Tuesday, February 02, 2021

There are in life but two things


“After Descartes . . . the aspect of consciousness eventually assumed a kind of absolutization, which in the contemporary era entered phenomenology by the way of Husserl.  The gnosiological attitude in philosophy has replaced the metaphysical attitude: being is constituted in and somehow through consciousness.  The reality of the person, however, demands the restoration of the notion of conscious being, a being that is not constituted in and through consciousness but that instead somehow constitutes consciousness.  This also applies to the reality of action as conscious activity.” (Karol Wojtyla, “The Person: Subject and Community”, 1976, in Person and community: selected essays, p 226).  This quotation of Wojtyla illuminates “one of the central questions concerning the world outlook (Weltanschaung)” (Karol Wojtyla, The Task of Christian Philosophy Today, 1976), “the problem of the subjectivity of the person”.  

What is the problem of the subjectivity of the person?  It is not with subjectivity, the interiority of a person, per se.  Rather it is with the basis of human action and, as such, morality. With Descartes proclaiming that being is dependent on consciousness, subjectivism alone becomes the foundation of human action rather than in combination with the objective “conscious being”: “the act of personal existence has its direct consequences in the activity of the person”.

How is this problem important today?  This question connects to another essential if “hoary”, question: “Why be moral?  Why should I do what I should, rather than what I would? Why ought I do what is right?” (Kenneth L. Schmitz, At The Center of the Human Drama, 1993, page 31).  In a culture founded on the “notion of conscious being” morality is a consequence of relationship between beings (since a “being” is defined by its relationships with other objective beings):  I do what I should because of its effect on others as well as myself.  The context is one of whether an act is consonant with “love”, with the gift of self, with Gods will.  In a culture founded on the notion of consciousness solely as basis of action, the “I”, the subject, is alone, an individual whose “should” is determined by what is judged best for “I” by “I”.  Here the context is one of individual “power”, in which the “should” is focused on using and taking what the “I” needs and wants. 

This difference is reflected in psychological and developmental aspects of human beings, with the contrast of the immature, self-centered stage of “me” with the more mature stage of “us”, the basis of the moral contrast between young children and mature adults.  More deeply, this is the contrast between the psychosis of isolation and narcissism and the more realistic position of the interconnectedness of all persons and creation.  The fundamental consideration is one of knowing reality, of knowing the Truth (cf., aletheia in the New Testament), for knowing the truth frees a person to love.  As Weigel states about the Lublin school of philosophy, “if our thinking and choosing lacks a tether to reality . . . raw force takes over the world and truth becomes a function of power, not an expression of things-as-they-are.” (Witness To Hope, page 133). 

Living from the fundamental notion of “being . . . constituted in and somehow through consciousness” leaves one at the mercy of power and of one’s quest for it: an empty and lonely worldview disconnected from reality.  One’s moral “should” is based on this need for the power to provide for one’s self, a morality implemented in rage and addiction rather than in love since the source of human happiness—a sincere gift of one’s self —is blocked by the isolation that is needed to maintain one’s gaining and holding personal power.  Thus, the problem of the subjectivity of the human person, as “the very basis of human ‘praxis’ and morality (and thus also ethics)” (Karol Wojtyla, The Task of Christian Philosophy Today, 1976) led to and leads to “mountains of corpses and oceans of blood” (Witness to Hope, page 134) when solved this way since other persons have no intrinsic value besides their usefulness.

“'Here am I, Captain of a Legion of Rome, who served in the Libyan desert and learns and ponders this truth--there are in life but two things, love and power, and no man can have both.' (an Roman inscription popularized by Malcom Muggeridge).

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