you're reading...
Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry

The Examined Life | Cornell West and the Pursuit of Truth

Cornell West covers a lot of ground in this 7′ taxicab ride: the courage historically written into the language of philosophy and its various expressions across music and arts. He weaves an epic and energetic thread deftly, to be sure; but what do you make of his major conclusions?

Among the many points he’s making here, how would you characterize his overarching idea?


About bryanjack

HS Gifted program teacher interested in the world out there, the world in here, and blending the two at every opportunity.


6 thoughts on “The Examined Life | Cornell West and the Pursuit of Truth

  1. I watched this entire documentary a few weeks ago, and very much enjoyed it. West speaks brilliantly, but not necessarily in a way that lends itself to a cogent, self-contained narrative. He offers lots of things to think about, but they do not cohere with each other as easily as the narratives of the other speakers in the documentary. About the time I think I have a grasp on it–he’s somewhat of an existentialist/materialist who appreciates the hagiographic elements of life, he stuns by declaring himself a (heavily qualified) Christian. Yet my confusion and inability to bring all his thoughts together does not prevent me from enjoying the gems he shares in beautiful speech and cadence.

    Posted by gnatseyeview | September 6, 2012, 12:37 pm
  2. Love this clip of Dr. West, and quite enjoyed ‘The Examined Life’ – the documentary it’s excised from. His points re. the blues and jazz seem particularly apt. Gilles Deleuze is also taken up in this way: “Philosophy must go to school with the musicians.”

    Re. Dr. West’s induction to courage and death, I think he’s Americanizing Foucault’s notion of parrhesia – which is, in a very reductive sense, speaking truth to power. He also affirms a post-y epistemology in rejecting the plausibility of Truth. That is, for West the philosophic event appears to consist of an unsettling of sedimented assumptions of the real and true – in the tradition of Socrates’ dialectic.

    I appreciated his attention to chronos and kairos, but a bit more unpacking would’ve helped make these concepts more accessible, IMO. But, with that said, I think this facet of his spiel even more firmly links West with Deleuze – who grounded philosophy in the creation and use of concepts.

    Posted by symphily | September 6, 2012, 9:22 pm
  3. Thanks for each of your comments, folks! I think what strikes me about this brief cabride with Dr. West is something you both approach with parts of what you’re saying: the passionate and ‘scattered’ nature of his talk, and how this makes deigning a singular point (or unpacking each that he brings up) difficult to the uninitiated; but also how this relates to his invocation of music, blues and jazz specifically.

    “I’m a blues man in the life of the mind, a jazz man in the world of ideas.” I love this, even if I’m not sure I’ll ever grasp the difference he is trying to present between the two genres of music (…perhaps this is an interesting direction to study myself soon). “I talk about tone…timbre…”

    I’ve been enamoured of late in the way that music is capable of creating a kind of knowledge, or knowability within West’s ‘rejecting of the plausibility of Truth.’ Perhaps this is part of why before there was philosophy, there was music…. maybe even after there is philosophy, there will still be.

    Chronos and kairos jumps out at the end for me as well, though I agree more needs to be said there… even if it might not be by myself.

    Again, thanks for getting the dialogue going! Looking forward to our continued discussions.

    Posted by bryanjack | September 6, 2012, 9:58 pm
  4. What a clip to start with! In 7 minutes West manages to surface some of the fundamental tensions not only philosophy, but modern society, is facing. “Truth as a way of life as opposed to truth as a set of propositions that correspond to a set of things in the world” – this quote for me gets to the heart of the matter. I know West “gets” the answer here (which in my own practice comes in the form of “non-dualism,” that both/neither of these are exactly right) but never comes right out and says it, partly I think because of the foreign-ness of the idea in Western thought, partly because he’s trying to function in a specific context (western, post-colonial, capitalist, rationalist, materialist) which immediately undercuts any attempt to speak this because it already measures truth in “use value” and “correspondence to the world.” It is absolutely not an accident that West aligns himself with the Occupy movement.

    Posted by sleslie | September 7, 2012, 5:17 pm
  5. “Truth as a way of life as opposed to truth as a set of propositions that correspond to a set of things in the world.” This line jumps out at me, too, partly for the humour I find in his delivery: its overly wordy paraphrasing of the idea that just because we can name things doesn’t mean we understand what they are. We have been talking a lot this week about Philosophy being much more of a *process* than a *subject* we might study (from a content, perspective, anyway).

    How do you think this type of philosophical process is at odds with our own particular context (whether Western, modern, educational, etc)? I think it is interesting to contemplate the demise/hibernation of the Occupy movement is an interesting case study of not only this tension, but also another aspect of our first unit: the Cost of Truth, and discomfort that those searching for it cause in wider society.

    Thanks for your comments, Scott. It’s a pleasure to have you working alongside us!

    Posted by bryanjack | September 13, 2012, 3:13 pm


  1. Pingback: “It was a musical thing and you were supposed to dance…” « Philosophy 12 - September 7, 2012

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: