Michael Oakeshott on conversation

Camp Fire in Glen Aulin (October 14, 2005) by Jason Rust

Camp Fire in Glen Aulin (October 14, 2005)
Photograph by Jason Rust
Image credit: blip: Basic Living Instruction Protocol

As civilized human beings, we are the inheritors, neither of an inquiry about ourselves and the world, nor of an accumulating body of information, but of a conversation, begun in the primeval forests and extended and made more articulate in the course of centuries. It is a conversation which goes on both in public and within each of ourselves. Of course there is argument and inquiry and information, but wherever these are profitable they are to be recognized as passages in this conversation, and perhaps they are not the most captivating of the passages. It is the ability to participate in this conversation, and not the ability to reason cogently, to make discoveries about the world, or to contrive a better world, which distinguishes the human being from the animal and the civilized man from the barbarian. Indeed, it seems not improbable that it was the engagement in this conversation (where talk is without a conclusion) that gave us our present appearance, man being descended from a race of apes who sat in talk so long and so late that they wore out their tails. Education, properly speaking, is an initiation into the skill and partnership of this conversation in which we learn to recognize the voices, to distinguish the proper occassions of utterance, and in which we acquire the intellectual and moral habits appropriate to conversation. And it is this conversation which, in the end, gives place and character to every human activity and utterance.
Michael Oakeshott, from The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind: An essay, (London: Bowes & Bowes, 1959), p. 11. Delivered in part as the Ludwig Mond lecture at the University of Manchester on February 9th, 1959. Cited in part as the Quotation of the Day for May 21st, 2006.

Michael Oakeshott Posted on behalf of on Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010 under Quotations.

One comment so far

  1. […] borrow a term from Michael Oakeshott and refer to “conversation” rather than “discourse” or “artistic development”, in an […]

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