Dear Professors,

I have discovered what I take to be a basic Truth that might fall outside academic philosophy—but I have always been intrigued by the idea that meta-philosophy is still philosophy, so I appeal to you with what I claim to be the most beautiful and simple proposition: “The only way one can know about a thing in itself is by one’s own encounter with the thing in itself.” I hope you will allow me to explain, but I fear I don’t speak the philosophical language well enough to capture your attention. I have already tried to write this a few ways and struggled to organize my thoughts adequately; so I have decided to keep it brief and hope a conversation will follow. I am unsure whether the idea is new, but I would argue its implications are massive.

The idea is illustrated in its most beautiful and simple form in the context of human relations, so assume we have a “schizophrenic” son and his mother. There are two ways the son might come to understand himself: by introspection (direct encounter) or by appeal to external, objective knowledge about “schizophrenia” (mediated encounter). Furthermore, his mother might be inclined to learn about her son by speaking with him (direct encounter) or by speaking with his therapist about him (mediated encounter) who claims to have objective knowledge about his ‘kind’. My argument is that a mother can only come to know about her son by encountering him directly—through what you might call his own language or way of explaining himself. Of course, her knowledge about him will remain imperfect, for She is not Him, but it must be more perfect than knowledge produced by a mediated encounter, as I will explain. Furthermore, that she can only know about her son by direct encounter invokes a sense of his dignity and meaning as a Being in the world.

It is easily shown that mediation can only make one’s knowledge about things in themselves more imperfect: A category can only be applied to things in themselves that meet the criteria of the category; but to know if a thing in itself meets the criteria of some category, one must know enough about the thing in itself to apply it, so the category is worthless for perception. So, categories, though necessary for communication, only lose information about things in themselves. Thus, to know about their sons, mothers should not encounter them through therapists, for example, but directly by speaking with them or reading their notes, for example. This ‘direct encounter’ perhaps implies a method of encounter, but do we not as isolated Beings inescapably bring our own methods to this world?

There is so much I have to say about this idea, its implications, and why I call it beautiful; I claim that it implies (in feeling/spirit) a tolerance of Difference in its purest sense, which the world still has not found. Difference in its purest sense, I argue, is still excluded from the world in two ways: 1) Scientific and cultural categories can deny one the interpretive opportunity to explain oneself (Your kind cannot explain itself truly, so we will not listen to you on your own terms.) 2) Political and medical apparatuses can deny one the physical opportunity to explain oneself (Your kind should not explain itself, so we will confine or modify you.).

Yet, the production of Difference—pure creativity—is what promises the discovery of Truth. I argue that the world will know Truth when it sees it, and the forces that will oppose its communication won’t be those that oppose Truth but those that oppose Difference.

I have so much to say about these ideas, but to go on would only be due if these first premises are taken seriously or adjusted by your feedback. Please let me know what you think (or how you feel!?).

Joel Benson