For Lynne Rudder Baker (1944-2017)

martedì, gennaio 2, 2018

It was Geneva, where we first met. I had invited you as keynote speaker of the last large conference I had managed to organize there, as a glorious ending to the DEA, the “Diplome d’études avancées” on Personhood and Cognitive Science I used to put together each year, in collaboration with the Faculty of Medicine  and the Autonomous Faculty of Protestant Theology. I had carefully studied and taught your 2000 book, Persons and Bodies (Cambridge University Press) which a then post-doc researcher of our staff, Carlo Conni, would later have translated into Italian (his translation was published by Bruno Mondadori in 2007).

I have a much more intellectual memory of that encounter, and of you, than I ever had later on, once I had become more acquainted with your charming self – and not only with your beautiful mind. I so much admired your thought, and was so proud of being able to discuss it with you, that I hardly noticed that there was a body “constituting” that very person, the most brilliant advocate of the Constitution Theory (which was then, to my knowledge, the only non-reductive and non-dualist view of personhood – except for the phenomenological one, which was not really discussed at that time). Yet, I do remember the sort of unexpressed sympathy coming from you – and  your husband, Tom, and your dear friend Kate, both of whom I also got to know on that occasion – when I took my slightly pathetic leave of my students, at the end of my presentation at the conference. Soon I would be moving to Milan, in order to start my new job at San Raffaele University.

What is it like to meet a Master in one’s maturity? For this is what you have been to me since then, despite your being only eight years older. You are indeed the second woman master I had in philosophy, the first one having been Jeanne Hersch, whom I met much earlier though. And, after Michael Dummett, you were the only analytic philosopher I would feel eager to learn from. And I actually did learn a lot. Let me just recall the second-to-last email I wrote to you, maybe a couple of weeks ago, where, while sending a review I had written of a paper on you, submitted for publication, I expressed all my admiration for the courage you had for following ONE way towards the truth – instead of getting lost in fifteen different ones, as I did.  So, I had not learned enough, after all.

That courage must have cost you a lot, for you surely also had much to say on moral, political, religious matters – on religious ones, at least, you did write extensively – but you chose to devote your best energies to the very foundations, and God knows how desert-like pure metaphysics can sometimes become, even for somebody who does not love desert landscapes, who, on the contrary, knows that “parsimony is not the only intellectual virtue” (2007,10), and that “if we want to have rational debate about moral, political social and legal issues, we have reasons to pursue a metaphysics of ordinary things” (2007, 6).

Yet, your almost ascetic perseverance in holding more and more sharply to the ultimate foundations led you to write at least three magnificent, surely long lasting books – after Persons and Bodies, The Metaphysics of Everyday Life (Cambridge University Press 2007), my preferred one, and then the last one which I taught to my students – Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective (Oxford University Press 2013). À propos of the second one: there is a curious reason why I was so struck by it, or rather, at first, by its title. For, when it was published, I was writing a series of essays which I meant to collect under a title exactly like that, Metafisica quotidiana! We spoke about this almost incredible coincidence, which was in fact only an identity of object and concern, not of contents and methods: your book is still there, a paradigm of rigour and clarity in its ontology of  “the world that we live and die in, the world where our plans succeed or fail, the world we do or do not find love and happiness in – in short, the world that matters to us” (2007, 4). Mine ended up coming out with a less ambitious title – Niente appare invano, Nothing Is Sheer Appearance, which is probably all that is left of it: one of the anti-reductive mottoes of Phenomenology.

We still own beautiful pictures of you and Tom relaxing in our modest garden in Castellina, Tuscany, while Kate browsed through old books, amusing herself at exercising her Italian. On that occasion, I had invited not only you but also Peter Van Inwagen as keynote speakers  – that was the first edition of a Spring School which later became a tradition at San Raffaele Faculty of Philosophy. It had been so exciting to listen to such a dialogue between two philosophers who couldn’t have been more antithetic not only in their metaphysical commitments, but also in their personal, unique ways of interpreting and enacting humanity – in their haecceities, as Duns Scotus would have said. The issue being debated was Free Will: I noticed then how utterly adverse to the slightest accident a Libertarian Indeterminist (like Peter) can be, and how mild and compassionate, instead, can be a Compatibilist (like the one you were…). We kept laughing at this funny discovery during the whole trip by car to the Pisan Hills.

