In a modern society, individuality has a special social role that other human societies do not grant to it. The modern social world suggests, in a subtle way, that the best human life is liberated individuality that actualizes the communal self.
We can best note the dramatic impact of liberal democracy here, in our discussion of individuality. Military dictatorships, fascism, communism, hierarchical societies, family based cultures, and primitive culture, would not have a such a chapter, for individual worth and dignity must submit to the group. In fact, most other cultures obliterate the thrust of individuals toward expressing their worth and dignity. Liberal democracy encourages individuals to pursue what is, in their judgment, the best plan of life for them. No other force can do that for the individual. The responsibility for discovering the uniqueness of one’s life, the ways in which one can discover worth and dignity for in one’s own unique way is responsibility one cannot hand over to tradition, institutions like church or family, or government. I will explain the positive thrust of the communal nature of the self, and then focus upon how experiential windows to community like aesthetic experience, love, and religion have their source in the struggle for the recognition of individual worth and dignity. I will then deal with the various experiences of alienation as continuing expressions of the thirst for re-connecting with others and with God. The beauty of this approach is that, in general, human beings will discover ways of relating to each other and to their vision of their best plan of life that leads to the improvement of the everyday, ordinary human life. I hope that by the end of this chapter, the reason for this will be clear to the reader.
Living a meaningful and happy human life is a matter of throwing oneself fully into the game of human life. As a game, it has certain rules that neither individuals nor cultures were born to implement. Human beings are not computer software programs that simply “know” the rules of building an individual life or a culture that best suits humanity. We can see this experience in our language. We wonder what is behind what the other person says. We wonder about their hidden agenda. We question the subtext of the behavior or language of another. Sometimes, human life is a bit like playing poker. We wonder what people really mean and what they are driving at. A conversation can occur at many levels, suggesting the game nature of one’s relationships.
I will pursue a psychology in this section, one that will expose the rich, thick quality of the self that a modern view rarely articulates. I will do so with the help of psychology, aesthetics, religion, and with an understanding of the relationship between trust and alienation.
The modern view of the self and of
individuality is an important element of our consideration of modern
civilization. Individuals and the problems affecting their lives achieved
autonomy from society in
Yet, modernity has its critics. From the communitarian, modernity hears that it too readily takes the gains in technological, scientific, and material life as a measure of progress generally. Despite such advances, modern selves are thin, aimless, rootless, and progressively less able to flourish. MacIntyre argues that the structure of modern societies calls on us to play too many distinct roles, which in tern causes us to lack a substantial identity and thus the resources to see our whole life as having a narrative structure. We try feebly to make up coherent stories about our lives. However, the modern world is such that we can be fairly well assured that the resulting tale is more fiction than truth. He sees constituents of human flourishing such as identity, self-respect, self-knowledge, friendship, and confident agency as undermined by contemporary social arrangements. Such persons argue that certain neglected types of social arrangements contribute to the flourishing of individual persons and to intergenerational flourishing.
The problem with this approach involves its analysis of self-knowledge, self-respect, rich and effective identity, and flourishing. Thus, the approach fails to recognize that we simply are a social self. The social self is an ontological statement of who human beings are. Consequently, we do not have a distinctively communal philosophical psychology. They make exaggerated claims about the links between community on the one side and self-knowledge, self-respect, identity, and flourishing. John Donne put it this way:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends’ or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
The self is inter-subjective in the sense that the conditions of the formation of the self essentially involve others, and that the aim of the self involves relations with others. A great deal of evidence suggests that a loving and reliable family situation goes a long way toward giving form to character and setting the terms and grounds for self-esteem and self-respect in later life. If these grounds are firm enough, they can survive many kinds of social disapproval and failures of social recognition later on. Persons can sometimes find the grounds for self-respect in lost ancestral communities, in contemporaneous but non-contiguous communities, or in communities of possible beings. So long as one believes that one would be respected by the members of these other, formerly actualized, currently actualized but non-contiguous, or not actualized but possible communities or associations, one can find a basis for maintaining self-respect.
A common argument against modernity is that its view of the self is so individualistic that satisfaction of individual wants is the only intrinsic good. A further argument along this line is that he self precedes all its values. Even Rawls can underestimate the good of community and its role in identity constitution, self-construction, self-understanding, and flourishing. Yet, even modernity recognizes that we are beings who value our common institutions and activities as good in themselves. We are partners in ways of life in which we engage for their own sake. Self-respect has a communal basis. People quite naturally care for the generations preceding them and the generations that follow. Happiness requires our presence in society. To be a self, we enter into social relations.
Individuality itself is a social role in a modern society. However, individuals who participate in a modern society adopt specific roles in families, in civic society, in economic life, in the local community, in defending the country, and in political life. Individuals can accept or modify roles and the social self. We cannot reduce individuality to the influence exerted by society. The formation of identity is self-identification, mediated through our perception of ourselves as different from and in harmony with society at various points. We integrate the social self into our projects for our own identity. We can understand human growth best from the perspective of the conflicts, inner and outer, that the healthy personality weathers, emerging and re-emerging with an increased sense of inner unity, with an increase of good judgment, and an increase in the capacity to do well, according to the standards of those who are significant to him or her. Healthy personalities actively master their environment, show a certain unity of personality, and are able to perceive the world and themselves correctly. Anything that grows has a ground plan; out of this ground plan, the parts arise, each part having its time to special ascendancy, until all parts have arisen to form a functioning whole. We orient ourselves toward a complete life plan with a hierarchical order of roles as represented by individuals of different age grades. Family, neighborhood, and school provide contact and experimental identification with younger and older children and with young and old adults. Identity formation is a lifelong development largely unconscious to the individual and to society, involving both self-realization and mutual recognition. The process of identity formation emerges as an evolving configuration that is gradually established by successive ego syntheses and re-syntheses throughout childhood. It is a configuration gradually integrating constitutional givens, idiosyncratic libidinal needs, favored capacities, significant identifications, effective defenses, successful sublimations, and consistent roles.
Identity is constituted by the dynamic integrated system of past and present identifications, desires, commitments, aspirations, beiefs, dispositions, temperament, roles, acts, and actional patterns, as well as by whatever self-understandings each person brings to his or her life. Yet, for human identity, we recognize that a gap exists between the self we think we are and the self we really are. Further, there exists a set of true counter-factual generalizations about the human mind. We engage in self-representing to gain self-understanding. This is the story we tell ourselves to understand who we are. The ideal is convergence between self-representation and an acceptable version of the story of our actual identity. Further, we engage in self-representation for public dissemination, the aim of which is to underwrite successful social interaction. Self-represented identity has actual identity as its cognitive object. This is true because self-representing involves the activation of certain mental representations and cognitive structures. Further, the self-represented often has motivational bearing and behavioral effects. We might emphasize that although self-represented identity from the subjective point of view, it invariably draws on available theoretical models about the nature of the self in framing its reflexive self-portrait. We represent ourselves by way of various publicly available hermeneutic strategies.
Identity suggests that certain natural connections between the goods of identity and other goods and normative identity, between identity and self-esteem, self-respect, self-knowledge, effective agency, and flourishing.
First, the primary good of self-respect is based on a sense of the worthiness of one’s life. However, a judgment of self-worth presupposes as a necessary condition that one has a sense of who one is and what one’s life is about. Experiencing self-esteem or having self-respect are necessarily modes of self-representation. The communal basis of self-respect is something like a self-hypothesis and social confirmation relation between thoughts with some sort of self-referential content and some wider community. We need to perceive that at least some other beings affirm and appreciate our being. We need to think that the grounds for this affirmation and appreciation lie in certain non-ephemeral features of who we are. Furthermore, for the affirmation and appreciation that matters to us, there must be a certain mutuality of appreciation and admiration. We need to respect the others who affirm our being in order for their affirmation to matter to us.
Second, we need a sense of oneself as possessing a full identity, of oneself as more than a mere shell.
Third, a firm sense of identity cannot even begin to take form if there is not a certain amount of consistent love and care in early relations. However, love and care are necessary conditions for identity formation, and they are immensely effective at grounding identity even when set against terrible socioeconomic conditions.
The constitution of the self arises in part from ancestral roots and connections, as well as the more obvious contemporary social relations, roles, practices, and activities. Our identities are primarily emergent, relational products rather than pure self-creations. Thus, gaining accurate self-understanding will involve seeing oneself non-atomically.
Self-knowledge presupposes that one posses the conceptual apparatus for engaging in the required self-representation.
We can ground personal identity in the thinnest thread of biological or psychological continuity, the sort of connectedness that constitutes a normatively acceptable self or a life is the sort that makes for a content-full story, a story that involves an unfolding rationale for the shape it takes. It is only in terms of this larger structure that a life gains whatever rationale it has for unfolding in the way it does, it follows that a life is illuminated, by seeing it against the background of this larger structure.
Finally, no life is simply reducible to the larger meaning-giving structure of which it partakes and by which it is constituted. First, are there grounds for favoring certain kinds or styles of connection among the parts of one’s life? For example, requiring unity in a narrative is a way of drawing the thread of accountability through a life. However, surely we want to allow for transformative narratives in which an individual becomes a very different sort of person than one once was. Second, we will want to be careful not to be too narrow in our choice of appropriate narrative models or to tie the requisite kinds of narrative too closely to only historically familiar and well-understood kinds of aesthetic representation. Third, the narrative quality of human life is a condition for a good life, though it hardly constitutes it. Fourth, we might wonder how much weight to give a good ending in evaluating a life. Fifth, once we have gained clarity on these issues, we will still need to gain a clearer understanding of the class of sociologies that the preferred types of narrative presuppose for their legitimate construction.
The following presentation reflects upon the experienced brokenness and health of human life or cracks in human experiences that become windows into the nature of the communal self. Such breaks in individual experience, as in the experience of good or bad fortune, delight and love, moods, everydayness, alienation, aggressiveness, suffering and death, make the struggle for the recognition of worth and dignity vivid to us. That recognition takes place in the presence of others.
We must ask whether the dependence of individuals on society does not imply their unconditional subjection to those institutions that claim to represent society as a whole to the individual. After all, society ensures conformity from the individuals who make it up through the development of a social character. We can avoid this dependence if we assume that human beings have a natural tendency to associate with others. Further, we must not isolate either the individual subject or institutional life in abstraction from each other. In the social relation to the other, we will find the key to understanding both the relation of human beings to their world and of its genesis. The self arises in social experience. Here we arrive at the origin of a center of self that exists outside the self, as we get outside ourselves experientially in such a way as to become an object to ourselves. The first clue is our ability to understand the gestures or movement of others. The ego constitutes itself through relation to the other. We must still explore the social conditioning of the ego and the unity of ego and self. Religious experience may well reflect this external thrust of the self.
What I hope to account for here is the otherness at the heart of selfhood. Self is not the foundation; in fact, we de-center the self. I refuse to exalt or humiliate the self.
Ever since William James enunciated the concept of the social self, scholars have recognized the importance of the social world in the genesis of self-consciousness. Two strands of this concept arose, one in the ego psychology of Freud and in the social psychology George Herbert Mead. Human beings are oriented and disposed to culture just as other animals are to an environment peculiar to their species. From the outset, human beings are disposed to create culture; culture originates in the peculiar character of human of human beings as beings who act. This innate drive does not have specific content. Sociobiology subordinates the individual to the propagation of the genes. Further, the various kinship systems and familial communities are already products of human cultural activity. In many cases, they do not fit in with the biological criterion of the maximal propagation of genes. This fact is enough to invalidate a reduction of cultural systems of human behavior to the explanatory principles of sociobiology. Human social relations have always been carried on in the framework of cultural systems and the changes these undergo. Human social relations must operate at a new level of categories, distinct from those of general zoology. As with the most important matters of human life, we have to figure out along the way the best social world in which human beings flourish.
At this point, I want to explore the development of the ego or subjectivity as this takes place in the field of social relations.
The human environment is no longer the immediate natural reality, but the artistic reality of the social world, which human beings shape as a culture or civilization. If we alienate ourselves from the social world, we oppose our own creation and ourselves. We find ourselves mirrored in the manners, customs, morality, and conventions, of the social and cultural institutions. The spiritual principle is the inner world, taken in from the outside by means of identification, a relation that we can describe as creation rather than simple adaptation.
Drives and instincts do not determine what senses will perceive in such a way as to what is important to their own life, while they filter out other features of the objective world. Human perception does not primarily release reactions that biology has pre-imprinted as an innate behavioral schema. The concept of repetition (Freud) of primitive experiences is a denial of personal autonomy in favor of determinism and a negation of life. The mistake of the behaviorism in William McDougall, John B. Watson, and B. F. Skinner, is attempting to describe human behavior without an appeal to consciousness, just as we do with animals. The stimulus and response scheme for an explanation of human behavior is not sufficient because the same constellations of stimuli can elicit a variety of movements in response, while different constellations of stimuli can elicit the same response. A specific response does not always arise from a specific stimulus. Human beings can dwell on the contents of intuitions and ideas in their objective nature.
