The Foundations Project – On Human Nature

 

 

Harvey Sarles

 

 

Additions: 2005. Somewhat in response to – in the context of the President of Harvard L. Summers claiming that women are somewhat inferior to men, intellectually – supporting his views from the thinking/writing of Steven Pinker: “The Blank Slate,” “How the Mind Works,” etc. – following from N. Chomsky, his teacher.

 

Pinker thinks/claims that we have lost interest in the importance of the problem of human nature, at least have downgraded it considerably from the centrality in everything, that it should have. I agree that the problem and notion of human nature is quite central to everything – perhaps, most particularly in this historical moment – and that it has been bypassed or obviated in various ways.

 

“The Blank Slate��� begins with a quote from John Locke in his “Essay on Human Understanding” (which, amusingly, is said in my “Oxford Companion to Philosophy” not to have been in the original essay). Man is a tabula rasa, born anew, with essentially nothing ���built-in,” “predetermined,” or these days, “prewired.”

 

Importantly – for pursuing the study of human nature – the ideas were developed by Locke in his “Civil Treatises on Government” (check sections), as a critique of the idea of hereditary kingship. That is, the idea was originally placed in a political context – and this is quite important to note, and to keep “on the table.��� That is, the question of human nature wanders in many directions and contexts, and is not just to be pursued and understood as having “scientific” or factual meanings.

 

For Americans, especially, it is necessary to recall that Jefferson crafted this idea into the Declaration of Independence, and began the first revolt against monarchy, toward the idea of “we the people” having a {participative} democracy. Moreover, this study also raises the question of our being in the context of the religious notions of the human. Were we “created” by the deity, or did we “evolve?��� As this issue “heats up” in various times, the question of human nature takes on even more impetus than it might in other historical moments.

 

Pinker takes on a kind of ancient meaning of the human, as if it represents the entire framework of our being human. He claims that some notion of an “essential” human responds most directly to the question of how we got here – not only by some long evolutionary process – but by processes which already much about how we are: forms of predeter-mination, what is innate or already built-in to our being. He follows Chomsky, for example, in claiming that language is already too complex to be learned in the very brief period of our early childhood. Thus it must be part of our nature.

 

As I agree with Pinker that the question of human nature is central to questions of philosophy and much else in this historical moment, I disagree with much of what he claims. To begin, then, I will attempt to lay out the grounds for our larger discussion, to locate Pinker (and myself) in the context of, e.g., the notion that we were created by a deity. I will also provide some critical contexts of these arguments, as well as my own heavily observational and experiential notations. Much has been omitted from the question of human nature, and much needs to be specified or enlarged to see where arguments rise and fall: the political contexts in which Pinker operates, but does not much acknowledge, is just one of several such issues of great import in the study of the human.

 

Where to begin? I think we have to ���begin” in several places or contexts. Protagoras said that “man is the measure of all things,” and I agree, but want to widen the contexts of what this means. What, for example, is the nature of the “measurer” who is describing the world? There are some senses in which, in order even to recognize the question of what we are, we need to note that we are the ones noting and “describing” the world, and this indicates that something about our experience already resides in our asking the question(s) about human nature. What? Who? Why?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earlier works: c. 1985.

 

This moment in the history of history: We are having a global discussion/argument about the world and our place within it. The world of humans and other life-forms is changing at a very rapid pace, and is likely increasing toward robotics, nanotechnology, more genetic engineering, and on and on.

 

We are experiencing – importantly in this realm of discussion ��� a rapid “return” toward religion in the West and Near East (actually built on ideas from the historical West: Plato et al). Christian and Islam are rising. The reasons for this, and what it involves and implies, are important to contemplate.

 

The question of our being, the question of our nature – we humans – arises in these contexts, as Western religion particularly directs us towards (our concepts of) death: Christ died for our sins…the God of the Qur’an is the God of the day of judgment…

 

What, then, is life? What informs it, directs it, inspires it? Where do various conceptions of death come into this discussion?

 

How much of this current discussion is informed by ideas from the past, particularly about the nature of the human? How do these get informed or applied in the currency of our concerns?

 

And do these ideas correctly or fully reflect actualities of human nauture and experience? Or do they derive as a variety of historical themes and variations dependent upon how certain thinkers framed their inquiries into the human?

 

My response is, of course, that we have derived our ideas of the human quite narrowly from particular noticings, or certain selections of our being and doing. But a great deal of our (actual) being has been neglected or omitted or narrowly shaped in our accounts of our being. In the current climate of “return” to ancient ideas and arguments, it seems most important to raise the question of the human and to expand our questionings and quests to fit the human condition and nature more accurately and completely.

 

How to do this well or at least more comprehensively is opened in this set of aphorisms on Human Nature.

 

 

I Entering the Human Nature Issue

 

The “apology”

 

 

 

II Human Nature Arguments

 

The Quest for Universality

Expressions of Human Nature Claims

Exclusions

What Motivates the Quest?

Purpose of Universality of Human Nature Arguments

Comparative World Visions

Sleep Unto Death

Changing Conceptions of the Entire Earth

Shadows and the Sources of Light

On Good and Evil

Who We Grow Up Among

On Reading texts (…the Bible)

What is Human Nature?

Morality: Absolute, Relative…Other Species

Absolute and Relative

Racism and H-N Arguments

Individual or Society

The Cosmological Question

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON HUMAN NATURE

 

Harvey B. Sarles

 

 

Preface

 

Entering the Human Nature Issue

 

 

The Apology:

In Plato’s dialogue Apology, Socrates refers to what is the nature of humans: why they act and think like they do; how they would respond to his defense of his being and teaching; why they condemned him. In defense of his life he praised his dedication to the truth, rather than pandering to the opinions and praises of others. Socrates, in his “apologia,” eloquently spells out what is the best life, toward integrity, virtue and wisdom. He says, also, that he is a good citizen — praising the gods and the city-state of Athens — that he worked not for riches, but for the good of humankind.

 

In the “Apology,” Socrates was accused of mis-education, corrupting the thoughts and knowing of the youths of Athens; and being godless, against the best interests of Athens. He was convicted and sentenced to death. In his last speech to the tribunal of “justice” he explained why he would not avoid death: death being either nothing (like a good night’s dreamless sleep), or an adventure of deepest and most interesting dimensions.

 

Socrates, the teacher, a person who thought himself and was acknowledged by others as a person of wisdom, thought he could improve the state of being human by good laws, a good education, and laws well-constructed in a reasoned manner by those philosophers who were dedicated to justice and to truth. Wisdom was less a matter of knowledge, and more of critical thought. Human nature was complex, but able to be altered and directed well – by the highest and clearest reasoning and good laws. Plato’s Republic is a model for a series of Utopias in which the “best” sort of society is depicted.

 

Some modern “constructors” of human nature are opposed to the Platonic. Reasoning, in the minds of some, is exactly what we do not need. Reasoning, rational thought, is just what has gotten us in a huge mess, and should be disregarded or overcome. Inferring, we are told, from other species who do not (it is claimed) even possess reasoning, is where our only future lies. We are on a path toward self-destruction because that is our nature, and we have become self-destructive and must be controlled. This notion of reason, which has led to a “false” construction of “freedom” is no longer tenable. In the words of a behavioral “biologist” (K. Lorenz: “On Agression”)) we need a group of philosopher-biologists to see our “true” nature by inferring from other species; in the words of a behavioral-”psychologist” (B.F. Skinner), we need a group of philosopher-behaviorists who will lead us to control ourselves (Beyond Freedom and Dignity).

 

Things have not worked out vs. things can work out: the juxtaposition is not exactly opposed. But what these depictions of the future – one wonderful, the other bleak – have in common is the concept of a privileged few: the philosopher-kings who will lead us via their wisdom, on proper paths. For truth and knowledge are, on both sides, hidden to ordinary view; privileged and open only to the seekers of “truth.” Obviously there is some disagreement as to the truth nature of truth, knowledge, thence to the nature of being human…

Kierkegaard:

“Step by step we have become habituated to the idea that the wretched state in which we are living is the natural condition…”

xi 201 n.d. 1854

Journals V.2.p.302

 

“In the old days they believed that whatever one hears concerns the individual himself (de te fabula), that everything concerns himself: now everybody believes that he can tell a fable which concerns all mankind but not himself.”

vi A 20 n.d. 1845

Journals V2. p.394

 

The Dilemma:

 

The difficulty is one that constantly dogs the thinker of any sort, the artist included. Any effort to evolve categories or forms adequate to the job of making sense of one’s experience eventually threatens to backlash, affecting the quality of experience itself. What reflection has brought us to think of as important does, in time, tend to occupy center-stage in our view of the world. We begin to see what we are looking for, and look for it because we have come to think it is the thing worthy of primary notice. Not even in our earliest years is experience a totally undifferentiated field, unstructured by such foci of importance: language, the cues of elders and companions, the myriad features of environment in the widest understanding of that term, all serve to direct our attentions, influence our valuations. As life proceeds, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid, in T.S. Eliot’s phrase, the fate of having “had the experience and missed the meaning.” For the meanings we have progressively imposed upon experience place certain landmarks in the limelight, leaving others cloaked in shadow. A truncated theory of friendship, marriage, or art can in time blunt our perceptions, blind us to the shifting tones that for another man, or for another age, become the very focus of contemplation and evaluation.

 

…This problem of experience and meaning only complicates when the thinker involved is at the same time trying to see his world in the light of a religious revelation. How does human experience relate to the experience of the world that revelation suggests should be the experience of the Christian?…How is human life to be understood, when some at least can claim, and believers themselves be sometimes tempted to think, that the understanding proposed in revelation is a different one from that which man, left to his own resources, could arrive at?”

St. Augustine’s Early Theory of Man, A.D. 386-9.

Robert J. O’Connell. Howard U. Press (1968):280-1

 

(The “Fall” into the human body implies a rejection of sense data and truth.)

 

 

Carl Becker:

 

“The fact is that we have no first premise.” (p. 16)

 

“There really is no occasion for despair: our world can be computed even if it doesn’t exist.” (p. 27)

 

“…when the mind is satisfied with the pattern of the things it sees, it has what is calls an `explanation’ of the things – it has found the `cause’ of them.” (p. 29)

 

The Heavenly City of the 18th Century Philosophers

Yale University Press: 1932.

 

 

Some Issues which Move this Author:

 

1. The current attack on reason! (See: Nietsche’s Prophecy: The Crisis in Meaning)

 

2. How one comes to “possess” enlightened self-interest (or any other interest)!

 

3. A “bodily” view of morality. (See: Moralit & Genesis of Moralityy)

 

4. Notions of culture, “race,” and other categories.

 

5…

 

John Cardinal Newman:

 

“I am not so irrational as to despise Public Opinion; I have no thought of making light of a tribunal established in the conditions and necessities of human nature. It has its place in the very constitution of society; it ever has been, it ever will be, whether in the commonwealth of nations, or in the humble and secluded village. But wholesome as it is as a principle, it has, in common with all things human, great imperfections and makes many mistakes. Too often it is nothing else than what the whole world opines, and no one in particular. Your neighbour assures you that everyone is of one way of thinking; that there is but one opinion on the subject; and while he claims not to be answerable for it, he does not hesitate to propound and spread it. In such cases, everyone is appealing to every one else; and the constituent members of a community one by one think it their duty to defer and succumb to the voice of that same community as a whole.

University Sketches (3)

 

St. Thomas: argument for the “Primacy of Existence”

 

“Now it is impossible for existence to be caused only by the essential principles of a being, since no being whose existence is caused is sufficient of itself to cause its own existence. It follows that a being whose existence is other than its own essence has that existence as caused by another. Now this cannot be said of God since we say that God is the first efficient cause. It is impossible, therefore, that in God existence is other than His essence.”

Primacy of Existence in T. Aquinas (18)

Dominic Banez: Henry Regnery Co. Chicago. 1966

 

 

Essence is (a) form, existence is actuality.

 

 

Human Nature: as the history of (the definition of the) virtues and the emotions…!?

 

What {necessarily} constitutes a theory of Human Nature?

 

What “is” Human Nature?

 

 

On Universals: in Human Nature…the Species

 

Miriam: There are three primary sorts of people: men, women, and children. Of these, two are constant throughout, and will always be: male & female.

 

Janis: Yes, but…

 

Miriam (breaking-in): What we want in any accounting is what is everywhere, in all times. Do you know? I was in Jamaica living in the hills with poor people and they, even they, are talking about the survival of the species. Everyone agrees that we are in dangerous times. And we must survive!?

 

H [an observer]: (to himself): Oh? Why? — must we?

 

M: The trouble is, the fact is that the question of survival arises because the “construction” of the world, the actuality, the ideas, power, the will to hurt and destroy, are in the hands of men. The only chance we have is to attempt to take the power which men got…? – and give more, take more for women. Not only change their power, but in the change, alter the nature of men-women relationships.

 

J: How will we do that? Will it help? Why do you think there are only two kinds of humans.

 

M: That’s only too obvious! Male and female. That is the basic, the fundamental and foundational.

 

J: But, they never exist, except with respect to…one another.

 

 

Virtues and their Motivations [Schopenhauer]:

 

Much of the history of the idea of human nature is filled with notions of what is proper or good or excellent vs. bad…types of persons or personal Virtues might be. Schemes of the good life, the “ends” of society and nations are constructed to enhance or control whatever virtues were “in” (popular) in those times (are “in” in these times). One approach to the study of human nature is by considering: (1) the virtues and (2) how they arose, were maintained and changed — with respect to particular societies and times, their provenience and descendence; how this affected their ethics/politics, esthetics, education toward these virtues, schemes of “having” or obtaining them, etc.

 

They are underlain, usually (but perhaps not always) by motivational or “impulse” theories of various sorts; active vs. passive (theories of “will” vs. predetermination and certain environmental theories).

 

Will:

 

The psychological-social question: Do individuals/gods “possess” wills? If no, then why do we do what we do? – life is an illusion! If yes, then of what sort(s), how “caused,” how broad, where reside, how plastic, how motivated…? Theories of life mean theories of positive will (theories of life-as-death may contain theories of will; but may not!)

 

The (Social) Reality:

 

Those who stay alive demonstrate what parents (sponsors) consider to be active wills. This is not an exhaustive truth (i.e., we are more than mere wills), but it is a way of the world, of this and probably other social species. The rest do not survive.

 

“In fact contempt for the political process is a very widespread method of masking subordination to those who direct it.”

David Jaworsky: Review of: “Robert Oppenheimer: Lectures & Recollections.” NYRB 17 July 1980

 

Will:

 

Parents teach, look for, observe, believe that their children possess a will – an active, dynamic sense of self which talks, thinks, does, has power over itself (and them). The children accede to this picture of will, and come to act as if they are actually in possession of will, mostly in the same senses as their parents’ observations and reactions. A great human fiction? Perhaps. But one which is…which works.

 

Life and Death

 

Two “great” theoretical traditions about the nature of being, of life. The tradition of and from death creates (from time-to-time) the notion that life “is” deeply an aspect of death; a preparation, a very small moment in some eternity – life, an illusion, the body, a testing; unreal in any experiential sense (certain exceptions a la Kierkegaard). Life theories which are mirror images to the death theories (not all are) try to make death an aspect of life in the sense that it is life which goes on forever – or at least till it seems to be beyond interest. The body is all (non-dualism), each moment is forever or all there is. But neither of these has a strong theory of experience “in” the world.

 

Conjunctions of Existence:

 

To be alive while particular others are alive – is in many senses less important than the particular histories through which each of them has gotten here. Those histories are so powerful that they can enable us neither to see nor to appreciate those conjunctions which some spiritual (e.g., Am. Indian) traditions find overwhelmingly obvious.

 

Spirituality:

 

In a world full of different, often opposing and contradictory religions, one can still appreciate that others believe in their own traditions, that they each try in some sense to transcend their experience (some altogether, some in each moment). To be spiritual is to appreciate this without being captured by any specific tradition, but to dwell on the wonders of being and becoming; and to not be so frightened that one has to accede to pictures of being which are not honest to oneself and best friends/spouse.

 

Human Nature and History:

 

…many questions. Are humans the same in all eras? Does different life experience — individual, age grades, etc. – make one different? How? (strength, gullibility, openness and resistance to certain ideas…?) Different histories, languages, traditions – in what senses are we children of our parents? Are these senses always the same; or can they bring us up to not be like them? Do we have equal access to the stories we are being told, as, for example, the tellers of those stories? (e.g., Confucius). In what senses do we learn from history? Can we imagine, usefully, what great figures would have done in this era, in one’s own setting and experience? How does the nature of how we see ourselves affect our theories of human nature? – are these so inexplicably intertwined that they cannot be disconnected? — e.g., is what it takes for a “humble” persona to discuss world-class theories the same as what it takes for God’s “chosen” to do the same?

 

Why the Human Nature Discussion NOW?

 

Because questions/observations of other species are quite different from the stories we have told ourselves about them: they are social, communicative, possess something like knowledge; learn, change, survive in an experiential world. Because these stories we have told ourselves about other species become important/are important in delimiting what we claim to be human and uniquely human. So the discussion arises now because the delimitation of what is human appears to be incorrect in some possibly deep senses.

