[Note about "quality vs. rigor in education"; this note is not part of the dissertation; I wrote it [date lost] after I completed my studies and was no longer a student. The Westchester Institute for Training in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, at least at the time I attended it, was not a "premiere" institution for education to become a psychoanalyst. Many of the students (including myself) had no prior training in the field, and almost none were "licensed". Somewhat similarly, while an Ed.D. in Communication from Teachers College is not a "phony degree" ("mail order diploma", etc.), my course of study was likely less "demanding" than a Ph.D. from Harvard or Yale, and, in general, both the faculty and the students less [fill in whatever word you feel fits, here]. Nonetheless, I think the contrast is not so "cut-and-dried".
I believe I was unfairly treated by The Westchester Institute, in that, in the end, they judged me on how well (i.e.: not well) I [at least appeared to] cheerfully do what the faculty thought a student should do, rather than what I thought, and was eager to justify doing, namely, to critique and take an active role in restructuring all aspects of the Institute (as if I was more or less a peer of the faculty members and not a member of a subordinate social caste, ala: "student"). There never was question about my empathy for patients, or my grasp of the material (although the faculty turned this latter accomplishment into an indictment of: "intellectualization"); what "did me in" (as I see it...) was my lack of patience with faculty members who fell short of my expectations. On the other hand, despite all its shortcomings, The Westchester Institute did some things relatively "right", for example, emphasizing the importance of the ideas of Donald Winnicott, which I strongly believe are among the key advances of human knowledge, but are not widely appreciated. Had I attended a more "prestigious" psychoanalytic training institution, surely I would have been expected to "work harder", but would I necessarily have learned better?
A similar question applies to my program of studies at Teachers College, although with the difference that, there, I was not frozen out (or expelled) for my abrasiveness vis-à-vis faculty. One professor [probably Professor Forsdale?] even told me directly (I quote from imperfect memory): "At first I thought it was something personal, but then I figured out it was just the way you are. I [the professor, i.e.] have reached a place in life where I can deal with my role as an intellectual punching bag for students." I think this statement beautifully describes one of the most valuable roles of a good teacher (certainly something I aspire to!), and we know that not many teachers rise to this level of pedagogical and personal maturity. At a more prestigious institution and/or in a more "demanding" program, would I necessarily have found a higher level of such faculty openness to nurturing students?
Finally, Teachers College allowed me to study pretty much what interested me, and to do a dissertation I felt was meaningful. Again, the question immediately arises whether a "better" program would have provided me even better educational opportunities, or merely have worn me out with having to do more assignments that were not meaningful to me but necessary to graduate? One of the things I quickly discovered from my studies at Teachers College was that, whereas, before I matriculated there, I was often bored, after a couple years in the program, I had so many thoughts and questions, and the "tools" to pursue investigating them, that boredom was no longer an issue, but, instead, the problem became: how to constructively handle there being far too little time to do all the reading, reflection, discussing, writing, etc. which I now passionately desired to do. Furthermore, and again, here, even more strongly than The Westchester Institute, where my horizon of understanding was greatly expanded by exposure to Winnicott (etc.), my studies at Teachers College added previously entirely unsuspected domains and dimensions to my self-understanding and understanding of "life" (history, etc.) and my place in it, for example, Elizabeth Eisenstein's work on the role(s) of uniform printed editions in the development of Western (better: "universal") culture.
It is, of course, possible that, in "better schools", I would have gotten what I would have considered an even better education. (I do believe that graduating from more prestigious programs would likely have translated into better career opportunites....) These educational programs certainly were not "perfect". I remain convinced that The Westchester Institute should have been censured by its accrediting body [if it was accredited] for things it did vis-à-vis myself (and, probably, others...). And, from a constructive perspective, we both missed something which might have made a contribution to "our culture", by their choosing not to work with me in a self-reflective process of transforming the curriculum (etc.) and publishing what we would have learned from the endeavor (the present dissertation is a "one sided" attempt to substitute for that unrealized collaborative adventure).
