I experienced my first taste of philosophical escapism, Mackie's The Miracle of Theism, in a cramped, rented apartment in Glyfada, a suburb of Athens. Mackie's wonderful book had been recommended by H.M. Kuitert, a Dutch reverend and theologian, in the Saturday Books section, in a page devoted to "unread treasures," of NRC Handelsblad on Dec 24, 1994. The conceit behind the section was, I think, to ask people to read a non-fiction book that they owned (and probably should have read long before).* Mackie's elegant book with its crisp, clear prose and razor-sharp arguments was the perfect companion to distract me from my shame at my failure at being loved. This shame stared me in the face whenever I glanced at my beloved.
To be sure, engaging with philosophy is not so cerebral that one feels nothing. Like David Hume I am inclined to think that most thought is felt; in particular, focused, philosophical thought can be intensely felt. So, in reading Mackie I displaced the possibility of painful shame (held at bay by my numbness) with joy and marvel at the intellectual world that he opened up for me. Such displacement is routine in philosophy. Given the drabness of many feelings and the dreariness of many experiences, such displacement may well improve the lot of our lives.
Philosophical-escapism-as-distraction, philosophical-escapism-as-displacement, and philosophical-escapism-as-distancing can all be truth-apt. More subtly, these kinds of escapisms are capable of transforming ourselves and the world, such that they generate (recognition of new) truths where non may have been before (see Mauricio's eloquent expression of a feature of this).
Later, I was thrilled to discover that with effort I could be receptive to philosophy not just when in pain. (There can be love-affirming philosophies, too!) But to my puzzlement I realized that even then my philosophical reflections, or more frequently, my borrowed reflections, could displace and distance. When I write joyfully about Isaac Newton or about evidence in economics, I know to keep silent on the vast majority of my thoughts and feelings that occur to me through the rounds of drafting and editing; not to mention that even when our words are faithful copies (A=A) of what matters, they are still mere copies.
The law of identity says too little, and includes too much.
A novelist I know has used bits and pieces of my life and my wife's, before she and I ever met in real life, in his stories. (We haven't met in his novels, so far.) I like telling people this, even though some of his allusions to me are not flattering. To my surprise, I don't find this annoying. (Vanity is funny.) However, I am saddened that he has never portrayed the intensity and enlivening vividness of our youthful conversations through the night. While a conversation can also be distancing (etc.), sometimes a skilled other shows us where we are--such that we catch ourselves in the mirror that is created by our words, even though there is a sense, too, that we utterly forget ourselves at the same time. While writing this post, I realize that all of these conversations with the novelist took place before I even realized I lacked skill at being loved, so maybe his reserve on this score, is his expression of compassion for me.
Oddly, when I glance at the long history of philosophy, I rarely encounter a description of what it's like to be engaged in philosophy alone, or together. (This is not to deny that this history offers some splendid companionship in one's philosophical paths.) Even Plato rarely captures what it's like to have an exhilerating, philosophical conversation not meant for display, or instruction.
Most of my training as a professional philosopher has taught me to remain silent on what it is like to be engaged in shared intellectual enquiry. I also learned, without anybody ever telling me so directly, to avoid expressing the vulnerability when experiencing feeling/thought, unless it can be transformed into appropriate categories or problems, even if (and perhaps only if) they only become appropriate after the fact.
I have a small connection to Kuitert. As a young man, he had been a reverend in Scharendijke, Zeeland, a coastal village (now nestled below the Langendijk), where I spent a few, childhood Summer holidays; I distinctly recall the huge eggs at our neighbor's chicken farm there. According to Wikipidea, the experience of burying many in his congregation after the flood of 1953 made him give up his faith in divine providence (which apparently had survived WWII in tact). [Later addition: my mom tells me these were goose eggs.--ES]
*I don't recall if the NRC journalists admitted being inspired by David Lodge's game Humiliation (Trading Places).
Many religious experiences closely resemble, even in their sequences of contrasting phases, the almost universal human experience of being in love. Hysteria, delusions, cycles of mania and depression are known and reasonably well understood psychopathic phenomena in innumerable cases where there is no religious component; but experiences which have such components, which count as religious par excellence, share many features with these pathological ones. (180)