 

(How, a rational person asks, could one’s theory of human nature be said to be “incorrect?” How would one claim to know what is correct since we live out our lives with respect to being theorists of our own nature? The question thence comes down to: what sorts of human nature theorists are we and why? That is, there must be some slippage between what we believe and what we believe we believe!)

 

Human Nature and Gravity:

 

More than 3 centuries it took to discover that Newton’s apple applies to the human condition — except that we grow on the ground, not above it, and falling is a relational factor, not a free-fall. Always in some gravitational dance, we spend our first two decades defying it, the next… acceding to its power in counts of years and eras. The apparent paradox is that we are, at once, gravity and users of gravity.

 

Social Reality:

 

The nature of experience is determined, it is said, by what others claim reality to be. But that claim cannot be anti-real, anti-physical in any critical sense. And where do “they” — who determine us — find out? Isn’t it a question of infinite regression? Who, on the other hand, can deny that we are aspects of a history and language which is deeply social: agreed-upon if only to talk, about…There remain questions of will, of determining what one can determine about oneself, how one comes to conceptualize possibilities of becoming (also social?), how one pursues them, etc. If I say to myself that I will do something, is it only or merely because others have willed me to will this or that? What difference does it make, if I can and do act out of this will to action, the exact senses in which it can be said to have been determined? (And, e.g., what do teachers do in the world?) Doesn’t death, e.g., become a determiner for the Christian (gets personified, etc.)??

 

Illuminating the Human Nature Discussion:

 

I presume that our neglect of the argument indicates that it has been considered “well-understood” until now; that we have assumed that we knew the nature of Human nature in essential outline, and were merely filling-in detail. Good times push large problems into obscurity and bad times unleash those aspects which had been presumed banished, or merely personal and personality quirks. To me this merely indicates that we have infinite ways to hide; to develop theories of our being which manage to take those aspects of the human condition we dislike in any era, and create a theory which declares them abnormal, thus not me, not us.

 

The problem is how to illuminate an issue which we hide so well, or even deny is an issue (except in bad times)!?

 

Natural Selection:

 

…is invoked to demonstrate, against the view that species are continuous and fixed forever; that the “mere” workings of nature are sufficient to “cause” or otherwise account for evolution; that the natural world is sufficiently harsh that many individuals of whatever types do not survive; that those who survive are either fit or capable of adaptation to a harsh (and/or “new”) environment; that those who are fit are individually or collectively at least slightly different in certain ways (minimally in ways which permit survival) from their brethren and cousins who do not survive; that these differences “move” in such directions as to “produce” offspring who are different from their collective antecedents sufficiently that they are a “new” species.

 

This is not to say that NATURE caused selection, but that the vicissitudes of life (due to weather, volcanoes, bloods, chance,…,etc.) caught some creatures unprepared, unaware, … or that it could have. Whether evolution actually happened because of natural selection is moot, and remains debatable, and to be demonstrated — if possible (e.g., changes in response to modern antibiotics). As an argument against the fixity of species, it is plausible and generally pursuasive. It is not an argument against theology in general, but opposes certain particular notions of the deity as ultimate, once-and-for-all creator. It is not necesarily anti-theistic, nor atheistic in principle; it opposes certain forms of theism, most particularly (so far) those concerned primarily with the “origins” of humankind, of life, etc.

 

The entire argument depends, of course, on definitions and conceptions of “nature,” most of which (all of which?) seem debatable at the present time.

 

The Biologists’ “present” is a period of at least 10,000 years!

 

Existence:

 

Why are we here? — often couples itself with questions of: “Are we here?” Do we exist? Isn’t “this” (worldly apparition I call myself) an aspect of…”death”, of non-existence?

 

The question implies (already in its asking, because its posing already entails a world-view; i.e., why would anyone ask about his (!) own existence unless he expected a form of negative answer?) a reason, a cause to our being which is more/other than the so-called “biological facts.”

 

What is the form of an “answer” (more than, perhaps, a mere response) to such a question? God created us; Eve sinned and we “fell” into our bodies? Always “more than” a mere biology — and it raises questions of what is a biology, and how do we claim that we know? It entails theories of “time” (e.g., when is the “present” and what is an observed; what observable?)

 

The biologists’ answer: to survive! We are here in order to…survive. A trivial fact, from many points of view, becomes fascinating when one begins to realize the travails through which we must have gone, in order (merely) TO BE HERE (and why the theologian-anti-biologists want to shorten the history of being; i.e., to again trivialize evolutionary survival difficulties).

 

But: why pose this question? — of why we are here? Why is this not sufficient…being? Will wishing change the actuality, or (merely) change our perceptions of it? (and/or will the perceptions lead to actual changes in its reality?)

 

Virtues and Emotions:

 

Either/or, in various combinations structure the visions of our worlds. That which is prized, those to be avoided, to be sought, to be frightened of…this comprises the bases of our world-views. Fear, courage — here, axes of being reside: to overcome fear — a powerful principle; the awesome power of the fear of fear.

 

One more piece: what to do with/about pain?

 

Biology – A Critique:

 

To use the term Biology or biological in reference to the human condition is at once to inform, to demarcate, and to obfuscate. Like the use of the term “Anthropology” to talk only about “others” (exotic and/or dead), the history of the term is taken as the study not of life, but of other species. In both “Biology” and “Anthropology” we become residual beings, defined and existing only in contrast with the focus, the subject matter, the others. More ways to lose meaning? — to be the left-overs in our own perorations?

 

The fact is, in Western thinking, that there is no biology without anthropology, no anthropology without biology, because humans are juxtaposed with other creatures in this tradition (body=animal/nature). Any change in our knowledge, even in our conceptions of others or of what is human, affects our thinking about the others. To state the primacy of one, to even believe they are independent subject areas, is a high order of fakery. To study one is to study the other. To not know this, to hide or deny it, is delusory or a lie.

 

“Biology” — used in isolation, rather as if it is isolable, is already to have assumed much about the life of other species (thus, about humans), that probably ought not to be assumed.

 

Life’s Surprises (in this order??):

 

1. There is continuity.

2. There is change.

3. There is death.

4. There is life.

 

Entire visions, whole eras are constructed herein: which questions are considered; which ones seriously; in what order.

 

Epochal Battles in the Shrunken World:

 

1. Justice –by those who feel downtrodden. How do people(s) come to perceive themselves as “down?” What will get them: even; ahead, justified, treated fairly?

 

Do some want control, or a little more, of what they think they deserve, or what they see others have, or riches, or to be left alone, or…, or?

 

“Terrorism,” civil disobedience, mutiny, martyrdom — attempts to “win,” to call attention to,..to make the world more “serious?”

 

2. Existence/Reality — in a world of different, perhaps competing “-isms,” the wonder of what is…right,…real, of what is life, and what is it worth.

 

To live right vs. to die right!

 

To be some -one, some -nation, some -caste:: to NOT be…

 

a. Truth vs. Opinion::Absolute vs. Relative — are these, indeed, the same arguments?? — or do their overlapping semantic fields blind us to their arenas of difference?

 

Example: of the string player whose intonation is very good:

 

I tune my A string to 440 Hz (give or take a few Hz). I tune my D and E to the A; listening for the best 5th, I turn the pegs aft and yon, surrounding and dampening the relationships until they are very good (and depend, obviously, on my esthetic — but good intonation is not so difficult to discern). And the G is tuned a 5th down from the D and in-relation. Then, I try to play “in tune,” a notion which is “fairly” absolute, even if based, in the first instance, on a set of relationships. It leaves a great deal of room for illusion and trickery, but the limits of in-tuneness are very narrow. And, it is in this sense, that we are both absolutists and relativists, simultaneously. It is an empirical question – and an important one – which is which, however.

 

The Superorganic (Agency and the Agent):

 

…or how the underpinnings of social science have become bureaucratized!

 

It was “Grimm’s law” (or Law) which did us in. It stated that language (now, Language) CHANGES. Language has an evolution; Language evolves. This was the essence of the study called Philology. And it was interesting and important news.

 

It meant, among other things, that questions of meaning, translation, and history are intertwined; that a literal understanding of ancient texts is impossible, but can be possibly elucidated by careful scholarship into the study of language and cultural change; that life is ongoing, processual and not fixed or essential — at least with respect to whatever we base upon some arche-language (e.g., Adamic) notion of human derivation whose supposed elucidation would be through etymology.

 

It meant also that to whatever ever extent the human psyche is dependent upon or intertwined with language and linguistic processes, it is probably also changing and evolving, almost in spite of itself. Some aspects of the Zeitgeist are due to linguistic change. And that’s interesting.

 

What Grimm’s Law also did was to persuade many thinkers that Language has/had an independent existence: that it can be characterized, grasped, and studied by itself, per se; that it is a “force” which exists independently of “its” speakers, and lately, that the study of language is the place to go to study the human psyche. Language is the mind, is like the mind, establishes the mind, or controls it. (A corollary is that as language becomes Language, the existence of “the mind” is also reaffirmed.)

 

Carried along on these enthusiastic wings were other superorganic concepts such as: Society and Culture, each of which was given ITS laws, its evolution. But…

 

But…there are no people; only Language. No people–> no existence, it has led to a new and modern form of nihilism.

 

The fact that people(s) are dynamic, and change in what/how they hear and speak, and that turns out — on large scale — to be what we observe or realize as language change; that fact of live humans disappears from our rememberings..as with Society, Culture, etc.

 

The invention of normality, statistics, etc., also derives from this notion of superorganic, and appears to give it substance by providing an underpinning characterization of it, which further appears to be mathematical, thus really lawful.

 

It used to be that we gave “agency” only to the deity; now we give agency to any gathering category…

 

(Cf., R. Solomon, “History & Human Nature”–>the Transcendental Pretence!)

 

Libertarianism:

 

The only problem with libertarianism (Ayn Rand) is that there are other people in the world (individualism gone wild!!)

 

Enlightenment and Society:

 

“But this [neglect of society] left the Enlightenment with perhaps an impossible task, which we are still trying to carry on today: to develop a theory of society without first taking the concept of society seriously.” (Solomon: p.31)

 

Human Nature Theories:

 

What do human nature theories include (explicitly or implicitly): a theory of the world, a theory of time and space (not always interlinked), a theory of society — a theory of the individual; a theory of causation…, of history.

 

Do these theories differ on where one’s assumptions begin, how they are put together? — e.g., in Western thought, physics is primary, being is meta- or after- physics.

 

Empty Categories (& their Importance):

 

What is there not there that is “left out,” that we do not notice (because of our predilections or our perspectives, etc)? How important are these omissions; how would they change our ideas and theories? Are certain things “left out” — on purpose; or do they not get noticed because they seem trivial or something other; disconnected? Similarly there are “residual” categories like “bit buckets” in computerese and “wellness” in the context of pathology-as-medicine.

 

The Meta-Curriculum and the Interstices:

 

I work in the places between, the subjects between – what there is and what there appears to be. Where (they say) there are boundaries, edges of subject matters, of inquiry, that is where I dance. Asking the proprietors of subject areas: why don’t you ask?, what about? — within the logics of their subjects, and they don’t and they won’t, often — because — an outsider asks; the queries which count have already been decided upon and the matter is closed. Those I ask have no nerve and are producing for the ghosts of their youths. They own what they have, and any new query threatens ownership — and because they all have an imperium – to take the right-ness of what they own – and attempt to own all inquiry thereby increasing their holdings, but particularly justifying what they do and who (they think) they are.

 

Human Nature and Nature:

 

In meta-physics, where human is some sort of residuum, human nature is related to, derived from our notions of nature and all that entails: what is life (for), what is the nature of existence, (how) do we relate to nature — causally, likeness of bodies (?), susceptible to the same or different “Laws.” So in this important sense the issue of human nature is the issue of what is nature, how do we know and study, and what is our (human) place within/outside of nature.

 

But there are several competing ways of thinking about nature (& some others we haven’t considered yet, I’m certain), and each of these directly affects how we think about human nature. And, vice-versa: how we think about nature depends on our orientation; habits, what strikes us as important questions or observations, from sickness/health, life/death, from a normative model; also how we solve these questions.

 

Does, e.g., nature possess – or is nature governed by – laws (logos)? Where does logos reside; how do we locate “it”? Is it a constancy for which we seek — and find? Is it caused — or does it somehow merely inhere? — in nature, in our observations?

 

Does this entire orientation or vision or…depend on a Zeitgeist (e.g., does the question of “existence” now arise?) — when? why? when not? why not?

 

Heraclitus vs. Plato:

 

Heraclitus: “Whatever comes from sight, hearing, learning from experience: this I prefer”. (XIV –Kahn)

 

Plato: “…have sight and hearing any truth in them? Are they not, as the poets are always telling us, inaccurate witnesses?” (Phaedo 65)

 

The Problem: that we have fallen in love with our imaginations??

 

Logos vs. Chaos:

 

The (mistaken) interpretation of Heraclitus which froze his experiential oppositions into some natural dialectic: where opposites exist, merely are, rather than as being derived from experience (e.g., the notion of “wellness” derives from the experience of being sick within allopathic medicine).

 

The taking of the opposition between continuity and change as somehow being between continuity and chaos: that is, if the notion of change, of history is considered, it would lead to chaos, to a kind of falling-off the world, into an abyss, out of control. The rejection of (the experience of) change, the creation of (a) metaphysics in which change and experience is to be considered illusory, death is banished, as in chaos. Thus any and all experience of change. Thus the creationist battle against evolution is against chaos, not against the experiential, observational idea of evolution as mere change. The danger of admitting any change is that we are in constant danger of loss of control: of chaos.

 

Culture:

 

About 1962, I lost the anthropological concept of Culture. At the least the report that a group of macaques in Japan seemed to be handing on “new” habits or customs from one generation to the next, raised the question of whether humans possess Culture in any sense uniquely. Not that I didn’t (and don’t) believe humans are unique (I actively identify humans and non-human; I must possess such categories in my deeper being), but that the notion of Culture (and, for me, also Language) no longer seemed sufficient to account for such species differences.

 

By now the concept of Culture has been claimed for other social animals (E.O. Wilson), and the notion of Culture has moved from Anthropology to Literature (as have I). In the present context, the sense of culture is that it is an omnibus notion accounting for human-group-category differences, but seems to gather very little with it.

 

On Embodying the Human:

 

What a strange notion, embodiment. Somehow some of us have discovered the philosophical problem of life and of living. Somehow this directs us to realize that we have/are bodies. The strangeness, having accepted this view always (at least many years ago) is to note that the “philosophers’ vision” is that we are and we are continuous, and now we have bodies; at least our concepts of being are embodied.

 

How — I have been wondering — did the facticity of our bodies ever get sidestepped; how did they not appear in our theories about human beingness? It was, as far as I can tell, because the question of our abilities to imagine, to live outside of the here and now, struck thinkers (especially Parmenides) as wonderfully remarkable. Thence, the rest of our being was, somehow, kept in the realm of the ordinary or mundane. Even now, we are still kept busy trying to explain how the “mind” works without noting clearly that it, as Nietzsche says, is some story about the body (TSZ,I).

 

To embody: what a wonderful and strange notion.

 

Next, we will rediscover experience.

 

Observation:

 

We are neither passive nor constant observers. If violin practice is exemplary, I have to “warm-up” each day. This entails the stretching, use, extending of myriad muscle groupings, some very subtle, some still new and surprising. But it also involves hearing and seeing. Both have to be re-exercised, recalibrated, re-established each day. Visually, for example, I work on my “eye muscles” to see faster (literally, to see more notes in any unit of time). There is nothing direct or obvious in this. I am not merely faster because I was able to see at a certain rate yesterday (though this is a skill at which I have become much more proficient in recent years). Whether I actually see faster, have confidence I can both see and play faster, of know how to re-study velocity better, or…I do not know.)

 

In hearing, I have to rethink sound relationships each day: I usually begin practice by tuning my strings to my A (often leaving the A as it is, unless it sounds awful to me). I alter the D string, first sharp, then flat with respect to its 5th with A, studying to hear the best harmony I can find; first by what is decidedly off, then gradually discovering what sounds “best.”

 

So I think observation is not so passive, and not so constant and we have to restudy, relearn, practise each day. We apparently change somewhat just by our mere being (due to gravity and other bodily changes, forgetfulness, etc.). While this may be inobvious in ordinary tasks, it is certainly true in violin play at my level, and I think it is true generally that the bodily arts require “warm up” before one can regain the “form” sufficient to perform at any previous level; certainly it is necessary in order to “improve.”

 

Other Species Rational?

 

If other (any other) species were rational, I am convinced that we would not be able to realize that fact.

 

Taking this as a given: why not? What is it about us (and/or them) which would obscure their rationality? {A major problem in our thinking about what it means to be human!}

 

Loving Porpoises:

 

Jean Houston told me that it was true that the women (on LSD) who worked with porpoises under John Lilly, fell in love with them. She offered two reasons: 1) their skin feels unbelievably good to the touch; 2) their shape is exactly how a human can imagine being, having remained in water and changed to a perfect shape: human –> porpoise.

 

Power of the History of Ideas:

 

If I re-organize the fragments of Heraclitus, to “show” that he was basically an existential/experiential thinker, who was mis-interpreted throughout Western thought to be the master perpetrator of logic, rather of the axis of logic ve. chaos, then it seems to be easy to show how particular ideas can so dominate thought as to have become the obvious, our common-sense.