As far as Teachers College is concerned, I have little straightforwardly "negative" to say (I believe there were precisely two instances: one of which was limited to a single remark an Instructor made to me; the other involved a Full Professor's response to my defending another student who had said something the student felt was important, and the professor had not only responded that the student's claim was wrong -- when, in fact, the student was right and the teacher was wrong! --, but, further, the professor had belittled the student in the process). I did avoid courses I felt would be tests of how hard I could work (which "tests" I readily admit I have the capacity to fail). My main criticism of Teachers College is that the course of study did not lead to material opportunities to convert my intellectual and broader personal development ("Bildung") into a commensurate (synergistic) improvement in my work life, and, therefore, since I do not have the resources to be a fulltime "independent scholar" but must work fulltime to "earn my living", the potential contributions of my studies, both to myself and to our society, were (continue to be...) largely unrealized.
I strongly believe that education should be a process of nurturing "everything" (teachers, society, etc.), but, especially, a process of nurturing each learner. Obviously, students must apply themselves to learning (although, when the material is meaningful to the learner, and the conditions of learning are "civilized" -- in the sense of graciousness and civility --, this can and should be experienced as pleasure, not "effort"). I also agree that the results of each individual's learning endeavor need to be socially validated, especially where the consequences for practice are substantive and irremediable (surgery, design of nuclear power plants...). But, in general, I think it is primarily the material to be studied and the social structures in which the process of study are imbedded which need to be tested, and such testing needs to be an important part of the course of study.
Good education needs to be "rigorous" not quantitatively but qualitatively. Exhausting effort (what in architecture schools is called: "the charette") and demonstration that a learner"can't take it" as a salient disqualifying criterion seems to me dysfunctional, and a waste, both for the individual who is deprived of personal opportunities, and for the society which is deprived of the person's thus foreclosed contributions. The issue should not be how much effort the student is required to make (how much of what is already known can the student memorize, etc.), but what new and worthwhile can the student contribute ("value added") to society's intellectual capital? The spirit of technology -- "labor saving devices", etc -- would seem to urge concurrent focus on both maximum contribution and minimum effort.]
This dissertation is not only about conversation but also a result of conversations which the author has sought out and nurtured, in part to contribute to producing the dissertation, and in other part to contribute to producing what the dissertation espouses, i.e., conversation itself. I am pleased -- relieved! -- that this text proved acceptable to complete my Ed.D. requirements. Even if that had not happened, these conversations would have had value as conversation; and they may still have more to offer.
I have learned about conversation from conversation, sometimes from persons with whom contact has been brief but nonetheless transformative. In addition to persons, there have been texts (and instances of other symbolic forms). Also, language itself (to borrow Heidegger's image) has spoken to me, especially, in an essay on which I worked from 1980 through 1984, on the meaning of technology ("The Gift From the Machine"), which, through the process of revising and reworking it literally hundreds of times, both taught me how to write (i.e., helped form my expressive style) and also showed me the immense value of computerized word processing in this humane endeavor.
I have also learned from experience of communicative processes which have been destructive. It is not fitting to here acknowledge by name the persons who and the suprapersonal social formations which contributed in this way to this dissertation by providing massive evidence of ways human interpersonal communication can be privative, depriving and/or impinging (even one iota of such would already have been too much!). But it seems likely that I would not have devoted my life to philosophical inquiry into the nature of human communication from the particular angle of seeking to discover constructive potential in it, had I grown up in a social milieu which was more constructive.