The center of individual human beings is outside themselves. Individuals discover who they are in dialogue with others. We are natively already present to what is other than us. We live outside of ourselves, by entering into our environing reality. Animals live wholly in the present moment, ignorant of future and past. We have the capacity to loosen the bonds of the situation and distance ourselves from it, reflecting upon both past and future. The organization of the self is the organization by individuals of a set of attitudes toward their social environment and toward themselves from the standpoint of that social environment. Reasoning involves indicating to ourselves the character that call out certain responses. We act in a rational fashion when we indicate to ourselves what the stimuli are that will call out a complex response, and by the order of the stimuli we are determining what the whole of the response will be. Intelligence is the ability to solve the problems of present behavior in terms of possible future consequences as implicated because of experience. Intelligent human beings, as distinct from intelligent animals, present to themselves what is going to happen. This picture of what the future is to be determines present conduct is characteristic of human intelligence. The future is present through ideas. Our ability to envision “this” leading to “that” distinguishes our intelligence from that of other animals. We see things in their temporal relationship that answer to the temporal organization that scientists find in the central nervous system. We see things as distant from us not only spatially but also temporally. Mind develops within the social process.
We are present to what is other as other. When we attend to an object, we are conscious of its otherness and difference. I also grasp its difference from other objects. Every object has a special that distinguishes itself from other objects. Our capacity for objectivity, for dwelling on the other as other, contains an element of self-transcendence, an element of disregard for our own impulses. Higher order animals achieve an element of self-transcendence in play. Even human beings attain it through the course of development. We can move toward an object; we can move away and give attention to another object. Human beings have the ability to adopt an attitude toward themselves, a capacity for self-reflection, which at the same time is the basis for the human ability to stand back from things and treat them as objects. We experience the implicit presence of objects that are not the focus of attention.
Through the body and its position in the world is manifested an indefinite, open-ended unity which is the horizon for all perceptions. The body is not a self; it becomes a self only when it has developed a mind within the context of social experience mind arises through communication by a conversation of gestures in a social process or context of experience. The gesture stands for the act as far as it affects others. People move in an intelligent fashion with reference to each other through the experience of gestures. Other animals have a high degree of cooperative activity without representation of their acts in symbols; the root of cooperation between human beings also arises out of the need for social interaction and cooperation. The self is a social structure and arises out of social interaction. A person is a personality because he or she belongs to a community and takes over the institutions of that community into his or her own conduct. We adopt the language of those around is and accept the roles offered. Self-consciousness is an awakening in ourselves of the group of attitudes that we are arousing in others. Individual selves can only exist in definite relationships to other selves. We cannot draw definite lines between our identity and that of others, since our own self exists as we enter into experience with others. Unfortunately, much of modern psychology has dealt with the self as in isolated and independent element. The self arises when the conduct of the individual form takes over the conversation of gestures. When the conduct of the individual takes over this conversation of gestures so that the attitude of the other forms can affect the organism and the organism can reply with its corresponding gesture and thus arouse the attitude of the other in its process. Then a self arises. The social process of influencing others in a social act and then taking the attitude of the others aroused by the stimulus, and then reacting in turn to this response, constitutes a self.
Human social activities depend upon social cooperation among individuals who carry them out. Such cooperation results from the taking by these individuals of social attitudes toward each other. Biology gives individuals the capacity for thought through the brain; human society endows individuals with minds. The social nature of that mind requires individuals to put themselves in the experiential places of others. Societies develop in complexity of organization only by means of the progressive achievement of greater degrees of differentiation among the individuals who constitute them. Such differentiation implies initial oppositions among them of individual needs and ends, oppositions that in terms of social organization have been transformed into specializations of socially functional individual behavior.
The community as represented in specific individuals as points of reference determines the ego.
Although raised in a single family, something as simple birth order affects the environment in which a parent raises a child – that is how open to the world human beings are. Oldest children receive much attention, often spoiled by the family environment. They suddenly find themselves displaced and no longer unique, sharing attention with a rival. They move from being the only child to being dethroned. They try to protect others and help them. They play the part of parent with younger of children. They develop a talent for organization. They show an interest in the past as they remember the blissful time when they had all the attention. They admire the past and have some pessimism about the future. They like to take part in authority and exaggerate the importance of rules and laws. The second child shares attention immediately and learns cooperation. They must always catch up with the first child. The youngest child can never be dethroned. They are pampered as the baby of the family, and faces the difficulties of a pampered child. They often exceed their predecessors in accomplishments. Yet, a spoiled child can never be independent. The only child has competition directly with the father and is pampered by the mother.
The ego undergoes a process of development or formation that is marked in a decisive way by a processing of the social environment in which the individual develops. The ego develops and expresses itself creatively. The ego is a carrier of higher ideals and thus has strength of will to accomplish its ideal. The ego is the style of life of the individual. We must put aside an enduring ego that underlies the whole process of consciousness. However, can we do without the idea of an ego that abides in the process of consciousness and through its shifting phases? The process of identity formation takes the sameness of the self as its point of departure. Through this identity, the life of the individual acquires constancy and stability. This identity makes possible the formation of a stable ego that can be both the subject of behavior generally and the reliable and accountable subject of deeds. Identity formation is a process whereby the self and ego take shape in such a way that allows the ego to function as a censoring agency. The self is the basis of the cohesion and the unity of the life history of the individual. Each new projected identity should subsume the earlier attempts at identity formation, so that individuals can identity themselves with themselves and thus make it possible for their ego to acquire stability and autonomy. The self is the basis of the identity and the continuity of the ego. The determination of the individual by society affects both the self and ego.
The ego is not a helpless tool of biological or environmental drives, as suggested by Freud. Freud could not explain this because he could not explain the genetic passage from narcissistic ego to real ego as a censor. He traced the emergence of the real ego from id to the act of identification with the parental superego at the time of the resolution of Oedipus complex and to the process whereby the ego became an agency independent of the id. The superego becomes overly severe and abuses the poor ego, humiliates it and treats it poorly, threatens it with the direst punishments, reproaches it for actions in the remote past that had been taken lightly at the time. The superego applies the strictest moral standard to the helpless ego that is at its mercy. It represents the claims of morality. We realize that our moral sense of guilt is the expression of the tension between the ego and the super-ego. Kant’s view of moral law within does not coincide with the fact that humanity has precious little conscience. The superego replaces the parental agency and observes, directs, and threatens the ego. It also takes on the influences of those who have stepped into the place of parents, such as educators, teachers, and people chosen as ideal models. It represents every moral restriction and is the advocate of a striving towards perfection. We do not live entirely in the present. The past lives on in the ideologies of the superego. Instinct experiences transformation during the formation of the superego in that one ego assimilates to another. If a boy identifies himself with his father, he wants to be like his father. The model of the father alters the ego. The Oedipus complex has no other significance than that of a great will conflict between the growing individual and the counter will of the superego represented in parents.
Living in reminiscences means that we are dispatching old experiences instead of opening ourselves to new ones. It is a present experience with a finger pointing to the past. It is a mere faded, sketchy development of that original form. It also anticipates repetition.
Infancy is the time when we observe the beginning stages of the virtue of hope or trust. Hope is the enduring belief in the attainability of fervent wishes, in spite of the dark urges and rages that mark the beginning of existence. Hope is the ontogenetic basis of faith, and is nourished by the adult faith that pervades patterns of care. As infants, we have physical needs that resolve themselves in the tenderness of parents to meet the needs of one dependent upon them as parents. As infants, we also develop generalized anxiety from our home life, which resolves itself in the need for interpersonal security. The first demonstration of social trust in babies is the ease of feeling, the depth of sleep, and the relaxation of bowels. The first social achievement of infants is their willingness to let the mother out of sight without undue anxiety or rage, since she has become an inner certainty as well as an outer predictability. In fact, trust born of care is the touchstone of actuality of religion, which have in common periodical childlike surrender to a provider who dispenses earthly fortune as well as spiritual health. The acquisition of language (from non-symbolic to symbolic behavior) represents the movement from infancy to childhood. The basic trust the individual gives to the social environment is to the mother as mediator and embodiment of world and life, later joined by the father. Failure of mother or father to provide a loving environment will increase the alienation the child experiences, often leading to repetitive expressions of that alienated relationship in attempts at union with others. The child will need to break its ties to the parents in order to preserve basic trust. The individual will need to explore a new direction that allows the basic trust of the child in unlimited security despite all the threats and adversities of life. The acquisition of basic trust is essential for the future development of the child into genuine independence. This basic trust remains important for the development of a healthy personality. Far from reduction to infantile regression, this basic trust opens us to the world and its demands instead of taking light from the real world into an infantile illusory world.
In the toddler phase, we develop the virtue of will. Our ego cannot sustain itself without hope and will. A sense of defeat can lead to deep shame and a compulsive doubt whether one every really willed what one did, or really did what one willed. Will is the unbroken determination to exercise free choice as well as self-restraint, in spite of the unavoidable experience of shame and doubt in infancy. We battle for autonomy. We stand on our feet more firmly and distinguishes the world as I and you, me and mine. This stage is decisive for the ration between love and hate, cooperation and willfulness, freedom of self-expression and suppression. From a sense of self-control without loss of self-esteem comes a lasting sense of autonomy and pride; from a sense of muscular and anal impotence, of loss of self-control, and of parental over-control comes a lasting sense of doubt and shame.
Childhood is the time when we develop the virtue of purpose through play. Play is to the child what thinking, planning, and blueprinting are to adults; a trial universe where conditions are simplified and methods are exploratory. One can think through past failures and test expectations. We form a good deal of the foundations of our attitude toward authority and superiors. Children must now learn what kind of person they will become. They want to be like the parents, who are powerful, beautiful, and dangerous. Children identify with them and play with the idea of what it would be like to them. They must emerge with a sense of unbroken initiative as a basis for a high and realistic sense of ambition and independence. A crisis, beset with fears, or at least a general anxiousness or tension, seems to be resolved, in that the child suddenly seems to grow together both psychologically and physically. They seem to be more themselves, more loving, relaxed, and brighter in judgment. Most of all, they seem to be self-activated. They are in free possession of a certain surplus of energy that permits them to forget failures quickly and to approach what seems desirable with undiminished and better aimed effort. In this way, children and parents face the next crisis much better prepared. Children are aware of their sexual organs and curious about them. They feel shame when found out and fear of being found out about their sexual curiosity. We often learn costly ways of getting around anxiety provoking and fear provoking situations. One never feels good or worthy. We start using utensils designed for adults. Their primary concern is with whether they receive love, especially from parents. Distortion of fundamental interpersonal attitudes can lead to malevolence.
The juvenile stage is the time when we develop the virtue of competence. Competence is the free exercise of dexterity and intelligence in the completion of tasks, unimpaired by infantile inferiority. We actually become social beings, reflected in playmates. Playfulness reaches into the world shared with others. Playing children advance forward to new stages of real mastery. This new mastery is not restricted to the technical mastery of toys and things, but it includes ways of mastering experience by meditating, experimenting, planning, and sharing. The danger we face is whether we are adequate or inferior to the tasks placed before us. The danger is a feeling of inadequacy and inferiority. Failure in this stage leads to an uncomfortable life in society. The danger lies in our role confusion.
Adolescence is a time when we develop the virtue of fidelity. Fidelity is the ability to sustain loyalties freely pledged in spite of the inevitable contradictions of value systems. It is the cornerstone of identity and receives inspiration from conforming ideologies and affirming companions. Pre-adolescence contains the beginnings of the experience of love, reflected at this stage in the choice of a close friend. Early adolescence is a time when one seeks the transformation of a close friendship to one of the opposite sex. This represents a collision between one’s lust and one’s feeling of self-esteem and worth. Intimacy collides with security. The need for intimacy becomes a powerful integrating force. The opposite pole of intimacy is distance, reflected in the readiness to isolate and destroy those forces and people who seem dangerous and whose territory encroaches upon one’s own. This phase can lead to the gang experience. Late adolescence extends from the patterning of preferred genital activity through unnumbered educative and steps to the establishment of a fully human or mature repertory of interpersonal relations, as permitted by available opportunity, personal and cultural. At least from the time of adolescence, we cannot avoid the question of our wholeness; it becomes a theme in the formation of independent individual identity. We steadily become our own mother and father. We also become our own child.
The adult stages develop the virtues of love, care and wisdom. Beyond sexuality, we develop a selective love; the mutuality of mates and partners in a shared identity, for the mutual verification through an experience of finding oneself, as one loses oneself, in another. Sexual desire is a form of perception of another human being. Sexual awareness of another involves considerable self-awareness. Sexual desire involves arousing in the other an awareness of one’s desire and the hope of arousing the same desire in the other through that awareness. The concept of person signifies the human being in wholeness, transcending the fragmentary experience of everyday life. As person, we are never completely at the disposal of another; we have a hidden inside and maintain our freedom. Personality is the presence of the self in the ego. We have a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation, including productivity and creativity. Love is mutuality of devotion forever subduing the antagonisms inherent in divided function. It pervades the intimacy of individuals and is thus the basis of ethical concern. The ability to lose oneself in the meeting of bodies and minds leads to a gradual expansion of our interests and to investment of the energy we generate. Where such enrichment fails, regression to an obsessive need for false intimacy takes place, often with a pervading sense of stagnation and personal impoverishment. Individuals often begin to indulge themselves as if they were their own one and only child. Care is the widening concern for what has been generated by love, necessity, or accident; it overcomes the ambivalence adhering to irreversible obligation. Wisdom is detached concern with life itself, in the face of death itself. It maintains and conveys the integrity of experience, in spite of the decline of bodily and mental functions. It responds to the need of the on-going generation for an integrated heritage and yet remains aware of the relativity of all knowledge. Maturity leads to a sense of integrity: an emotional integration that permits participation by followership as well as acceptance of the responsibility of leadership. The fear of death represents the loss of identity and integration of the ego. As adults age, we note the desire to carry within them the youthful stage of life. Is it pure sentiment to suggest that we move through the morning, spring, evening, and autumn stages of life? A life directed an aim is in general better, richer, and healthier than an aimless one. We are better off moving forward with the stream of time than backwards against it. We do not help ourselves by looking back; a prospect and a goal in the future become necessary. If we approach aging well, we can become artists in life. The wholeness of the self finds its manifestation as personality.