 

Searles’ Biologism {NYRB 4/29/82}:

 

Having abandoned the computer as a metaphor for knowledge/intelligence on the grounds that the test for Artificial Intelligence is a “syntax without semantics,” Searle wants to replace this with some notion of the brain as “causing” mental events. This invoking of the brain, a nod to biologism but not to experience or to existence, is another form of essentialism.

 

Offhand, I prefer AI because the rules are able to be discovered; that is, I can inspect the wiring, the programs, and see if it mimics whatever we imagine human intelligence to be [Make the AI test more experiential!] For 25 years the field of linguistics which was praised uncritically, attempted to generate a kind of semantics cleanly from the rules by which we put phrases together into ideas and sentences, as if we already knew what grammaticality is, free of surreptitious theories of meaning.

 

Searle, instead of wanting to make AI more like humans, wishes to abandon the enterprise, and to invoke the brain. I think he wants to bury the problem once more, hoping to cast a new essentialism upon us: ironically, now, in the name of “Biology.”

 

 

II

 

 

HUMAN NATURE ARGUMENTS (1984-5)

 

 

The Quest for Universality

 

What is the same or in-common among some of us, stretched to “all” of human-kind, in all the world, now, in the indefinite past, toward an indefinite future.

 

 

Expressions of Human Nature Claims

 

All humans are, do, will, think, believe…e.g., all humans “have” religion, “have” language, souls, etc.

The same claims often work in the obverse: if they have religion, have language, then they are (must be) human.

 

Exclusions

 

Those humans (i.e., born of humans [Generation]), looking like other humans, who do not speak, are anti-religious, etc., are not admitted into human-beingness, or are kept in some sub-category (e.g., “retarded” persons, children, slaves) which is almost human (or almost non-human). [What is an "interface" category?]

 

a. Appearance: bodily, especially facial…in Western thought, made in the “image” of God (Genesis:1.26); usually means in the image of the “visage” of God: looking like “God looks” (face, eyes, expression) –> fear of the study of expression? –> (entering into God’s domains?? — not to be tampered with??)

 

b. Different Aspects or Attributes: different language (un-understandable, thus unintelligent?); different visage (color, facial features, “stupid”, “looking like…?); different beliefs::different God(s); different habits/histories.

 

 

What Motivates the Quest

 

a. Religious/Personal: if God(s) and humans in some [causal?] relationship, then if (I) am human, I partake in all of what Human means: God, Language (e.g., eternity, blessedness, etc — depending on the “attributes” of my God[s]).

 

b. Metaphysical/Political: if I am human, then I (individually) partake in the essence of what is human. I can do, be, look inside my own being, and be secure that I “know” who I am and what I do: justifying self-thought, self-action.

 

c. Psychological/Individual: fear, guilt, etc. A “set” of bodily feelings which some/all of us find annoying-to-disturbing, and which may seek relief or justification. These feelings accompany or are accompanied by thoughts/internal images which interact with the feelings: driving or driven by them. New or substitute thoughts can be used, often, to manage or alter feelings, or vice-versa: e.g., fear of “death” can often be managed or shifted by images of “salvation”. Sometimes these become quite derivative: e.g., the fear, of the fear, of death, may itself be very powerful and we may be moved to control or to flee any sense or feeling of fear (perhaps no longer knowing what it is a fear…of).

 

 

Purpose of Universality Claims of Human-Nature Arguments

 

Once the claim of Human Nature is made and secured, the circularity of its logic is obscured: e.g., if God, then Humans. Now, if Human Nature essence is shared by many, then a search for causes; thus the necessity for the cause of the (human) design; thus God.

 

A lack of the necessity of responsibility for one’s own character development: aids in extinguishing blame for one’s failures, weaknesses; leaves self-understanding shallow, tends to objectify self, to stand outside oneself watching, removed from action and from time.

 

Justifies any (political/moral) treatment of those who are excluded: “partial” Humans, non-Humans.

 

 

Comparative World-Visions

 

The Pursuit of Life: Not the cosmological questions — of the nature of existence, because it is ours already — but, “What is life in its living?” How “far” can anyone go in the direction of a good life toward perfection, or toward perfectibility? Can perfection be achieved or gained within what we call Life — or can perfection be achieved only upon/after death? Is life — being born — “neutral”, or already laden with some aspects of an existence cast more widely: other lives, some notion of a pre-formation?

What is the good life? — How does anyone pursue it? — Is it available to all and to everyone? — What is the path? — Who will help us, teach us, criticize us, return us to the correct or righteous way? — Is the way the same Way for everyone?

 

Perfectibility:

1) If available within (what we call) life, how to pursue it? A doing, a mode of being, of “seeing” (sensing), of knowing? Is there a model (e.g., Confucian) who has achieved a state of human perfectibility — or who has moved “as close as possible”, who continues to pursue perfectibility? Is this a “human” model? — i.e., does the “perfect one” exist essentially as we, human as we, born of the ordinary, partaking of the same life as we? How has this one (these ones) moved toward perfectibility? Can I/we merely “copy” (mimic?) that one; at the point of perfectibility (i.e., with the same attitudes, outlooks, thoughts, practices); or must we pursue a similar path or path-processes? Can we (ever) find our own paths (our “characters”)? Do these change; in any obvious or particular directions? Do we use/need teachers?

 

2) If existence “includes” death (or any states of being or non-being as we know it, or preformation), then is perfectibility achievable? — If NO — we are, possibly, forever “damned”, and there is nothing to do — then this leads to slavery or to anti-social and/or to a self-destructive sense of being.

If “existence” includes death, is perfectibility available within “existence,” within life (not usual in such a scheme), only within or upon death? By approaching a “perfect” deity? That is, what is the model of perfectibility, what path (if any), what to do: study, pray, etc. — or is there “nothing” to do?

 

Time and Existence: if existence includes pre/post life, then the time of life and living tends toward the infinitesimal; each moment very tiny; diminishing perhaps. If our “souls” exist “forever” then today is very short, indeed, as is a lifetime. We tend, in these schemes, to move toward Metaphysics, to stand outside of our own being, to live life as if it were symbolic, to objectify our selves; to separate being and existence, and to separate these into (usually) mind and body.

If existence remains within life (in some sense of being available within the “longest” lifetime), then we tend toward Ontology: being in/as process, with Life as a (particular?) kind of development/progression (regression?).

Within these schemes the question of what is a good life, what is progressive (transcendental?!) differs, often radically. While life may (appear to) be lived similarly, the valuation of self, of others, of acts and of being, the judgment of self/others, may be quite different. That is, hope and the future, may dwell within a person, or be kept outside — the concept of futurity dependent upon our fears and faiths, rather than within our beingnesses…

 

 

Sleep unto Death

 

From Heraclitus to Plato, the dualism once-established, persisted. Two categories, only two, to cover all of being and experience. What evolution that the sense of two-ness, of the one and its “opposite,” reigns, while the apparent substance, the concentration of our thoughts, finds its focus changed?

Life and Death: the questions of the Socratic sickness unto death; the aged, threatened Socrates who proclaimed himself the master arbiter of all of knowledge, these he left us with. But in any earlier age, and “still” among many peoples, particularly those native to the Americas, the question of being and experience (which may indeed be the ultimate-ultimate), was whether our human reality really occurred while we slept or while we were awake.

Among the Mayans I have known, it is during what we call “sleep,” the sleeping state — that we are “open” to the fundamentals. Sleep is when our true knowledge is “awake,” that the spirit of life (which in Mayan lore we share with some other species — or they share with us) — may enter and/or leave us. Awakeness, when our bodies are abroad in the world of what we Westerners call experience, effectively stops movement in the true-spirit world. Knowledge, true knowledge, occurs then only while we are asleep.

Heraclitus pondered this state of affairs at length, concluding, it now appears, that he “liked the senses best.” I surmise that by the senses, he meant the senses when awake (but this would mean the opposite among the Mayans because the true senses are “open” only while we are asleep). But Heraclitus was taken with the difference between the aloneness of sleep — its individual-ness — and distinguished this being and knowing from the waking state when our knowledge is “in-common” with others. Through some ironic trick of historical fate (i.e., the rise of the metaphysicians), the in-common sense of knowledge shared by persons became the “common sense” by which every individual now believes s/he knows what is basic truth. The common sense grounded itself within the “logos,” the “logic” which became the property of each individual, and the waking state became Phenomenon, while sleeping became epiphenomenal: commentary upon being and experience. But sleep and dreams were/are not touchstones of being, nor related to actuality in any clear or direct sense. The individual-ness of our aloneness in the sleeping state became the central aspect of our being…

Having lost or given up the meaningful comparison between sleep and wakefulness, finding ourselves (as it were) awake, and still not able to account for much of being and experience, the problematic was to account somehow for our being — for the deeper sense of some underlying dualism about knowledge persisted. And the quest for knowledge now concentrated itself in the formerly (sleeping) individual. The problematic became cosmological rather than ontological-in-common-sense, and we began to question [individual] existence. Parmenides (Fragment VIII) invented the deity which corresponded to that question and which would then provide “solutions” for several millennia, and whose notion of the human spirit of our sleeping state, metamorphosed into a notion of the continuity of this spirit within the concept of time which “logos” promoted, and a sense of a deity which “caused” existence turned to a depiction of time-as-eternal.

Within this construct of time-as-eternal, and the question of existence is the cosmological “why,” the focus of the solutions to the why-ness of life turned toward the notion of reality as enduring as the concept of the deity whose existence was postulated to explain ours. The real became (Pythagoras, Plato) the forms behind any actual object or event. The world of actuality, of waking-sleeping dissolved, as it were, into a world whose reality was no longer how it appeared to us; i.e., to our senses of seeing, hearing, touching, etc. Knowledge was removed from any immediate sensing, and skepticism about any present, about time and about our being became attractive as a solution to the cosmological, “why.”

The enduring deity, of which we were part and product, gave us life as one aspect or part of our existence The greater part, the life of the spirit soul which endured, was to be accounted for as prior to life, or as after life. As death reigned, life became the incarnate aspect of life everlasting; i.e., death, grotesque or paradisiacal.

The quest for knowledge, heretofore concerned with sleep and wakefulness, now turned upon life and death. The body, the senses, the actual of here and now, of change, being and becoming, became distrusted: actualizations of the underlying, enduring forms and little, in and of itself. The question of what is the aloneness of sleep, what is the in-common of common sense and logic, disappeared, replaced by the question of why we exist, whose final solution was to claim that life is an aspect of death: an illusion; a time to prepare for the truths of final judgment. But life, in-and-of-itself, weakened.

The dualism, the sense that what is, is duple, somehow paradoxical, that experience is not what it seems, but has a second, hidden part…persisted. The foci, the quest for what is knowledge as a metaphor for what is life, also persisted. What changed, however, were the salient, sapient, significant questions. From an acceptance of life within which is the problematic of sleep and whatever else is its “opposite,” the concern evolved to the problematic of death — and whatever else is its opposite. (The notion of duality, of opposites, as encompassing the entire universe of possibilities, continued…continues!)

 

 

Changing Conceptions of the Entire Earth

 

From time immemorial, the quest for what is Human Nature has extended to the entire earth: as far as it was known, and — for the rest — from hearsay [Glacken]. As the world is now shrinking in our concepts, as we can move easily and swiftly from place to place through the air, as we can conceive of missiles moving across vast continents or satellites circling the globe in 90 minutes, the sense that all is known or, certainly, knowable, impresses upon us.

As the earth has become effectively smaller, as there is actual movement from place to place, the experience with exotic peoples who derive from other, distant homelands, has become usual, perhaps ordinary. With the people has come ideas and knowledge whose interchange with our peoples’ ideas and knowledge is affecting the world in various ways. From South and East Asia, different concepts of the body, of medicine, of experience and outlook, have inspired us of Judaeo-Christian derivation, to lives of exercise, of a new sense of awareness of self, of responsibility for our own health and well-being.

It has caused a tension, as well, between our concepts of being, of purpose and meaning in life, in some, as yet ill-defined conflict with other ways of being. While we join some concepts, others seem to cause some vague dis-ease to which we react by seeking firmer ground within our own traditions. A sense of differences on the earth, among its peoples, translates often into a sense of moral relativism where foundational issues of being, of reason, of law, of any “oughtness” in our lives, seem to be without basis, except that we claim them to be…

As technology has shrunk the earth in our ability to travel, to know at least in possibility, who and what it consists of (including television reportage instantly from everywhere on this earth), an ecological sense of the relationships of place and person and the rest of life’s processes, and the inorganic, these have shown us that there are some parameters surrounding being, some limitations upon the earth, to support and nurture us. The technical-mechanical knowledge of life processes and how to alter them, has grown, apparently far in excess of our knowledge and/or ability to understand the relationships between humans and other life forms.

Similarly these technical advances, deriving from a view of human nature which, in many philosophical-religious-political traditions, is opposed literally to such mechanical views, has fought the impingement of the technological outlook, while surreptitiously accepting some/much of the technology. This seems often to result in social theories which derive historically from pre-technical eras, while our actual lives are conducted in the brief interstices among micro-chips. In this sense the shrinking earth has caused many of us to live our lives from at least two vastly different and often opposed outlooks which we keep in separate and distinct modes in our lives. While this cultural schizophrenia does not often conflict directly or overtly, the disparities are felt by some people(s), especially as the sense of accelerating change and increasing complexity of our lives pushes us in many directions, often at the same time.

Also in this era, the ancient questions of social and political arrangements are given radically new bases. The notion of the State, the pledges of allegiance which we accept (or reject) to some idea of a flag which represents placeness and history and shared outlook, is in some relation to the fact that the earth is geographically and economically ordered in different (and new) ways; i.e., the theories of the State — which still govern our thinking — derived from other times. Minerals, goods, knowledge, etc., flow like osmotic qualities in the cells of our bodies. Cells, like States, are differentially permeable. They exist with respect to some configurations, but have no being with respect to others. This fact, also, is conflictual, but not always and not in any direct or obvious sense. The temptation of State-National Governments to attempt to seal boundaries in some actual or conceptual sense is at odds with the ease and necessity of flow. We find that governments increasingly try to proclaim simultaneously the firmness and the openness of their national boundaries: war, of course, “enemies,” etc., being metaphors for the closeness and existence of clean boundaries, to be invoked in times when the diffuseness of the State seems to be problematic.

As knowledge of a variety of ways of living and thinking enters the mentality of many peoples, the questions of justice arise in new ways. Who has, who has-not, who deserves what, why…all these questions gain a new backdrop against which to compare any particular situation. The interaction between perceived and actual repression, their moves to action and counter-action, tends to form many splintering factions; paradoxically, as the world gains a sense of one-ness. Historical-religious-political-linguistic claims to political dominance are argued against other cases. Local and international harmony and peace are motivated and reacted to with more strength and violence, as all claims have global cases to support or to defeat their own claims. Virtually every claim can find a precedent claim…somewhere.

The shrinking earth notion, actual and conceptual, the flow of ideas and peoples, also possesses its paradoxes. While we believe we know in some depth of our experience how others live and think — we can get instantaneous video virtually from anywhere on earth — the presentation of the people and ideas is easily shaped and limited by governments, the nature of reportage and what is NEWS, and by our critical sense, knowledge, and ability to conceptualize differences among peoples. Since these are presently extremely limited, it is comparatively easy for even “free” presses to shape news, reduce it imagistically, so that understanding in some critical depth eludes any public.

It is in this context that the question of how to educate, to understand, to conceptualize the entire earth, gains new meaning.

The difficult questions: will understanding lead toward mutual respect, or to more subtle attempts at manipulation or control? When/how can we pursue some vision(s) of future which can listen to the voices of all the people, and accommodate to them; advance them in some sense of life and justice which sustains and grows?

 

 

Shadows and the Sources of Light

 

We find ourselves, awakened, ensconced in Plato’s Cave of Shadows. What we see and hear, when we sense and know may be only shadows; merely shadows. Not knowing whence the light derives, we do not know whether we see what there is, or some complex effect of the light, things, and events…and ourselves. We must therefore seek the sources of light to begin to know what is, what is actual, what is shadow, where and who we are…having arrived in this Cave before we could know about knowing.

The shadows, sometimes larger, sometimes smaller than what they reflect, may be more attractive and enticing than any actuality. How they move, dancing; a kind of superordinary quickness, flickerings, too thins, too thicks, looking like…mostly from what our imaginations conjure. Now they dance, now they embrace, now they threaten, contact, disappear only to reappear with an eerie suddenness, always the same within their differences; always different within their singularities.

What shadow; what actual? Where is the source of light and what see I, watching? The path: from shadows to the unclarity of what is shadowed; to the source which illuminates, casting shadows…Perhaps it is the space about the shadows which reflect, outline, highlight, but only figures as some whatever-is-not; to us watching. What trust in what we see?

Shadows are not nothing: not illusions, nor chimeras, nor tricks, nor deceits.

Let us, as Plato pleaded, seek the light, bright — too bright, that it might be — remembering that it is us who know light and darkness, actual and shadow. Let us seek after the sources of light and we may determine who we are, and how we happened into this Cave.

 

 

On Good and Evil

 

The ideas and definitions associated with the words and concepts of good and evil are very powerful in the world and in the minds of people. It is, however, clear that even such basic concepts change! What is included within the notion of the good, whatever is its opposite — evil — what is their relationship, varies in time, in place, and in each of our lives. This fact of change, even in such basic ideas, does not diminish the importance of the words and their meanings, but asks us to consider them in the broadest contexts possible.