You used to be invited all over the world during the short periods you were not busy teaching or writing your papers and books – so it wasn’t easy to have more of you in Milan: and yet the participants in our Spring School had the privilege of listening to two papers of yours, expressly written for us and our Spring School. Both seem to me to start new paths of research, and, at the same time, to shed such a vivid light on the existing debate so far. This is definitely true for the one on Free Will, published, of course, in the same issue as the one by Peter van Inwagen (“Phenomenology and Mind” did not yet exist at that time, so all the papers contributed at that conference were hosted by a special issue of a fellow phenomenological journal, and can be found there: Proceedings of the XXVII IHSRC, Encyclopaideia– Journal of Phenomenology and Education, 22, July-December , pp. 9-30, ISBN  978-88-491-2976-2). But in the paper you presented the last time you were in Milan, a startling meditation on Cartesianism and the First Person Perspective (2014, there is even more: an implicit demolition of most arguments criticising your alleged “dualism”, concluding with a startling list of ten differences between Descartes’ (the father of all Dualisms) thought and your own. A real “paradigm of analysis”! But I remember the debates which took place during that School (many other invited speakers and friends presented excellent papers: among them Dermot Moran from Dublin, Michael Pauen from Berlin, Mario De Caro from Rome). Kate Sonderegger was also invited that time, and she presented a wonderful theologico-philosophical paper on Naturalism and the Doctrine of Creation. I remember how kind she was to me, by commenting upon the paper I had presented on Hacceity? A Phenomenological Perspective, which actually was in dialogue with one of the most exciting chapters of the book of yours which the Spring School was devoted to – the 2013 book on (or rather, against) Naturalism: the chapter on Personal Identity.

Indeed, it was not so easy to have more of you in Milan. So, quite arbitrarily and of my own free will, I decided, as did the Prophet Muhammad, that I would come and see the Mountain.

It actually was no mountain but, rather, the imposing landscape environing Amherst, Massachussets, where I got to stay on a research leave during the Winter Semester of 2008-9. When I arrived there it was September, and the magnificent time of foliage had just begun. It was the winter when Barak Obama was elected President of the United States: you told me that, as so many other Americans, that night you, too, had found yourself weeping with joy. But Metaphysics went on unperturbed in your courses and seminars – it was there that I also got to know you as the captivating and deeply loved teacher you were. There had been other occasions to spend enriching hours discussing with you and your colleagues in the States  – at San Diego University, for example, in 2006 – my mother came with me and we visited Kate in her beautiful house, so light with its glass walls through which Clarity defined everything, in Alexandria, Virginia, close to the Virginian Theological Seminar where she was the William Meade Chair in Systematic Theology – there I thought how lucky you were to have such a sweet and deeply learned theologian, one of the most liberal I have ever met, as a friend and an interlocutor. Then, there was that other time at Buffalo University in 2009, where I had been invited to a Conference on your work – the Proceedings were published much later on “The Monist” (Proceedings of the Lynne Baker Conference, Buffalo 2008, “The Monist”, issue ed. by David B. Hershenov and Randall Dipert, 96-1, January 2013,  E112512 – issn: 0026-9662). And, by the way, my contribution there was again only a sustained dialogue with you, half playfully entitled Constitution and Unity. Lynne Baker and the Unitarian Tradition. It certainly was the upshot of my research and our conversations in Amherst: but as for the title, it was meant to guard a secret memory of my stay there, one of the most pleasant. On a Sunday morning, I was walking down the main street of Amherst in search of the Episcopalian Church which Tom and you were probably the most generous members and supporters of, and where we had planned to meet. It took me a while to find it: but in order to do so, I proceeded by exclusion. And I happened to come across about a dozen different Churches or Temples, of Christian and non-Christian denominations. I had time to spare before our appointment, so I went into some of the Christian ones – this probably happened on more than one Sunday morning – and I was able to observe that in most of them the Nicean Credo was recited, with its act of faith in the “catholic” Church. There, for the first time, I became really aware of the fact that “catholic” should simply mean “universal” – and that you would have called “Roman” that very particular kind of Christian church which still has a monarch – a pope – at its head.  But what about the title of my paper? Well, one of the temples I visited was that of the Unitarians. There, I really almost felt at home. For, in an utterly neo-platonic way, they refrained from uttering any name of God, thereby honouring its absolute transcendence of all human categories or predicates. The only admitted transcendental predicate was Unity, whereby I do not think they meant uniqueness, but the power, as it were, to keep together (con-tineo) everything there is. It was a flash on a different key for metaphysics – although not without relation with your Unity without Identity, the formula of Constitution Theory.

I arrived at the Episcopalian Church of Amherst slightly late, but in time to admire the celebrant, dressed up exactly like a Roman priest, and uttering words from a liturgy which struck me as very familiar. Only, she was beautiful with her long blond hair flowing on her shoulders. And she was pregnant.

I don’t know, dear Lynne, if you ever regretted not having children of your own. Yet the bright, witty and amazing Christmas letters we got from Tom every year bore witness to the quantity and quality of students you had in all the continents of the earth. As if you had distributed a different, but even more important kind of life and recreation and renewal wherever the disenchanted, depressive wing of metaphysical naturalism or eliminative materialism had touched and frozen young minds. I cannot describe that new life better than by some words I heard from my first woman philosophy master, Jeanne Hersch : “Je ne sais pas comment ceux qui se tiennent au pur causal respirent”. It must be a kind of breath you spent your life expanding in so many young minds, up to your last breath, as far as I know. Such a gift very much resembles the gift of life – albeit of a lighter sort, one which cheers the mind. Thanks for all that, dear Lynne.

Lynne and Kate - Spring School 2014 Lynne and Tom on their  porch - Amherst May 2017 Lynne presenting

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