There are some
per accidens truths which seem to have implications which,
if not strictly necessary, are so frequent as to call attention
to themselves. That a philosopher be a father is per accidens;
one can be a father without committing philosophy and one
can be a philosopher without having a wife and family. True
enough. But what is the significance, if any, of the fact
that such a large number of the most influential modern philosophers
had neither wife nor children?
Draw up the list.
Descartes, Leibniz, Malebranche, Hume,
Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Sartre,
Camus.... One could go on and on,
but these suffice to make a point. Or to ask a question.
by the abstract and fantastic character of much modern thought,
its divorce from reality, its tendency to regard the world
and ourselves as constructs, products of our unguided freedom,
will ask himself how so many men of such obvious talent got
so out of touch with things. Not all wonder is assuaged by
an answer, of course, but consider this.
One whose mental
activity goes on without any reference to the ordinary lived
tasks of a human person, having a wife, having children, with
all the joys and sorrows, slings and arrows, they entail,
is unlikely to have his feet on the ground that sustains and
defines the vast majority of human beings. The lived experience
that is the only sure source of human thought. Chesterton
said of the legendary absent-minded professor that his real
problem is that everything is absent from his life but mind.
He lives in a world of abstraction. Thought too easily becomes
a game, the rules for which each thinker is busily constructing.
Not many husbands and fathers who are also philosophers could
regard this sort of thing as anything other than a frivolous
temptation. One with babies of his own is less likely to forget
that he himself began life as a baby, an obvious truth with
To be bound by
lifelong promises to another human being, for better or worse,
in good times and in bad; to know not only the joys but the
anxieties of parenthood; to nurse a sick child, to feel the
vast responsibility of nurturing and educating one's children,
feeding, burping, changing diapers - all these protect one
from that great fantasy, Pure Reason.
of antiquity are another story; as are those of the Middle
Ages, who by and large were celibates. Kierkegaard too is
another story. A life in which the ordinary tasks of human
life are sublimated to a higher, religious telos is very different
from one in which those tasks seem simply absent, forgotten,
so that one imagines oneself a Mind looking for its object.
It is true that Descartes had an illegitimate child, as did
Hegel, but they did not play any role in their lives, except
perhaps as cocaine did in the life of that monster of rationality,
"I thee wed,"
marries one to the world as well as to a wife, involves one
in a whole concatenation of relations out of which such thinking
as one does arises.
Surely this is
one of the primary meanings of the maxim, nihil in intellectu
quod non prius fuerit in sensu.