Very generally it is clear that good and evil partake in some comon domain of meaning; i.e., they are similar, but opposite. Like the notions of other similar oppositions such as big and little, light and dark, it is the contrast, the opposition which impresses itself upon our thinking. Nonetheless, the similarity is also clear, and we should seek out its nature. Indeed, where we attempt to understand meaning, where similarities and differences are already important in our thinking, we should make every attempt to note similarities, because the contrasts always seem very large and important, and will impress us even if we concentrate first upon similarities; whereas the opposite is seldom true, as we noted above. In this general sense, then, the question of good and evil is concerned with the nature of concepts and words which partake in similar domains of meaning, yet seem to be definitely opposite and contradictory to one another. Where do such domains of meaning reside and arise?

Grammatically, good and evil are adjectives and/or adverbs which describe or delimit something about a person/object or some event: to live a good life — to do evil — I am good. The pair is generally interchangeable, and this is a part of their similarity. Whatever can be described/delimited as good can also be evil (and vice-versa). Part of the similarity, then, partakes in those objects, events, persons which can be/are described as good/evil. Part of the differences between them reside in the objects/events which are not described this way. Many things or objects are “neutral” with respect to good/evil; others do not partake of good/evil, or good/evil do not exist within them. Usually, for example, paper, or, say, a cup, are neither one nor the other…except that they may, and such conditions help extend the notion of the domain of good/evil. Paper, which is ordinarily neutral, may be good if utilized or conceptualized a particular way, depending, that is, on its “agency.” Who uses it, what it is used for/against. Paper used for a holy text may be good; if used for bad ends, may be evil. (There is, of course, a separate domain of “good for” some purpose, or good in relation to something which is not very good for that purpose; here evil is not an opposite.)

The similarities, then, reside partly in the notion of the object/person/event which may partake of good/evil, and in those which do not. Also, the similarities reside in our minds, knowing that as descriptive terms, they are usually a pair; i.e., interchangeable one for the other. Much of the rest of the similarity resides in the senses or circumstances in which these terms are invoked. It is in these latter, the situations or circumstances which call to mind judgements of good/evil, where most of the (cultural) change occurs, and why the notion of such a basic pair, may actually change.

As an example, consider that the oppositional pair is invoked in a time and place where humans being on earth is considered to be positive or neutral, compared to one being considered to partake, already, of some evil (e.g., the pre- and post-Christian interpretation of the book of Genesis). If one is (…I am, you are) generally neutral, then any act or thought may be judged, in some sense, in its own terms. If one is already evil, by dint of mere being, then most acts/thoughts partake in evil, and judgement is quite another business. It may, for example, be impossible to be or do “good” in a world where our corporeal (!?) being is a “fall” (evil) to earth; or it may require herculean efforts to be good, when, it is assumed, so much evil must be overcome. Indeed, historically, Humanism has attempted to override the “already-evil” notions of our being, and to substitute for it a neutral idea. None of this discussion, of course, either confirms or denies the notion of good/evil, but is concerned with “locating” it, in order to see what it is, in an overarching sense, irrespective of temporal or cultural particularities. Why a two-opposed category system, a dualism which posits either one and elaborates its theology through the other? Why attach a dualistic meaning scheme to our very existence? — e.g., to ward-off (fears of) death?

Beyond the taxonomic-category assignations of terms to our being and/or reasons for being, arises the question of the nature of morality. Are good/evil ensconced within some encompassing contextual idea of morality which has to do with how one ought/should be? Or is morality derivative somehow from a primary existence marker for which the categories of good/evil provide a framework of understanding or interpretation? Do either/both of these considerations of morality inhere in our very existence; do they partake in judgment, interpretation, and valuation of our being; do they provide guides for determining or judging the activity in/of our lives? The nature of morality differs considerably according to which notion of morality (e.g., as context for good/evil vs. aspects of a good/evil primary framework for interpreting all acts and being) informs thought and judgment; as well as the sense we have/develop for the oughtnesses of our lives.

If we situate morality external to living, we are likely to attribute the qualities of good/evil to some force exterior to our own existence (God, Satan, “the Force”, etc.), setting up a moral theology which we invoke to explain or judge life and activity. If we situate morality in each life and in the relationships we have with others, then the locus of the study of morality is in the development and maintenance of moral judgment between others and oneself; e.g., morality overlaps with justice. The reason to explore this latter notion, locating moral study within (human) existence, is not to deny any notion of a transcendent deity, but to attempt to understand how different outlooks, markedly different ideas of deity and of morality, have in fact sustained life/sustain life, and to explore those aspects of the secular which involve the shoulds and oughts of life, and how we maintain justice in our lives.

In this context, of an agnostic, “secular” morality, the clearest point of embarkation in the moral sphere concerns “generation.” Why do we choose (when we do) to support and nurture infants and children to the point of self-maintainence? Why do we sacrifice self-interest to nurture those who would perish without the concern, interest, and quite constant nurturance of (our) children? This we seem to have in-common with other (social) species, and may mark, as well, a comparative biological notion of morality.

We raise the next generation because we will/want to. It is from this notion of willing, and how this will is maintained/supported in real-social life, that morality gains its force and power. That is, we are not only committed, as Schopenhauer put it, to will our ideas and lives, to will our futures in the Nietzschean sense of overcoming our presents, but also to relate to particular others — our children, who would not survive without us — to will their lives as well. This is the kernal of morality; not merely good/evil, no mere invocation of any deity to pray tell us what should we do, but the constancy of willingness to relate to the not-yet-self-maintaining, and to maintain them.

True morality is located in these relationships, in the aspect of ourselves which we transform into the necessity to parent/maintain. The prevailing morality in any time/place has to do with how the morality of generation is maintained, supported, its costs and satisfactions. Herein are good and evil located, as aspects of the human condition.

 

 

Who We Grow Up Among

 

Many of those “kinds” of people now missing in my life, I seek the faces and characters of my youth’s experiences. I think I liked the Irish best: the Nelligans who lived across the street; O’Leary down the block; McDonough, Fitzpatrick and Boyle, a couple of blocks away. Today, even, I seek out those characters who are much like those of yesteryear: Martin, McCarthy, Gearity…Others, too, are missed more. All the Mediterranean peoples who found a home together, all those faces and laughs, the black, black hair of the beauty of my teen-age imaginations never settled in my present home. Whenever I travel, I seek them out, merely to look at them, see them, and wish I was among them more, with their intensity and spirit, which I miss in this land of blonds and coolness of disposition, the self-contained appearing taciturn in comparison with my retrospective visions.

I remember that many kinds and sorts lived together, that I loved seeing and smelling and being amongst them, wondering who they were, what languages they had by now forgotten, how they lived and thought and loved, trying to find meaning in a land whose life they shared through some historical quirks.

What difference, what effects, who we grow up among? Why, what I saw, who I knew, who laughed and played and let me into their lives still resonates in my lookings-out. A kind of love of all people, different, but each a sense of beauty and dignity which I could find if I saw correctly through the drab and dung of surface smiles.

Who I am now reflects itself against the mirrors of the others who saw me as they saw me, emerged to study and judge, to look for the beauty that is there; and that, that may yet be.

 

 

On Reading Texts (…the Bible)

 

“Vanity, vanity. All is vanity,” says the Book of Ecclesiastes. I love the mellifluous flow of words in the English version: “A time to sow, to reap, to live and die.” The words sing, a kind of poetry whose penetration into the soul of my being is as beautiful and as deep as the deepest sky of blackness’s starlights. They carry, as well, a sense of content, of meaning. “What is vanity,” my heart murmurs. Is my reading, my hearing and loving the sounds, is that also vanity? I look in vain at the reflection of my image’s visage: that, too is vanity? “Here, I think,” is a good beginning. How I am, what I am, is not so very deep. It is vanity, surface. Where is the I which watches myself watching, knowing what is vanity, and searching for more?

Texts which are mellifluous, which carry meaning, also remove us from ourselves, watching, hearing the form of words, flowing, laughing, crying, they enter our thoughts, moving at first between them. Then, joining sounds which dance already inside, enter thinking, repeating for the joy of the sake of repetition: vanity, in the beginning, all the world, he came upon a midnight clear, woe is me…a time to sew, to think, to know. They ring, and ring…and gradually they ring true.

What vanity, what beginning, what paradise? The experiences of life, the dawning of the I who I am, ponders. I learn to look at myself, looking; to see the world in its reflections placing myself outside looking in; to sense what was and will be; where I am, and am not. Sense, where does sense reside? What do I see that I do not know? Hurt, sickness, death, I often mourn being…

The texts, the Bibles, they sing the songs which are the sounds in my head. Vanity, in the beginning…God created. Which phrases ring more loud? I? In the image of a god?

The text resounds in the largeness of the heavens, echoing, echoing, as in my inner thoughts. Yes, in the beginning…no, what is a beginning? Whose visage is the image, where is my vanity…; beginning, was the Word?

Which lines, which words are the ones, precisely, that are God’s? This line, is mine: vanity, vanity…the vanity of my talk, of writing, of claiming to know, this is my text, my primary, my beginning. And, yours? Where do you begin? What do you tell yourself, that you tell, yourself?

What then? What interpretation, what exegesis? — in the image of God? What god? — of the day of Judgment as in the Koran? What God — of today and yesterday? What death; what life?

Words…become more than words. Life, become more than life. In God’s image? Vanity?

 

 

What is Human Nature?

 

This question has several sorts of answers or responses, because each word — “Human,” and “Nature” and their juxtaposition — have both simple and complicated histories and present realities. In addition there is a somewhat peculiar history and framework from which the question is even posed or asked; e.g., as rhetorical; as problematic.

The importance of the question and of the concepts may be drawn first. It appears clear that every social philosophy — politics, ethics, law, theory of individual and of society, etc., contains, rests upon, presumes, implies,…, a theory of Human Nature. Whether humans are “by nature,” indolent (Augustine) or desirous of hard work, whether we are, “by nature,” evil or good or neutral, whether perfectibility can be achieved within life, whether we are like other species or are particularly not like them — each of these notions (and many others) is used to construct a vision or practicum of the social order. Thus the posing of this question seems to run through our thinking, consideration, and judgment of who and how we are in the world, who we are not, and why. Indeed, we can understand to some great extent, how and why societies/nations are the way they are, by understanding how this question and its solutions (directions, paths,…) are conceived.

To return to the framework of the question, itself, the notion of, “What is Human Nature?,” usually presumes that there is some notion of Nature which is not human. Thus, most systems of accounting for our being (usually, metaphysics), juxtapose what is Human with respect to Nature, with what is not Human. Here (as in many of the H-N theoretic frameworks), responses to what is not-Human may include a notion of other live creatures, or aspects of them (e.g., their bodily forms, their “spirits”). Responses may also include machines (e.g., computers/Descartes), notions of the deity or other “Human-like” entities which have extra-ordinary presence or powers. What these have in common is some aspect of what we see as human, or consider to be “particularly” or “uniquely” Human…and transpose to some other “entity”: a god, a machine, a non-H animal. Thus, “What is Human Nature?” generally carries in its posing, some (often unstated) premise that there is some significant non-H-N, with which any solution is to be compared: implicitly or explicitly; like us, but not us. Confucianism, which is a humanism, does not seem to embed itself in a H-N comparison: other species are simply not human, not comparable. Most other traditions have humans and other species with some aspect(s) in-common (e.g., the Body in Western Thought, the “spirit” in American Indian), but what is then Human is what is considered to be different — a “large” difference, or not so large.

What is considered to be Nature, then, concerns what is not-Human that occurs without the intervention of humans (e.g., machines are not in Nature or natural). In this context, Nature includes other animal species, elements, flora, objects. Probably most important in the H-N discussion, however, are those aspects of being Human which we juxtapose with what is significantly non-Human.

In Western thought, we are dual or duple: the body is considered to be Natural — we have it in common with other species. But the rest, the mind or spirit or soul, is what is considered to be especially Human. And since this dualism runs throughout Western Thought, the mind is what is considered to be outside of Nature and uniquely Human. That is, what we attribute to Nature is taken to be totally distinct from what is then considered to be uniquely Human; what is now called “Culture.”

Culture is then, in a dualistic framework, opposed to Nature by contrasting aspects (elements) of what is uniquely Human (i.e., “mind”), to what we consider to be “Natural” — e.g., aspects of the body. In Christian theology, this metaphor of mind (=Human) and body (=Nature) is carried on to a kind of war (Plato) — the body impinging on “pure thought” where the body is considered, like Nature, to be bestial, to be anti-Human…thus sinful. The theology we have inherited is thus a Human-Nature theory, in this case a dualism, in which we are “pitted against ourselves” in a most complicated fashion.

In other, non-Western traditions, the question of “What is Human Nature?” arises somewhat differently. Some (Amerindians) contrast sleeping-waking, as others contrast life-death (Christian, Moslem), and do not distinguish between Humans and (other) animals in the sleeping state. In Amerindian traditions, we Humans share spirits with other species. These spirits move freely whilst we sleep, but are distinct when we are awake. Thus Humans are “closer” to Nature in these traditions, being — at least part of our lives — aspects of Nature rather than in any sense distinct from Nature.

In South Asian, Buddhistic traditions, “we” Humans have a kind of hierarchical progressive journey through several lifetimes, from “lowly” animal up toward a kind of Humanly transcendent perfection or Nirvana. Thus we are not different in any deep sense, from Nature, but attempt to move beyond it. To eat of animals is thus to eat of some sense of spirit which is Human…or potentially or once-was Human.

What is Human, what Nature, varies considerably in different theo-philosophical traditions. Some traditions, especially Confucianist, do not seem to even raise this as a question or issue. For the rest, we construct theories of what is Human, based on what we decide is not-Human or Nature. Depending on how we juxtapose H and Non-H, entire theories of being (metaphysics) follow from what we consider to be Human: how we are, how we should conduct ourselves, (are there slaves?), extending even to questions about the nature of time, of experience; what is life, death, the nature of deity, and so on. Thus the question of “What is Human Nature?” remains a puzzle, in actuality, but has received grand elaborations within most theo-philosophical traditions.

Recent (1930′s to the present) studies and reconsiderations of non-H species have cast new light on the question of Human Nature, at least for Western thinkers (revealed, in part, by which thinkers join in conversations concerning the so-called “origin” of Language — Americans and British, for the most part.)

While it was formerly presumed that the in-commonness of H and non-H was their “body,” field observation and description of non-H’s and the consequent observation of H’s from this perspective (Ethological) has altered the sense of boundary and uniqueness of what is Human (=Culture?). It has even forced us to re-look at the history of the H-N argument, to see why H-N has been cast as it has, and to ask quite fundamental questions about the “large” world theo-philosophical traditions (e.g., Western, Eastern, Amerindian, African, etc.), and what is the relation between the truth as we observe it, and how it has come to us, historically. Thus, for example, the recent wonderment about dualisms, about so-called human uniquenesses due to “mind” or “culture” — i.e., the other side of the dualism of what was presumed to be “animal” (=Nature”). It now appears that we are similar to, have in-common with other species, more than or different from what was earlier presumed. The question of what is H-N has shifted, at the least because our view and knowledge of other species has changed…much through observation, new instrumentation, etc.

Some examples: other species seem to be social, in deep and complicated senses. This is important in the H-N discussion because of the history of what has considered to be uniquely Human, particularly “Language,” as well as the entailments of what the notion of Language has meant. Language has been “used” as a metaphor for the Human “mind”; it has been claimed that Human knowledge and objectivity are especial to Humans, and due to a uniquely Human sociality (i.e., Language “made” us social, or enabled us to be social: knowing objects, we could come to “know” ourselves from the outside — object-ively, and thus became social). If other species are social, then they must communicate, teach, change, possess “Culture,” by most definitions.

The clear inference is that Humans possess much more in common with other species than had been thought; thus H-Nature and Nature are, at the least, in different conceptual places than had been thought…with attendent implications for other aspects of life: politics, theology, morality, etc. To act “bestially,” for example, was considered previously to be totally impulsive, tied to the present, to be body (=sex); and sinful = against God. Now, this is all not so very clear, as other species seem to treat their own con-specifics with “care and love,” teaching toward adulthood = the future!?

More: since, in Western thought, we find ourselves in-common, juxtaposed with other Non-H creatures, changes in how we think about them will affect how we think about H’s. Such changes have occurred already, particularly in the past decade or so. Since, as Western dualists, we have contrasted H’s and Non-H’s as being “Cultural” or “Natural,” the population of “abnormal” Humans has been calculated to be “less-than-Human,” toward (how we conceptualized) other species. This thinking was applied to so-called “retarded” persons, to deaf (& dumb) persons, to handicapped persons in general, to women, and to children…and to the elderly, sometimes. As we have been thinking differently about other species (i.e., more like H’s), the group of “peculiar” Humans, has been de-animalized, reconsidered, and gathered into the human “family.” On the other side of the coin, the “Animal Rights” movement has burgeoned.

