A folktale illustration by Vladislav Erko; "The Hen Wife" by Helen G. Stevenson (circa 1930s)
This post is a part of the online book Philosophical Counseling with Tolkien.
Philosophical anthropology, sometimes called anthropological philosophy, is a discipline dealing with questions of metaphysics and phenomenology of the human person, and interpersonal relationships. The Greeks, who invented philosophy (or at least, philosophy as a discipline) as well as half of all the other worthwhile human things in the world, clearly recognized that in this world so full of wonders, the most wonderful by far was man. Compare the famous speech to that effect in Oedipus Rex with the twenty-eighth chapter of Job, and you will see the source of these two great ancient civilizations, Greece and Israel.
“Know thyself” was the maxim adopted by Socrates. If the philosopher does not know himself, he does not know who it is that knows all other things he knows.
Obviously, knowing the self is the first, most immediate kind of knowing. Yet it is also the hardest, because it is the most prone to self-deception by self-interest and rationalization, because we are too close to see ourselves clearly, and because we alone are subjects, knowers; how can we make that same reality an object, a thing known? Yet we must.
My book A Portrait of a Lifeartist is a book on philosophical anthropology. In the beginning of the book I set up six fundamental steps on the Life Artist´s journey (pilgrimage) towards the source of life. All six steps are reflected in an investigation of the Life Artist as respectively a historical being, a rational being, a desirous being, a natural being, and a communicative being. In that way the six steps, in each aspect of the Life Artist´s being, come to appear in a new light, though the core is changeless. In this way the teaching, which originates from them, can be seen as a kind of diamond with different facets, though the same things often are repeated.
Aristotle meant, that what differentiates Man from the rest of the animals, is reason. He defined Man as a rational animal.
Up through the Western history of philosophy we have meant, that reason was the most crucial thing in Man. Our thinking about state and society are based on the idea about, that Man is an enlightened and rational being. The democracy is standing or falling with, that the individual is able to understand and decide on political problems.
But what are then reason and rationality? They are at any rate an utterance of the mind; they are connected with, how clearly the mind can see without distortions. The question about reason is therefore connected with the question about what the mind actually is, including our ability to think and analyse. Add to this the problem with dualism; the problem with mind and thoughts as separate from body and surroundings.
In philosophy as an art of life you don´t seek to construct any philosophy on the background of these questions; any answers or conclusions. The question about reason is rather seeked clarified by investigating why the mind not is able to see clearly. The answer is seeked in the problem about the mind´s loss of reason, and what you in practice can do in order to change this. Reason is connected to my concept of the Navigator.
Reason has, from ancient time, been stressed as the most essential and important in Man. But modern points of views have tried to turn it upside down. Because maybe all reason only are rationalizations of desires and subconscious impulses.
The sharpest critic of the tradition is probably Nietzsche. He couldn't become tired of sneering at reason and all the illusions about the Good, the True and the Beautiful, which the philosophers, with the reason, had created. While the European view of human nature through millenniums had claimed reason as the hallmark of Man, Nietzsche turns the image upside down. He wants to convert all values.
And after Nietzsche, Freud has been busy following the attack on reason up. Freud believes, like Nietzsche, that human reason is a weak and secondary part of the human nature. It is desires, and subconscious motives of different kind, that determine our actions, and reason is only seat for rationalizations and illusions.
Desires have, as Nietzsche made aware, to do with the striving of Man, to do with the will to power and becoming; something, which more is characterized by a Dionysian desire, than by an Apollonian rationality. Desires also have, as Freud made aware, to do with the question of the conscious in relation to the subconscious, including the question about the meaning of dreams. But, I would add, desires have also with passion to do, the deep and incisive feeling of something, where you don't seek to achieve anything, because the feeling in itself contains fulfilment. A feeling, which not is possible without that there also is reason, clarity and awareness included in it. This could be connected to the heart and the hara (the Compass).
In the thought about that reason only is rationalizations of desires and subconscious impulses, is also lying a disposition to another discussion, because with desires, senses and the whole of his organism, Man is a part of nature.
Naturalism stands for any view, which considers nature, or the natural, as the most common basis for explanations and evaluations. A naturalistic view of human nature is this conception: Man is a piece of nature.