The temporal structure of the wholeness of the person is important for our relation both to social context and to the ego. The meaning we find in life and that we give to our own lives finds expression in the opinion we develop of ourselves and of the environment. Possible dissonance to our life together in living, working, and loving will show itself here. The meaning of life is an important psychological matter. The full meaning of life lies outside our experience. Each of us is an ego at every moment of our existence. We are still becoming ourselves because we are still on the way to ourselves in the wholeness of our existence. Nothing said to us reaches as deep as that which we find in ourselves. We never experience the completed birth of individuality. Yet, we are also ourselves now insofar as we are persons. The person establishes the relation between the incomplete individual life history that is on the way to its special destiny and the present moment of the ego. We keep freeing ourselves from primitive biological and environmental compulsions and move toward our ideal. Evolution moves us from unconscious and biological drives toward self-conscious individuality. Psychology started its research in the service of the censorship of the emotional life. Its task has become the removal of repressing powers, the lifting of the ban of repression, the search for the forbidden forces. The premise of psychology is a disturbance within the person. Our sublimation is the unwitting substitution, for a behavior pattern that encounters anxiety or collides with the self-system, of a socially more acceptable activity pattern that satisfies part of the motivational system that caused trouble. The aim is self-development. The person is to develop self into that which he or she is, without the need to shift the responsibility for who we are. Person is the presence of the self in the moment of the ego, in the claim laid upon the ego by our true self, and in the anticipatory consciousness of our identity. Freedom is the real possibility of being me; autonomy is the expression of my identity as a rational being. Freedom and personhood belong together. Personhood is also socially conditioned. The relation to the other and to the social world determines personality. To violate the forces directed toward life in any human being has repercussions on ourselves. Our growth, happiness, and strength have their foundation in our respect for these forces. We cannot violate them in others and remain untouched ourselves at the same time. The respect for life, of others as well as one’s own, is the condition of our growth toward actualizing our potential self. Our primary task, our primary work of art, is to become what we potentially are.
My references to unconscious drives simply refer to the difference between forces of which we are aware and those of which we are not at that moment. I do not refer to the unconscious or an unconscious realm, for I find it more helpful to think in a unified way of human personality. What therapists theorize as an unconscious realm is the realm of consciousness in its memory and imagination functions. The psychology of the unconscious unveils itself as one of the numerous attempts to deny our will in order to evade the conscious responsibility following of necessity.
Personality is the relatively enduring pattern of recurrent interpersonal situations that characterize a human life. It consists in the totality of inherited and acquired psychic qualities that are characteristic of one individual and that make the individual unique. Temperament refers to the mode of reaction and is constitutional and changeable. Some personalities are free spirits, rarely tied down to a set of beliefs or a group. For them, living is for the moment and in the present. Another personality seems obsesses by the quest for self, a quest that seems rather strange to many people. Why search for something you already are? However, this personality desires self-actualization in the strongest sense. The question of how they can become the self they truly are, is one that guides much of their lives. The quest for self will often lead the person to identify with grand goals, while at the same time quickly abandoning those grand goals if they no longer contribute to the quest for self. Other personalities have a such a strong feeling for others that they want to belong to a group and make what they consider to be significant contributions to the group. Another personality wants to gain knowledge and competence in a chosen field and structure, often leading to gaining control over others. This can also lead to unhealthy dominance and abuse of their authority.
For some personalities, life is a struggle for power. They learn through arguing, and enjoy best knowledge gained in that way. At their best, they utilize the power they acquire to protect those they love. Their lust for power can lead them to chose ways of relating to others that is destructive of others and of self. They can view others as weak and gullible, and therefore ripe for use to his or her end. For another personality, life is about mediation of struggle, bringing people together, and even merging with another. They want so much to make peace that they are lazy in pursuit of genuine happiness. They listen well, while also making sure they keep their environment as harmonious as possible. They love routine. Another personality is quite angry, though they may not be aware of it because they suppress it so much. They want perfection desperately, especially in themselves, and carry around an inner critic, usually in the form of a parent, who constantly tells them they are not good enough to be accepted by the group. They can become obsessive about past mistakes and fail to make decisions because they want everything to be perfect. Another personality is so good at giving to others that they actually make other dependent upon them, which then becomes their pride. As generous as they appear, they take pride in how many they help and in how many others depend upon them. They want others to notice what they do for them, and will break off relationships if it does not happen. Another personality focuses upon success and fears failure above all else. The desire to win love through achievement moves them toward deceit. Another personality longs for romance, to have others view them as special or unique, and to make a deep connection with another. Yet, love at a distance is always better than love near at hand. They envy the apparent tranquility others have. Their loneliness and suffering is special and has such a profound dimension that others cannot truly know what they experience. They look forward to what will be, rather than experience what is. They want to be fully alive, while pushing away the people who may help them experience a full human life. Another personality wants to store up knowledge, needs longs stretches of privacy to do so. They have an avaricious appetite for knowledge, and rarely share what they know, for what they know is never sufficient. They do not want others think they do not know something. They look upon others as shallow and often ignorant. Their silence and reserve in sharing annoys other personalities. Awareness that life is about more than knowledge would help. Another personality searches for a group to which he or she can become loyal. Fear guides their lives, for they do not want to commit to a belief or group and find betrayal. The group provides the norms for this person. Yet, this person can also be quite suspicious of the motives of others. The world is threatening place with many hidden agendas. Another personality is gluttonous for fun, adventure, love, and the regard of others. Life should not be painful, and so they avoid pain at all costs. They avoid the pain in their lives and in the lives of others. They can enjoy talking and tells stories. They want everyone around them to have fun. Unfortunately, others can experience them as superficial.
If what I have said about the communal nature of the self is accurate, then the development of personality within different cultures will change dramatically. In times of war or extensive famine, personality development will tend to skew in certain directions. In some social settings, severe social distortions may mean expansion of personality disorders. In a genuinely oppressive culture, the development of personality may even be truncated by borderline personalities, madness, suicide, and other reactions to a sick culture.
Our openness to the world is halting because of our limited and partial grasp of reality. We can eat almost anything, live in almost any kind of climate, and adjust ourselves to horrendous psychic conditions. Rulers can dominate and exploit others; they cannot prevent reactions to inhuman treatment. We can impose a new cultural form on almost anything and can suppress basic instinctual movements such as sex and hunger. Innate biological dispositions are only the abiding point of departure for the human adventure. Openness to the world is part of the process of self-realization; we take form as a self; we attain to selfhood. We can speak of the real self as this central inner force. Such spontaneous growth toward self-realization is free, healthy development in accordance with the potentials of one’s individual nature. Such healthy striving of the real self develops potential toward self-realization. This process of individuation is nothing less than to divest the self of the false wrappings of the personality on the one hand, and of the suggestive power of the imagination on the other. We expand our self-interest to include a sphere of responsibility for the natural and social world. We sufficiently gratify our basic need for safety, belonging, love, respect, and self-esteem so that self-realization of our potential and fulfillment of our unique destiny motivates us. Since the project of individuation is never complete, we are always an incomplete project; we never arrive, since our destiny is always ahead of us. Our orientation toward growth means that we never achieve rest; we simply desire more growth, since growth is rewarding and exciting enough to be its own reward. The more growth we have, the more we want; we are never satisfied. Although we depend upon our natural and human environment for the fulfillment of individuation, we find that we become less dependent upon that environment, less anxious, hostile, and needful, since we have an increasingly clear vision of our unique destiny. We increasingly focus upon problems in the world we can help solve, rather than egocentric gratification of our needs. This requires meditative listening to oneself as well as to others. We move from the safety of remaining the same to growth toward a destiny of which we are unclear and which will have uncertain consequences.
Any theory of theory of personality needs to have the proper context in terms of the development of self. Self emerges in social interaction. The immediate social context is that of family, but the local community, the system of education, any civic and religious community to which the family belongs, and ultimately the whole culture, influences the growth of self. The negative side of personality development is that it is the result of our flight from facing greatest fears. For Freud, sexual drive is the source of energy for the development of personality. Such a reduction of human personality to biological instinct is not helpful. It denies the forward thrust reflected in the development. We develop our personality from those early struggles of childhood, but we also struggle to put the pieces of the life puzzle together into a coherent persona or mask.
We lack the strength to open ourselves fully to experience. We fear our highest possibility, as well as our lowest ones. We are afraid to become that which we can glimpse in our most perfect moments. We tend to avoid personal growth because this can reveal feelings of weakness and inadequacy. We resist our best side, our talents, our finest impulses, our highest potentialities, our creativity. We struggle against our own potential for greatness. We enjoy and even thrill to godlike possibilities we see in ourselves in peak moments. Yet, we also shiver with weakness, awe, and fear before these same possibilities. We are at war with ourselves. We live by lying to ourselves about our world and ourselves. Personality is a vital lie. The greatest cause of much of psychic illness is the fear of genuine knowledge of self, of one’s emotions, impulses, memories, capacities, potentialities, and of one’s destiny. We fear both knowledge of ourselves and knowledge of the outside world. This fear protects our self-esteem. We fear knowledge that could cause us to despise ourselves or make us feel inferior, weak, worthless, evil, or shameful. We protect ourselves and our ideal image of ourselves by repression and similar defenses, which are essentially techniques by which we avoid becoming conscious of unpleasant or dangerous truths. We develop such lies to gain a sense of inner value and security. We do not want to admit that we are fundamentally dishonest about reality. We do not control our own lives. We do not want to admit that we always rely on something that transcends us, some system of ideas and powers in which we are embedded and which support us. The defenses that form our personalities support a grand illusion. Freud said that he cured neurotic misery in order to introduce the patient to the common misery of life. Our personalities are a defense against despair, an attempt to avoid insanity because of the real nature of the world.
Our sense of alienation from self, others, our past, and of our possibilities of the future is the source of our shame, guilt, and anxiety. We experience ourselves as aliens. We become estranged from ourselves. We are out of touch with ourselves as well as other people. We are out of touch, avoiding close relationships, and do not sustain genuine feeling for others. We become cold, aloof, superior, and detached. Our psychological enigmas express our unconscious desires. Problems arise where we meet our world and find it inadequate, or us inadequate to it; something hurts and clashes. They reveal both the immediate situation and have a predictive quality of possible futures. General conditions like anxiety and identity reveal deeper levels of the tension between individuality and community than we normally explore. That is why love is so difficult.
Our sense of nonidentity consists in a rupture of communal order by a rending of the ties uniting individuals to their fellow human beings. This implies that the authentic self speaks as a member of the human order to which it belongs. Conscience has a social matrix; it develops in the context of social relations. As we age, the one-sided respect for authority we have as children steadily gives way to rules based upon mutual consent, thus leading to moral autonomy.
Individuals are not simply functions of the social world; they are independent beings. We preserve our independence within the social world only if our integration into our vital context is accomplished not through the threat of sanctions for violations of externally imposed norms but through participation in the cultural consciousness of meaning, out of which flow rules of behavior that individuals understand and accept. Conscience becomes authoritarian when it is no longer an admission of individuals into the shared world as a context of meaning that they understand and make their own. Instead, conscience becomes a simple announcement of norms and sanctions. The judgment of conscience properly arises in the context of a social world whose meaning is understood and affirmed. Conscience belongs to the realm of feeling. The whole of life is vaguely present in the form of a positive or a depressed mood. Our own ego becomes an object of consciousness as subject of deeds or omissions concerning which the judgment of conscience declares it blameworthy. In this sense, the relation between the world and us revealed in conscience is the immediate relation to God.
Justice is among the more interesting claims of the neurotic self. Our belief in God, the fact that we have worked hard, or we have been good citizens, justice demands that nothing adverse should happen to us and that things should go our way. Earthly benefits should follow from being good and pious. The emphasis on justice as a reverse side: to make other people responsible for any adversity that overtakes us. We tend to over-value what we give and under-value what others give to us. The claim for justice is often a camouflage for vindictiveness. When we raise claims primarily on the grounds of a deal with life, we stress our merits. The more vindictive claims, the more we stress the injury done. We must also exaggerate the injury done, we must cultivate it, until it looms so large that the victim feels entitled to exact any sacrifice or inflict any punishment. When we blame we tacitly give the power of decision over to our adversary. Blaming the enemy implies that the enemy has the freedom to choose and act, but we do not. We can only react to the enemy. The self-contradiction of being a victim of another is that it actively hands over power to the adversary. The maintenance of a neurosis requires the assertion of any claim. Excessive claims are a mixture of envy and insensibility towards others. We become confused about our rights in the real and imperfect world. Extensive claims leads to inertia; the more vindictive the claims involved, the stronger the degree of inertia seems to be. Others become responsible for the trouble we are in. We no longer have responsibility to do something about our lives; others or fate have responsibility. The claims are guarantee for future glory.
We alienate ourselves from ourselves as we engage in the tyranny of the should, a form of thinking that lacks moral seriousness and remains on the surface of what a perception of what one should do or be.
