The Charioteer

"The charioteer of the human soul drives a pair of steeds, and one of the horses is beautiful, good, and formed of such elements, whereas the makeup of the other one is quite the opposite." -Phaedrus

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Location: Duquesne University, United States

A Blog For All and None. Consider it my narrative history of ideas. A place primarily to share and obtain feedback to my thoughts through my graduate career in philosophy. For philosophy is simply "thoughts that have been thought out."

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Excellence in German Film

Who ever said Germans couldn't make movies? Granted, German films are not all that common, the film, Run Lola Run (1998), directed by Tom Tykwer, is an excellent film that gives Germans a name for themselves in film. Tykwer has directed a number of films since this one, his most recent being the movie currently in theaters, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, as well as Ich Dich Auch, also in 2006.

Lola Rennt, or Run Lola Run, is a film simply about a girl's (Lola) attempts to obtain $100,000 in twenty minutes to save her boyfriend (Manni) from death by a mobster boss if the money is not obtained in that time. The process of trying to obtain the money is repeated three times, each time showing how the different actions on Lola's part play out both in the future lives, and the immediate circumstances, of those she encounters.

Professor Stewart showed this film today in the Basic Philosophical Questions (BPQ) course for which I am currently teaching assisting. Needless to say it generated some good discussion, especially about the spiritual significance and symbolism of the "third attempt" and the comparison of the three attempts to discover the (many times very subtle) interconnections. Check it out!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Body & Soul: Toward Abolishing the Literal Paradigm and Resurrecting the Symbol

Max Scheler once wrote, "There never was and is not now a "Christian philosophy," unless one understands by this an essentially Greek philosophy with Christian ornamentation" ("Liebe und Erkenntnis" ("Love and Knowledge") Gesammelte Werke 6).

Perhaps this quite provocative statement can also be applied to a so-called "Christian anthropology," for it is nothing more than a Greek anthropology with Christian embellishments. Namely, a Greek body-soul paradigm defined as “rational animal” conveniently adorned by "imago Dei."

But I suppose I should give some evidence for my near blasphemous remarks. I am not necessarily criticizing the body-soul paradigm itself, but only its literalized form seemingly to have arisen from the demythologizing tendency in Aristotle (which was inherited for the most part by the Thomistic tradition) and the radicalizing of that demythologization, by Descartes. The former having literalized the symbol once expressed by Platonic tradition (which was inherited for the most part by the early Church Fathers) and the latter having separated this literalized paradigm into a dualism. This literalization has obscured the awareness of how the Greek anthropological paradigm of body and soul arose from an archaic myth, that of Orphism, and how St. Paul and the early Christians adopted this anthropological paradigm under its thoroughly symbolic form. The direct result of this literalization, then, is the unfortunate, but ever common conception that the "body," or to use the Pauline terminology, "flesh," is literally the locus of evil.

This argument, more or less, is one advanced by Paul Ricoeur in, The Symbolism of Evil. His insight is astonishing! Yet so calmly clarified, as if it were common knowledge. In fact, it is a treasure tucked away toward the end of his work; but an excellent observation I think so many today, especially Christians, could benefit from. There are two elements to his argument which reveal the current misunderstanding of this ancient anthropological paradigm and its relation to Christianity.

The first I have only implied above, which is that this conception of a human person as constitutive of body and soul was not inherited by the first Christians from their Jewish tradition or background, and therefore, neither from their Scriptures, i.e., from the Genesis story of creation, which Ricoeur calls the "Adamic Myth." Rather, the anthropology of the Adamic myth is essentially "monistic," whereby, there is no distinction between two elements in man: a body and a soul. Indeed, Ricoeur, in his chapter on the Orphic myth of the "exiled soul," states:
None of the other myths [which includes the Adamic myth] is a myth of the 'soul'; even when they speak of a rupture in the condition of the human being, they never divide man into two realities. ... [Indeed], no myth is fundamentally less 'psychic' than the Biblical myth of the fall. It is, of course, and anthropological myth, and even the anthropological myth par excellence, the only one, perhaps, that expressly makes man the origin (or the co-origin) of evil; but it is not in any degree a myth of the adventures of the 'soul' considered as a separate entity. On the contrary, it is a myth of the 'flesh,' of the undivided existence of man(SOE, 280-81).

