You may believe that admiring a philosopher comes from admiring his theories; or you may believe that you need not admire his theories if you admire his temperament well enough. Theories and temperaments are certainly part of the attractions of philosophy. Even non-Platonists may concede that Socrates was an unusual person; anti-Wittgensteinians that there is something to the private language argument; and a-Nietzcheans to feeling sorry for horses (Leibnizians have fewer specific things to admire in Leibniz, though).
This theory-or-temperament disjunction does not occur in every line of business: you may admire an engineer for neither; or a politician. Of course, engineers or politicians are not required to provide details as to matters of doctrine. Perhaps when no thought is expected we are not required to admire people despite their thoughts. Our admiration for artists, critics, and art critics, is of this kind. We rarely take their theories seriously; and rarely do we care about how they were as human beings, unless of course we happened to have met them, and have developed our own unintellectual reasons to care. We admire them retrospectively as it were, for having helped us pay attention to certain details, certain parts of the world. It is a form of compliment to which knowledge about character or theory has little to add. Rarely do we admire them for what they actually thought about those parts of the world: it’s the pointing, not the pointed-ats that seems to matter.
Stanley Cavell was admirable in this artist-, critic-, engineer-, politician-kind of way. This is unusual since of course he was mostly taken to be a philosopher, and so to have expressed philosophical opinions about things. To be honest, however, I no longer remember many of them; I mean I learned about most of them but have forgotten the details. Some that I remember I dislike. And yet, while unmoved by his general argument on skepticism, I am still moved by his general argument on Lear; his connection, or any connection, between happiness and remarriage may in the end prove thin, but I can no longer tell his take on The Philadelphia Story from The Philadelphia Story, the-movie; I care vastly more about what he has said about a certain Fred Astaire choreography than about Fred Astaire; I dislike Walden intensely, and Emerson extensively, and he makes me not mind either of them terribly; also, my admiration for him is independent from his admiration for himself: I quite forgave him his autobiography.
My admiration for Stanley Cavell is to some extent the admiration for a generation of admirable philosophers most of whom wouldn’t find a job in America or anywhere else in the rich world today. Almost all of them (to consider only a notorious temporal section of the Harvard case) were philosophers who could do other things: knew counterpoint, built radios, fought wars, were in shipwrecks, wrote little, climbed mountains, ran art galleries and flew planes. It is not however mere admiration for a certain, generic kind of person: ‘doing other things’ is not enough to establish a kind. More to the point, in the case of Cavell it is unconditional admiration for philosophers without an area of expertise.
Come to think of it, Plato, or Aristotle, or Descartes, or Hume, or Kant, or Wittgenstein, and perhaps three or four contemporaries remaining, never had any real area of expertise either. You wouldn’t imagine any of them revising dissertations, engaging in projects or professional associations, and definitely not in that rumored conspiracy known as Western metaphysics. Their philosophies have come to us as the expression of an intellectual temperament that we see as whole, substantially independent from what they ever said and from who they were. Seen as such, it matters little whether Kant was discussing numbers or gardens, and Aristotle causes or crocodiles. There is a vast monotony to the best philosophers that overrides the contingent fact of their theories and temperaments.
This is the monotony that we recognize in the more unsophisticated musings of practical critics, artists, and engineers. They tend to be people whose lives seem to have found a point in their constant pointing. It is a mode of repetition compared to which the changes in their lives, and their opinions about their own lives, become unimportant. For such people, the test of success is the extent to which their reminders have become undistinguishable from the things of which they were reminding us. Granted, such reminders may count as reasons and arguments. They are, however, also oddly self-consuming, receding as their intended audiences gradually get their points or adopt their locutions. To be sure many of us still owe them for some of those reminders; and the common locution ‘I have no idea’ is almost universally owed to Plato. But, short of rare universal debt, it is sufficient reason for admiration that in the catacombs remaining, in seminar rooms and movie theaters, people have come to see a number of films, ways of speaking, and parts of the world just as Stanley Cavell said they were. We may even find a measure of redemption in our admiration for Stanley Cavell since, unlike Stanley Cavell, we cannot seriously pretend to ever have affected one iota of anyone else’s locutions, or world.