A Giving of Accounts

"A Giving of Accounts," with Jacob Klein, The College, Vol. 22, No. 1 (April 1970).


I must begin with an introduction to my introduction.  Some faculty members, I was told, had misgivings about this meeting.  The only ones which are justified concern this question: Is it proper for people to talk about themselves in public?  The general answer is: no.  But there are exceptions.  First, what is true of men in general is not equally true of old men.  Second, and above all, people may talk about their thoughts concerning matters of public concern, and virtue is a matter of public concern.  Those thoughts, it is true, are connected with our lives and I for one will have to say something about my life.  But this is of interest even to me only as a starting point of considerations, of studies, which I hope are intelligible to those who do not know my starting point.  Why then speak of one’s life at all?  Because the considerations at which I arrived are not necessarily true or correct; my life may explain my pitfalls….

In modern times the gulf between philosophy and the city was bridged, or believed to have been bridged by two innovations: 1) the ends of the philosopher and the non-philosopher are identical, because philosophy is in the service of the relief of man’s estate or “science for the sake of power”; 2) philosophy can fulfill its salutary function only if its results are diffused among the non-philosophers, if popular enlightenment is possible.  The high point was reached in Kant’s teaching on the primacy of practical, i.e., moral reason; a teaching prepared to some extent by Rousseau: the one thing needful is a good will and of a good will all men are equally capable.  If we call moralism the view that morality or moral virtue is the highest, I am doubtful if it occurs in antiquity at all.

St. Johns College