If this rupture was never indicated by the Biblical myth of the fall, how then do we explain the rupture of the human person, the tension which arose between the body and soul, with the loss of "original justice," that the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us was a consequence of the fall.
The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul's spiritual faculties over the body is shattered, the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions.... Harmony with creation is broken.... Death makes its entrance into human history"(CCC, 400).

Strange, is it not? The last three of the four ruptures are specifically indicated in the Genesis account and are cited in the passage accordingly, but the first is not specified nor cited! So where did this dualistic paradigm of body and soul come from? Why so much emphasis on the body-soul paradigm if it never was explicit in Scripture, whereas the symbol of the "image of God," in fact was made explicit, but which has become, to a large extent, the subordinate aspect?

The answer in obvious: from Greek philosophy. But this is still not quite accurate, for the paradigm originated in what Ricoeur calls "the myth of the exiled soul," i.e., the ancient myth of Orpheus, where the body (soma) is identified with a prison (sema). The soul then, while in the body, is in a state of exile, and man is composed of two elements: an evil element which is the body, and a divine element, the soul.

So, these ideas which are commonly attributed to either Plato or gnosticism actually have their origins before both.

Now, Plato cannot be interpreted as holding to Orphic dualism, in the strict sense, even though he used this dualistic paradigm in his writings. The meanings are obscured now due to a literalization of the paradigm that would entice such a reading, but the reason that Plato is not a dualist in the Orphic sense, which is the same reason the early Christians are not who adopted this paradigm, is because both properly understood the symbolism of the body! And this is Ricoeur's second point: the literal 'body' or 'flesh' is not the place of evil nor an evil thing, but 'body' is only a symbol for an element of evil in the soul itself, viz., "the seat of everything that happens to me without my doing"(SOE, 332). Body only symbolizes an involuntary element in the soul itself, and thus gives us an understanding that evil is something that the soul inflicts upon itself as opposed to that which the body inflicts upon the soul. This is clear in Plato's Phaedrus with the metaphor of the Charioteer, upon which I adopted for the title of my blog. See my post, "'The Charioteer': Source, Meaning and Significance."

Ricoeur himself, of course, puts it best:

... for the body itself is not only the literal body, so to speak, but also a symbolic body. It is the seat of everything that happens in me without my doing (SOE, 332).

... the Pauline concept of the 'flesh' and the 'body' designates not a substantial reality, but an existential category, which not only covers the whole field of passions, but includes the moralizing will that boasts in the law. It is the alienated self as a whole, in opposition to the 'desires of the Spirit,' which constitute the inward man (SOE, 333).

The explanation of evil by the body is not an objective explanation, but an etiological myth; that is to say, it is ultimately a symbol of the second degree. But if that explanation aims at becoming scientific, as in modern times, then the ethical character of evil action disappears; man cannot impute evil to himself and at the same time refer it to the body, without treating treating the body as a symbol of certain aspects of the experience of evil that he confesses. The symbolic transmutation of the body is a necessary condition for its belonging the mythics of evil (SOE, 336; my emphasis).

Ricoeur finally asserts that this anthropological paradigm of body and soul can be seen as compatible with the Adamic myth of the fall only if the symbol is properly and duly recognized. In other words, only when the body-soul paradigm is seen in its symbolic (and not literalized) form, can it be compatible with Scripture.

However, it seems that the kind of paradigm held today, in our neo-Thomistic, post-Cartesian atmosphere of the Church and modern world respectively, in light, also, of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment in our recent western history, has moved away from this kind of symbolic understanding. So to put it bluntly, yes, I am saying I think our current so-called "Christian anthropology" is not a Christian anthropology at all, for it is not compatible with the creation story of Genesis. Though, at the same time, I am affirming that those elements of the New Testament, in St. Paul's writings, have sufficiently retained the symbol and are therefore in no way incompatible with the Old Testament.

In light of all this, Max Scheler's statement cited above holds great truth.

Conference: The Phenomenology of John Paul II

While the positive impact that John Paul II had upon the contemporary world was extensive and will have lasting importance, an often neglected aspect that grounded and inspired his many contributions was his philosophical background.

Influenced by neo-scholastic philosophy and Thomistic theology, he also embraced the merits of phenomenology, writing his second dissertation on the ethical thought of Max Scheler who was a student of Edmund Husserl [This actually is inaccurate, Scheler was not a student of Husserl], the founder of phenomenology. A later philosophical synthesis, The Acting Person, expands upon the focus of his dissertation and shows a deep familiarity with Dutch phenomenological psychologists.