We are now conceptualizing H’s and Non-H’s differently than previously, with at least two schools of thought pushing their theories, but both agreeing that H and Non-H are more similar than earlier thought: 1) the “biological determinists,” who still consider Non-H’s as fixed in outlook and composition, who want to consider H’s as also pre-determined…a kind of Bio-Politics of global control; and 2) the “Culturologists” and Ecologists who wonder how to re-construe the world of H and Non-H with responsibility, compassion and understanding, given that we have underestimated Non-H’s, and (probably), by juxtaposition, also underestimated the complexities of the Human Condition. In either case (and more positions may develop), since H-N theories underlie theology and politics, we now witness and may expect a good deal of activity and change in these arenas, as people react to these changing conceptualizations of who and what we are — in actuality and potentiality.

 

Morality: Absolute, Relative…Other Species

 

As we (currently) re-estimate other species, a number of issues about who and how Humans are, arise to new questions. The question of how we “should” be, what is morality, reoccurs in all its complications. Since, it was believed, only Humans were moral — capable of thought, of decision, of considering issues of good and evil, right and wrong — the issue of morality was taken as a given or ensconced within whatever notion of theology was prevalent in a given era and locale.

Since the idea of deity usually included a moral imperative, and the deity in Western monotheism was considered to be a timeless ideal, the notion of morality was given a sense of absoluteness: right is always right, always the same; evil is evil in all senses, places, conditions -opposed to the good (which is the deity). Any code or notion of morality which differed from a prevailing one was/is considered immoral, or less than moral. This has entailed a judgement about other peoples and cultures: if they have different customs from us, we (the “moral”) have tended to judge them as lesser or wrong, and have, indeed, “missionized” other peoples within the concept of the correctness of our moral-theological ideas.

The concept of a “relative” morality — of other cultures’ customs being merely different, but equally legitimate or moral as our own — has been reacted to with a virtual sense of horror. And all ideas which have supported a “relative morality” have been seen to be Satanic (evil, somehow: the opposite of good), and against God in a very direct sense. Thus, any shift in the concept of morality from a particular ideal/absolute has been considered to be motivated by anti-God, anti-Human motives.

Until very recently, the notion of morality was considered to be “safely” within the realm of H-N. Morality, like, language, rationality, and sociality, was seen as uniquely Human. With the rise of social-behavioral observations of other species, it has become clear that other species are social, and that this sociality includes the politics and ethics of how any one animal of a particular species relates to other con-specifics (same species members).

Since prior depictions of other species had animals being “bestial” in the senses of each animal being alone and “out-for-itself,” unthoughtful, tied to the narrow here-and-now, the wonderment of considering other species’ survival has shifted. “Individuals” of other species “take care” of one another, do not seem to hurt or kill, seem to partake of “love,” raise their young when it “costs” great amounts of energy, even in dangerous situations. By most definitions of what is moral behavior, many other species seem to be moral, at least to act morally! (They are somewhat to fairly “altruistic” – in current parlance.)

These observations and questions raise several issues, and ask us to ponder, as well, how our own moral judgments are situated. For the absolutist moralist the notion of other species being possibly within any moral order, seems on the one hand, ludicrous, and on the other, to be an attack on (the concept of) God-as-absolute.

Since most Western theology grounds itself on the text of Genesis, especially Genesis I:26 — Humans in the “image of God” — any shift in the “image” of Human may be taken as an attack on the “image” of God (often, on the very notion of God). However vague or abstract the Judeo-Christian idea of the image and visage of God may be, it has generally been within our concept of a Human body/face. For those who are absolutists, the importance of this idea of Human uniqueness being in the image of God is very powerful, and any shift in it may presage an attack on the concept of God, of associated notions such as salvation, and all those ideas which apparently give deepest meaning to their (continuing) being, and to their lives.

To image the visage of God being non-Human (for many, even not be be male) may be sacrilegious in the deepest senses. (Associated here, as well, is the other phrase of Genesis I:26: man having “dominion” over the other species. To conceive of other species as merely morally different, not necessarily lesser than Hu-man, places severe strictures on the definitions, rights, responsibilities, etc…of what is Human!)

Within the context of other aspects of H-N, namely that the mind/soul is “pure,” it is the body which is impure or sinful, anti-God, anti-Christ. Also, it is the body that has “linked” H’s and non-H’s. Thus to suggest that other animals are moral in any (strong?) sense, is to weaken the foundations of morality and the concepts of sin and evil, because it is to suggest that the Human body is, in some sense, either moral, or at least not immoral (i.e., “bestial”). For the absolutist, this represents another relativism of the worst sort, since it must be interpreted as anti-God, an attack on the possible purity of our souls…a severe diminution of (the concept of) Human Beingness. Literally, it is an attack on the Genesis notion of Creation, especially on the Christian “re-reading” of the story of the Garden of Eden: the cosmological answer to why we Humans find ourselves (corporeally) upon the earth, the foundation of sin (sex), the very notions of morality,…etc.

In global context it is by now obvious that most of the “great” world religions are absolutist in outlook, but differ from one another in various ways; some contradictory. These areas of contradictory differences, based upon absolute notions of correctness, may lead to very deep and powerful clashes. If none is willing to yield, or to leave other religions to occupy (de-)limited areas, then the politics of the religious outlooks may well lead to (religious) wars. The only alternative seen thus far is to embrace some “relativism” which permits others to follow their own outlooks. In a time of religious ascendance and messianism, however, this relativism of leaving “well-enough-alone,” is construed as an attack on the absolutist foundations of the fundamentalist religions, and may not be tolerated.

To avoid the Scylla of contradictory absolutisms and the Charybdis of the moral relativisms in which there seem to be no moral bases for living (properly), the notion of H-N seems to provide a context for a query into the very nature of morality which may permit us to understand the arguments, positions, differences among the religious (and other) outlooks.

It is clear that virtually all Humans have some sense of morality with respect to the treatment of others, and of themselves. Morality has to do with life-sustaining, with fairness and justice, with the ability and necessity to judge ideas, outlooks, and actions. Morality is also a social notion: a taking from oneself, a sense of sacrifice, even, to give to some other(s), especially the dependent, especially the next generation; our children. In this last sense, it is now clear that morality is not confined or unique to Human nature, but to all social species. In its essence, perhaps, morality is the answer, “Why,” to the moral question: “Should…?”

In the widest sense of biology – the sense of how life goes on and survives – morality is a key concept, devolving upon life and generation. The question of raising each next generation within some shared vision of one’s own life and of the next generation, suggests that the nature of moral judgment beyond the absoluteness of the nurturance of the dependent, is often circumstantial, depending on the times (climate, seasons, available energy), upon outlook within the experience of each present adult generation (each present measured against the past, but confined to current actualities), and upon some sense of sociality (placeness, role, strength, experience, expectations), and within some sense of what is proper and virtuous.

Within this sense and context of morality and judgment, the sense of a clear, absolute commitment to generation, a comparative study of morality may help further to illuminate what is the “Human” in Human Nature. Why do Humans get themselves (ourselves) into wars: why, that is, can we behave morally towards some people (ours, like us), yet kill “others,” with little moral revulsion? What are the moral “habits” of other species: when do they act war-like; how do they distinguish between “their own” and others…?

 

 

Absolute and Relative

 

Clearly there are differences in the ways various Humans approach life, the world, self and others. There are also limits to life: whatever is a poison will end life; mechanical problems similarly, too much or too little heat; and so on. From life’s limitations, from a rejection of alternatives, we Humans have derived some senses of the “oughtnesses” of life, a tending toward an absolute code of living and of conduct. Other ways than our own tend to be rejected, much as if they were venomous and life-threatening…often we call them backwards, or “primitive,” and talk of the need of others to “develop” — to become more like us = modern.

The “psychology” of the absolute is deep and complicated, and reflects some sense of an arrogance which seems self-serving, either to justify itself or to assure oneself that he/she possesses a certainty of being or of proceeding in living. The purveyor of the absolute — at least within some dialectic between some one way (an absolute) and the knowledge that there are others — tends to equate simple differences with some notion of opposition to the absolute. If, e.g., my belief is “good,” then whatever is different is opposed, thus “evil.” The absolutist seems to move within a dialectically dualistic sphere of: “with me, or, against me!” Done in the name of oneself or of a deity, the effect is the same, and the outlook seems little different.

On the other hand, those who point out that there are differences, the so-called “relativists,” are also likely to forget that life/living have “limits,” and to downplay various aspects of our being which demonstrate a great deal of variation in particular planes of existence. While the students and observers of the differences anong Humans know fully that life exists within particular boundaries, they may also be eager/or be forced within various dialectics, to promote the notion that a variety of religious dispositions will (and have) “work” to promote and sustain life; that the range of the customs of life arrangements is extremely wide. The outcome of these dialectics has often been the sense that relativism translates into “anything goes;” that there are no limits or boundaries on our life-ways.

The absolutist further translates this into an attack upon the surety (even, on the possibility) of knowledge, especially on the texts which inform the absolutism leading to worries about “false” gods, and seem to the absolutist to either be an aspect of “evil” opposing, or of a necessary decline into a nihilism; a nihilism in which no meaning in life or in destiny can be grasped and held.

Partly, this positioning into an oppositional dialectic between absolutism and relativism is due to a kind of technical posturing, especially of the relativistic scholars who want to demonstrate differences and complexity. In their understandable zeal to show, for example, that different world-visions have sustained life in major human populations, they are likely to downplay what is similar, what are the bases for comparison among different humans and their groupings, and to stress the differences. The naive, in their turn, not understanding the human commonalities, see differences as extremely large, and as necessarily opposed to their own schemata, particularly if they judge people primarily within a moral outlook, where “different” often translates as morally lesser. This is to say that most ordinary persons tend to judge other major outlooks within the same moral scheme as they judge other persons whom they know (…or themselves).

So, the problematic of the absolutism-relativism arguments must avoid an oppositional dialectic if we are to shed any light on what human outlooks and possibilities are and may be, particularly as the global village inevitably pits peoples of quite different habits and outlooks against one another in public forums; including wars.

With respect to absolutism, the notion of human, the very idea that we (can) group some several billons of persons under this rubric reasonably and concretely, means that there is a common basis, an in-commonness among all these persons. It usually implies (but not always) a set of differences between humans and “others” by which humans are distinctly or uniquely human: different from animals, transcendent deities, machines/computers, etc. What is considered to be in-common, particularly human, has been called “essentialism”: some set of unique aspects which are essentially human (& not-non-Human). And, of course, most (major) traditions have interpreted this within their own systems of thought, and usually from the chauvinism of their own particular outlooks, assuming and believing that their inspirational visions were the universal Truth: for everyone. Thus, what we have had is a number of Absolutisms judging one another from the position of judging themselves and their perspectives well, and others as lesser (or totally other); each possessing an essentialism which consists of their particular version of human uniqueness. The question, a continuing problematic, of what is really, truly essentially human, remains…and the problematic is continually enmeshed with respect to racism of a most general sort; i.e., the consideration of some (other) humans as being “not-quite” human, not (as in Western thought) in the “image of God.” (Gen.:I.26)

Some events of the recent past, especially in America, demonstrate, I believe, that our views of absolutism which may seem totally firm in any given moment, in fact are alterable and changing, as regards Human Nature. Especially I refer to physically handicapped and so-called “retarded” persons…but this covers, as well, the “women’s movement/feminism.”

As we have become more familiar with the habits and lifeways of other species, it has become clear that some/many of the aspects of Human essentialism which have traditionally been considered unique, are shared or are in-common with at least some other species: aspects of sociality, interaction, communication, etc. This has “forced” a kind of re-evaluation not only of other species, but also of (some) Humans. The outcome of this has been to note the inclusive humanness of some “different” Humans who had previously been considered lesser or inferior…in the direction of how we consider(ed) other species!

The deaf, for example, who were considered as “deaf and dumb,” are now conceived to be pretty fully Human; merely, non-oral. Sign Language is widely taught in schools for the deaf, whereas formerly it was suppressed (Sign Language is an aspect of the body, thus in the opposition between mind and body, thought of as an animal-less-than-Human skill). Many “formerly retarded” persons, who looked “peculiar” and/spoke poorly or were mute, are now living in the community, whereas previously they would have been in very protected institutions, and considered less than competent to do or learn much.

Thus, while our concepts of Human “seem” (in any era) to be stable and well-bounded, a number of formerly “marginal” persons have been included in our definitions of an absolute Human essentialism. And it is not clear how else our notions of H-N are altering, except to say that there appear to be attempts both to enrich our concepts of what is Human, and to tighten them; depending, it appears, on the theo-political and other entailments of the meaning of what is Human absolutism in our being and our well-being.

All of this is to state that a kind of absolutism which recognizes what is Human, what is humanly possible and potential what are the boundaries of (human) life, is one aspect of thinking about Human being. Beyond this, however, there appear to be many ways of being and becoming which sustain and give meaning to a productive and satisfying life. The problem in global terms is that some perspectives which sustain, may contradict or clash with others, because each may be based on an absolutism which grants its own philosophy some necessary hegemony. Unless there is to be a global conflict of grand dimension, either one of the absolutisms will “win” over the others, or a new way(s) of constructing meaning-full lifeways must emerge…

 

 

Racism and H-N Arguments

 

Racism directed toward various kinds or types of human beings has been implicit in the sorts of H-N arguments which have pervaded many of the large theo-philosophical traditions on earth. If the question even arises concerning what is HUMAN nature, then there is an (implicit) notion that someone or something is to be distinguished, is different from Human; but is, at the same time, somehow the same or similar or there are some features “in-common” in some respects (Confucianism: an exception?).

In Western tradition, the major distinction is between the sorts of mental and /or animating attributes of Humans which supposedly differentiate us from (other?) animals. The in-commonness is that we all possess or are “bodies.”

The particular and pervasive form of racism which emerges from this depiction of HUMAN nature has to do with a hierarchy of superiority that we attribute to the differences between mind (=Human) and body (=in-common) where we already assume Humans are “above” and other species are “below”; thus, what we think of as mind/human is better, more advanced, progressive, closer to perfection (= God?), etc.; that the body/shared or even, in some traditions, a mere “location” for the mind.

The tendency toward racism thus has had to do with peoples/persons/types who seem to those who attempt to “control” the definition of what is Human, to be less perfect, less mental; thus, within this dualism to be the opposite — more body/bodily and more “animal.” Or in other dualisms which seem to spread from this, more Natural as opposed to more “Cultural” with elaborations of what Nature-Culture means or implies.

The racist “strategy” generally is to elaborate the Human (presumably) side of the dualism and to decide that other people(s) are more “like” or closer to Nature. Again — in Western tradition closer to Nature has meant being more like bodies, like other species who are presumed to be less mental, thus more stupid than Humans, etc. Thus, for example, the depiction of deaf persons — who have a bodily “imperfection” — not merely as different and handicapped, but as “deaf and DUMB”: i.e., like other species are presumed to be mute, dumb, without the intelligence and oral language that are presumably aspects of the (Human) mind.

In these forms of racist thought (& practice), there is a sense, like Aristotle’s “Great Chain of Being”, of perfection, of some ideal against which we judge. We judge ourselves (usually, in racism, the judgment is with reference to “ourselves”, as some paragon), to be clones to, or approaching an ideal or perfect type or form, or judge others to be “lesser” than perfect, thus lesser than we.

Since, in Western Thought, there is a hierarchical dualism which lends itself well to higher-lower, we have generally judged things or aspects of being as higher which are more like those aspects of mind or soul which we consider uniquely human; those to be lesser which are like body or animal. A biblical Old Testament text is often used to justify this type of judgment, both in the sense of the identity of humans and the politics of being able to do as we like with lesser creatures:Genesis 1:26. “Man has dominion over all other species; man is created in the image of God.”

In exegeting this statement, there are always problems, traditions and habits of understanding how ” God’s image” is reflected specifically in human beingness (e.g., pertaining to both men and women, being a God of a particular color or visage, a God-in-process or God-everlasting, etc.), and what “dominion” means exactly (e.g. the “right” to eat other creatures, to sacrifice, how to deal with them with respect to treatment, funding, space, responsibility for them, etc.), and the perennially tricky problem of the borders between human and whatever else: e.g. must they “talk” to be human, assuming other species do not/cannot; must they have bodies just like “us”– color, size, facial appearance, hair type and distribution, two opposable thumbs, upright posture, a similar or shared history (for “religious” or materialistic reasons), etc.

Given, Gen.1:26, that “we” have dominion over all other creatures, it is clear that by defining any person or types of person as non-human, we grant ourselves the right to treat them as without rights; i.e., any way we wish to; up to and including annihilation.

Given the history of Western racism, granting “ourselves” the patina of identity, being like God, it is clear that we have defined as lesser in the sense of as inferior “race,” those whom we regard as more like other species, compared to the “ideal” us who are more like, and in the image of (our) God. [And why it is important to think about how God and Gods have have gotten endowed with their particular attributes in various religious traditions – see my Religious Point of View].

As much, perhaps more, it is important to consider what our views of other creatures are and have been, and to remember that intensive studies have shown that other creatures are more “like human” in most respects than we had believed earlier. As dualists, Western thinkers have extended the mind-body dualism to a culture-nature and to a good-evil dualism where we have considered other creatures (non-”ideal”, non-”perfect”) as being like animals (i.e., as we have believed other animals to be).