When the setting of ego against the other becomes total and everything else must serves the self-assertion of the ego, the break of the ego from self becomes acute. Our natural exocentric destination becomes a contradiction when the ego sets itself in opposition to everything else. When the ego becomes certain that it possess the truth of all reality, the ego distorts its own nature. The ego can find its unity only in exercising its natural exocentric destiny and allow its particularity to cancel out, only to be re-discovered at higher levels of self-consciousness and self-transcendence. Immanuel Kant called this brokenness radical evil. We are agents of action and accept responsibility for them. We can speak of a fault only where we accept responsibility or where we can demand the agent accept responsibility. Such responsibility is the foundation for legal and moral imperatives they prescribe what the character of an action ought to be. These imperatives are binding only if agents accept them as conditions for their own identity. Our selfhood is such that we come to know our proper and attain it through our behavior. We owe it to ourselves to make our lives correspond to our destiny. We must become disillusioned with our idealized self so that the constructive force of the real self can emerge. All responsibility is responsibility to self. Any other norm would have no relation to our sense of self. We can speak of responsibility to God only in the form of responsibility to self, since the ground of our true self, our destiny, has its foundation in God and we can achieve it only through the power of God. We hear the call of self in conscience, summoning us to accept responsibility for our behavior and for our world. We would not know what to do with ourselves were we not oriented toward some goal. We cannot think, feel, will, or act without perception of some goal. We wish to overcome difficulties, the basic problems of life being behavior toward others, occupation, and love. Only what is fully oneself has the power to heal. We strive to reach a goal by the attainment of which we shall feel strong, superior, and complete: we may call it security, self-preservation, or perfection. The striving for perfection is part of life, a striving and urge, a something without which we could not imagine human life.
The call of freedom is toward harmonization of our behavior with our destiny. This call is the basis of a freedom to do good, not a freedom to choose between good and its opposite. What we choose may be bad or evil. Yet, we choose evil with the idea that it is good for the one choosing it. Such a choice may make one responsible for the evil done. Such a choice may be a mistake when judged by the standard of the true destiny of humanity. We are not free to act against the good. In the same way, we do not have freedom against God as the ground of our future self and therefore the embodiment of all that is good. We can close ourselves against God as we can against the good. Yet, we do not directly reject God, but rather the idea of God that we have, a human construct. The criterion for choice and responsibility is whatever these individuals regard as good. The persons making choices cannot do nothing but regard the object chosen as a good; otherwise, they would not have chosen it. Since such choices can be the result of compulsion or conditioning, it is not superficially intellectualist. Even addictions turn toward what seems good to the one choosing.
The call of conscience attests the possibility for authenticity. Humanity can wait for the call; yet hear nothing. We are lost in the self that we allowed others to determine. We must find ourselves. This is done primarily through conscience. Others obscure the call of conscience. We fail to hear our own self. This call is from afar and reaches afar. It reaches those who want to be brought back to their authentic self. To what are we called? We call ourselves from the self that others determine to our own possibility. Guilt is the understanding that the call of conscience gives to us. Guilt is a debt, a responsibility for something. Thus, we are the ones responsible for having a debt. We owe something to others. This guilt comes before our awareness of it. We do not have to list our failures or omissions. We simply are guilty. The call points forward to our potential for true life. We must decisively live out the uniqueness of our lives, our unique disclosure of ourselves, bringing the self right into concern and solicitude, freeing us for our world. Only by being our selves can we truly be with one another. Such decisiveness is movement from being lost in what others desire of us. Conscience is the warning signal within humanity to care once again for one's life. What is the meaning of life? It is the holy, for humanity is ultimately plagued with guilt. The meaningful life is response to the call of reality.
Our lives have meaning only as we move beyond ourselves in caring for others. Although some of our anxieties derive from conflicting and unconscious motives (Freud), we can trace some of our spiritual sickness to the failure to find meaning and responsibility within our lives. As we deal with the call of conscience, our guilt, and our death, we reveal our core self as care. However, we have fallen from our true self as we moved toward the self that others have told us to be. To discover this true self, we must keep silent. We become ourselves as we act with anticipation of the future and our sense of connectedness with that which is beyond us. If we lose faith in the future we lose the spiritual hold we need upon life. This self becomes real only in the present situation, for that which seizes upon us in taking action encounters us. The future releases from itself the present through resoluteness. Thus, our historical nature reveals itself as the meaning of true care. The focus of our existence is the anticipation of the future. In true living, the present becomes the moment of vision. Mood is related to time; as fear and anxiety derive their meaning from the future. Our fall from our true self has its meaning in the present, as curiosity is the experience of never dwelling anywhere, the opposite of the moment of vision. Concern in our own potential for living is found to be within care. The present conforms itself to the horizon of awaiting the future on the one hand and retaining the past on the other.
Any therapy we experience generally needs to be less retrospective and introspective and more focused upon the future and upon tasks for which we are responsible to our future self. Meaning in life is more significant to discover than the pleasure principle. Such psychic sickness arises from conflicts between various values, moral conflicts, and spiritual problems, rather than conflicts between drives and instincts. We do not need a state without tension, but rather the knowledge that the striving and struggling is for some goal worth of us. The spread of boredom is part of the existential problem that confronts us.
Discovering that our center is outside ourselves may be nothing other than sociality. We live outside ourselves to the extent that we live by participating in the enveloping context of our social and cultural world with its traditions. Our attitude toward others indicates what goes on within us. The relationships of people to each other exist both naturally and institutionally. Human tasks come from the logic of our communal life. Communal life establishes the rules of the game. Social life precedes individual life; no individual has a form of life that is not social. We cannot solve the basic problems of communal life, occupation, and love separately. We have a high degree of cooperation and social culture that we require for our existence. We see with the eyes of another, to hear with the ears of another, to feel with the heart of another, before we discern our own unique form of life. Empathy and understanding are facts of our harmony with reality. Such identification indicates the social nature of the self. We experience all the feelings of both at home in the earth as well as alien. The problems with which life confront us require cooperation with others for their solution. To hear, see, or speak correctly, means to lose one’s self in another. The capacity for identification makes us capable of friendship, love for humanity, sympathy, occupation, and love. We describe as good behavior that relates us to others in a generally useful way, and bad when we act in a way contrary to such social interests.
We can grasp individuality better from the perspective the communal nature of the self. Some psychologists try to explain the organized conduct of the social group in terms of the conduct of the separate individuals belonging to it. We can also explain the conduct of the individual in terms of the organized conduct of the social group. This reminds of the self-referential nature of human life and the high degree of complexity of human life. Society is before the individual; we explain the parts in terms of the whole. We explain acting in cooperation and in competition with others as a dynamic whole, a complex organic process implied by each individual stimulus and response involved in it. Experience starts with the whole; we analyze the whole experience later into its various parts. We deal with the experience of individuals in relation to the conditions under which the experience goes on. We see ourselves as others see us; we address ourselves as others address us. We put ourselves in the place of others and act as others act. We observe such social growth of the self through language, play, and the game. Each has their rules of interaction with others and involves us in the lives of others.
The social ideal is the attainment of a universal human society in which all human individuals would possess an improved social intelligence in that all social meanings would each similarly reflect itself in individual consciousness. Meanings and gestures would be the same for any other individual whatever who responded to them. The interlocking interdependence of individuals upon each other within the given social life process in which they are all involved is becoming increasingly intricate and closely knit and highly organizes as human social evolution proceeds on its course. Society needs an organization of common attitudes found in individuals. Personality implies the common rights and values of the individual beyond the sort of social endowment of the individual, distinguishing each of us from the other. It is the most precious part of the individual, making us what we are. When we realize ourselves, we distinguish ourselves over others in some situation. We bring our unique self into common community and that others recognize that uniqueness. We find ourselves as appreciated by others. What we accomplish occurs in society. We become a self as being part of the life of the community and making a contribution that is social. We have a functional difference that we bring forward to the life of the community to which we belong. The ideal placed before human community is the attainment of that functional differentiation and social participation.
The world as a horizon conditions individual perception, just as in cognition the universal has priority over the particular, even where the universal is an implicit horizon within which we grasp the particular. Subjectively, ego identity is our awareness of continuity to our methods of synthesizing; these methods also safeguard the continuity of one’s meaning for others. Both Aristotle and Aquinas distinguished between a diffuse awareness of the universal from the knowledge gained through reflection. We relate to a reality prior to us and affirm implicitly a divine reality, even if we have not yet grasped this thematically. The character of the object that is a stimulus makes us recognize something present in our experience. The agreement contained in mutual recognition gives it a universal dimension, as over against just particular. The universality and impersonality of thought is the result of the individual taking the attitudes of others toward oneself, and of finally crystallizing all these particular attitudes into a single attitude or standpoint that may be called that of the generalized other. Alternative ways of acting under an indefinite number of different particular conditions or in an indefinite number of different particular situations are all that universals really amount to. They are meaningless apart from the social interactions in which they are implicated and from which they derive their significance.
Thinking proceeds in terms of universals. A universal is the social interaction as a whole, involving the organization and interrelation of the attitudes of all the individuals implicated in the act. For anything to have meaning it is universal. Thinking implies a symbol that will call out the same response in another that it calls out in the thinker. Such a symbol is universal. We assume that the symbol we use will call out in the other person the same response. We say something to ourselves what we also say to others; without this, we do not know what we are talking about. Rationality involves calling out in others the type of response we have already called out in ourselves.
What I would like to do now is to offer a series of reflections upon events that suggest the ambiguous nature of human life. I have not quite figured out how to bring these reflections into a system. I suppose it takes professional philosophers and psychologists to accomplish that. What I offer in these reflections is a way to deal with significant events in our lives in a way that will strengthen our experience of the uniqueness of our lives and enhance our sense and expression of our worth and dignity.
Philosophers spend much ink reflecting upon death and suffering. I will do my share. Approached biologically, birth is simply one of the conditions of biological life existing. Living things have a moment in time when they start living. Yet, as a human being, I have the capacity to reflect upon my birth. I want to know why; I want to know for what purpose. My birth speaks to the simple fact that I am here. My birth suggests that my life is a gift. My life is not something I accomplished. I did not do something to earn. My life is not the result of punishment. My life says that I am here through others. Two people came together. Those two people have a heritage. I become part of their heritage. They form my lineage. I do not know the meaning of this gift that makes me heir an heir to this heritage. This heritage shapes my character as I receive it from another. This heritage is one dimension of the field of possibility I have in the formation of my life.
Language and the communal nature of the self
We first recognize our nonidentity with our destiny in the experience of self-consciousness. We do not know automatically or instinctively the reason this unique biological life is here. We do not yet understand that others gave to us, and that we can give to others. Speech is the place where self-consciousness emerges into awareness. We will discover our worth and dignity in interaction with others.
We arouse in ourselves those responses that we call out in other persons, so that we take the attitudes of the other persons into our own conduct. The critical importance of language in the development of human experience lies in this fact that the stimulus is one that can react upon the speaking individual as it reacts upon the other. As animals that conduct themselves, that are the expression of a subjective center, human beings have a unique openness to the world. That to which the word refers is something that can lie in the experience of the individual without the use of language itself. Language does pick out and organize this content in experience. Language is a tool for that purpose. Language is part of social behavior, rooted in the symbolization of gesture, which makes possible the appropriate response of another. A certain attitude of one individual calls out a response in the other, which in turn calls out a different approach and a different approach and a different response, and so on. The gesture is that phase of the individual act to which adjustment takes place on the part of other individuals in the social process of behavior. The vocal gesture becomes a significant symbol when it has the same effect on the individual making it that it has on the individual to whom it is addressed, and thus involves a reference to the self of the individual making it. The significant gesture or symbol affords far greater facilities for such adjustment and readjustment than does the non-significant gesture, because it calls out in the individual making it the same attitude toward it that it calls out in the other individuals participating in the social interaction. They become conscious of their attitude toward the gesture and enable them to adjust subsequent behavior to each other in the light of that attitude. The conscious conversation of gestures is a much more adequate and effective mechanism of mutual adjustment within social interaction than is the unconscious conversation of gestures. Only in terms of gestures as significant symbols is the existence of intelligence possible. Language does not simply symbolize a situation or object that is already there in advance; it makes possible the existence or the appearance of that situation or object. Meaning has its existence within the field experience into which we enter. The response to the gesture is the meaning of the gesture. Language lifts out of the social process a situation that is logically or implicitly there already there. The language symbol is a significant or conscious gesture. Gesture, adjusting response, and meaning constitutes social interaction.
Human behavior has ambiguity to it. Genuine self-interest and responsibility can become unscrupulous exploitation and oppression of what we view as ruling or manipulating to our private, self-interested advantage. This tension between the finding our center outside us and the individual helps us to understand the ambiguity and brokenness of human behavior. Finding our center outside ourselves contains within itself a break in our relationship to ourselves, which in turn is a break in human identity. Our self-consciousness makes us aware of both our identity and nonidentity with ourselves, in the form of a tension between ego and self.
Feelings reveal that at which one’s life aims. They reveal the orientation of the tendencies that direct life toward the world. Feeling reveals its meaning by contrast with the more refined form of thinking proper to what we commonly call knowledge. Feeling makes interior what we objectify. In these tensions we experience something of the misery of human life and the separation we experience within.
We use the word emotion to designate at least three or four different kinds of things, such as inclinations or motives, moods, and agitations or commotions. Feelings come and go quickly. Moods dominate a person’s life. We can even imagine ourselves in certain circumstances and generate certain feelings. Pleasure and desire play a large role in the terminology of moral philosophers and of some schools of psychology.