I'm reminded... of the Talmudic story of the sages discussing a major issue in law. One appeals to divine intervention to resolve the issue. Miracles occur to buttress one side. The others object to this "coercion" and, in Jewish tradition, the side that did not receive the divine imprimatur has prevailed. The sages argued against divine coercion precisely on the grounds that Torah study is a conversation with God's Word in which the participants are equally responsible parties. (George Delury, personal communication, Jan. 24, 1994)
I am going to focus on conversation between supervisor and supervisee in the process of psychotherapist training, as a means to shed light on some problems that frequently occur in this relationship, with the aim of gleaning from this inquiry some principles which are applicable to all human communication. I feel that the communication I have both read about and experienced in the psychotherapy supervisory relationship is frequently lacking in certain constructive communicative qualities, and, insofar as these qualities are present, supervisors and supervisees generally do not sufficiently attend to, or appreciate the pedagogical value of cultivating them.
A psychotherapist's training consists of a number of steps, including lecture and seminar coursework, reading, etc. Many candidates also undergo therapy themselves, thus gaining experience of the therapeutic process from the patient's point of view. At a crucial point, however, the candidate ceases to merely learn about therapy but also starts to do it. At this point, the student is asked to treat clients, under the guidance of an experienced therapist. The talk in which the experienced therapist engages with the student concerning the student's therapy work with those clients constitutes the supervisory process. It is these communicative interactions, between supervisor and supervisee, which I will examine and critique. From this analysis of supervisory interaction, I will expand my findings to all human communication in its relation to conversation.
It is a puzzling fact that, although psychotherapy is mostly communication about communication, and the psychotherapist "in his daily practice is concerned with disturbances of communication" (Ruesch & Bateson, 1951, p. 13), relatively little of the literature and even less of the pedagogy in the field is explicitly communication-theoretic (with some notable exceptions: Harry Stack Sullivan and some of his followers; also, Robert Langs' work, to which I shall give some attention below; Paul Wachtel's recent book, Therapeutic Communication ; and others). There are, however, precedents for using the psychotherapy situation to shed light on human communication in general, for example, the pioneering work of Gregory Bateson and others at the Veterans Administration Hospital, Palo Alto, California, 1949-62 (Bateson, 1972, p. x), and Albert Scheflen's somewhat later work at Temple University and elsewhere. These researchers have been able to expand upon findings arrived at by studying interaction between psychotherapists and their patients, and make their findings relevant to the community as a whole, for instance, calling attention to the non-verbal aspects of all human communication.
I am going to make a slight shift, and move from studying the relationship between psychotherapists and their patients, to studying the relationship between psychotherapists in training and their supervisors, which latter relationship consists primarily in communication about ("metacommunication" concerning) the communication which occurs in the psychotherapist-patient relationship. The idea that the psychotherapy supervisory relationship might be exceptionally fruitful to study for the purpose of enriching our understanding of human communication in general was proposed by Harold Searles, in 1954 (Searles, 1965, pp. 157, 176). But I have found the idea nowhere pursued as a focal theme for research.
I speculate the main reason the communication dynamics of psychotherapy supervision have not been studied in the same generative way as the communication dynamics of psychotherapy itself is that persons generally regard the process of education as a ladder which, once they have climbed up it to the heights of professional certification, they throw away and deem worth considering no more (except for the issue of training the next generation of practitioners). That much of formal education is a rite of passage with weak or no logical relationship to the life activity for which it is preparation is one contributing factor here. Another factor is the simplistically teleological notion of knowledge that the only thing that matters is the truth (for the student: "right answers"), that the process of reaching it is an unfortunate effort which cannot be avoided, and that the ignorance and errors which precede it are of no value at all.
Successful graduates focus on work in their field of expertise, not on the process by which they got to be experts. For narrowly technical skills, such as surgery, this orientation makes good sense (persons want their diseases cured, not the process of persons learning how to cure diseases, per se). But as concerns the encompassing context of human social life, a narrowly functional orientation overlooks the overarching situation that life itself does not have a function but rather is an open horizon into which all functional undertakings are projected (see, e.g., Wellmer, 1991, chap. 3). Just as the worth of a work of art is not affected by the exaltedness of its subject matter (a Cezanne still-life or Picasso collage of newspaper scraps being easily more valuable -- aesthetically as well as economically -- than an academic cityscape of Rome), what can be learned from a form of human interaction need not linearly correlate with that form of interaction's social utility (etc.).
