- Remembering David HallDavid L. Hall (1937-2001)
David Hall was first, last—and forever—a philosopher. And he was a very good one. As a philosopher, he was a self-confessed "pragmatist," where the defining characteristic of a pragmatist as he understood it is to become your best thoughts. And David had some thoughts to become. He reflected deeply on deep issues, most importantly, perhaps, on what it means to live a life. On this subject—what it means really to live—David had a favorite passage froma wonderful essay by the American pragmatist William James, titled "What Makes a Life Significant":
Every Jack sees in his own particular Jill charms and perfections to the enchantment of which we stolid onlookers are stone-cold. And which has the superior view of the absolute truth, he or we? Which has the more vital insight into the nature of Jill's existence, as a fact? Is he in excess, being in this matter a maniac? Or are we in defect, being victims of a pathological anesthesia as regards Jill's magical importance? Surely the latter; surely to Jack are the profounder truths revealed; surely poor Jill's palpitating little life-throbs are among the wonders of creation, are worthy of this sympathetic interest; and it is to our shame that the rest of us cannot feel like Jack.
For Jack realizes Jill concretely, and we do not. He struggles toward a union with her inner life, divining her feelings, anticipating her desires, understanding her limits as manfully as he can, and yet inadequately, too; for he is also afflicted with some blindness, even here. Whilst we, dead clods that we are, do not even seek after these things, but are contented that that portion of eternal fact named Jill should be for us as if it were not.
Jill, who knows her inner life, knows that Jack's way of taking it—so importantly—is the true and serious way; and she responds to the truth in him by taking him truly and seriously, too. May the ancient blindness never wrap its clouds about either of them again! Where would any of us be, were there no one willing to know us as we really are or ready to repay us for our insight by making recognizant return? We ought, all of us, to realize each other in this intense, pathetic, and important way.
If you say that this is absurd, and that we cannot be in love with everyone at once, I merely point out to you that, as a matter of fact, certain persons do exist with all enormous capacity for friendship and for taking delight in other people's lives; and that such persons know more of truth than if their hearts were not so big.
In the months and weeks before David's death, he did what he did. That is, David had found a life for himself that, in its consummation, required no change in direction or extraordinary supplements. He just wanted, and enjoyed, more of the same. The only change that the anticipation of death made for David that I could detect was his increased sense of appreciation. [End Page 277]
And this passage from James says something about what David understood by "appreciation." James allows that every Jack is "enchanted" by the charms and perfections of his own particular Jill. The enchantment in the "thoughtful" feelings of friends and family emerges in their reciprocated sensitivity and awareness. This kind of shared appreciation is complex. Certainly, good people recognize each other's quality, significance, and magnitude, and, in so doing, admire each other greatly. But this burgeoning capacity for mutual appreciation goes beyond simply a personal enjoyment on their part. These same feelings are "value-added"—quite literally raising the value of the cosmos in which they occur. Their cosmos is greatly appreciated, becoming a more magnificent time and place because of the profound feelings they have for each other. It is this capacity of the human experience to enchant the cosmos, then, that was for David the more important meaning of "appreciation."
And when it comes to the somewhat darker issue...