Graham Parkes, author of Composing the Soul (perhaps my favorite book on Nz), presented what was to me easily the best address of the conference. The first half of his presentation was a discussion of the links between Nz and meditative practices in eastern philosophy. Nz hiked and walked extensively, claiming that he didn’t trust any philosophy that was conceived while sitting down. Getting to know nature as it is in itself means quieting the clutter of consciousness, which consists in tangled relations to other people and what they say and think. One way to quiet consciousness is through walking meditation. By silencing consciousness we allow the drives of life to surge forward, unrestrained by all the filters and “thou shalts” of consciousness. The second half of the presentation was a video Parkes made of the Alpine region where Nz summered and hiked — a very beautiful video, effectively showing that when you stop thinking and simply try to experience, the quality of one’s state of mind does change in some substantial way. I’m probably not putting everything quite right, and there were many more fascinating details I won’t try to relate here, but it was a marvelous presentation.
Another presentation I enjoyed very much was Galen Strawson’s. Strawson is a very smart, very well-read metaphysician, and he’s not afraid of making bold, sweeping pronouncements (along the lines of “There really isn’t any intelligible alternative to Spinoza’s metaphysics; when you think about it, it’s perfectly obvious”). I’m very skeptical of metaphysics, so I really was incapable of seriously considering most of the claims he made, but it was a delight to watch a master metaphysician going at it, carving and distinguishing and deducing and proclaiming.
Finally, among the talks I enjoyed most, I will mention Günther Abel, whose topic was “Consciousness, Language, and Nature,” and who did indeed attempt to cover it all. Abel has read and understood very broadly, and has an enviable synoptic vision bringing everything into focus. One of the interesting claims he made in his far-ranging talk was that freedom of the will is essential to personhood — not because of some metaphysical fact about the human mind, but because of the multiple roles the concept of “person” plays in the community of language users. We need to understand the person as free, simply because our usage of the term implies that freedom.