I did not know John Smith personally, nor do I have a deep familiarity with the breadth of his scholarship, but a single essay of his has had an important impact on me: “Being, Immediacy, and Articulation,” The Review of Metaphysics 24, no. 4 (1971): 593-613.
Professor Smith died earlier this month; but it is only now, as I submit the final manuscript of my book on Aristotle and pause to reflect on the many sources from which that project grew and ultimately blossomed, that an insistent sense of responsibility compels me to articulate something of the influence Smith’s essay has had on my thinking in that book.
In his essay, given originally as the Presidential Address to the 22nd annual meeting of the Metaphysical Society of America on March 19, 1971, Smith argues for this basic idea:
“articulation is not alien to Being, but, on the contrary, belongs to it essentially such that there is no a priori ground for the belief that articulation and distortion go hand in hand” (Smith, 594).
The recognition that articulation belongs to being, that what is lends itself to articulation, is central to my book, which attempts to argue for an understanding of truth as the ability to respond to and with the ways things express themselves. On the basis of this, I try to suggest that truth must be understood in terms of justice, namely, as the capacity to do justice to things by attempting to articulate them according to the way they express themselves.
Smith develops the idea that articulation is not alien to Being by distinguishing between: 1) insistence, which names the “primordial thereness” of things (597); 2) persistence: the character of lastingness – the fact that, as he so poignantly puts it, “every discriminable object has a career” (598) and 3) expression, which “involves relations among many individuals forming … community” (598).
On the basis of these distinctions, Smith goes on to specify the meaning of articulation that allows us to understand the idea that “Being is not alien to articulation” in a way that does not reduce it to a naive optimism. Smith suggests that there are two dimensions to articulation:
- “Articulation means the making of something distinct so that it stands out as an identifiable unit with its parts arranged in significant patterns.”
- “On the other hand, articulation means that the manner of making something distinct requires its being set in precise relations to other things” (602).
To put this in terms I develop in the book, there is always an insistent unicity expressed in articulation that requires us to recognize that although articulation belongs to being, something elusive is always also announced in articulation itself. Further, however, by emphasizing that articulation is relational at its root, Smith invites us to think the possibilities articulation opens for community without denying the insistent elusiveness endemic to our encounters with things.
In a certain sense, this is the invitation I take up in the book on truth in Aristotle, but more importantly here, it is what has animated this attempt to articulate something of the life of John Smith, even if it is a but a very small contribution to a much larger endeavor in which he and we participate.