My particular focus in this dissertation is on developing, in the supervisor-supervisee interaction in psychotherapist training, in particular, and, in all areas of life, what I have come to call: "self-accountable conversation," the meaning of which appellation will be filled in as we go along. (It is suggestive, however, to note that, etymologically, the word conversation means: to live, to keep company with -- which is far more than "just talking.") I will adduce reasons why the supervisory relationship is an especially fruitful field for this study.
This dissertation is an experiment. It is an essay, in the sense not only of the literary form, but also as an existential undertaking. It is a result of my process of exploring how to operationalize in detail, in one narrowly delimited area of social life, an idea which I have long believed is crucially important for all of life. In particular, I have worked on the proposals concerning psychotherapy supervision included herein by trying them out in almost 4 years of training to become a psychoanalyst. Personally undergoing the training process about which I here write has been a key fieldwork aspect of preparing this dissertation. I have [as of 12 June 94] conducted 362 therapy sessions with patients, and had 146 supervision sessions spread among three very different supervisors (one traumatizing; one probably on the positive side of the norm; one exceptionally nurturing). [Picture at right is clock I used to time my therapy sessions.] I have absorbed the milieu of training in completing a 4 year curriculum of coursework, and also gained a very different perspective from serving for over 2 years as student representative on the institute's Board of Trustees. In addition to experiencing and reflecting on these directly relevant communicative interactions, I have also discussed my experiences and the lessons I have drawn from them with experts in the fields of both communication and psychotherapy
Even in its general form, however, I have continued to understand "self-accountable conversation" more richly over time, including through trying to apply it here. I hope that engaging with this text will be evocative for others, e.g., you, my present reader, to develop their (your) ideas and life, with which accomplishments I may then have opportunity -- preferably in face-to-face conversation -- to engage, to further develop....
"Self-accountable conversation" refers to the human (and humane) activity of increasingly perfecting the (esp.: for each person, "my own") human world through conversational reconstruction of the communicatively given matrix of social life. By this I refer to persons' second-order open-ended and cumulative reflective, conversational engagement with (examination and mutative action upon) their first-order conversational engagement with "all things" as the latter enter into that communicative matrix, emergently making our social "world" an ever better place to live, not only as a fact but also in the adequacy of the accounting which, as an essential aspect of its possible goodness, it gives of itself. One essential component of the increasing perfection of the human world thus conceived is that all aspects of life increasingly come to embody and foster this kind of becoming-accountable-for-itself.
This dissertation's potential value does not reside primarily in the theoretical elaboration of this idea. This has already been done by numerous authors (e.g., Edmund Husserl and some of his followers), even though, from the perspective of this information's potentially ameliorative (constructively formative) effects on persons' -- Everyman's -- life and lives, woefully too little, and is therefore well worth doing yet again. Especially needful and useful, I believe, would be more accessible presentations, in the sense of being both more readily understandable by and also more widely available to the general public. Words that appear on pages of books published by Martinus Nijhoff or Northwestern University Press do not accomplish on a large social scale the transformations of persons' insertion in life which they describe. It would please me if my theoretical remarks in this dissertation have some effect in this direction.
The primary direction in which I hope to contribute through this dissertation is in operationalizing this idea, i.e., working through detailed examples persons can use as models to "make it happen." I explore in detail, as a promising possibility, something that can be done at little or no cost and without requiring cooperation of larger social formations, in the simple immediacy of the here-and-now of social conversation between two (or more) persons, namely, that the conversants, whatever else they are doing, also attend to verifying, preserving and enhancing the humane accountability of the conversation in which they are engaged. I have chosen supervision in psychotherapist training as the specific, very narrow sub-domain of human interaction in which to carry out this exploration for a number of reasons, including: (1) the communication interactions which transpire there are particularly rich material for communication-theoretic study, and (2) the potential multiplier effect of effort applied at this juncture in the social matrix may be exceptionally high[, and (3) such reflective self-study of their communicative interaction in process is something supervisor and supervisee should be doing as part of the intrinsic nature of the endeavor upon which they have embarked (so that, to cultivate self-reflection on the communicative process in process, here, is not asking persons to import something seemingly "foreign" into an activity which otherwise can go on quite well without it and where the activity's effective functioning could even be impaired by inclusion of such "side talk", e.g., aircraft traffic control)].
