Here’s an extended quote, broken up into fragments, from Michael Oakeshott. I pass it on from my friend,

Rev. Andrew Brown.



The participants (in worthy conversation) . . . are not engaged in an inquiry or debate; there is no “truth” to be discovered, no proposition to be proved, no conclusion sought.

They are not concerned to inform, to persuade, or to refute one another, and therefore the cogency of their utterances does not depend upon their all speaking in the same idiom; they may differ without disagreeing.

Of course, a conversation may have passages of argument and a speaker is not forbidden to be demonstrative; but reasoning is neither sovereign nor alone, and the conversation itself does not compose an argument. . . .

In conversation, “facts” appear only to be resolved once more into the possibilities from which they were made; “certainties” are shown to be combustible, not by being brought in contact with other “certainties” or with doubt, but by being kindled by the presence of ideas of another order; approximations are revealed between notions normally remote from one another.

Thoughts of different species take wing and play round one another, responding to each other’s movements and provoking one another to fresh exertions.

Nobody asks where they have come from or on what authority they are present; nobody cares what will become of them when they have played their part.

There is no symposiarch or arbiter; not even a doorkeeper to examine credentials.

Every entrant is taken at its face-value and everything is permitted which can get itself accepted into the flow of speculation.

And voices which speak in conversation do not compose a hierarchy.

Conversation is not an enterprise designed to yield an extrinsic profit, a contest where a winner gets a prize, nor is it an activity of exegesis; it is an unrehearsed intellectual adventure.

It is with conversation as with gambling, its significance lies neither in winning nor in losing, but in wagering.

Properly speaking, it is impossible in the absence of a diversity of voices: in it different universes of discourse meet, acknowledge each other and enjoy an oblique relationship which neither requires nor forecasts their being assimilated to one another

(‘Rationalism in Politics’, Liberty Fund, Carmel, 1991, pp. 489-490).

Is this a fitting portrait of our substantive conversations with others — those that migrate beyond chit chat?

One comment on “Conversation

  1. dmf says:

    shooting the shit aside maybe happens sometimes when we are both truly puzzling something out with another, otherwise sounds more prescriptive than descriptive which isn’t surprising from Oakshott.

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