What bearing did phenomenology have upon Karol Wojtyla, the philosopher, and John Paul II, in his role as leader of the teaching church? Paper and Panel Presentations as well as keynote addresses by Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Jean Bethke Elshtain and George Weigel will address this question.

This two-day conference on the phenomenology of John Paul II will be held at Duquesne University on Friday, Dec. 1 and Saturday, Dec. 2, 2006.

John Paul II’s play, The Jeweler’s Shop, will be performed nightly by Duquesne University students. Its exposition of love and commitment is deepened by a phenomenological appreciation of human experience.

The conference is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. The program is available on the website. Registration/reservations are required. For reservations and more information, contact Dr. Daniel Martino, or register online.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Scheler vs. Heidegger, Part III: The Ontological Structure of 'World'--'Being-In' and 'Being-Toward'

The last post (Part II) has indeed generated fruitful dialogue, but the content of that dialogue has not made me change the course of my initial trajectory in this comparison of the thought of these two great German phenomenologists. Dominic has argued that the question is misposed, and by its specific framing, there is "no way Scheler can come out on top" since we may have implied (we have in now way 'proposed') we go "hunting for Heidegger's Dasein in Scheler's account." But what is the question exactly? It is, yet again, as John White proposed: Whether "a human being's 'Being-in-the-world' is better characterized morally and practically as 'Being-toward-value'." This is my question; it is in no way framed insufficiently, for we are not yet granting Dasein's relation to the world is the measure by which we are judging Scheler's ontology, but we are asking which relation better characterizes a human one, and harmonizes most with human experience.

But there are still many more steps we need to take in this regard, because, whereas a priority for Heidegger is precisely to explicate and establish this relation explicitly through his description of the unified phenomenon of being-in-the-world, Scheler's is not as explicit. So, indeed, this takes some searching to fill in what White might mean by 'Being-toward-value,' noted after his delineation of Scheler's philosophy of love. Therefore, we are searching, not at all for Dasein in Scheler, but only Scheler's own conception of this unified relation toward 'world.'

For this end, I will move from the anthropological problematic of Part II, to a discussion of Heidegger and Scheler's conceptions of human beings relation to the world, precisely in the ontological structure of 'world,' laying emphasis on the element Heidegger described as "in-ness." Having laid this foundation, we will both raze to ruins Heidegger's criticism of Scheler's anthropology by revealing Heidegger's inherently shallow description of it in §47, and simultaneously lay the framework by which we can understand how Scheler's system of material values (with there lack in Heidegger) and the personal being's relation to them serves as the final death blow, viz., the characteristic that shows the superiority of Scheler's ontology.

In his chapter, "The Essence of Spirit," in Man's Place in Nature, Scheler magnificently describes the essential difference between animal and man as the difference between environment and world and the relation of the respective being to each. The animal can never separate itself from its environment, i.e., can never recognize things as objects. That which is most characteristic of man, however, transcends life and "leads back to the ultimate Ground of Being." This element is called spirit.

The first important characteristic is that spirit transcends environment, which enables man to relate to things as objects, counting himself as something very different: spirit is never an object, but lives dynamically in its acts. The spiritual being is "'free from the environment'", that is, '"open to the world.'" Such a being therefore is correlative with 'world.' However, this by no means indicates a kind of static conception of a single and 'self-given' world, or in the sense of a subject-object dichotomy, but he is simply establishing first a kind of "fundamental ontology" if you will: A spiritual person is fundamentally constituted by a "world-openness." "Man, then, is a being that can exhibit, to an unlimited degree, behavior with is open to the world. To become human is to aquire this openness to the world by virtue of spirit"(39). Furthermore, "man as a spiritual being is a being that surpasses himself in the world. As such he is also capable of irony and humor which always indicate the transcendence of actual existence (Dasein)"(46-7). In a sense, then, spirit--not the spiritual being constituted as a whole, but its "center"--is outside space and time.

Did I not say, however, that I would lay emphasis on the "in-ness" of this relation between person and world? Indeed, but this claim of transcendence is important for two reasons: first because in relation to Heidegger, this is very new, for Heidegger exerts his entire energy on this "in-ness," and not enough, I think, on any transcendent element. And secondly, because it is this transcendent element, coupled with the "in-ness" where Scheler is most powerful, for he breaks the tradition of thinkers who typically end up on one side or the other. Cf. Idealismus-Realismus.