This dissertation follows out a certain path of thinking which is neither arbitrary nor compelling. It is not arbitrary: it endeavors to adduce reasons for where it starts and where it goes. It is not compelling, since to follow out any path is a choice among alternatives. Even a condemned man being led to the gallows can refuse to walk. Perhaps more apposite here is the example of Socrates' response to Protagoras (Protagoras, 335.b-c) when the latter seemed unwilling to converse in a way acceptable to Socrates:
I saw that he was not satisfied with his previous answers, and that he would not play the part of answerer any more if he could help; and I considered that there was no call upon me to continue the conversation. So I said: Protagoras, I do not wish to force the conversation upon you if you had rather not, but when you are willing to argue with me in such a way that I can follow you, then I will argue with you.... Now you... are able to have discussions in shorter forms of speech as well as in longer... but I cannot manage these long speeches.... You, on the other hand, who are capable of either, ought to speak shorter as I beg you, and then we might converse. But I see that you are disinclined, and as I have an engagement which will prevent my staying to hear you at greater length..., I will depart, although I should have liked to have heard you. (Hamilton & Cairns, Eds., 1961, p. 330)
After urgings from the assembled company, Protagoras is persuaded to resume the conversation on terms more agreeable to Socrates. The use I wish to make of this example is that what mattered here, as in all human interactions, was not who was in any "objective" sense "right" (or "wrong"), but what each person would or would not agree to, in light of the arguments adduced by each to persuade the others. In such a way, the present text offers reasons for the reader to follow out its argument.
Since what is presented here is a path of thinking, should the reader choose to follow it, he or she will not have committed themselves to anything (beyond the time spent reading this text instead of having done something else with the time). My aim is not to tell anyone what to do, but to exhibit some things they might do. No person can choose an option they do not know is possible or see things in a perspective of which they are oblivious. But each person must always choose, and each person must always see things from some perspective. Facts are not values (is does not imply ought), but to execute the speech act of stating a fact is to implement a value orientation (which judges that to state that fact is what one ought to do at the time, instead of any other known alternative). Furthermore, the particular fact itself changes its meaning as the context in which it is understood changes.... It is as a contribution to orientation in this vertiginous epistemological terrain that the following text is offered.
I begin by examining the place of conversation in life. By conversation I refer primarily to interpersonal face-to-face dialog, but also to intrapersonal dialog (which "a person carries on with him or herself in his or her head") and other forms of mediated communication such as telephony, postal correspondence, books (e.g., this dissertation...). I argue that conversation is both a necessary factual foundation for human social life and also itself a source of value in life. I further argue that the role of conversation in social life, both in shaping the factual form of life and also the values accruing to persons from that life, is importantly dependent on what the persons involved understand conversation and its role in life to be.
I note that persons always have some particular understanding of conversation. An important question, therefore, is whether a person shall make do with the understanding he or she happens to have acquired through the vicissitudes of fate (facticity), or actively attempt to engage with that situation. A paradox here is that to be aware of this situation, i.e., to realize that one lives a preunderstanding of conversation which is factical (and therefore not necessarily optimal), is itself an accident of fate: one could have lived in a social milieu in which this issue never manifested itself as an issue. I try to take account of even this fact, and that choice itself would be sufficient to set my direction: the path I thus set out upon is to explore potentialities of endeavoring critically to analyze, and, where seems possibly advantageous, to reform our understanding of conversation (with consequent effects on life in general).
