Colloquium: Ryan Christensen

Date(s) - 01/19/2023
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm


Ryan Christensen, Associate Professor of Philosophy, will present at the Humanities Center’s weekly colloquium on Thursday, January 19. The presentation will be held at 3:00 PM in room 4010 JFSB.

Title: “Loneliness and Love”

It has long been noted that there is some duality to human experience. I (and this I stands for each of us individually) am both the center of the universe and an insignificant speck at its periphery. I am the center of the universe in that everything I experience is in relation to me, and this makes me feel in some sense necessary, even godlike, almost. But at the same time I know that I am merely a bit player. The universe got along just fine without me for countless ages, and will do so again. This duality leads to what I call (with some trepidation) loneliness. By this term I mean something other than an emotion or other manifest experience. If I am not of a metaphysical disposition, I might never know that I am lonely, in this sense. But loneliness is a key, maybe the key, to answering the question of selfhood.

This loneliness has many dimensions. Perhaps the simplest way in, and the way that most obviously ties to love, is what I call second-person loneliness. Because I do not have access to your mind, it is conceivable to me that you are an automaton. I can conceive of a world that is indistinguishable to me from the actual world, with all my experiences just as they are—and in particular all my experiences of you just as they are—and yet you have no phenomenal mental content. I experience my own mind but not yours, so in some sense I am phenomenally alone. Yet at the same time, I know that you are not an automaton, that you do have mental content. The metaphysical fact of this separation is experienced even if it does not rise to the level of awareness, and it is experienced in some sense as painful.

This metaphysical fact is illustrated mythically in Aristophanes’ speech in Plato’s Symposium, and in that speech the cure is love. We yearn, Plato’s character says, for a sort of metaphysical union that will overcome this metaphysical distance.

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