This racist outlook, this judgment of others who are deemed to be inferior, has been applied (is being applied) to many persons who differ from “us” (i.e., the ideal) in various respects. Most important, perhaps, is that the judgments have almost always, been judgments in the direction of how these “different” or “important” persons are more like “animals” than those of us doing the judging. Imperfect has thus meant: like bodily attributes; e.g., more “natural,” less intelligent or rational (e.g. retarded), more like we have considered other animals – e.g., less civilized, more tied to the present here-and-now (e.g., impulsive, athletic); less like God – e.g., ugly/anomalous faces or other physical handicaps. So the way in which we have made racist judgements is essentially the same as the judgments we have made about other species.

 

Several recent punctures in this racist outlook:

1) Other animals are not like we have depicted them. This has shown us that racism has constructed a depiction of those it deems “inferior,” not on the basis of descriptive fact, but with respect to an historical depiction or a dualistic category construction of other species. By understanding other species more accurately in their own terms, (as social, relatively peaceful, communicating, etc.), racist thought can be shown to be inaccurate, not as being about persons or other species, but about an historical tradition ion whose terms we still think.

2) Many people formerly considered inferior in an intellectual sense (like we considered aninals to be), have been shown to be capable of intelligent thought once we considered their handicaps; e.g., the deaf, many so-called retarded persons who can communicate their often complicated thinking by the use of sign-language. That is, we have learned that different or peculiar or anomalous human bodies or facial appearances do not (necessarily) imply any mental inferiority (like we had attributed to other species), but morphological differences which can be transcended once they are studied, described and understood.

3) The “animal rights” movement has caused us to consider that Gen.1:26, which may give us “rights”, power and control over other species, also makes us responsible to these creatures.

4) A new sort of appreciation of the human body (deriving, probably, from ideas of South & East Asia), where many persons’ conception of the body has altered into some sort of holism, an anti-dualism, and a sense of a healthy life. The “Special Olympics” aspects and feminism counter this dualism.

5) An increasing realization that the racist judgments we have made, as inference from, say, facially “peculiar” looking-people to lack of mental ability is an outcome of dualistic thinking of the observer, not an accurate depiction of the situation. The mind-body dualism had led to a conceptual habit of judging mental attributes by facial (bodily) appearance, and this is now changing for many persons, aware now that this inference is incorrect in many if not most cases.

It is clear that racism/racialism are part and parcel of human nature arguments; further, that the politics of personal relationships have been and can be heavily affected by theories about human beings which may be incorrect or misleading. We see and judge within notions of observation and evaluation, especially when we judge ourselves as (close to) an ideal, and others to be lesser.

 

 

Individual or Society

 

To some large degree, the human nature discussion is placed, caught perhaps, on the horns of a dilemma concerning the essence or primariness of humans as individuals, as opposed to humans as social creatures. Within the dualisms which abound in world philosophies, the opposition between such outlooks tends to favor one or the other, and usually obscures the fact that these are not mutually exclusive categories of being. However it is important to note that concentration on one or the other of these categories as the locus of our essential being heavily influences the ways in which we approach life in all personal and social terms.

Factually or descriptively, it is clear that humans are interactive. We are generational, born of others who not only give us life, but enable us to sustain it. Even though it is the individual bounded by or contained within its skin which is born and dies — and why most theories of essential individuality dwell upon or derive from death — we are seen, conceptualized, trusted, cared for, responded to within the contexts which are at once individual and social.

Moreover, they are both present and future-directed – infants and children being treated within the futurity of their becoming adults essentially like the present adults. And these time-minded dimensionalities of being individual/social already complicate fitting humans into any neat, clear, or closed categories of being. Whatever we may be — potentially — when we are born, much of our upbringing is restrictive, constrictive and shaped within limited notions of what any society regards as normal-reasonable human behavior.

It is not overly strong to report that parents, upon seeing the visage of their newborn for the very first time already read (future) character into their (social) judgement of the infant’s face. Parents see an individual in only some senses, but also what that “person” will be like…into the vague future. Thus, whatever an individual might essentially be, however clearly that individual may be a singular entity, all or most of its relations with others, including sustaining relations of feeding, loving, talk, are construed within more-or-less complicated social-temporal matrices.

Language, even, deeply reflects social agreements. The division of the world into particular objects, events, types is a social division which might be construed differently by different linguistic systems. A child is constructed, shaped, limited in many senses, by having to speak like those around him/her…in order to talk “sense”. That is, the very notion of sensibility, of being a reasonable, rational person is constructed upon a set of social agreements which we tend to call linguistic categories or parts of speech.

But all of this may seem, so far, to say that there is only sociality; there is no individual except that defined or attributed by social interactions and definition. This may be incorrectly construed to state that the individual is only, and no more than the social “roles” attributed to her/him by society- via particular other “social individuals” (also defined by society).

Instead there are strong senses in which individuation and individualization exists. For one thing, an individual is treated with a strong sense of “constancy.” Even if all of individuality does not emanate from the individual, others treat oneself as a particular “I,” a named person who was, is, and will be. Even in small societies where everyone is “in relation” to others s/he knows personally, all one’s life, still s/he has to come to a sense of self, an “I am,” who can think, reason, propose, answer, respond and be. The “I,” the individual is s/himself…plus.

The older empirical arguments for perception and cognition seem less true today in the sense that cognitive systems are to some extent socially mediated, to see, for example, what others see; to articulate language approximately as others do. The arguments from death and sickness are more persuasive, in the sense that they strengthen the notion of the individual person, and turn each of us “into” ourselves to see what is our being.

However the important notion here is that no one is an either/or in actual life. We live in some ongoing/changing complex of individual and society, where neither definition nor delimitation can be taken as a given, and the other a gloss upon it. Who I am (or anyone is) is always in some interactive processual mode, between factors such as how I appear to others, how I have defined my self, history and future and what is happening in any present moment. So it is difficult if not impossible, to discuss being (only) within the context of this sort of dualism.

What is the case with respect to theories of our being, however, is that life events and social conditions can drive or push us into a dualistic framework of interpreting self-hood: within a dualism, toward one pole or the other of (in this context) individual or society. Sickness and old age tend to push one to dwell on his/her individual self or occasionally, to seek social “solutions” to these problematics of living. It is interesting that theories of individual/society often interact with theological outlooks: my God/our God, and that this intermeshing is equally interactive and complex as our (strictly?)experiential theories of being.

A major difficulty with theories of individual vs. society is that they also “inform” politics or political theories, and policy. If the world is assumed to be composed purely of “free” individuals with society imposing on this “natural” freedom (Rousseau: Social Contract), then each individual should be able to follow his/her (unique) potential to some ultimate point. The social difficulty here, of course, is that this defines other persons as some diminishing or controlling force upon the individual, creating a fragile sense of family and society. In the reverse theory, of the individual as no more than what society defines him/her to be, and sense of freedom and especially, of justice, can be legitimately diminished in the name of some social “good.” Bureaucracy fits this well, with the individual being defined as a job description, with the often consequent diminution of self.

The existential problem, the problem in living, is also a set of problems in individual and society, but one which is not only more complex than any single dualism would suggest, but one which changes at least occasionally throughout life. One is always, say, a son or daughter (a social notion), but is also a particular person of a particular age or size or expertise. Parents die, one marries, expanding, changing social relations: one’s children grow up…

Existentially, humans seem to (attempt to) create coherent senses of self, to remember/forget aspects of this, and to carry at any and all points of life a sense of “who I am,” and who I am that others are not, who are others that I am not. It is this coherence of self which is, to the greatest extent, the individual: who lives, loves, moves on in life, creates a sufficient sense of love of self to continue to will living to move on to his/her “next places”.

But this is always also interactive: constructed within a sense of continuity and coherence which others attribute to anyone by naming, by consistency of treatment, by entering into varieties of contractual arrangements (marriage, etc.). A set of existential, interactive questions remain active in our lives: who am I (not) that my parents, friends intended me to be? – who am I (not) that my work is for (self, children, others); what will I attack/defend, in what “cause?”

All of this to state that, existentially, the reality of life’s experiences is perennially enmeshed in problems of self and society, often further complicated by living within theoretical outlooks which may stress one pole or the other exclusively. To pose a notion, for example, of diety which is exclusively personal (much of fundamentalist New Testament interpretation), is to not be able to explain or understand the existence of others (family, community), irrespective of the existential facts. So the facts, existentially, can be downgraded (via Plato’s Phaedo), and a kind of extra, invisible existence posited which reinforces the individual interpretation, but leaves the “facts” of actual life in a place of suspicious limbo.

Similarly in a social-role interpretation of the individual as entity, a creature of external definition; the facts of existence, of any sense of “I-ness”, are publicly denied, driving the individual “into” himself or herself, limiting the possibilities of actual experience, or severely shaping them (e.g., celibacy).

Finally, it is necessary to point out that almost any theory of existence such as exclusive individual or social, can sustain life if it does not totally “interfere” with the kind of interactive actualities by which living and generation and sustaining of persons continues to perservere.

 

 

The Cosmological Question

 

The Cosmological Question is the human posing, seriously, of the question of:”whither existence?” Do I exist?

Proposed solutions to this question, which seems to arise in epochs of deep uncertainty (Buber), are often very powerful. Witness Descartes’: “I think, therefore I am.” – a solution which has set off several centuries of investigation into the nature of the human “mind,” trying to account for whatever is thinking (underwriting and guaranteeing being, as it were).

The general search for causality of the “whither” of existence arises from the (apparently) associated existential questions of: “why” (do I exist), do “others” exist, and “what is the nature of this existence?” The “why” of existence in Western Thought, where the existential-cosmological question has been most persuasive, has apparently grown out of the Western sense of an order of the world — from things (physics) to humans (“after” physics). The things, the physics is the simpler: we humans are the end result, the after-ness, composed of things, plus some animating force which leaves us upon death (Aristotle: de Anima).

The ways in which the cosmological question arises also has to do with the finiteness of things and the “infinitude” of the human imagination. To be both “here and now,” and in the entire universe at anytime…in our thinking, has impressed thinkers at least since Parmenides who first wondered if we could distinguish (Frag. VIII) between being and non-being.

The dichotomy, the dualism between “now” and “forever” is an associated theme since Pythagoras posited that the “nowness” of our being and existence, is underlain by a permanence of the form of ideas (e.g. number, geometry, objects, musical harmonies) in which humans partake.

It was to account for this “permanence” of forms that the essential idealism of the human “spirit,” “soul,” or “mind,” from which the idea of a diety which was enduring and “forever” arose. It was this diety-as-solution to our question of the dualism of now-infinity, which underlies much of Western thought, and led to a depiction of human metaphysics which was dual; the dualism being in-time (the body), and out-of-time, enduring (the “mind”).

As well the question of human existence was separated from the problems of living, as we excluded other species from the enduring, calling them “body” and comparable to our bodies, which are aspects of us which are “in-time,” and led to the construction of philosophy which is mostly about human “language,” language and logic being, it has been said, uniquely human because they are/allow us to be both immediate and infinite.

 

The Comparative Vision and Human Universals:

 

What are the bases for comparing humans, and to what extent can these be extended to all people(s): everywhere; in all times?

 

E. Solomon (History and Human Nature) critizes this tendency to say we humans are all the same in some essence [or essential sense], as the “transcendental pretense,” emanating from Kant. He implies that different “cultures” have to be seen in specific or individual terms as do people, and that the universalization of the human condition is an intellectualization. The notion of “pure” reason ["1st Critique..."] is not sufficient.

 

Though I am critical of the notion of some human essence related to “reason,” I think the idea of human nature in a universalizing sense is indeed, rich and, even “correct.”

 

The criticism of “reason-as-essence” is related to the idea pervading Western thought which claims that humans are unique in soul/reason, but like animals in bodily attribution: the “juxtaposition” argument. Partly this is shown to be incorrect by ethological studies of some other species, showing that they interact/communicate/”understand” one another/possess “culture” in at least some ways which have been claimed to be uniquely human: apparently, some other species are more similar to us than this sort of uniqueness claim would justify. Secondly, it is clear if we spend some time and effort studying the bodies and behavior of other species, that the bodies of humans are a/the locus for what we regard as human. Whether our minds are unique in some transcendental sense, or unique due to our bodies, or not very unique at all — remains not very well known and moot. Even including severely “retarded persons,” they are still “retarded” humans, not to be judged as more “animal-like” because of their peculiar faces or physical anomalies. (Indeed, they have been misunderstood exactly because of this false thinking, inferring from imperfect body to “defective” mind.)

 

So there is good reason to believe that all humans are much the same (i.e. universal) because of their sameness of body. (See: Problem of Racism). The differences among human bodies shrink to nothing, especially in the comparative framework, seen in comparing any/all humans to any other species.

 

But to return to the arguments deriving fron dualism, even if we agree within the context of the “essentialist” line, there is good evidence to suggest that humans all “raise” their children to become human in approximately the same senses as all others. Whatever the potentialities and propinquities of human infants (and I presume they are extremely large), the learning of the world is shaped by adults to a remarkable extent. Development is not to go from “biological to rational” (as Piaget would have it), but to become like their parents, the adults of every today. This means that they learn or otherwise come to understand the world in turn sufficiently the same as their parents; so that they will understand one another in great breadth and depth. That is, knowledge-epistemology is not about each individual knowing the world in any direct or objective sense, but in knowing the world through others, and as others know it. It is the world of in-common-sense (as Heraclitus used that concept.)

 

The reasons this turns out to be universal are of two sorts: 1) humans come to the world in sufficiently similar terms that they are mutually translatable, and 2) each individual must come to think of him/her self as an “I.” I will call this the “essential” act of human discovery, because it can nowhere be taught. The usage of “I” and “you” is everywhere reciprocal, and each person must, in essence, “discover” that the pronoun “I” belongs to each person, self, especially him/herself. This notion of the individual, of each “I” is demanded by the parental generation, including the making of statements, of propositions, of intending, of explaining, of working at an understanding of who is that self, that individual who I state to be “I,” that I who I am. Each and every ["normal"] human being comes, through language and the pronoun, “I,” to conceptualize s/himself in a sense sufficiently similar to all others that it is possible to state that humans are essentially the same, conceptually universal.

 

But, this is a dynamic, processual sense of “I,” of self. The sense of constancy of any self, a continuity throughout life is not merely built-in, but has to be worked-at in living. Much of the sense of self-constancy is provided by each person seeing s/himself as “I,” but also because the significant others in one’s life regard one as the same; the same person, the same name, the same relationship. It is not anywhere fixed, one’s individuality attached to one’s morphology, one’s body, but because others treat each person, each “I,” as that person (grant personage). This (not alone, obviously) seems to allow each human being to be like all others; sufficiently for us to talk about some essential notion of Human Nature, and to state that there are indeed, some human universals. But these are not fixed in a “creationist” sense, or predetermined in any biological sense, but aspects of the dynamics of “generation” (i.e. being children of functioning social adults), having particularly developed outlooks upon the world, a sense for theories and problematics of being, etc.

 

How do Humans Differ?

 

Granted that there are dynamic senses in which all humans share some (essential) features, still humans differ from each other. How do we differ? Are these differences fixed? Are they insurmountable; transcendental? To what degree can we change, in any time frame, to move towards or away from others?

 

Consider language and linguistic “habits”: surely any human infant can come to speak any (or several) human languages. This is a matter of experience, exposure, and a kind of muscular flexibility which being an infant is; or enables. Speaking a given language is not only a set of rules, but particular muscular habits (of use and dis-use) which become relatively well “set” at any early age (6 to 10, or so). These habits “result” in some large degree in what we “look like” (the way we use, e.g., our lips and hold them in some particular degree of roundedness, say, or tension), and also in some well grooved dynamics of tongue and mouth articulation which is so artistically precise as to deserve to be called “balletic.”

 

Why these are difficult to change after age 10 or so is that these habits have to be altered, to be suspended (so to speak), and this turns out to be difficult, at least for most people, for several reasons: 1) to attempt to speak another language may require great change from a set of already well-accustomed habits, which may be difficult to overcome; 2) in some cases, there are new muscle movements which require (literally) new strengths whose ability is not obvious; 3) in other cases, to learn new/other sounds, one must suspend well-grooved habits, and one essentially “loses” some function — most people resist these sorts of changes (in my experience gained from violin study)…

 

With “good coaching,” however, these habits can usually be overcome or altered. Attributes of good coaching include: knowledge of the first and “target” language; analysis of both, including the ways in which any particular person (language: i.e. habits) may change efficiently or effectively; confidence in coaching and in getting the “student” to be confident of s/his ability to change; an analysis of each student, etc., etc. Whether this sort of change can be effective for all persons through all of life’s seasons remains moot. But if people are “motivated” to change, to attempt new/other ways of speaking, then most speaking habits can be altered or overcome. In many other cases, an interpreter can help.

 

This also seems true of many other aspects of our lives: including habits of thought, of outlook, of dealing with others, with oneself, and with the world. Some of these are questions of (cultural) identity, of religion, of philosophy; others, of how we relate to others whom we see as like us, or not like us. None, as far as I know or understand are impenetrable ar non-understandable to the “outsider.” So there exist “brokers,” “translators” or “interpreters” who can (to whatever extent) know more than one way of thinking and being. The differences among us, that is, are not unbridgable, but questions of interpretation, translation, etc.

 

This is not, however, to say that the differences are not deep, real, or unimportant. Experience also cautions us that change and/or transcendence of human differences is not necessarily attractive in every particular context.

