When Irwin Edman of Columbia University’s Philosophy Department was guest professor at Harvard, I took his course in aesthetics. What I still remember from it is his quoting William James to the effect that there were two kinds of people, those who divide people into two kinds, and those who don’t. This, ironically, implies that he who postulates that division is also of two kinds, thereby suggesting that everyone is of the dividing kind.
That insight has been with me through the years, serving a very sound purpose: reminding me that unaimity was possible only in universal recognition of duality. But what were the two kinds into which, by implication, everyone divides people? Perhaps only men and women, as one of Plato’s symposiasts argued, according to whom an originally single being was split in two, male and female. But are men and women truly of two kinds, or just of one, subsumed by humankind?
I have been wondering: perhaps in all sorts of respects there exists, or should exist, no quandary about dividing people into two, presumably opposite, categories. Thus there are everywhere activists and passivists, agents and abstainers, and that right there we have a useful division into two kinds.
Or how about if the two categories were intellectual and nonintellectual? (Certainly not anti-intellectual, which is a whole different ballgame and often, paradoxically, includes many intellectuals.) It used to be that men were considered rational and at least potentially intellectual, whereas women were thought to be instinctual, i.e., irrational. These differences may have been based on men receiving better education than women, which no longer holds true.
This alleged twokindedness may simply be based on women tending to be more emotional than men, but is that a marked and significant disparity to warrant such a division? I am reminded of an aphorism I came across years ago in an anthology. It was attributed to one Countess Diane, about whose identity I never unearthed anything. The Countess opined that love in men always begins in the senses and progresses, if at all, to the heart; in women, it always begins in the heart and proceeds, if at all, to the senses. There may be something to that, but if the difference is merely a different route of arriving at the same sort of fulfillment, is that enough to postulate two different kinds?
Now consider education. In all surveys of student aptitude where comparisons between regions or nations are being evaluated, the fields of inquiry are always only mathematics and writing. Why not also other forms of science and languages and history? Or even art? Are numeracy and literacy all that matters in a student’s evolving into homo sapiens by melding mathematicus and litterarius? And, incidentally, what is understood by “writing”? Will turning into scribblerius suffice? For that, a computer and spellcheck will do.
Perhaps it all comes down to memory: the memorious (to borrow a term from Borges) and the oblivious. Which means learning from experience and remembrance versus forgetting all--most frighteningly for me, friendships and love affairs. Understand: I am not advocating sentimentalist overloads, but I do believe that those with whom we shared one or another kind of intimacy should not be expunged from recollection. Why, for example, should we not retain formative memories of former lovers, by which I don’t mean undoing bodices or unzipping flies upon returnees’ request. But even that difference may not quite countenance division into two kinds.
But a fundamental difference of another sort may. I refer to persons who are primarily interested in What as opposed to those chiefly concerned with Why.
The former kind go for what at best is information, at worst gossip. The latter analyze, search for causality. The former happily endorse the status quo; the latter, through reflection, introspection, speculation, may effectuate change for the better.
But really better? In some ways, superior intellectuality, pure knowledge for the sake of knowledge, is centripetal and static; whereas the supposedly inferior, merely practical knowledge is ultimately superior, progressive. Though this qualifies for division into two kinds, it leaves us hungry for what follows: which is truly better than which?
If two kinds are ultimately unavoidable, is not one—at least very probably—preferable to the other? Take, for example, the teacher. Is he expected to give identical passing grades (as nowadays, to the detriment of true education is de rigueur) to all students? Or are some of them good, some poor? Must not people in general be divided into worthy and worthless, smart and dumb, apt and inept? Or is such a divide unacceptable under political correctness?
Rather, at least morally if not politically, there must be that vital distinction. So yes, William James, all of us in one way or another divide people into two kinds, giving the lie to those who, if they exist at all, do not. As to which is better, opinions may vary, and about that difference at any rate we may be unanimously of one kind.