant living-experience. But at the same time it compels me to admit that its entire meaning is not contained within it. Rather, it is dependent, in its most intrinsic sense, upon something which is situated 'outside' itself -- that is, at least that part of the renewal which is contained in the later living-experience when the first one is put under examination. In that way, I can only perceive or 'take account of' (as against 'count') that which my living-experience of the moment is, in itself, at a further moment which is also one of my living-experiences.
This characteristic of my present living-experience, which consists of depending for its very meaning upon something which is situated 'outside' itself -- that is to say, something which is not purely and simply itself -- could be called, in spatial metaphor, an 'opening' characteristic. My present living-experience is opened upon something other than itself. The first opening manifests itself in the name of the aforementioned sequence -- in the name of change, which is a temporal process. It may be described, at this point in our research, as an opening according to time.
But in this initial approach I am not yet placing myself upon a temporal line, divided numerically into units which go from minus infinity to plus infinity (or a more limited range), and where my present living-experience takes up just one point, infinitesimally small or non-existent. (The concept of such a line corresponds to what Bergson calls 'spatialised time', which allows us, in particular, to organise ourselves on a practical, or technical footing, to make and keep appointments, etc.)
I do not seek, for the purpose of identifying my present living-experience, to imprison it within the boundaries of 'time' -- either in an instant without length (which would leave me no 'time' to experience anything at all) or within a short lapse of time bordered by two precise instants. Instead I recognise it as having a certain temporal 'thickness' (relying again upon the spatial metaphor) before entertaining any thought of measuring this 'thickness'. In other words, the demand for accuracy cannot dictate that the content belonging to my present living-experience be bounded by two temporal breaks -- even perhaps 'shrinking itself' to the point of disappearing in an 'ontological transparency' in which nothing would 'be' except that which is outside this living-experience.
It remains, as we have seen, that the full meaning of my present living-experience does not manifest itself until the start of a further living-experience which, for the first, was still to come and, in respect of which, the first one has already passed.
This initial result of my analysis can, from then on, be combined, from before and behind, with my present living-experience. This is 'what it is' only 'on account of' (and again, not in the sense of 'counting') its links-lived-within-itself, and of that which is not included in it, such as my experiences yet 'to be lived' and to come, and to my experiences 'already lived' and past.
My present living-experience is not enclosed within itself, but essentially 'open' upon a future and a past, according to these two temporal dimensions. These, moreover, are found by a process of deductive reasoning to be 'aligned end-to-end' -- only from the moment that my living-experience identifies itself as a phase in a temporal sequence, and before the break-down of time into units is envisaged.
However, let us not forget, the preceding propositions are put forward only as the beginning of my philosophical journey -- a journey which, in every instance, is my own. (I say 'in every instance' because there may be many reprises or re-readings, and I say 'my own' because there may be other readers.)
Thus I perceive instantly -- if not as something entirely new, at least as something which becomes more clearly evident once it has caught my attention -- that I am not alone in being implicated in my present living-experience. This living-experience is only that which it is, in itself, when account is taken of the 'lived-within-itself' connections to a 'without' -- to a surrounding world, to an environment formed of things, beings and other men -- the 'others' of a society.
This is a good place to reflect, notably, on the language that I have acquired from the human element around me and which opens up many possibilities to me, such as: the ability to name and identify things and beings in the world, including myself; the ability to communicate with others; the ability to articulate and conduct my thoughts, using my more or less clear formulation of them, mental, oral or written, often in discussion with others; in short, all kinds of physical and mental activities which have a bearing on real objects or representations of objects, undertaken with a certain detachment (which one could call 'abstraction' in a specific sense) from a standpoint a certain distance away from the immediate life of emotions and motives.
Even when I am thinking or meditating alone, I am strongly influenced by this language I have acquired from my contacts with others. The very structure of this language (grammatical, lexical, etc) that I use in speech and even in thinking has been accumulated by habit and memory in my subconscious. There it mingles with my primitive self -- this 'interior intimo meo' -- and in certain respects has a civilising effect upon it.
Thus, cutting across the two first temporal dimensions (supposedly lined up end-to-end) -- the future and the past -- my living-experience also opens: (according to the spatial dimension but not, for all that, intemporal) upon the 'contemporary without'; and (according to another dimension, also spatial but differently -- but still not intemporal) upon the 'contemporary within'.
'Spatial' here has a doubly metaphoric meaning. In the space of the 'contemporary without' there are things as well as men, spirits as well as bodies, subjects as well as objects -- entities which are far from fitting into a geometric pattern. Also, the space of the 'contemporary within' does not precisely match that of the 'contemporary without'; its size or depth is neither the opposite nor the inverse of the outer one, but is simply 'other' than it.
In all that, despite the multiple metaphors drawn from spatiality (transversally, without, within, depth, etc), there is not yet any need to date quantitatively the contemporaneousness of this 'without' and 'within', nor to subject the distances between places or the differences of levels of depth to a process of numeration.
But, as contemporaries, this 'without' and 'within' are still temporal. These 'spatial' dimensions of the 'without' and the 'within' are third and fourth temporal dimensions. In order better to distinguish between them, one may describe one as 'extensive' (that of the 'without'), and the other as 'intensive' (that of the 'within'). But this only produces new metaphors, drawn this time on the physical, where extensiveness and intensiveness play a part -- metaphors which, in their turn, are burdened with inadequacy since physics is concerned with the measurement of size, but this is not yet required for our dimensions of the 'without' and the 'within'.
To sum up, my present living-experience is manifested as essentially opening upon four 'outsides-of-itself' -- that is, four temporal dimensions of which the latter two are also spatial (in different ways, however): the future, the past, the without and the within -- all four of which come into being after the fashion of the whole, each in its time and place, or otherwise this very link of 'opening upon' would have neither meaning nor existence. Indeed, without common 'being' there could be no link of any kind.