Again, Heidegger's project largely concerns the "Being together with" the world. "Being-in" means not the bare, being in something, but the relation which two beings have in their common being in space. Dasein's being-in, "in the sense of being absorbed in the world" is elaborated by experience of throwness and angst, and ultimately will be the ground for historicity. Due to this, Heidegger rightly notices how things in the world are not just an agglomerate of independent objects, but are beings in unique relation and reference to Dasein, and are seen primarily, in their everydayness, in terms of their meaning and function for Dasein. I will admit there is strength in this analysis, and as we shall see it entails a concept of world very similar to, if not taken over from, Scheler's account. But it is largely one sided. Even in relation to the question of the Being of beings, and the meaning of being as such, a fundamental ontology need not only rests on this intimate relation. Rather, human beings are also characterized, and thus more completely characterized, by an element of transcendence from Dasein, meant (in Scheler's context) in the sense of "being-there"--"actual existence." For does not Heidegger even presuppose such a transcendence--that we can make things as objects for ourselves--in his very phenomenology? If he did not, Dasein would be nothing more than an animal inexorably bound to, and therefore unable to detach from, its environment! Thus Scheler shows that the constitution of Dasein must mean more than simply "being-in-the-world," i.e., "being absorbed in the world," so not to incur the inevitable fate of objectless animality. Where does one draw the dividing line? If Dasein is that for which being is an issue, this already entails a type of transcendence, but a transcendence lost a midst Dasein's "being-in" or "being together with the world." Or should we say, being together with the environment? A human being is rather better characterized by "being-toward," which reveals Scheler's emphasis on person as "being that can exhibit, to an unlimited degree, behavior with is open to the world."

But Scheler, even in emphasizing a transcendent element of spirit, is by no means an idealist: the spiritual person is still vastly different from Kant’s subject as transcendental apperception. We simply have to have recourse to Scheler’s earlier Formalismus it find an answer, in the section: “Person and World” (F 393-6). The world is always “the correlate of the person,” and so he is never a ‘part’ of a world. Every world is only “the world of a person.” Here he discounts all attempts to establish that there is only one single world, one “regarded as ‘self-given’ and ‘absolute,’ [but its] singularity and sameness are only an illusion.” Why is this the case? It is so because the person experiences the world in terms of different sets of meanings and value structures that arise from ones experiences of the world and the ‘cogiven’ idea of God and his macrocosmic world. Thus, like Heidegger, the world for an individual person is not simply a set of objects with static ‘natures’ but are things imbued with meaning and function—with value. This is why one can experience many things in a given life, but only a small number of those things actually mean anything to him, i.e., actually arise out of neutrality and, thus are meaningful.

These elements are very similar in Scheler and Heidegger, but we have yet much work to do, because this notion of world is as yet, for Scheler, in a very undeveloped form for the very crux of his conception has not yet been met, for a full understanding of meaning in the world inextricably follows upon Scheler’s very precise philosophy of material values, and the person’s exact relation to those values, and therefore relation to world, cannot be understood without first understand his notion of love! These are absolutely key in Scheler’s theory of ontology to the extent that what I said here in elaborating Scheler’s position should not be taken by any means, complete, but still largely undeveloped. For what we have yet to do is enter the realm of ethics—for what could be called Scheler’s fundamental ontology is first and foremost an ethical one, for the person, imbued with value, and relating by love-toward-value, is fundamentally constituted by an ethos. And it upon entering the realm of ethics that we precisely leave Heidegger in the dust.

In other words, what I have sought to do here in this post is to go no further than “being-toward” and to discover how it relates to “being-in.” It is the element of transcendence that is included in the former and not the latter that places “being-toward” as a better way of characterizing ontology.

What we have left to do is uncover the "being-toward-VALUE, which will prove to be no small and easy task, but will, again, constitute the proverbial death blow to Heidegger who remains only on the bare level of 'world,' or perhaps Dasein is simply and only an animal in its environment.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Religious Humor

I came across these links on Dr. Blosser's site. I concur, humor sometimes makes a point outside the bounds elsewhere, in a lecture or homily. Check them out if you have the time:

And while you're at it, this one can't be missed.