It’s interesting how ideas can go off in unexpected directions. Sort of a six degrees of separation thing – it can seem as if any given idea can lead to any other in three or four steps, however remote they may seem at the beginning. I noticed it yesterday, for instance: I started writing my TPM essay thinking it was going to be about one thing, and after the first paragraph found myself talking about something quite different. I started out thinking the idea led into one subject (and it did) but in the writing found that it also led into another, so followed it there instead.
The core idea was that of competing goods. A familiar enough idea: that many desirable things are incompatible with many other desirable things. Equality and freedom, just for one example. So I meant to do a semi-jokey rant about the unfairness of the arrangement, but found myself instead doing an ironic rant about the unfairness of various other arrangements, and never got to the competing goods aspect at all. Then this morning I was reading a bit of Wayne Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction, for no particular reason (I often read things and bits of things for no particular reason), and he said something interesting about ‘the tension between sympathy and judgment,’ which made me want to write the first essay again. We’re never finished with ideas. We take them on, we think about them, we wrestle with them, we come up with a further idea or two, we think that’s that. And then a day or two later a new thought occurs, and we realize that’s not that after all. And so we keep ourselves occupied.