Our moods reveal, whether good or bad, our own sense of alienation and separation from the world in which we live, as well as our submission to it. Our moods are ways we evade ourselves as we submit to the world and let it matter to us. Though we may tend to see moods as delusions, they reveal the world. Among the ancients, this was viewed as feelings. Fear is one way mood shows itself. We feel ourselves threatened; it then matters to us. Alarm, dread, and terror are ways fear reveals itself. As long as one remains in daily life, the experience of dread is submerged. We cannot always experience life in this way. A voice within makes one aware of how little it all matters. Fear is a part of life, but dread takes us beyond those fears. The burden of dread leads one to escape into the mass of society. Yet, this very dread reveals that humanity is concerned about its own being, is concerned about the meaning of things.
The horizon of feeling is the original familiarity within which we live our personal lives. Feeling fills our interior lives; it will bring to our awareness the social relations in which individuals live their lives. Schleiermacher connected religious experience closely with the concept of feeling. His discussion of feeling anticipated many of the insights of modern psychology. For him, feeling indicates the totality of life.
Some psychologists isolate feeling without referring to the totality of life; this is surely a mistake. Phenomenology and psychology alike have verified the basic insight of Schleiermacher. With Heidegger, we can agree that mood discloses our being as a whole, constituting our openness to the world. Feelings are not just a chance state of the moment, but a pointing toward the future, a way I want something to be. Feelings always occur in a personal field, an experience of one’s self as personal and an imagining of others even if no one else is literally present. Feeling has a regressive aspect in revealing the past and especially childhood experiences; it also has progressive aspect. Schleiermacher also discovered the significance of religious feeling within the wholeness that marks affective life. In religious feeling, the wholeness of human life, present in all feeling, becomes a theme, although Schleiermacher obscures his insights by reference to self-consciousness. Feeling anticipates the distinction and correlation effected by the intellect, even though because of its vagueness feeling depends on thinking for definition. Thought can never exhaustively transfer to its own sphere what is present in feeling.
Schleiermacher was correct in indicating that the heart of religious feeling was receptivity and dependence. Augustine also placed a positive value on the affective life. Feelings have their place in self-transcendence and in the temporal flow of life. Feeling is related ecstatically to the world and the people around us. The orientation of human beings to a fullness of life that transcends them and manifests itself especially in the community of their fellow human beings finds expression in the positive feelings and passions, especially in feelings of sympathy but also in joy and hope. We participate in the forming of the future by virtue of our capacity to conceive of and respond to new possibilities, and to bring them out of imagination and try them in actuality. New possibilities motivate us; goals and ideals attract and pull us toward the future, even while our past pushes us; the present brings together the push and the attraction, the past and the future.
See The Christian faith 3.2.
When we put feeling and self-consciousness side by side as equivalent, I do not mean that the experiences are synonymous. The term feeling has been in the language of common life long current in this religious connection. Scientific usage requires more precise definition, which is why I add “self-consciousness.” If anyone takes the word feeling in a sense so wide as to include unconscious states, they will by the other word be reminded that such is not the usage we maintain. To the term self-consciousness, we can add the determining epithet immediate, lest anyone should think of a kind of self-consciousness that is not feeling at all. For example, some give self-consciousness the meaning of an objective consciousness, being a representation of oneself, and thus mediated by self-contemplation. Even when such a representation of ourselves, as we exist in a given portion of time, in thinking or willing, moves quite close to the individual moments of the mental state, this kind of self-consciousness does appear simply as an accompaniment of the state itself. However, the real immediate self-consciousness is by no means always simply an accompaniment. It may rather be presumed that in this respect everyone has a twofold experience. In the first place, it is everyone’s experience that there are moments in which all thinking and willing retreat behind a self-consciousness of one form or another. In the second place, at times this same form of self-consciousness persists unaltered during a series of diverse acts of thinking and willing, taking up no relation to these, and thus not being in the proper sense even an accompaniment of them. Thus joy and sorrow are genuine states of feeling, in the proper sense explained above, whereas self-approval and self-reproach belong in themselves rather to the objective consciousness of self, as results of an analytic contemplation. Nowhere do the two forms stand nearer to each other than here, but just for that reason this comparison puts the difference in the clearest light.
Delight – Aesthetic Experience
What people describe as an aesthetic experience is simply a dimension of common human experience available to us all. We cannot speak of aesthetic experience as a distinct mental activity or of a fundamentally different kind of experience than other experiences. It does not postulate a peculiar kind of experience or value. It is not a mystical experience. Aesthetic experience typically relieves tension and quiets destructive impulses. It resolves lesser conflicts in the self and assists toward interpretation. It refines perception and discrimination. It develops the imagination and the ability to put oneself in the place of others. It is an aid to mental health. It fosters mutual sympathy and understanding. It offers an ideal for human life. Aesthetic experience is momentary. The original emotion disrupts normal consciousness, experience, and behavior. What occupied our attention before is not as interesting. We abandon occupations. Our situation is disoriented; it checks our daily experience. Eventually, we must resume daily experience, we must return. It satisfies our desire to see the object of reflection. We satisfy the hunger with this experience. Yet, it contains within it the beginning of a new longing or desire.
In an aesthetic experience or love experience, the self does not disappear, even though one may direct one’s attention so fully outside the self that it feels as if the self disappears. Such peak experiences have their own intrinsic value. Truth, goodness, and beauty form into a unity in such moments. Peak experiences bring momentary loss of fear, anxiety, inhibition, defense and control, a giving up of renunciation, delay and restraint. As a peak experience, one feels more integrated than at other times. The greatest attainment of identity is a transcending of self, a going beyond and above selfhood. We feel ourselves to be at the peak of our powers, using all our capacities at the best and fullest. People feel lucky, fortunate, and graced. Joy surprises us. Aesthetic contemplation is for the sake of enjoyment. We would not continue to attend to the object of contemplation if doing so were not enjoyable. We savor the experience, rather than classify and identify it. Although analysis may enhance such savoring of experience, it often stifles it. The object of contemplation goes beyond practical use as well. We often quickly determine the utility of an object. When something in our world overwhelms us, forces itself upon us, disrupts us, we have gone beyond utility. Aesthetic experience brings us to the surplus of human experience.
As I discuss beauty, we need to recognize that aesthetic experience goes beyond beauty. Works of art are often ugly or contain ugliness, or have features that are difficult to include within beauty.
An occasion of beauty incites and requires an act of replication. An occasion of beauty prompts the begetting of children; it prompts a copy of itself. We are willing to revise our own location in order to place ourselves in the path of beauty is the basic impulse underlying education. We cannot conceive of a beautiful thing that does not have the quality of replication as an impulse toward creation that results in both the famous painting and in the mundane act of staring.
Beauty takes place in particulars – a painting, a symphony, a poem, a novel, etc. Beauty has a sacred and unprecedented character. Beauty saves lives and confers the gift of life; it quickens adrenalin, making the heart beat faster. It makes life increasingly vivid, animated, living, and worth living. The beauty of a phenomenon captures our attention, puts us out of gear with practical life, and forces us to view it on the level of aesthetic consciousness. The object focuses our attention outside self. We encounter beauty as a greeting, in that as we come into the presence of something beautiful, it greets us. Beauty welcomes us and consents to our being in its midst. We experience the retraction of beauty as the retraction of life. Beauty also incites deliberation; it fills the mind and invites the search for something beyond itself, something larger with which we need to bring it into relation. Beauty causes us to gape and suspend thought; while also causing us to reflect upon precedents and parallels and move forward toward new acts of creation. It causes us to bring things into relation with a kind of urgency as though one’s life depended upon it. Beautiful things have a forward momentum, inciting the desire to bring new things into the world. Beautiful things also incite us to move backward, to the ground out of which we may rediscover and whatever new thing is made. Beautiful things carry greetings from other worlds within them. The delight in which we take beauty is inexhaustible; our desire for beauty outlasts its presence in particulars.
As we seek to understand the structure of beauty, transcendence must remain. Beauty is abundance and lack, plenitude and desire. It is abundance in that it is that which transcends itself in being itself. It is also poverty; it is that which is transcended by itself. Beauty is an intimation; it is yearning for the ultimate beatitude; it is yearning without an object. Yearning implies both a strong sense of the desirability of its intended object and the dominance of consciousness by this desirability. We cannot define what is ultimately desired; it eludes us; we cannot even fix its vanishing point. If we could exhaust the subject by mathematics or conscious motives, we could hardly understand our puzzlement in the presence of beauty. The instance of beauty starts with our taking an object as expressive of the possibility of the existence of a state of affairs that would fulfill our inherent and enduring desire to transcend those very conditions that give rise to desire. Since this desire is an impossible one, our interpreting of the object as expressive of its fulfillment is an interpretation, an act of wishful thinking. In order to continue entertaining the idea of the fulfillment, for the pleasure it affords us, it becomes necessary for us to ignore our cognizance that what we are experiencing is the effect of an action we have ourselves performed. We must entertain the idea that the world itself gives evidence that our desire for transcendence is not vain. The pleasure that is beauty could not be felt at all were it not that the subject responds to the mere appearance of the object.
Beauty is not “true” or “good”; it ignites the desire for truth and goodness by giving us the experience of error. Any statement, descriptive or evaluative statement, concerning the moral vision, historical situation, intention of the artist, and so on, is a statement about the work. We have no way to be in a high state of alert toward injustice, for example, without demanding of oneself precisely the level of perceptual acuity that will forever be opening one to the arrival of beautiful sights and sounds. We cannot carry out political debate without attention to the beauty of an argument, counter-arguments, wit, spirit, ripostes, ironies, testing, contesting. Beauty assists us in the work of addressing injustice by requiring constant perceptual acuity and by direct forms of instruction. Further, beauty perpetuates the object (that which is sacred, a poem, etc.) by making sure that it does not disappear or revised by those incapable of seeing its beauty. Further, we spend so much time noticing each other that the practice of noticing the beautiful will not stop. We derive pleasure from the form of the other. Staring is a version of the wish to create. Such appreciation of the other does nothing to the other; rather, it disrupts the life of the one who beholds such beauty. As those who behold beauty, we are not all-powerful in relation to the object of beauty; if such were the case, why would we seek to make ourselves beautiful? Perceiving beauty has the potential to bring harm to the beholder, rather than the object that inspired such appreciation. The perception of beauty brings de-centering of one’s life. The perception of beauty inspires a desire to protect it and act on its behalf. Beautiful things or persons are wake-up calls to perception, spurring lapsed alertness back to its most acute level. If we do not search for beauty, it will find us.
What can we hope to bring about in ourselves when we open ourselves to and actively pursue beauty? As those who behold beauty, we seek to bring new beauty into the world and may become successful in this endeavor. We become increasingly beautiful in our interior life. Further, beauty is life-saving and life-restoring. We receive the gift of life in our perception of beauty, as well as bestow life.
The ideological complaints against beauty are incoherent. Does beauty detract our attention from wrong social arrangements, social injustice, and suffering? When we stare at something beautiful and we make it an object of sustained regard, does our act destroy the object? The latter argument tends to focus upon our appreciation of the beauty of persons destroying the person. Why should we broaden such appreciation of beauty to all such experiences? Further, the object is not susceptible to harm, as is clear if the object is sacred, a poem, a vase, etc. Thus, the concept that beauty reifies the object makes little sense.
Love is that which makes morality possible and is also that toward which it tends and which frees morality from being nothing but a moral code or law for external conformity. It is the beginning and end of virtue.
Our apathy is withdrawal of feeling; it is the withdrawal of will and love, we do not matter; we suspend commitment. Apathy leads to emptiness and makes one less able to defend oneself, less able to survive.
Care suggests that something does matter; we find the source of Eros and tenderness here. Care is the opposite of apathy. Care and intentionality suggest being caught up in our experience of another object in the world, reaching its highest point in another person. Many people have this nagging suspicion that nothing matters; we cannot do anything to make changes. Therefore, we become apathetic, uninvolved, and grasp for external stimulants. Care is what we need to heal such a sickness. We tend toward another; we have inclination toward another and give attention to another. Such love implies responsibility, our response to the needs of another human being. Such love implies respect; the ability to see the unique individuality of the other, separating the others growth from any purpose in serving us. Such love implies knowledge of the other, transcending simple concern for ourselves. Love is the royal road to genuine knowledge of another and us. It is the way to genuine union, answering our quest to escape the prison of our aloneness. In genuinely discovering another, we find ourselves. The act of love transcends thought and words.
The Symposium is a dialogue between Aristophanes and Socrates. Aristophanes tells us exactly what we would all like to believe about love, describing the kind of love we dream of, fulfilled and fulfilling, a happy, gratifying passion. Socrates gives us love as it is, destined to remain unfulfilled, incomplete, and unhappy, and thus dooming us to misery or religion. Love is not God or a god. Love is always love of something, something desired and lacking, and what could be less godlike than to be lacking in the very thing that makes us exist or live? Aristophanes has it all wrong. Love is not completeness but incompleteness. Love is not fusion but quest. Love is not perfect fulfillment, but all consuming want. Love is desire and desire is want. One can see this dimension of love in the sonnet by John Donne:
Take heed of loving me;
At least remember I forbade it thee;
Not that I shall repair my unthrifty waste
Of breath and blood upon thy sighs and tears
By being to thee then what to me thou wast;
But so great joy our life at once outwears.
Then lest thy love by my death frustrate be,
If thou love me, take heed of loving me.
Take heed of hating me,
Or too much triumph in the victory;
Not that I shall be mine own officer,
And hate with hate again retaliate;
But thou wilt lose the style of conqueror
If I, thy conquest, perish by thy hate.
Then lest my being nothing lessen thee,
If thou hate me, take heed of hating me.
Yet love and hate me too;
So these extremes shall neither’s office do;
Love me, that I may die the gentler way;
Hate me, because thy love’s too great for me;
Or let these two themselves, not me, decay;
So shall I live thy stay, not triumph be.