 

Also, the notion of human difference has probably altered in some radical sense, only recently, within the context of the global village, as all people (virtually) are now aware that others exist who are very different from themselves…and in different ways. That is, peoples now differ from one another in a more “self-conscious” sense then previously: to some extent, we are not only who we are, but we are specifically not-like particular others: not Japanese, not Catholic, not-….

 

How do Humans Differ? (from one another)

 

To state who we are (who I am) is to select some others – usually family or derived from a notion of family [generation] – and to be “like them.” That is, we become different not because of any intent to differ in the first instance, but because we (yearn) to be alike and to be liked. As we attach ourselves, generationally, to our families and significant others (e.g. teachers, heroes), we become more like them: in terms of bearing, of outlook, questions, paths toward solutions, what we do. The differences emerge after some time, and are, in a sense, “surprising” because we had set out to become alike, not to be different. We are, in the first instance, Jews or Confucians; not non-Christians. It (merely) turns out that way, and perhaps this is a source of surprise and difficulty, and is, somehow, a betrayal of some sense of self: the first paradox of being.

 

Humans love touch of others, of self, of things. The world, early on, accessible. Later on much is removed, withdrawn, not available. Others’ bodies, at first, given freely; gradually diminished, redefined, confined to hands or to mouths. One’s own body, at first, remote, outside, surprising; gradually gains some sense of coherence and integrity, grows, weighs, analyses itself. Parts appear, some insist, others insistantly, urge touch to touch, touch to be touched. Much happens commonly, others are told how, when, not to touch, develop different urgencies, genders, to push or be pushed upon, two sorts: a surprise of sorts – the second paradox of being.

 

The Religious Outlook:

 

The Religious Outlook: to confirm. To say “Yes” to all of being, of experience, of imagination; to “see” coherence and connection, some Grand Design, irrespective of observation or logic.

 

An inability (or unwillingness?) to say, “No,” as if any nay-saying, any denial might topple the enterprise of being and the world. The irony: the fear and nagging worry that some (deep) sense of negation lurks within any destiny, positive when things are going well, but nihilistic in the (vague) threat that all can(!) lose meaning. The paradox: that in the affirmation and confirmation which it is impossible not to do (or think), there lies a hidden, denied fear that the entire enterprise can topple. Any(?) theory of meaning which relies on the invisible-to-evidence or observation thus contains the seeds of (its own) destruction. If all apparent differences and/or discontinuities demand a coherence, then it is the theory of coherence which rules life; experience will fade when the necessity to find confirmation (a)rises.

 

But life and life-with-others goes on irrespective of confirmation. Life is generally its own sufficiency — and this is what’s interesting and surprising. The religious outlook, on the other hand, does not want surprises, and is (always) on the verge of going out-of control.

 

Being and Understanding:

 

Attempting to refute Kant’s claims of human universals and the necessity for causal explanation in the world, it is evident that epistemology and experience are located (for Kant) within each individual. The individual, bounded by or ensconced — bones within skin — is the sole knowing entity, self-growing, self defined. It is the individual who is apriori continuous, self-determining toward the future, getting to know about the world. In this context and concept of individuals’ knowing, the notion that there is any common understanding must rely on some essentalist picture that humans are intrinsically the same by nature, in some universal sense. Surreptitiously, assumptively, this also carries the notion that entity-ness and being are continuous; also intrinsically.

 

Instead, it appears that humans are involved, in some deeply Heraclitean sense, both in change and are simultaneously continuous. Previously, continuity has been stressed and attributed, as I say, to the individual in some morphological sense of concrete being: concrete, I suppose, being hard, thus ongoing. Here I want to claim (to proclaim if I were Nietzsche) that the individual (now and forever more italicized) is in some complex of interaction with a few others who present and filter the world, how to know, and what is there to be known. Continuity is not (merely) within the individual but is provided by others knowing that individual as a character, as a person, as a significant someone with history and futurity.

 

In this context, knowing, being, and understanding are within the dominion not of the world but of how others know and frame knowing about the world – a rhetorical (semiotic), not a descriptive knowing. This sense of knowing is not solipistic, nor a mere imposition upon the world, but is a long-term working out of being and surviving. It is a knowing about the world, at once directly and indirectly: directly because it is sensory; indirect, because it is a human cognition within which the senses are shaped and directed by how others see, valuate and interpret.

 

We are universal, not because of any purely intrinsic knowledge-filter, but because adults of all societies engage in a similar process of educating their young to become propositioning, continuous individuals who learn language as they know and think it. Thus human universality is a kind of truth, a foundation from which, within which we may translate from one to another. But universality is, primarily, some sense of process toward becoming (an ontology), rather than any metaphysical sense of being. And it means that humans are intrinsically tied to one another in a variety of senses.

 

Within this ontology, however, a strong aspect of being is that we are individuated and individuate ourselves: thus being. But this is derived, not meta-physics, but meta-ontology is some sense following our sense of being as interactant. Thus, as logic is individual, logic is not any synthetic a priori (in Kant’s terms), but requires a different notion or location within beingness.

 

The Development of the `a priori’:

 

Though time and space (say) are usually (Kant) treated as a priori given to the human condition, they are most likely developmental. As human beings learn the world not directly (in the first instance), but as others treat the objects and categories of being, even the categories of space and time are derived from interaction with others. The error has been to consider that grammar and logic are [in each] individual; thus it followed that primary categories of space and time were postulated as necessary beginnings: beginning, that is, to learn to learn that/the whatnesses and hownesses and why’s of the world: how we are (and have to be) in order to know objects a priori.

 

Instead, the Q>R system (See: my Language and Human Nature – Chap.9) shows how a simple(!?) relationship between question and response may be developed between two (finite) persons into a system which is (effectively) infinite and located in each developing individual. There is thus no necessity to posit any sense of “pure reason” in the human condition; but only to posit some sense of an infant responding (acoustically) to its mother’s questions. Here, “space” consists of an [unlimited] set of responses to “Where” questions, and “time” a set of responses to “When.” What humans are, then, is creatures who are in some (say) touch, acoustic, visual, etc, relationship to others, and can become, processually, total persons with sensibility, reason, etc. (Total = as their parents.) None of this has to be a priori, or pre-wired in any “hard” sense.

 

In Q>R, in effect, the categories are stacked by the mother; the child’s response furthers the relationship as well as establishing the category: finite becomes non-finite without any claim to the uniquenesses or “God-givens” of the human condition; no individual minds having to be creative to develop the imaginary and a priori categories by which knowledge is made possible.

 

This is not to say that humans are not reasoning, clever beings; only that we principally become, and are not merely created in full measure.

 

This is in response to the following from Kant (CPR, book 1).

 

“But though all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it arises out of experience. For it may well be that even our empirical knowledge is made up of what we receive through impressions and of what our own faculty of knowledge (sensible impressions serving merely as the occasion) supplies from itself. If our faculty of knowledge makes any such addition, it may be that we are not in a position to distinguish it from the raw material, until with long practice of attention we have become skilled in separating it.

This then is a question which at least calls for closer examination, and does not allow of any offhand answer: – whether there is any knowledge that is thus independent of experience and even of all impressions of the senses. Such knowledge is entitled a priori, and distinguished from the empirical, which has its sources a posteriori, that is, in experience.”

 

Here, I have suggested that there is no a priori knowledge necessary [to any theory of being]. The question remains: what is the nature of experience, what are its loci, etc. Again, even experience is not merely located in the individual, but with and with respect to social interactions. If there is an (necessary?) a priori, its locus is in the relationships between persons, not within whatever is called knowledge. This, it seems to me, reconciles rationalism and empiricism (i.e., Q>R). Thought has its basis, its method, its impetus in Q>R, while experience informs which aspects of Q and R are propositionally appropriate and/or evident.

 

Why?

 

Why? – does the problem of existence reduce, come down, to the nature of the question: Why?

 

Why this; why that; why and why-not? – all demand some sense of satisfaction. An incompletion, we suspect, wanting answers which satisfy.

 

“Because”, that’s why. Because and why occupying some special space which states and justifies that we are. Why existence? To answer the question, why, with a because that rings true.

 

Because the world is, we are; because we are, the world is: a story and its inversion in either order generates a world-view which compels and informs life and living. Why?

 

Why ask? Why not merely live? Why not live, merely?

 

A child asks;”why?” The parent answers:”because.” Because that is how I say it is. Why? – a way of relating one generation to another.

 

Why? – in the Q-R system, not any simple question yielding a single set of responses; not a simple set of answers to a single question. Why? – derived from prior questions such as when, where, who, what, how many…just beyond, which!? Why – no simple question of existence, but a kind of conclusion which ought to confirm the “propositional person,” but leads as easily to questioning the question: why-not?

 

Why cannot (really!?) question existence because it emanates already from existence. Why existence – does not lead to: do I exist?! But historically it has and the problematics of existence, of why and because, wonders us that it has caused this wonderment.

 

Whose fault; why? What worries, what nags at existence? Does death inform the why-not, thence the why? To-be always in skeptical opposition with not-to-be from Plato to Shakespeare to Heidegger. What fear, what is fear that it poses its own why?

 

“Where” do the emotions and questions interact? Or is it that texts de-texture life, abstract and remove us from existence just so far that we wonder if we are? What is the relationship between: “why” and “if?” Do they slide upon some slippery slide from “because” to “then?” Why – because::if – then. Is the slippage of existential surety located in these four dots [::]?, which form some logical foundation? Is mathematics “iffy?”

 

Doesn’t all of this depend on some materialist notion that physics precedes being? This is, perhaps, why “why” is problematized, and metaphysicians are always trying to catch-up, running upon some philosophical treadmill, always running in place and seeming to get somewhere.

 

Truth and Survival:

 

Any species (any individual, any…every) which has survived to [this] present, must have a deep sense for truth of being and of the world. Whatever is true, whatever is rational, the survivors-who-know partake of it. Each “species” owns or controls a sense of reality which is sufficient to survive (at least). Thus rationality, a sense of knowledge and truth concerning the world is not restricted to human beings alone.

 

This is not to say that survival is the same exact nature for all species, because the Umwelt, the ecology (etc.) of the world may be, and is quite different for various species; only that survival, thus present or proximate existence partakes of the truth, almost by virtue of its being. To whatever extent truth equals science, then each surviving species is scientific, querying, testing, responding to the world.

 

More, however, in the context of species-as-social, is that it is the adults who know, who are rational in their own terms, who pass this on, via development to their young. Becoming is not merely growing up physically, but is a particularity of being, shaped to be like that of the surviving adults.

 

In this contest, skepticism disappears or reduces to an experiential non-counter.

 

Natural:

 

“Natural! natural! yes, no doubt, natural. But what do they mean by this word? Are the sounds of a flute natural, if by this word we understand a thing that only nature makes?” (J. Joubert – Notebooks – 1803)

 

“Finally, when you can’t find the word you were looking for, you put down the word that was there, which might lead you to it without your knowing how. This is in fact natural, for nature carries you to it.” (J. Joubert: Notebooks 1803).

 

NATURE: REMOVED, WITHIN; where is Nature/where are We? Today I go to visit a Dr. Mead who will do some magical reflection and refraction, checking the lenses of plastic which alter my own eye’s lens to see what and if I see…well. Would I even survive if I were truly “nature’s” creature? But aren’t lenses natural: isn’t plastic natural? Where does nature begin and end? Where do Humans?

 

NATURE’S TIME: The creatures now upon this Earth (or most of them) got here through some process of being, becoming, surviving, changing in ways associated with nature: natural causes, natural selections working upon willings to continue, interests in remaining. What was Nature, remains in some senses and extents, but what was is not now. Pre-Cambrian, before Life, is not now. NATURE thus has its time, is in time, process, and we are aspects of it.

 

NATURE:FIXED::NATURE CHANGING — some deep confusion between two views of NATURE, depending on one’s view of Where is Human with respect to nature, and how changeable are Humans. Two views of Biology=NATURE: one with respect to [Judaeo-] Christian understanding of Creation. Here, NATURE is changing, evolving for Biology and NATURE was fixed once and for all by an unchanging GOD. But, NATURE is Biology is fixed with respect to an essentialist view of HUMANS being outside of NATURE, from the perspective of a dualism of mind/body.

 

NATURE/NATURAL: Some sense of the mechanical-material body existing upon its own “plane” within NATURE: feed it right, exercise it well, it will grow properly, become strong, remain healthy. Here, NATURE and HUMAN are in some harmony of synergy. The up-side of homeostasis, a short-term view of bodily vigor.

 

NATURE –> AN EXCUSE: To do what I (want; must) do. Since (it says) I am nature/nature’s creature, what I do must be “natural.” Shades of de Sade, of all those who want to live out their passions, not wondering who I am that I am at once self-contained and boundless, redounding my life on and with others. Somewhere in this melange the arenas of confluence of self and morality and social theories; some sense that each individual exists independently in the most “important” senses of being.

 

NATURE –> An Ordering: from the physical-material objects in nature/found naturally, to the earliest = lowliest life-forms, to humans in some Aristotelian Scala Naturae, a sense of history, of development, of progression which develops, infers its own causal nexus: a god; a reason::toward god; toward reason.

 

NATURE’S “LAWS”: an always, an ever, the Laws of Physics always operate; –> Life, a mix of Nature/some other idea (“Culture”). The body in Nature –> the mind outside; leads to the sense of permanence/change which is the dualism of Western Thought. The more real, the Natural is the permanent, the always-operates –> life, less real, leads to the development of life-as-illusion.

 

NATURE & SKEPTICISM: to whatever extent we imagine ourselves removed, remote from what is NATURE, to that extent we often feel skeptical about our Human ability to know anything. All this in spite, somehow, of knowing what and how we know, all this “ordinary” knowledge recedes into some crack while we sit, oracle-like, removed from NATURE berating knowledge and congratulating human dignity that we are not (any longer?) bestial. Nasty beasts do not know, they are (we say) in NATURE, totally in the contexts of their own being, and here we are above, beyond, outside of NATURE, half self-congratulating half-wishing we could return to some Jungian before-hand where simplicity and contentment must have resided. Or we wish ourselves back to Adam’s (Adamic) language, in which he was given the true (natural) names of all the things, all the species. Here we are, half-smug, half-self-doubting that we are capable of anything except doubt, even about that knowledge by which we have come to this position of arrogant stupidity doubting existence. [contra-Hume].

 

NATURE: its invocation a bad intellectual habit? It is mostly technology, after all, which has gotten us to this place which seems outside of NATURE. From writing, to levers, to replaceable teeth, eye glasses, modern medicines, most of them are technique. The claims of Culture and Civilization depend on techniques of farming, of transportation to set up the scales of living together in droves which have led to the concept of city and state which have then refiltered our thinking about who we are and why we are not who we claim we are not.

 

NATURE – a fear of Self: the Western (esp. Christian) worry that we (each I) is at once in NATURE, but also outside. The body, like beasts — of earth to return — the mind soaring cast upon the infinite viewing its own corporeal placement, yet pulled upon by the passions which are the body, the earth, NATURE. “What fear?” you ask. The fear of the loss of control, the taint of evil, of the sin which the fall from Heaven forced into the loins of our parents whose minds could not control the demands of earth and NATURE upon their loins conceiving the I which worries about itself worrying ands fears its own experiencing of fear. And where to locate those fears and worries; how to identify which are to be trusted, which not? Does evil, the Satanic forces which bedevil the mind, is this the same as NATURE? (The real psychological problems (?): that my NATURE will take me over, causing me to think thoughts, or worse, to do things I — the I of who I really hope and wish to be, the Heavenly, spiritual I — do not want to do beyond my control…Worse, that having thought them, that having done them, I cannot relieve the guilt, cannot relieve the remorse which will ensnare me deeper, capivating me in the part of me which is NATURE, which is at war with the self I tell myself I truly want to be and to love. Each day (every moment) [always] coveting something I am not, cannot, will not be. And who else is involved, what temptations, what weaknesses…will NATURE out? If I give-in, do I die? …if I do not?

 

Human Reflections:

 

We see ourselves reflected in the surfaces of various “objects” – mirrors, robots, faces – to name some…

 

How real are these reflections in the insides of our mentalities? Is the face I see as me, the character who I am? Created in the image of a god whose portrayal glances back out at me when I look into the silvered glass? Do I memorize the face in the mirror, carrying that image with me, in me, as me, when I walk around, unreflecting. Is the notion — to reflect, a mental thought-deepening, a considering — apt?

 

Others’ faces! When they look upon me, whom do they see? How much me; how much they? Which cast of character, the sour, somber, sarcastic me; the weak, asking to be taken-care-of; the wise, strong, wondrously penetrating me — which one does anyone see? Me, I, looking at them…seeing, judging, which faces, which countenances affect me, looking back, looking inward? What power, what confusions, masks? Who is someone that s/he is not? What she, what he, what effect gender upon my seeing my self in their faces, telling me who they are they I am not…that I am?

 

Dolls looking human-like, like children mostly with big heads with big eyes pasted upon them looking at us looking at them, seem almost human, yet are not. They are dolls, they do not move; yet we endow them what we want and what we will, our names, our talk, our imagination…talk, touch…little demand, less corrective. Are they more human, and we less? Do dolls diminish us? Do they provide time-out, safe harbors, where they speak out and speak back only within our own terms? What terms, dolls? Human faces, young; human-like bodies, now more and more real-like, with clothes and paper cut-outs, now able to pee and talk and do the things that humans do…still passive except in the fantasy of Nutcracker Suites’ momentary movements to enlivenment, or the morality of Pinocchio’s wanting the passions that most of us only test and fear and cannot recover from, often, in our having actualized them.

