Remembering Jim Tiles (1944-2014) by Kyle Takaki

I was quite startled hearing of Professor Jim Tiles’ sudden death.  The surprise slowly dissipated as I began to reflect on what Jim meant to me, and I found myself feeling an abiding peace, accompanied by a serene smile.  I couldn’t quite comprehend why this feeling and expression settled in.  So the rest of the day was spent unfolding this tacit judgment and why it felt profoundly meaningful and true.  The conscious me, the thinking me, the academic philosopher me is unsure I have it figured out, but the profoundly affective, hidden core of me knows the judgment is right.  What is that feel, that tacit judgment?  Allow me to put into words what really can’t be, to disclose and commemorate the contours of that tacit sensibility to our discursive selves.

Jim, to me, was the finest of exemplars (yes, there are levels within levels) as a teacher, an academic, a tutor, and perhaps most importantly, a practitioner.  He wrestled mightily with his Kantian Stoicism, a self-consistent mark, I think, of the genuine commitment of a philo-sopher: an enfleshed mensch in pursuit of wisdom and the significant burdens such a path involves.  Alas academic philosophers are, put mildly, not sages.  Perhaps it might even be said that the gap between modern academic philosophy and its ancient roots as a way of life has become a chasm precisely because we all to easily condone its modes of separation.  Have we become walking instances of “retortion,” as it were, inconsistent in our selective consistency?  Philosophers and academics generally are complex creatures, to be sure.  Jim I think explicitly or implicitly recognized this sort of fundamental tear latent in the battlefields of academia.  He was an able participant, but he also was a critical practitioner.  In essence, he was a pragmatist in the best of its senses.  And relative to all the lacerations and burdens endured from straddling being a member of the academic fraternity and being a critical outsider, he bore them exceedingly well (qualities shared by both the Tiles, I would be remiss to mention).

What will I remember most about Jim?  There are the obvious things: his down-to-earth sense of humor, his critical good sense, his vigorous and impressive intellect.  These all matter.  But my tacit sense says they really don’t, I suppose because by aggregation and ostentation they skew the landscape away from what matters most.  So what does matter, what is that which cannot be seen?  I believe it is standing testimony to a rare achievement: to not remain fallen within the human all to human vortices that entrap most, to recognize indifferents for what they are, and to respond with Stoic resolve in spite of.

As best as my meager discursive mind can muster, here’s the feel, the tacit sense that I also re-inscribe within myself: Jim represents struggle of the highest and best sort, and forms an image that informs and regulates my own practices (albeit poorly, by comparison).  From that cosmic viewpoint, indeed death is not what matters.  The harmony that is peace, that is apatheia, that is a life lived focused through the lens of death—this is an image of a philo-sopher worth smiling about.  And the serenity felt in having the honor to know such a person is a blessing indeed.