Naturalistic views can be traced back to the oldest Greek philosophy, but all newer forms of naturalism are characterized by modern natural sciences. Naturalism therefore very often advocates the conception, that all phenomena in the world can be studied through natural science. However it is important to be aware, that naturalism in itself isn´t a scientifical point of view, but a philosophical point of view. No single branch of science gives anything else than a limited perspective on Man or reality. If you are claiming anything else, you end in reductionism; that is: where you reduce Man and reality to only being a result of a single influence. You accentuate one influence at the same time as you understate all others, and therewith you get a problem with creating unity and coherence in your theory. Both Man and reality are all too complex to be written down to one influence.
In the view of nature in natural science, nature is reduced to atomic particles, empty space, fields, electromagnetic waves and particles etc., etc. Characteristic is, that nature is explained, and is described, in a way, which is a world away from our immediate sense experiences.
The support of a natural scientifical view of nature has almost always led the supporters forward to combine it with an instrumental (technological) view of nature. We have already examined this in connection with nature. But it is also a prevailing view of Man. This conception of nature is seeing it as pure material, or alone as a means for the unfolding of Man.
The instrumental view of Man rests on a sharp division between Man and everything else; that is to say: between inner and outer nature. Man is by force of his inner nature radical different from, and is standing over, the outer nature. This is, among other things, due to, that he, with reason and science, is in the position to master nature.
By the way, this thought characterizes allmost all traditional Western philosophy, where that to philosophize is due to thinking alone, even though the theories within this tradition in other crucial points are highly contradictory. You find it in Christianity, in Descartes´ view of Man as a self-dependant being, in the Enligthenment philosophers, in Romanticism´s view of Man as a historical being, in Kierkegaard, Karl Marx and Auguste Comte, who respectively founded existentialism, Marxism and positivism.
We saw that, in opposition to this, and under impression of the discussion about the damage, which we have caused nature, there has in the later years been worked out conceptions, which claims, that nature has a value in itself. It is not only a means, but ought to be respected for its beauty and richness. It is by the way a point of view, which also is well known from older times. In lack of better you could call it a communicative view of nature and Man, since it is implying, that Man in some sense have a community with nature.
And as the above shows, then these two views of nature are inseparable connected with a view of, what a human being is. The German philosopher Jürgen Habermas has seeked to create a synthesis of the many viewpoints. He claims, that the development of reason, as well as the division, and the alienation, in the modern world, and the many out-specializations of areas of knowledge, have led to, that there in today´s society rules a radical opposition between two kinds of reason: the instrumental reason and the communicative reason.
The instrumental, or technical, reason, is about how to find given means to given goals. It is for instance a necessary goal for Man to get his necessities of life satisfied by cultivating nature. The means is technology, which today builds on the extensive knowledge of natural science. To cut a long story short: thanks to the instrumental reason we get control over nature. In technical competence we have gone far. The whole of that part of our lives has developed into extensive systems, such as the economy, the bureaucracy, the market and the market forces.
The communicative reason and competence is the reason we use in all relationships, where it is about coming to an understanding with each other. It presupposes that we know our life-world. Among other things Habermas understands the life-world as the horizon of linguistic ability, cultural knowledge and individual skills, which is necessary in order to understand both the family jargon, as well as the tone between children, and in all the many communities. By the way Habermas argues for, that the difference between instrumental and communicative reason is given with fundamental structures in language, with different types of speech acts.
The core in Habermas´ critique of culture is that the instrumental reason has conquered terrain from the communicative reason. The systems (the market and the bureaucracy) have colonized the lifeworld. This means, among other things, that political and philosophical questions are being made into technical questions, as when an election campaign is about details in the economical planning, as well as it leads to, that we treat each other as means, or as items, which have come on a wrong course (the treatment society).
The instrumental reason is controlling and gets control. In accordance with Habermas there is nothing wrong with this in technical respect. The problem arises, when this attitude come to characterize ordinary relationships between humans and areas, where values should be crucial; that is: in philosophical respect. It is also this attitude, which has caused, that we, with reference to human problems, always shall hear what the specialists think, for instance economists, sociologists, historians, psychologists, biologists, etc. etc.
The philosopher, as philosophical counselor, has in short vanished (or they speak themselves the language of the specialists), and therewith also the art of life, which could create unity and coherence in life. Many will perhaps object against this, since the New Age movement advocates a new kind of wholeness-thinking. But, as we already have examined several times, there are a number of misunderstandings in this. Philosophy is by definition wholeness-thinking. You can therefore say, that the New Age movement is an abortive attempt to re-create philosophy as an art of life. The attempt goes wrong already in the lack of ability to understand itself as precisely philosophy. Personally I think, that this is due to the many uneducated people we see within this environment, who have got all their knowledge by reading self-help books, or other New Age books.