Lest thou thy love and hate and me undo,
To let me live, O, love and hate me too.
In another sonnet, he lays out the problem in loving this way:
He is stark made, whoever says,
That he hath been in love an hour; …
Who will believe me if I swear
That I have had the plague a year? …
Ah, what a trifle is a heart,
If once into Love’s hands it come!
All other griefs allow a part
To other griefs, and ask themselves but some;
They come to us, but us Love draws;
He swallows us, and never chaws; …
If ‘twere not so, what did become
Of my heart when I first saw thee?
I brought a heart into the room,
But from the room I carried none with me; …
My rags of heart can like, with, and adore,
But after one such love can love no more.
The claim is that people in love aim at fusion or union in intercourse. Every now and then, I hear of a man and a woman who love each other with this sort of love, who live together in absolute and complete oneness. I also hear of people who have seen the Virgin Mary, ghosts, and the dearly departed. I attach no greater importance to any of these reports. What could be more improbably, miraculous, and contrary to our daily experience than two beings merging into one? I trust bodies more than books or witnesses. It takes two people to make love, and this fact explains why coitus, far from abolishing solitude, only confirms it. Lovers know this. Bodies touch each other, love each other, have orgasm, and are still and separate when the orgasm has passed. The quest for oneness always results in failure and often in sadness. They wanted to be but one, and now more than ever they are two. Incompleteness is the destiny of Eros, since Eros defines itself by want. If love is lack, it precludes completeness by definition. Lovers know this; such is the great suffering at the heart to love. Satisfaction kills desire. What does it mean to love? It means to lack that which we love and to want to possess it forever. Love is selfish, at least this kind of love; yet perpetually driven outside of itself and this is ecstatic. Such love is de-centered selfishness, an egoism torn apart and overflowing with absence, replete with the void of its object and of itself, as though it were that very void. The proper aim of love, as well expressed lovemaking, is intimate responsiveness. What the lover wants is to be extremely close to the person he or she loves, to be close enough to perceive and respond to every movement and every perceptible sign. In that closeness, the lover wants to achieve the pleasure of the other person and his or her own. Lovers also seek to kind of knowledge of the other person, the sort of knowledge that consists in awareness and acknowledgement of every perceptible portion of that person’s activity.
Let us not make too much of passion or make it out to be more beautiful than it is. Let us not confuse it with the novels written about it.
The life we desire is always some other life than the one we have. If desire is lack, life necessarily leaves us wanting. If we desire only what we do not have, we can never have what we desire and can never be happy satisfied. We can only desire something that does not exist for us. We desire not this particular woman, who is real, but the possession of her, which is not. We desire not our works, but the glory we hope to attain through them. Not the life that we have, but another one that we do not have. We can desire only nothingness, only death. How could we love that which does not exist? If love is lack, then all love is imaginary love, and we never love anything but phantoms.
Is love always a lack? Only if love is only desire or hope. Yet, not all desire or love are forms of hope. When someone is out for a stroll, what is it he desires if not to stroll, if not the very steps he takes at the very instant he takes them? How could he feel as though he laced them? How could he walk without the desire to do so? Suppose he desired only the steps he has yet to take or only the landscape that has yet to come into view; in that case we would have to say either that he is not really strolling or that he has no notion of the true pleasures of this pastime. The same holds for all of us, once we stop hoping. Why would I be sitting if I had no desire to? How could I write unless I wanted to? Why would anyone believe that I desire only the words that I have yet to write and not those I am now writing? Am I anticipating the words that will follow these? Yes, but I am not hoping for them! I imagine them, sense them, search for them, summon them, choose them. How can I hope for what depends on me? Why would I hope for what does not? The writing present, like any living present, is future-oriented, but not always because of want or hope. A great gulf separates writing from hoping to write, the same gulf that separates desire as want (hope or passion) from desire as capacity or enjoyment (pleasure or action). Desiring what we do, what we possess, or what is, is called willing, acting, enjoying, or taking delight. We refute Platonism every time we have such experiences. When does action take place? Whenever we do, have, or are what we desire, whenever what we desire exists, whenever we desire something that we are not lacking. What do a man and woman who love and desire each other lack when they are making love? They are already there for each other, entirely available, giving of themselves wholeheartedly. Desire is a force or energy or capacity; the capacity to enjoy and the enjoyment of our capacities. We desire the love we are making rather than the love we dream of, do not make, and by which we are obsessed. To love is to derive joy from. Love lacks nothing. Love can be frustrated, suffer, and grief. Love resides in joy. We can have happiness without love. Joy has a cause; all joy is loving, if not actually, then potentially. To love another being means to desire that she exist when in fact she does, to enjoy her existence and presence and the pleasure and joys she offers. This love is love as joy, the joy of living and being loved, mutual or potentially mutual goodwill, the will to live together, a choice we take on ourselves, a reciprocal pleasure and trust. This love is benevolent toward another.
This love exists on a continuum with Eros; we cannot justly separate them absolutely. Act as though we love. When we do love, the other virtues follow spontaneously. Another loves us when we show our weakness without the other using it to assert his or her own strength. This love is spontaneous, gratuitous, without foundation, and unjustified. This love claims universality. Being in love with everyone and anyone, even one’s enemies, would be absurdity. This love extends to universality of humanity and the totality of the person. It introduces into the sphere of human relations that distant goal of universality that we find suggested compassion and justice. This love joyfully accepts the other of the other, as the person is and will be. This love includes oneself, but not in a preferential way. To love a stranger as oneself implies to love oneself as a stranger. I cannot guarantee that such love is possible. Is it within our capabilities? Can we experience it? Can we come close to it? To love is to find one’s riches outside oneself. This is why love is poor, and yet the only wealth. We experience both the poverty and wealth of love through want (passion), through received and shared joy (friendship), and through joy that is given and given up (agape). The absence of this love makes virtues necessary. When the love of friendship and agape exists it frees us from the law and makes it enter our hearts. That love is more absent than not is what justifies our education in the virtues. Even Augustine said that a true definition virtue is a due ordering of love. Love commits us to morality and frees from it. Morality commits us to love, even in its absence, and must yield before it.
Love is primarily an attitude, an orientation of character that determines our relationship to others in general, not to specific persons. To love one person, and not love others, is to have an alienated kind of love. Such love is egotism and magnifies their alienation with others they do not love. We become loving people. If we love one person genuinely, we love all persons, we love the world, we love life. If we come to love one person, we love everyone through that person. Brotherly love overcomes the differences between us and perceives our identity. Motherly love is unconditional affirmation of the other and the needs of the other. Erotic love is craving for complete fusion, for union with one other person.
Self-love is an extension of our general love to human beings; after all, we are human beings as well. Our love for ourselves needs to reflect what we have already said about being loving persons: care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge. The basic affirmation contained in love is directed toward the person loved. Our capacity to love is the affirmation of our own life, happiness, growth, and freedom. Although selfish persons are incapable of loving others, selfishness is an unsuccessful attempt to cover up and compensate for our failure to care for our real self. Love for God is the longing for the full capacity to love. Such is love is neither the knowledge of God in thought, but the act of experiencing of union with God. We demonstrate love toward God in developing the actions of love. We focus upon living for God rather than belief in God. We incorporate the life of God into our own lives through love and justice; we experience union with God.
Healthy people desire a half-way secure world. Unhealthy people seek absolute security. Healthy people desire to surrender themselves to the one they love. The unhealthy strives for orgasm, aims at that in itself, and thereby impairs sexual potency. Healthy people wish to know a part of the world approximately. Unhealthy people want a feeling of obviousness, aims at that, and thereby find themselves carried away on an endless moving belt. Healthy people are ready to take responsibility for their lives. Unhealthy people would like to have only the feeling of a conscience at peace with itself. Healthy people use reality as a springboard to their freedom. Unhealthy people despise reality.
Unhealthy love lies in the fact that one or both of the lovers have remained attached to the figure of a parent, and repeats the feelings, expectations and fears they once had toward father or mother to the loved person. Instead of moving forward to the new possibilities of the future, they live out infantile and childhood relations, reproducing this pattern in adult life. The practice of love requires discipline as an expression of our will, contemplative listening, patience, and supreme concern with the mastery of the art of love. As with mastery in any art, our whole lives must be devoted to it. Becoming a loving person requires overcoming self-centered concern and emerging from our fixation upon our parents, and to move toward genuine relationships with others and with ourselves. Such a process requires faith rooted in our experience of thought or feeling. We have faith in our love to produce love in others. Such faith requires courage and readiness to take a risk, even to accept pain and disappointment. We fear not having another person love us, our real fear is that of genuinely loving others. To love is to commit ourselves without guarantee, to give ourselves completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person. Love is an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is of little love. Love is the only sound and satisfactory answer to our experience of alienation.
To deny the reality of spirituality means that we seek the ultimate in the things of this world; we cling to them as if they were gods. We develop hate toward the real self and develop an ideal self. In the extreme form, we have no direct awareness of the real self. We express our hatred toward ourselves through relentless demands on self, merciless self-accusation, self-contempt, self-frustrations, self-tormenting, and self-destruction. We are wrapped up in ourselves. We live by our idealized image, abide by our private life shoulds, and we guard ourselves from the dangers within and without. The ego is exocentric, but its presence to the other now becomes a means for it to assert itself in its difference from the other. Presence to the other becomes a means by which the ego can dominate the other and assert itself by way of this domination.
Such an experience of the finite implies the transcending of it. Finite objects that one can always transcend mediate any awareness of the infinite, the ground of reality, the absolute, or God. Every human relation to finite objects implies a relation to the infinite and thus has a religious foundation. We depend upon the achieving of our destiny by dealing with the things of our world that the social relations in which we live mediate to us. We exist outside ourselves, which is the basic structure of trust. Whenever we trust, we abandon ourselves and build on the person or thing in which we trust. Through our trust, we make our existence dependent on that to which we abandon ourselves. We not only relate to something outside us, but also find ourselves translated into what is other than us; we find ourselves only in the light of the other. Only in the context of the whole can we determine the meaning of individual things. We are in the presence of religious themes and therefore of the question about the basic trust that supports our life. That which can become the explicit object of religious consciousness is implicitly present in every turning to a particular object of our experience. We experience ourselves through our experience of the world, and in particular the social world. We become a question to ourselves. We seek the answer to this question from the objects and relationships of our world. We seek to orient ourselves through information regarding our world. This process leads us beyond particular finite objects and relationships. As we become conscious of this, we experience the question of our destiny, the question of ourselves, and the question of the ground beyond the world that sustains it and their life are the same question. That question that we have about ourselves and the question of divine reality belong together. Only in relation to God can we become ourselves. We cannot distance ourselves from this question without a loss to our own reality. We live our lives based on a fundamental trust that sustains our lives, whether it is God or an idol. The progress of our lives will either demonstrate the carrying capacity of our trust or show that we have built upon sand.
We can also speak of this uniquely human experience as self-consciousness or the struggle for the recognition of our individual worth and dignity. In some ways, the human task is to make up for the deficiencies of our instincts and the weakness that we have at birth through language and culture. Our feeling of inferiority stimulates us to healthy, normal striving and development, becoming pathological only when it overwhelms us and makes us incapable of useful social activity.
Self-transcendence in relation to the social situation corresponds to the reference to God proper to basic trust, which already transcends its initial link to the mother. The themes of the wholeness of the self and the connection to God weave together. Because our relation to God grounds our sense of self, persons can be free in the face of their social situation. This is true without changing the fact that society mediates our sense of self. One’s relation to God grounds personal identity and is destined to community with other human beings. The relation of persons to God frees them to be critically independent in reference to the concrete form that social relations may take at any given time. The self-assertion of the individual in relation to other persons and society acquires a deeper justification. The relation of the person to others is not one of conflict, but takes its character from the destination of the individual to community, from our symbiotic beginnings onward. Self-assertion against others is an expression of a call to a more perfect fulfillment of the human destination to community. The openness of persons to their divine destiny is the ultimate basis for the inviolability of the person that translates as the dignity of the person. The person is not at the disposition of others. The personality of the person so abused is not put at the disposal of the other, but disconnected. To such abuses is opposed the demand to respect this inalienable personal dignity of the individual, a demand grounded in persons still open to a destiny and thereby to God. The bible uses the concept of the image of God to describe this human destiny.
Religion and the struggle to express human worth and dignity
Is religion an expression of human alienation, a product of an alienated consciousness? If talk about God no longer contributes to our understanding of the experienced reality of the world and of the reality of the human being, then talk about God and even religious consciousness are still in the grip of alienation. When the other world of religion no longer represents a challenge to the present world and asks only to coexist with it, then religion bears witness to the powerlessness of its God in relation to the world. It reflects the actual disunity, and therefore alienation, of the human being. As Marx observed, a religious outlook expresses the discontent of human beings with the present world. This discontent and the insight that the present world does not contain its meaning in itself can be the first step toward an authentic religious elucidation of the present world.
The relation between individual and community has its parallel with the question of the identity of ego and self. Feeling is the basis for the familiarity that forms the foundation of every self-consciousness. Elevated moods and positive feelings are those in which our external center is open and surrendered to the reality of our world and of the ground that sustains it. In depressed moods and negative feelings, we are thrown back upon ourselves.
Human beings are by nature fragile and liable to err. The lack of coherence that individuals experience with themselves shows a fallible nature. The evil that enters the world through humanity ought not to surprise us for this reason. Individuals are open to the full range of values in all cultures. Anything capable of a human being is capable of me. Nothing human is foreign to any individual. Individuals are capable of every virtue and every vice.