I survey some of the benefits for persons which derive from conversation in what seem some of the optimal forms in which it is known in our culture. These models are suggestive of goods the path I follow seeks to foster. To repeat, these are neither arbitrary nor coercive: No person has to engage in conversation with his or her fellows. If, however, a person chooses to enter into conversation, conditions for and possible outcomes from that choice can be elaborated. Similarly, consequences of abjuring participation in conversation can be determined. Awareness that there are choices and what the stakes at issue are can be heightened. In this way, persons' communicative situations are changed, as indicated above, by changes in their understanding of communication. Therefore, while this dissertation does not make choices what persons should do, if it changes [their understanding of] the situation (the possibility space) in which they make a choice, it may profoundly change whatever choices they can make [and, even more transformatively, it may change their understanding of the role of choice in their life, esp., making them more sensitive both to occasions when others choose for them, and also to opportunities to choose for themselves].
I proceed to examine certain conditions for conversation, emphasizing in particular the role-distinction between a person as a conversant, and a person who is not a conversant but rather is an object of [the conversants'] conversation. Each person's (ongoing) decision and commitment to open him or herself to another's point of view, and to relate to the other as co-conversant with whom to discuss [whatever] is the basis of all development of conversation.
I also examine in depth the issue of the "cultural unconscious," i.e., that our orientation in life (including our understanding of conversation) presents itself as normative whereas it is in fact only given (factical). This preunderstanding is a fact of life which cuts two ways: Without it we could do nothing (a blank slate has no agenda); but because of it what we do is shaped by conditions of which we are not aware (so that we may think we are doing one thing but really it's something else). Thus the course of development of any particular communicative interaction is affected (in ways and to an extent which can never be fully determined) by hidden forces. The existential "territory" in which my argument moves is ways to bring into awareness (into communicative interaction) these initially hidden factors, to help persons be open to conversation and, when they will to converse, to enable their conversation better to actualize the implicit teleology of that will.
As an argument why it is important to engage in the kind of reflections on and in conversation which I propose, I note that, whereas in steady-state and even slowly-evolving societies, evolutionary adjustment may assure that the form of communicative life is generally viable even if it is not optimal for particular individuals, in the present age, we are radically altering our communicative life via new communication (and other) technologies whether we think about the effects of what we are doing or not, thus rendering the evolutionary adjustment scenario inapplicable. Not only Martin Heidegger, but other, more sober and practical thinkers, such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1964, p. 160), Maurice Natanson (1973, pp. 201-2), Gregory Bateson (1979, p. 107) and Jacques Ellul (1977/1980, p. 261) have raised the question whether increasing technical organization ("instrumental rationalization") of life may result in the end of humanity: not extinction of the biological species homo sapiens, but elimination of the possibility of members of the species functioning as agents who take responsible initiative in speech and action -- conversants and conversation. The present text offers a conservative approach to dealing with this danger, i.e., an approach which aims to preserve (albeit by sublation, by "putting in its place") the positive human potential not just of technological products, but of the spirit of research which produces the products (as well as, at present, producing the danger).
The foregoing (which indicates the contents of the first, theoretical, part of my presentation), is [obviously] highly abstract. In the second part of the dissertation I describe the particular arena of communication in which I propose to show, in lively -- both concrete and affectively engaging -- detail how this theory can be applied to help us make sense of and act more efficaciously in life. I have chosen to examine the pedagogical relationship between supervisor and supervisee in psychotherapist training. I provide what I hope is sufficiently rich description of this relationship so that a reader with no previous familiarity with the subject will gain some meaningful (lively) sense of what the relationship is "about," what are the "stakes" of the interaction, etc. [If the reader has had experiences of being talked down to as a child by a parent or teacher, as a worker by a boss, etc., these experiences may help the reader gain an imaginative sense of the supervisee's position vis-à-vis "his" (or "her") supervisor.] I hope this understanding will help the reader connect with the third part of the dissertation, where I examine verbatim examples of supervisory interactions.