This main failure is, as mentioned, due to, that the New Age movement in extreme way is characterized by the instrumental reason, and the treatment society, despite, that it should be a showdown with this. That which should have been art of life becomes reduced to treatment, especially psychotherapy, and New Age magazines are abundantly characterized by alternative treatment offers, rather than offers on counseling in art of life. The movement lives by, that all people are seen as victims, or simply, ill.
Another failure, where the wholeness-thinking is lost, is due to the psychologizing of philosophy, where it, in contradiction to its own claims, shuts itself away from the Wholeness, or the Otherness, and locks itself inside the individual psyche.
That was Habermas. With the concept of the Otherness, we has another communicative thinker, namely the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. Central in Buber´s thinking is the thought about two fundamental relationships: I-THOU and I-IT. He has investigated this in his wonderful poetic book I and Thou.
The I-Thou relationship is characterised by freedom, co-operation and a deep feeling of personal involvement. The I confronts its Thou, not as something, which can be studied, be measured or manipulated, but as an unique presence, which is answering the I in its individuality. This corresponds to the communicative view of Man and nature.
The I-It relationship is characterised by a tendency to treat something as an impersonal object controlled by causal, social or economical powers. This corresponds to the instrumental view of Man and nature.
Buber refuses the idea about that humans are isolated, autonomous beings, who act from abstract rules. Instead the reality exists between humans as they discover and change each other. Reality is shortly said dialogical in its nature. Buber describes God as the eternal THOU, the Thou, who never can be an IT. In that way you can reach God, not with a derivation or a conclusion (some images of life), but with a readiness to answer the concrete reality of the divine presence.
In accordance with Buber, then Man, in this way, can relate to life in two radical different ways: either as a subject who experiences something, namely an object, an It, which he is standing outside. Or as a person who is in the relationship with another person, a Thou. It is the last, which is fundamental.
The “I” first becomes an ”I” in this relationship with a ”Thou”. There exists no “I” in and with itself. The basic purpose in the human existence is the actual relationship. The spirit, the human reality, is not in the “I” (as New Age and personal development claim), but between I and Thou. First in this between is Man´s way of being constituted. The relationship with the Thou is in this way the mirror in which the “I” can discover itself. The relationship is a philosophical sparring partner.
In accordance with Buber, then the whole of the human existence goes off in the tension between challenge and reaction, which dialogical seen can be seen as questions and answers. Man becomes spoken to by the eternal Thou, God, through challenges and what happens to him. But through his reactions and actions he is conversely able to answer this question of the challenge; that is to say: to take the responsibility for his destiny, to answer individually.
So in any challenge you can - if you open yourself for it, and, in complete silence listen to the call of the Thou - hear the eternal Thou ask: ”Where are you in thy life?” And by observing your reaction - that is to say: see your destiny in the eyes and discover yourself - you can answer: ”Here I am in my life, this is what I am!”
Buber has herewith shown an important philosophical exercise, namely that to see the relationship with the surrounding world as a philosophical sparring partner. Precisely like this functioned also Socrates´ method of philosophical dialogue, the so-called Socratic Pedagogy, where Socrates, through his questions, became a mirror in which his dialogue partners could discover themselves through their answers.
Another Jewish philosopher, which we already have mentioned due to his similarities with Krishnamurti´s philosophy, is Emmanuel Levinas. He worked, with inspiration from Buber, also with such a communicative thinking. He calls the unique presence in life The Otherness (God). The Otherness manifests itself as The Other, or as The Thou. Man can´t be understood isolated, but always in a relation with, or in a meeting with ”The Other”. In the other´s face, in thy neighbour´s appearance, you meet an unfounded (metaphysical understood) demand about responsibility, which you can´t ignore, but of course very well try to drive out.
In Levinas´ philosophy it is impossible to remain a spectator to the world. Man, and also language, is constituted by the indispensable connection with the Otherness - (as we remember, then also Niels Bohr said, that it is not us, who are putting reality in order, it is reality which is putting us in order). - The Otherness manifests itself in the other´s face. The face calls for you. Your reaction to the face is an answer, and it shows who you are. So it requires the responsibility, that you listen to this call.
Levinas criticizes the traditional effort of philosophy in building up philosophical systems, because precisely the Otherness (the new) opposes the system (the old). That, which is really something else, or different, is in accordance with Levinas The Other, whom you are standing face-to-face with, the other person. This relationship is the foundation of ethics, and not a system. So just like in Buber there also in Levinas is a disposition to a philosophical life-practice.
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