Trying to find oneself or identity is evidence of brokenness. Instead of dedicating themselves to service in the objective tasks of the human community and experiencing in this world the meaning of their own lives, their primary concern remains themselves. The focus on self to find one’s identity is evidence of lack of identity. When we concern ourselves with ourselves, and then think that we have come closest to our own identity through being preoccupied with ourselves, then we are alienated from our true destiny and our true selves. The deepest regions of the self are inaccessible to its own contemplative and inquiring consciousness. In order to comprehend the self, it needs to be reflected another person. In a sense, our experiences are more alien to us than that of the other person. Our unconscious anticipation of people’s emotional reaction to our behavior grants insight into them and into us. Others notice our unconscious thoughts and feelings. We notice their unconscious signals. The nature of our unconscious motives is revealed by the effect of our actions and behavior upon others, often contrasting with conscious intention. We must be aware of our situation in some manner or other, however fragmentary. We may even be explicitly conscious of our alienation and of a wish to overcome it. We may make an effort to eliminate it by radically changing the conditions of their individual and social lives. However, if we do not focus upon that which makes alienated, our efforts will be for nothing. Even a correct and conscious understanding alienation is not eliminated. A false identification of what causes alienation and a concentration of getting rid of it will perpetuate the actual alienation more surely than the mere delusion that the individual is not alienated at all.
We must distinguish discovering our center outside of ourselves from self-alienation. We must take alienation seriously in that it involves a real separation or from the ego, and not just the recognition of the objective social and natural world. Those who enclose themselves within themselves are whom we would naturally call self-alienated. Alienation consists in the fact that we close ourselves from our unfulfilled destiny and against the future to which we are destined. Our being is bound up with the future to which we are destined. In our activity, we show ourselves as this as yet unrealized future destiny to which we are on the way. If we are not at home in the modern social world, we might register its effects in social psychology. However, the basis is not economic, but religious. It is an expression of religious lack and undernourishment.
Hegel viewed self-alienation as the human spirit goes outside itself to what is alien from itself; he views self-alienation as a phase of self-consciousness of spirit. Marx viewed alienation of the active being that the person is from the product of this activity because it becomes the property of another. His view presupposes that the activity of human beings is a manifestation of their being. It also presupposes that in their activity they realize and possess their own being. The lie here is that we would still be alienated beings, even if we remained in possession of the products of our labor. Marx had a romantic view of pre-industrial labor. Even the exchange of products becomes suspect and the occasion of alienation, a clearly absurd idea. He presupposes the active ego as in possession of its nature, instead of on the way to its destiny.
The concept of alienation allows us to make a theme of the brokenness of human existence in the relation to the self, other human beings, and in relation to God. Given the alienation of individuals, their shared world inevitably becomes an alienated world, whether or not they experience it as alien. The subjective experience of alienation depends on what it is that individuals do or do not identify. Feelings of alienation are usually the symptoms of a more deeply rooted and structural state of alienation in personal life. Social structures manifest the traits of objective alienation.
Our experience of fear leads to four reactions: remove or destroy the circumstance that caused it, escape it, neutralize it, or ignore it. Prolonged anxiety leads to apathy or detachment.
Talking is the way we articulate significantly our life in the world. It is important for hearing, listening, and keeping silent to take place. Our everyday and average life as determined by our interaction with others indicates the alienation of our own human nature. Idle talk is the everyday disclosure of relationship to others as conversation. Instead of disclosing one another, it closes us off to each other. It does not take into one’s self the other. It removes understanding from true relating to the world. Curiosity is the everyday disclosure of others as sight. This act sees in order to see, not understand. It seeks novelty, is restless movement to a variety of entities, and does not dwell anywhere. Ambiguity is the everyday disclosure of our relation to others as interpretation. All action is seen as unimportant.
Our sense of alienation belongs to our everyday life. We have fallen from the true possibility of self. We have fallen to the demands, dreams, and expectation of others. We live with the temptation of becoming only what others desire, rather than living out of the unique possibility that belongs to us. In fact, we can deceive ourselves that such a life is true life, rather than alienation. True life hides itself from us. Yet, far from being separated from ourselves, we are entangled in ourselves. Thus, we fall into everyday life. The possibility of true living blinds our understanding.
The immediate environment of a child has many unfavorable conditions, not the least of which is that parents have their own neuroses that inhibit them from loving the child fully. Parents have attitudes toward children driven by their own neurotic needs and responses. Parents can be dominating, overprotective, intimidating, irritable, over-exacting, over-indulgent, erratic, partial to other siblings, hypocritical, indifferent, and so on. Nothing becomes old and dies away in the psychic arena. The basic anxiety of children is the feeling of being isolated and helpless in a world conceived as potentially hostile. We develop a neurotic need for safety in a hostile world. We adapt whatever our past gives us to the possibilities and demands of the future. Yet, such forms of life vary in ways that Karen Horney has identified. For example, we may become compliant and move toward others to the point of clinging to them. We view ourselves as weak. We view others as nice and people from whom we need approval and love, and whom we need to appease. We may also become aggressive and move against others to the rebelling and fighting. We view ourselves as strong, honest, and realistic. We view others as hostile, people of whom we need to be suspicious, and people we need to fight. We may also become self-sufficient, private, and independent, moving away from others. We want to protect ourselves against the environment. We view ourselves as estranged and as observers. We view others with a sense of detachment and superiority, tending to suppress feeling toward them. This anxiety begins the alienation from the real self. The need to evolve artificial ways to cope with others forces us to override genuine feelings, wishes, and thoughts. The drive toward safety makes us silence our true thoughts and feelings. We develop an idealized image of the self in order to gain security: perfection, neurotic ambition, and vindictive triumph. We note the compulsive nature of these drives in that they drive us down the road to glory with disregard for ourselves our own best interests. Reality cannot coincide with this idealized image. The neurotic feels entitled to special attention, consideration, and deference on the part of others. We distort the world through endowing others with characteristics they do not have, see a completely ideal person, endow them with godlike perfection and power, or may seem them as contemptible and guilty. Such claims are egocentric. We may turn others into giants or dwarfs. We reinforce our insecurity in relationship with others. We cannot find the capacity for the heroic and living a full of life within the human condition; meaning and heroic action must come from beyond it.
The mood of anxiety becomes the key and point of departure in the question of the wholeness of human existence. Anxiety has a paralyzing power. People devote much of their lives in dealing with others, to avoiding more anxiety than he already has and to getting rid of this anxiety. Anxiety often arises out of anticipated unfavorable appraisal of one’s current activity by someone whose opinion one values. The state of alienation makes itself known to us in feelings of malaise, discontent, anxiety, and general depression; alienation makes its presence by means of such feelings. Dreams often reflect these alienating forces, dealing with unsatisfied needs that waking life of which waking life does not take care. Alienated individuals are thrown back upon their egos and reduced to them; they remove themselves from their true selves and question their identity. The process of alienation may begin as a separation from a specified counterpart; it tends to a generalized state of estrangement and apartness in which the ego falls back upon itself. This indeterminacy is essential to the feeling of self-alienation in particular. The feeling of personal nonidentity means that the identity that is lacking is not grasped; for this reason, the nonidentity too remains vague.
Guilt is a specialized feeling proper when one has transgressed an established norm. The concept of conscience had its origin in the experience of guilt. Being guilty is an expression of an ought, the content of which is the authenticity of our self. Guilt as transgression becomes intelligible in this sense. The concept of action presupposes the concept of responsibility. The capacity for action is grounded in the call to authentic selfhood.
From the perspective of sociobiology, our aggressive behavior as manifested in war, crime, personal quarrels, and all kinds of destructive and sadistic behavior is due to a genetically programmed, innate instinct that seeks for discharge, and waits for proper occasion to be expressed. Our drift toward maximum aggression, such as nuclear war, is biologically programmed. It also serves life and the survival of the individual and of the species. Aggressive behavior in animals is a response to any kind of threat to the vital interests of the animal. It bases its views on a study of aggressive behavior of other animals. Aggression is not the only reaction to threats. An animal can respond with rage and attack, or with fear and flight. Some animals have predatory behavior. It does not show rage. It is purposeful and determined, accurately aimed and the tension ends with the accomplishment of the goal, namely, the attainment of food. The predatory instinct is not one of defense, but of finding food common to all animal species. None of this behavior has a parallel in our propensity to kill and to torture without any reason, but as a goal in itself, a goal not pursued for the sake of defending life, but desirable and pleasurable in itself. We are the only mammal who is a large-scale killer and sadistic. We can feel intense pleasure in killing and torturing. This destructiveness is neither innate nor is it common to all human beings. However, biologically we can identify one kind of aggression, that of life preserving and biologically adaptive, defensive aggression. The need for territory does not explain human aggression, for wars usually start for gaining advantages of various kinds, and not just an act of defense against a threat to one’s territory. The theory of an innate aggressiveness easily becomes an ideology that helps to soothe the fear of what is to happen and to rationalize the sense of impotence. We do not have to deal with morality or spirituality. If this were true, we would not have to examine our social system to see if it contributes to the expansion or decrease of aggression. Human groups differ in the respective degree of aggression in such a way that reference to innate structures is not helpful. If we had only biologically adaptive aggression that we share with other animals, we would be relatively peaceful, nonviolent beings. We are hard wired for defensive aggression. Our difference with animals is that we are killers. We are the only primate that kills and tortures members of our own species without any reason, either biological or economic, and who feels satisfaction in doing so. We have a record of extraordinary destructiveness and cruelty surpassing our animal ancestors. We seem to take pleasure in destroying life without any reason or purpose other than that of destroying it. Only human beings appear to be destructive beyond the aim of defense or predatory purposes. This non-biological aggression constitutes the real problem and the danger to our existence. We cannot explain human aggression and cruelty by reference to heredity or instinct. Our problem is to discover the degree to which the way we order our life together contributes to the quality and intensity of our lust for killing and torturing. Our malignant aggression, in contrast to biological aggression, has its foundation in the conditions of human existence.
Behavioral theory does not interest itself in the subjective forces that drive us to behave in a certain way. It does not concern itself with what we feel, but only in the way we behave and in the social conditions that shape this behavior. It only sees behavior, not the behaving person. It has a naïve rationalism that ignores our passions. It blends optimistic, liberal thought with the social and mental reality of cybernetic society. We are so open to the world that nothing in our nature inhibits the development toward a peaceful and just society. The problem with behaviorism is that behavior differs depending on the motivating impulse, even though on superficial inspection this difference may not be visible.
Psychology brings to the table a theory of unconscious strivings, of resistance, of falsification of reality according to one’s subjective needs and expectations, of character, and of conflicts between passionate self-preservation.
The character we develop through moral reflection is our substitute from poor instincts. Character is the relatively permanent system of all non-instinctual strivings through which we relate to ourselves and to others and to the natural world. Our passions are answers to the existential needs that have their foundation in the human condition. Our instincts are answers to biological needs, while our passions are response to existential needs. We must view our passions from the perspective of the whole person and not either biologically or in a behavioral way. Our passion transforms us from a mere thing into a hero. Our passions, far from being repetition of childhood traumas, are our attempt to make sense out of life and to experience the optimum of intensity and strength we can achieve under the given circumstances.
Sadism is the passion to have absolute and unrestricted control over a living being. It has no practical aim. It is devotional, transforming impotence into the experience of omnipotence. Necrophilia is the passionate attraction to all that is dead, decayed, putrid, sickly. It consists of the passion to transform that which is alive into something dead; to destroy for the sake of destruction; the exclusive interest in all that is purely mechanical. It is the passion to tear apart living structures.
Anger is closely connected to brutality and a delight in vengeance. Seeing others as anger sees them is a way of distancing ourselves from the humanity of the other. It can make it possible to do terrible things to the other. Yet, to not get angry when horrible things take place seems to be a diminution of our humanity. In circumstances where evil prevails, anger is an assertion of concern for human well-being and human dignity. The failure to become angry seems collaboration with evil.
Just as love can take over the person, so also can violence. The inability of America and the nations of Western Europe to recognize the presence of evil in Hitler and the Nazi movement had devastating influence upon world history. Many people believe so strongly in peace and world brotherhood that they could not see Hitler or the destructive evil he represented. Human beings just could be that cruel in our civilized century; accounts in papers must be wrong. Personal convictions blinded many from accurately perceiving reality. They had no place for evil. They thought the world should fit their convictions. However, to fail to recognize the actuality of evil in our life together is itself evil; we become accomplices on the side of destructive possession by evil.
Crime is the imitation of the hero by the coward. The primary features of the criminal personality have been shaped by the time of four or five years old. Punishment confirms the already set idea of criminals that society is against them.
Biophilia is the passionate love of life and all that is alive. Ethics based upon this passion would include the idea that good is all that serves life and evil is all that serves death. Good is reverence for life, all that enhances life, growth, unfolding. Evil is all that stifles life, narrows it down, and cuts it into pieces. The expansion of aggression is an alternative to the love of life. Love of life or love of the dead is the fundamental alternative that confronts us all. Necrophilia grows as the development of love of life is stunted. We are biologically endowed with the capacity for the love of life, but psychologically have the potential for necrophilia as an alternative solution.
Some human aggression is biological as external forces threaten our vital interests as individuals. However, sadism and necrophilia are not innate. We can reduce them with the proper socioeconomic conditions are favorable to the full development of our genuine needs and capacities, such as the development of creativity and self-actualization. Exploitation and manipulation make us bored and trivial people, far more open to sadism and necrophilia.