The analysis of these example interactions is the "heart" of my presentation. I apply the theory elaborated in the first part of my presentation to show some limitations which result from failure reflectively to attend to the ongoing conversational process. I propose ways the participants could have attended to their interaction, and argue for probable beneficial consequences. I think it is important to emphasize that I do not claim my analyses of the original interactions are exhaustive, and especially I do not pretend my predictions from my proposed alternatives are inexorable. [How could I claim this, when I am working from printed texts which, even when "verbatim", must perforce omit a lot of what went on? --To adduce a Freudian analogy, my analyses (Oops! like a supervisor's analyses of a supervisee's work...) "operate beyond the basic rule" of participant clarification.] Both [my proposals for change and my arguments defending / promoting them] aim to be "good enough" to motivate the reader to take seriously and think about the issues I have tried to raise. The background information provided in the second part of my presentation, in its turn, will have been "good enough" if it enables the reader to imaginatively engage with the examples sufficiently to carry over the issues they present to areas of life which are important to the reader.
Finally, I note that, superficial appearances notwithstanding, this dissertation does not assert psychological (characterological), metaphysical or theological theories (etc.) -- except insofar as (1) it argues that, by attending to our communicative processes, we can attain theoretically powerful and humanely meaningful insights which are defensible from the evidence of our communicative processes themselves, irrespective of vicissitudes of facts and theories in substantive (transcendent) domains of inquiry, and (2) it argues against any factor which would restrict the scope of persons' conversational possibilities and potentialities [and it argues for any factor which promises to enhance persons' conversational possibilities and potentialities].
Concerning theories of psychotherapy, I propose my arguments are applicable to the training of therapists of a wide range of metapsychological persuasions, provided the training aims to encourage the student to really hear and take seriously what the patient says and respond to it (i.e., to him or her), and not simply to manipulate the patient by reducing the patient's discourse to values of input variables for treatment techniques which the therapist then applies to the patient's mind as a physician doses a pharmacological substance into a patient's body to attack a physiological disorder. In making claims for the human values of conversation, for instance, in my reference to conversation as a way to help persons endure suffering, I take no metaphysical stand on the realities which participate in the conversation as its subject (object) matter; I only make claims about the consequences, as conversation, of the persons conversing about whatever they take those things to be. Similarly, when I note that effects of religious beliefs in persons' lives are largely a function of the fact of their believing, I am not making a theological judgment about the contents of their belief, but rather a sociological observation about the scope of individual and social activities which their belief, as content of social conversation, motivates.
I argue that, and seek to explore how conversation provides a place in human life for all things, whatever the things may be (obviously, I wish those things to be as far as possible the goods of healthy and prosperous and, more than cultivated, self-cultivating companionship).
"...For all the ancient philosophers and sages have reckoned two things to be necessary for safe and pleasant travel on the road of wisdom and in the pursuit after knowledge; God's guidance and the company of men.... So, when you philosophers, with God's guidance and in the company of some clear Lantern, give yourselves up to that careful study and investigation which is the proper duty of man -- and it is for this reason that men are called... searchers and discoverers... -- [as men, you] will find the truth of the sage Thales' reply to Amasis, King of the Egyptians. When asked wherein the greatest wisdom lay, Thales replied: 'In time.' For it is time that has discovered, or in due course will discover, all things that lie hidden. [As men, you] will also infallibly find that all men's knowledge, both theirs and their forefathers', is hardly an infinitesimal fraction of all that exists and that they do not know."
...When [our guide] had concluded her speech she handed us some closed and sealed letters and, after we had returned to her our undying thanks, she showed us out through a door... where [she] summoned her people to propose questions twice as high as Mount Olympus.
And so we passed through a country full of delights... and at last we found our ships in the harbour. (Rabelais, 1532-1534/1955, pp. 710-2)