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Philosophy of the Arts


The argument from reunions

Recently, I developed this “argument from reunions”: People, when visiting reunions, say, of a High School class, notice how they fall back in their old roles. That is how we express the experience. But why does this happen?
According to my view on how we farm out our perceptions to the things and events perceived the following analysis ensues. We go to the reunion with thoughts about who we have become ever since; how we developed a successful career, got married had children, and about the life that came with these changes. We forget, however, that these facts are not owned by us, but by the people who presently form our social surroundings. Thus, we arrive at the reunion to find that we are incapable to show our present selves to our old class mates. This is due, I think, to the fact that each of them has a view of us available to project onto us, which they assembled in the past. (See Wollheim for a beautiful account of friendship along similar lines.) Thus, a reunion gives one a beautiful view of one’s own past. Yet, it is often harder than expected to experience it.

Now, when at a reunion, I see, say, Peter, again and think about things he did in those days, things he had said in a certain situation. And I talk to him about these things, and he obviously feels embarassed.
What interests me is an issue to do with responsibility. The thoughts that came up in my mind about the events I then talked about, as well as the talking should be viewed as subsumable under my responsibility. A decision on my part made me talk about them; and the things thought and expressed where things available in my mind, not, yet, in his. These caused his embarassment. Tradition would seem to satisfy itself with this assessment.
But my question is: whence the association? Why did my meeting with Peter stir exactly these thoughts in my mind? Surely, I cannot be held responsibility for the arising of these thoughts which are, one way or the other, retained in my mind. The lay dormant in my mind under no conscious control.
And my hypothesis is that it is Peter himself, or better the perceptually available expressive body he is, who kept the triggers to my thoughts. Was he then responsibile for the arising of the thoughts in me? The further question would be: what is the scope of the attributability of responsibility? I think the mechanisms that make people associate thoughts with situations are epistemologically speaking responsible for how we think, then the thoughts themselves that are “located” in our minds, and, therefore, we should reconcieve “responsibility”.

Wollheim, Richard. 1984. “Cutting the Thread: Death, Madness, and the Loss of Friendship.” Chapter IX of The Thread of Life, 257–84. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Gerwen, Rob van. 2009. “De psychologische werkelijkheid van het zelf.” In Vrijheid en verlangen. Liber Amicorum prof. dr. Antoine Mooij, edited by Frans Koenraadt and Ido Weijers, 13–23. Den Haag: Boom Juridische uitgevers.

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