Friday, March 27, 2009

Sensual Philosophy

A person may construct their philosophy about certain matters through knowledge, either examined or inherited, but it's important to acknowledge the degree to which we develop our philosophy through the senses. I write this because, while visiting Washington D.C., I was struck by how moved I was, and therefore forced to evaluate my thinking on some subjects, because of what I took in through the senses. To be more specific: by physically being in the space of a monument or memorial, I was forced to consider the history and message of the monument or memorial than I was made to do simply by reading about it from a distance. Case in point? Say what you will about Protestant disagreements with Roman Catholic theology, but let's see if you mount such a rabid opposition when standing in a cathedral. I'll wager the architectural and spatial commitment to reverence in that place will temper your rhetoric - possibly even make you reconsider some of your most heated imprecations.

Because I encountered this in almost all of the the places we visited, by the end of the week I was thoroughly exhausted. In each location, the intake was a flood to the senses. For this reason I previously lamented that we saw too much and went too fast. Take, for example (and I'll be giving other examples soon), the first monument we visited - The Lincoln Memorial. On the walls to the left and right of the statue of the seated Lincoln are the text from Lincoln's inaugural addresses. Theses speeches can be read, analyzed and their historic contexts studied, but its by standing in front of wall of the text (two stories tall) that one really takes it in. The echo of the monument, the hushes voices of people trying to be somewhat reverent, the marble and natural light - even the outside temperatures free from artificial heat or A/C, all combined to create a sensory entry into the "Lincoln experience." The references to God in his speeches appear, in this setting, quite sincere. However critical of American historical militarism one might normally be, the experience in the monument gives the impression that this man is to be lauded for his leadership, conviction and vision for a unified nation free of the blight of slavery.

More to come about the sensory tsunami of these historic and meaningful places...

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