As with birth, so with death and suffering, we can understand biologically. To have life is to begin it, to struggle to keep it, and to have it end. This defines the difference between animate and inanimate entities. Yet, as with all significant events, we have the capacity to reflect upon how the event fits into the totality of our lives. How does this event contribute to or detract from our sense of the meaningful whole of our lives. We can suppress reflection upon this death and this human life that moves toward death. The question is whether in death itself one is still someone for whom life and death have some concern. If I ignore something that so truly concerns me, I have already made my decision. The tragedy we call human life is not just an overwhelming respect for biology and physics and the conservation of energy. I grant that metabolism existed previously and that we have concern for maintaining the biological system. However, a few other things also existed previously, such as a person with love, fidelity, pain, responsibility, and freedom. We were always more than elementary particles of physics and biochemistry. Love and fidelity, perhaps our ordinariness, and other similar things that come to be in time and space, but do not reach fulfillment there.
John Donne has captured some of the pain in his poem, “The First Anniversary: Anatomy of the World”:
There is no health; physicians say that we
At best enjoy but a neutrality,
And can there be worse sickness than to know
That we are never well, nor can be so? …
Alas, we scarce live long enough to try
Whether a new-made clock run right or lie.
Old grandsires talk of yesterday with sorrow,
And for our children we reserve tomorrow.
So short is life, that every peasant strives
In a torn house or field to have three lives. …
Mankind decays so soon,
We’re scarce our fathers’ shadows cast at ….
We’re not retired, but damped;
And as our bodies, so our minds are cramped…
We seem ambitious God’s whole work t’ undo;
Of nothing he made us, and we strive too
To bring ourselves to nothing back…
That this world’s general sickness doth not lie
In any humor, or one certain part;
But as thou saw’st it rotten at the heart….
Thou know’st how ugly a monster this world is,
And learn’st thus much by our anatomy,
That here is nothing to enamor thee,
And that not only faults in inward parts,
Corruptions in our brains, or in our hearts,
Poisoning the fountains whence our actions spring,
To live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning. We learn through suffering. Through suffering, we learn the boundaries of human life. We learn to understand the finitude of humanity. Experience teaches us inwardly to know that we are not lord over time. We experience the limits of all anticipation, the insecurity of all human plans. It also opens us to new experiences. In experience, we reach into the future in anticipation, since experiences we have had teach us the incompleteness of all plans.
Our suffering motivates much of human behavior and thought. We are creatures who desire and need. We stand upon the earth in uncertainty about everything except our own need and misery. Accordingly, care for the maintenance of this existence, in the face of demands that are so heavy and proclaim themselves anew every day, occupies, as a rule, the whole of human life. The life of many is a constant struggle for this same existence, with the certainty of ultimately losing it. What enables them to endure this wearisome battle is not so much the love of life as the fear of death, which nevertheless stands in the background as inevitable, and which may come on the scene at any moment. Life itself is a sea full of rocks and whirlpools that we avoid with the greatest caution and care. We know that, even when we succeed with all our efforts and ingenuity in struggling through, at every step we come nearer to the greatest, the total, the inevitable and irremediable shipwreck; namely death. This is the final goal of the voyage, and is worse for us than all the rocks that we have avoided. Of course, the sufferings and afflictions of life can easily grow to such an extent that even death, from which we are in flight all our lives, becomes desirable. Many of us have seen people who came to a point where they wanted death to come.
The world is frightening for us. Nature seems antagonistic to the quest of human beings for meaning in the presence of death. We have trouble digging up the resources to face the terror of death openly and bravely. We have a symbolic identity that brings sharply out of our affinity with nature. We are aware of our uniqueness in that we stick out of nature with majesty. Yet, we go back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever. Human beings can kill whole herds of animals because other animals do not know death is happening and continue grazing placidly while others drop alongside them. The knowledge of death is reflective and conceptual. Animals do not have that knowledge. They live and they disappear with the same thoughtlessness. However, to live a whole lifetime with the fate of death haunting our dreams and daydreams, that is another kind of life entirely. Our personality is the face that we give to the world; it hides an inner defeat to face the reality of death. Our life projects are a protest against natural reality, a denial of the truth of the human condition, and an attempt to forget the pathetic creatures that we are.
The heroic impulse in human nature is a reflex action in the face of the terror of death. We have the capacity to embrace the deep sleep of death, even while knowing that it means oblivion. To act with such courage, given the human situation, is to act with heroism. We often remove heroes from daily life and its struggles. In reality, heroes are those who arise in the morning. They go to work, care for their families, go to school, and do the best they can at what they do. They use their gift of imagination and creativity to make something out of their lives. They do this, knowing that all their projects will end in death. If we are going to be heroes, facing the terror of death, we must give a gift. Sacrificing and giving are central to meaningful, successful life. The average person gives the gift of his or her everyday existence to family, friends, work, and society. The one who gains public recognition for talent in the arts gives his or her gift in a uniquely personal way. Giving and sacrifice are what people do every day. The heroic task of everyday life is to defend us against the tragedy of death, our own limitations, and the overwhelming experience of life. The heroism of everyday life means we need to accept fully death as a reality of our own future. We need to be heroes who face life and death with courage.
However, we must also disagree with Heidegger that the anticipation of our own death gives our lives significance. Rather, death gives our lives their broken and fragmented character. The fact of our own death cannot provide the context for the totality of our lives. In this way, the analysis of time carries us beyond our own lives and to questions of eternity. Heidegger also recognized that at least the Christian concept of humanity as created in the image of God pointed to the possibility of transcendence that we need in order to understand human nature. We discover meaning in life in our openness to the world rather than within self. A fragmented, isolated, independent self is indeed a life without meaning, significance, worth, or dignity. We discover such values in our openness to the world. We act into the world, implying that the world motivates us. The world toward which we transcend ourselves is a world replete with meanings that constitute reasons to act and other persons who constitute persons to love. We can discover the purpose of human life not in self-actualization, but rather in self-transcendence. We must willingly bear our incapacity to grasp the meaningfulness of life and then state it in rational terms. Meaning is deeper than logic. Our drives and instincts do not determine our future; nor do conditions in life determine our future; we are self-determining creatures. We have the capacity to decide. When we present the concept that humanity is an automation of reflexes and instincts, a pawn of drives and reactions, a product of instinct, heredity, and environment, we feed the nihilism to which people in the modern world have a tendency to descend. Spiritual questions are not simply repressed sexual instincts; they are legitimate questions we must face. The meaning of our individual lives comes to fulfillment in community. However, community can dispense with the uniqueness of the individuals of which communal life consists. The significance of life depends upon its temporal end. This implies that the essence of life as a whole is temporal. As the future of finite beings, eternity represents simultaneously the possibility that they will be completed and that they will end. Therefore, death does not have a constitutive significance for the experience of time. The analysis of time must be bound together with the concept of eternity. The possible wholeness of human existence can then be construed only as participation in eternity.
When we have a “why” to live we can bear with almost any how. The last of our freedoms is the ability to choose our attitude in a given set of circumstances, a freedom recognized by Stoics as well as by existentialists. Our ability to imagine an internal world separate from the harshness of external reality often provides the spiritual freedom necessary to move through the harshest aspects of life. This inner life can become intense, appreciative of whatever love and beauty one can find. If life has meaning at all, then suffering must have meaning. Suffering is not an option within life; without suffering and death human life cannot be complete. The way in which we accept our fate and the suffering that is part of life gives us many opportunities to find deeper meaning. It does not matter what we expect from life; it matters what life expects from us. We need to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those to whom life asks the question. Our answer must consist in right action and in right conduct. Life means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks that it constantly sets for each of us. For some individuals, suffering appears to be the unique task life has given them. As for me, I have had less than my share in suffering. I have seen many, however, for whom suffering is their portion in life. To discover meaning, love, and beauty in the midst of that life becomes their chief task.
Imminence is at the same time menace and postponement. The marvel of time consists of bearing fruit in the future and the postponement of this expiration. Consciousness is resistance to violence, because it leaves the time necessary to forestall it. Human freedom resides in the future, always still minimally future of its non-freedom, in consciousness, the prevision of the violence imminent in the time that remains. To be conscious is to have time, not to overflow the present by anticipating and hastening the future, but to have a distance with regard to the present. To relate oneself to being as to a being to come, to maintain a distance with regard to being even while already coming under its grip. To be free is to have time to forestall one’s own abdication under the threat of violence. The supreme ordeal of freedom is not death, but suffering. This is known very well in hatred. The one who hates seeks to be the cause of a suffering to which the despised being must be witness. To inflict suffering is not to reduce the other to the rank of object, but on the contrary is to maintain the other superbly in subjectivity. The supreme ordeal of the will is not death, but suffering.
Most of us sense that misery and wickedness are broken aspects of human life. We witness the miseries of life, the unhappiness of so much of the human race, the general presence of evil, and even the rather unfulfilling enjoyment of pleasure, riches and honors. If we wanted, any of us could give a list of the wicked and polluted quality of human life. Human beings seem perpetually at war. Necessity, hunger, and lack stimulate much of human behavior. Fear, anxiety, and terror agitate people toward action. The strong dominate the weak. We even create for ourselves imaginary enemies and superstitions that destroy every enjoyment of life. We even figure out ways to turn genuine pleasures into crimes. Death, our only deliverance, becomes nothing but dread to our minds. We are our own greatest enemy. Oppression, injustice, contempt, contumely, violence, sedition, war, calumny, treachery, fraud; by these we mutually torment each other. We might even dissolve human society were it not for the greater ills that would come as a result. Though these external insults form a frightful catalogue of woes, they are nothing in comparison of those that arise within ourselves, from the sick condition of our mind and body.
Our fear of death has its source in an intuition that our life is good. We do not know the content of what occurs after we die. We know only that this life ends, and that is enough for us to fear it. This life makes us familiar with the things of which death deprives us.
The fear of death has positive dimensions. It encourages us to do what we can to preserve ourselves. We are unique creatures, even on a scientific level, in that this particular combination of genes has never existed before and will never exist again. We have a responsibility to offer the gift that we are to others.
The fear of death haunts us like nothing else. Our horror of dying is irrational, resulting from the failure of having lived. It is the expression of our guilty conscience for having wasted our life and missed the chance of productive use of our capacities. The idea of dying without having lived is unbearable. Our fear of growing old arises from a similar guilt. We design our activity to avoid the finality of death and overcome it by denying that it is our final destiny. Death puts all human hope at risk. We seek to avoid or overcome death by denying in some way that it is the final destiny of the individual. Death appears to be part of our finitude. All multiple cell life must die. Organisms age and wear out. We must make way for future generations. Life cannot go on without the death of individuals. Death provides humanity with the capacity for self-renewal and diversity of culture and generations. The awareness of death can represent, in a positive view, the fullness and completion of life. I have seen many people die with that sense of peace. Yet, such honest assessments of the important role of death for the human race do not remove the threat we feel. An animal lives, eats, and dies. Our self-consciousness about our own death changes everything. Death threatens each moment of our lives with nothingness. Death is the last enemy of all living things. We wonder about our individual place in the universe. For many people, death reminds us of the question of God. In that sense, death is a holy threat or terror inflicted upon the human race. The awareness of death also has a negative function in that it appears to make futile much of our hopes and dreams. It discloses the superficial everyday aspect of life. When we take seriously the reality of our own death, we expose our false security. The end that has yet to come casts a shadow in advance and defines the whole path of life as a being for death. We create the illusion that we will not die. We do not integrate our end into our existence. Our personal ending in death marks our every affirmation of life. Fear of death pierces deep into life. That fear motivates us toward self-affirmation, regardless of our own finitude.
Fear of death is independent of all knowledge. Yet, for “from an evil, death can appear as a friend.” We have dread of death. As with all biological life, we have a will to live. We cannot think of the world continuing without us. The egoism of this suggestion barely bothers us. Egoism really consists in our restricting all reality to our own person, in that we imagine we live in this world alone, and not in others. Fear of death has its root in desire; we can also call this an attachment to life. Death is the painful untying of the knot that birth with sensual pleasure had tied.
Death is always future and unknown; it gives rise to fear or flight from responsibilities. Courage exists in spite of it. It has its ideal elsewhere; it commits me to life. Death is the source of many myths. Death is present to me in the death of the other. In the death of the other I find a summons to my as yet unfulfilled and incomplete essence. I find myself summoned to full responsibility for my life. The Eternal and Infinite may call to soon, for this body and this life is what we know.
Death is interpreted in the philosophical religious tradition either as a passage to nothingness or as a passage to another existence, continuing in a new setting. My death is not deduced from the death of the others by analogy. It is inscribed in the fear I can have for my being. The knowledge of the threatening precedes every experience reasoned in terms of the death of the other. This fear is always a holy fear in that it raises ultimate issues of life and death. It is not the knowledge of death that defines menace. Fear measures this movement. The imminence of the menace does not come from a precise point of the future. Death threatens me from beyond. This unknown that frightens, the silence of the infinite spaces that terrify, comes from the other, and this alterity, precisely as absolute, strikes me in an evil design or in a judgment of justice. Death approaches in the fear of someone, and hopes in someone. One does not know when death will come. What will come with what does death threaten me? With nothingness or with recommencement? I do not know. This impossibility I have of knowing the after my death resides the essence of the last moment. Will the violence death introduces into this being make truth impossible? Does not the violence of death reduce to silence the subjectivity without which truth could neither be said nor be without which truth could not be produced?