 

Now all combined in computers and robots: mirrors, pets, dolls, endowed with a sort-of thinking, a being looking back at us, who yet (as yet) makes no moral judgements. More than a doll, more then a pet — do they teach us…how to touch them? As they, the Its that were, become more like humans, do we become less, like human? Fun? Games? Serious?

 

Lights:

 

LIGHTS: Illumination, the Festival of Lights, enlightenment, a candlelight ceremony on Christmas Eve, all speak to the sense that we live greatly in darkness. From Plato’s Cave where we ill distinguish what is from what is shadow, there is some push upon some of us to seek the light too, in the path to the place of knowledge leading to the truth. Strange, then, the inversion: any idea which claims its own truth gathers light to proclaim itself — as if the metaphor of light is sufficient to convince us of its inherent correctness; and it often works. Is it this proprietary utilization of the metaphor certifying what is truth, that is the major mark of civilization?

 

LIGHT AND LIFE: In certain ways life is a coming to our senses. Seeing is, for many, the major sense and light is its mode and vehicle. Before life, after life, there is no sense, no light, no being. The mode of life as soul and mind takes the light of our lives and extends it into other realms of our being: into dreams, onto the before and after-life so that light is everywhere, being is all illuminated. And the world of sense, of experience is not different in its essence from any other sense of being or of knowing. How sad, somehow, that the gift of life which is ours seems to want to diminish itself.

 

UNNATURAL LIGHT: Is not the light of day sufficient? No more do we live our lives bound by sun and moon. In the morning in the winter we arise before the sun, lift a bit of plastic, create kitchen light and the heat which keeps bones from splintering of frost’s expansions. Light, heat, yet nature, occurring within my control seems somehow unnatural. Life’s rhythms, now self-determinable out of sun’s phases, away from the lives of the plants which feed us. Yet we seem not so tied, not so dependent, not near yet not so far from a sense of Nature empty of Human intervention. Not as before, now we seek light and find it fired by channeled elections within the houses which keep out cold. Where have we come then; by what paths; what directions hence? Unnatural light: does it cast no shadows to be brushed aside revealing Truth?

 

Characterizing Humans –> Person(age):

 

The symbolic self, the dual who I am that is not from my “inside,” the character that others see in me, which others see me as, is endowed “upon” me in the first few moments of life’s infancy. Because…we are creatures of the face, because we see into newborns’ faces destiny and destiny in the new face of each day’s awakenings, because…thus, we are already in the “minds” of others, their own projections of our characters; who we are seen as; whom we are seen to be constructed out of the life experience of the viewers viewing our newborn faces: mouths, noses, eyes constructed upon some ground of cheeky flesh — a face, a who, a person, personage is that we adults say s/he is. Genders extrapolated to a facial future, a who who will be like me one day looking upon a self-same sense endowing character to a fledgling flesh-ling. Thus the beginning, the origin of character, of a self which other(s) imbue us with…

 

Human Nature and the Notion of The State:

 

Have our theories of what is Human and what is Nature been determined principally, primarily within the context of city/state?

 

What alterations, what pressures on the concepts of Human Nature within the sense of the Global Village, of the entire earth and all its populations?

 

It is now possible, indeed (I suspect) the information is available on who/what all the world’s peoples are “like:” how they are and how they are different from “us” and from one another. The U.S. in a peculiar position because “everyone’s here” in some sense or other, and we have trouble transcending local views with respect to such issues as “class,” “intelligence,” “habits,” etc. For some of us distance from home is easier, transcendent — others, far away, are placed upon pedestals; we concentrate on their theories, and our sense of what is best, most romantic, “highest,” about them. For others of us, we judge morally with us at some epicenter, and others all diminished, possibly dismissed. Many of us cannot get past the prejudices and observations from our own houses or communities.

 

From far away: different societies, different religious and philosophical traditions. What is a person, what is human nature, or experience, within other traditions? What alters when traditions inter-mix: actually (as in the U.S.), or their traditions (e.g., Far Eastern, S. Asian views of medicine and the body)?

 

When they actually intermix, which notions of each are called to attention/pushed away? Do they find common grounds and focus on these; or do they, seeking to maintain integrity push these away? What do (our) Jews do in America (for example), focusing on a mutual life covenant, in a Christian world which is obsessed with death? Didn’t Confucianism, upon defending itself against Buddhism alter itself drastically, focusing on metaphysics, weakening its powerful notions of a perfectible ontology?

 

Have our concepts of morality, the Brother-Sisterhood of humankind been extrapolated from knowing a few others (and ourselves), thence extended to all the world? What problem the differences in history which bind us (blind us?) and others to particular understandings and interpretations of human beings? What if “they” do and act differently than we thought: do we revise us; them?

 

What concept of “authority” is there in the world? Wise men, wise women? Do concepts of knowledge alter (besides technology which has claims to be “universal”)?

 

Does knowledge (as Nietzsche claims — Gay Science) simply “satisfy” the ordinary person, making the unknown appear known or controllable? In what context: state/nation — does this notion of knowledge gain power? Does each individual diminish in “size” when the sense of the state spreads to the world? — or does it enlarge as the near powers themselves become diminished? –> more or less “access” to the effective world!

 

Proper Judgment:

 

Why does each place and age have to think that its moral judgment is the proper judgment — for all places, all times? (Each subject, religion, discipline, each…?) What theories of being and of nature are general to all of judgment: which are particular, and how do we tell which is…?

 

If…I hated my self, my ability to judge my self, my hatred would itself always be insufficient. Not even to despise my own despising, or to love my own despising…it is a puzzle.

 

To write, to compose, to formulate even two words in a row requires judgment. I(!) do not (I think) perform amanuensis; no demons or gods speak to me in any language that I hear to write down, so I make it all up. My head does not buzz on its own. I think I make it talk, like this talk — talk judged.

 

For me, I am as large, as important as the entire universe. I say what is what…each day, all the day.

 

But where do I garner the means to judge, to judge judging? A matter of taste? But much of what is taste seems learned? — food, music, ideas… How much, which parts are confidence and strength? How willing or able am I to pay the prices for being wrong; for having been wrong? When do I/we cover, protect: when, bold? When should/must I change?

 

How much, what part, does moral judgment play in formulating, justifying theories of Human Nature? Are we talking of truth, of justification, of just keeping calm?

 

No More Primitives:

 

All the world’s peoples are becoming urbanized, parts of a world culture, or living to some extent with respect to a knowledge that the world is vast and the peoples are many. While all people “live off the land” in sone ultimate sense, the primitives — hunters, gatherers, those with little technology, less of the “artificial,” close to the natural, those whose lives co-exist with and within the rhythm of the solar, lunar, seasonal cycles of the “world-as-it comes,” such people hardly exist any longer. Perhaps they have progressed, becoming technologized, becoming…civilized; perhaps…not.

 

The difficulty (for this is what it is) is that we no longer know how to locate Nature within the Human condition…and part of why I claim that whoever controls the definition of Human/Nature controls destiny.

 

When there were Primitives (Savages,…) we could point to them to see, quite closely, a good approximation, we thought, what is natural to humans. We were (are?) quite concerned with notions of difference – placing them within some sense of (usually, linear) history. They, these primitives, were “longer ago;” we (always we and they) were modern, today, civilized, progressed beyond and after; we- culture::they-nature. By these means, we could “measure” (and much of the theory about Human Nature concerns itself with the nature of such measures; e.g. the dualism of mind/body) and claim to be more than…they. But now with no more primitives we seem to have lost our measures. At the least we are threatened with the loss of measure and of locating ourselves — possibly why we find the reinvention of racism persuasive and important.

 

But the loss is not simply a problem of comparison and of difference: it involves a scheme of historical development. Thus history becomes problematic in some ways. It involves questions of how to live properly or well, of morality and the oughtnesses of life, because many of these derive from notions of “how far” we are from a Nature which (we have presumed) does not give a hoot for morality. It involves the question of what is Human — anew…!

 

Religion as Theatre:

 

Living in a place and time where the major religion has been in pursuit of the “holy” dollar, where a liberal-secular outlook has ensconced the real work of societal maintenance in a bureaucratic outlook whose principal existential problem is boredom, it is amazing to come to realize how much of the theatre of life there can be. Here and now we seek to be entertained as passive observers watching images, listening to electro-mechanical recordings of people’s talented spoor-ings and embroidered detritus. Yet, for the inspired to be inspired, there is much more.

 

Perhaps it is all imaginary; tales about the god of fear, of strength, of vengeance, of all of creation; of the god who spoke to us when we humans were very “young;” of birth and life and death and a raft of stories to instruct us in how to think and do and judge. And many people thus construct this world as theatre where each of us is in constant, that is every minute, relation to the forces and the stories and we are all partakers in the drama.

 

“Tell me, tell me again and again and…again,” seems to the rest of us, those who sit outside of a theatre which we do not see as drama, as a boredom, a kind of weakness to be “believers-in,” to be bowers-down-to. Yet, to those inside, it is constantly exciting, constantly dangerous, a necessity to engage, to read and think and know, a real seriousness: the space, the words, the songs and music all speak of transcendent worlds, of a beyondness which casts experience right smack upon the stage…the rest of us standing outside in the marketplaces, looking, vending, selling; not seeing, not hearing the applauses of the believers whose theatre is replayed each day or week, and the believing actors are participants in their own lives…Luckily, for the ongoingness and presentation of self and of life, we are much more complex creatures than we tell ourselves we are.

 

LUCKILY: FOR THE ONGOINGNESS AND PRESERVATION OF SELF AND OF LIFE, WE ARE MUCH MORE COMPLEX CREATURES THAN WE TELL OURSELVES WE ARE!

 

The Second Attention (Castaneda):

 

Being trained to be a philologist, concentrating on seeing what is known, but out-of-awareness…the orderliness and systematicity of how we speak and hear, why we are linguistic comparators as we hear dialect differences, the senses in which we maintain life and our ongoingness while telling ourselves stories about being (and our own being) which are often illusory or do not pertain; how we get from here to there and back and map in the complexities of the dynamics of moving.

 

I write (formerly, when this was drafted) with pen, cursive squiggles in small muscle movements; squiggles which I “tell” my hand to write, and it does, and it amounts to words which mean what I mean them to mean. So…knowledge — none of which I can talk about much, except in the doing and their being…and, so what?

 

What can it mean that my physiology has a “life of its own?” The heart is independent? What does my hair “know” about its own functioning; about “my” functioning? Does it need to know? Is there knowledge without self-consciousness about knowledge (or is this merely a question about, e.g., perspective)?

 

What, then; where then is our nature? Which is the strongest; which, independent and in what senses? Does knowing more (and more) about ourselves help?

 

According to Nature: (Nietzsche – Beyond Good and Evil #9)

 

“You want to live `according to nature’? O you noble Stoics, what fraudulent words! Think of a being such as nature is, prodigal beyond measure, indifferent beyond measure, without aim or intentions, without mercy or justice, at once fruitful and barren and uncertain; think of indifference? To live – is that not precisely wanting to be other than this nature? Is living not valuating, preferring, being unjust, being limited, wanting to be different? And even if your imperative `live according to nature’ meant at bottom the same thing as `live according to life’ – how could you not do that? Why make a principle of what you yourselves are and must be? – The truth of it is, however, quite different: while you rapturously pose as deriving the canon of your law from nature, you want something quite the reverse of that, you strange actors and self-deceivers! Your pride wants to describe your morality, your ideal, to nature, yes to nature itself, and incorporates them in it; you demand that nature should be nature `according to the Stoa’ and would like to make all existence exist only after your own image – as a tremendous eternal glorification and universalization of Stoicism! All your love of truth notwithstanding, you have compelled yourselves for so long and with such persistence and hypnotic rigidity to view nature falsely, namely Stoically, you are no longer capable of viewing it in any other way – and some abysmal arrogance infects you at last with the Bedlamite hope that, because you know how to tyrannize over yourselves Stoicism is self-tyranny – nature too can be tyrannized over: for is the Stoic not a piece of Nature?… But this is an old and never-ending story: what formerly happened with the Stoics still happens today as soon as a philosophy begins to believe in itself. It always creates the world in its own image, it cannot do otherwise; philosophy is this tyrannical drive itself, the most spiritual will to power, to `creation’ of the world, to causa prima.”

 

A Priori Categories:

 

Pure reason? Space and time are givens, inbuilt, prewired, innate? No! I don’t agree.

 

Each era seems to need its own a priori’s, plans to begin to assist in their accounting for the human condition or what is human. Give me, say, space and time (Kant) or my right hand (Wittgenstein, On Certainty)…But, is this the case?

 

I (I!) need only to observe that the newborn is an organism, but hardly so independent; barely an independent entity, but an aspect of its mother and others who may feed `it.’ What is `innate,’ has much to do with the relationship of infant to (its) mother. What is learning, what is knowing is not knowing the world with or from some a priori categories, but a learning of the world as an (in)direct consequence of knowing the mother and oneself; the mother-as-oneself…

 

The categories of space and time (e.g.) are aspects of this relationship between newborn and mother. The mother effectively poses the world as questions, and the infant `knows enough’ to respond: to the breast, to mouth-openings, to a touch on the cheek. A little later – to words which elicit responses; i.e., to questions such as who? when? where? what?: persons, time, spaces, objects.

 

The need to postulate space and time (sic!) as categories arose because the wonderment persists concerning how finite creatures (might) partake in the infinite. The solution since Kant, at least, has been to postulate an infinite (a priori) human mind. However, the system of Question and Response shows that a response set of infinite membership is sufficient to explain the human ability to imagine without insisting that we are created that way (e.g, in God’s image).

 

[This is neither to argue directly against any concept of an infinite deity, nor to argue that other species are or are not infinite. It is to argue that language is no less finite than any other aspect of our being-ness!]

 

Technology and Human-Nature Arguments:

 

Why does it appear so difficult to discuss the relationship, impact, importance of technology (especially biotechnology) to human nature?

 

Is it the kind of dualism, the corporeality and material basis of technology which can replace or interchange “organs” and tissues (physics vs. meta-physics)? Is it that the human can “lose” everything except the head and its enclosures (the brain and its casing) without losing its essence: the “person?” That this physics of our being is prior in the sense of “being of the earth,” thus external to our being (at least after some age and life experience: say, 5-6 years)? Is it that anyone’s life can be materially altered and replaced to such an extent that the science-fiction story of the person’s life preserved in the “brain and the eye” is no longer science fiction — at least in our thinking?

 

Are machines one sort of thing with respect to our being (e.g. mechanical hearts/pumps), and part replacements from other persons(?), other creatures (baboons, pigs,…?), another? When does the “essential” individual disappear? — legs, genitalia, liver, lungs, hearts, eyes, teeth…?

 

[When does the individual, the person, "appear" -- at conception, at birth, at the age of propositional languaging?? -- is this the other side of the same question; an aspect of it...or something other? Should we include the question of "What is an individual?" in this context? Why/why not?]

 

Is the lack of discussion due, then, to the (apparent) fact that each replacement while spectacular at first, seems not to interrupt any person’s, any individual’s sense of integrity and of being? (Although wearing an ocular prosthesis since age 7 has certainly affected my life, if not exactly shaping it!) Is there, do we/are we/have we some “Will to Life” (a la Schopenhauer) which permits this “mediation” of our personages without upsetting our “integrity”? Does this sense of continuity of personal integrity…”fend off” any critical discussion?

 

Or: are most H-N arguments conducted around the issues of what is particularly human that is distinct and unique — not from physics and materiality but from other forms of life. Probably not? — because the replacement of human hearts by baboons’ is no more/no less difficult than the other, material arguments. Is the problematic of lack of discussion due thus to some issues around a species (human and not-H) argument?

 

Or: are these somehow moral/ethical issues which reside in some religious sphere that has been kept outside; within a medical-materialist mode which is particularly secular and opposed to the sacred-religious? Does the discussion fall between, through, these places of Caesar and God?

 

Or…?

 

Rationality and Relativism:

 

Because human infants and parents enagage in doing, learning the Human Grammar in the Q-R system, I believe that the dynamic human foundations of language and thought are everywhere (all languages, cultures) about the same. However, it is clear that (adult) cultural thought systems are often very different from one another. If these are not somehow “due” to language, and it is (I suggest) the case that everyone goes about thinking in approximately in the same way(s), how is it that such differences exist and come about?

 

This is to say that people/languaging is everywhere rational (perhaps, equally rational is better because “rationality” is not yet circumscribed), but various people(s) frame their outlooks and (some) aspects of their thinking within different, often a-rational or anti-rational frameworks.

 

One “solution” to accounting for this is the relativistic one: to say that different outlooks are different in some mere or inherent sense. But (I claim) the dynamics of language and thought are the same everywhere, so what are the bases of the differences?

 

Much of it seems to be in how the parents conceive of, and get the developing child to conceive of s/himself, and how to go about judging that “self.” How good or bad or natural: how powerful, how dangerous, how important?

 

Time is taught through the Question: When? -> Response Set, but judgment about (e.g.) the sense of a long or short time is quite a different matter: does eternity frame each day, making it very long/short? How does the individual learn to stand outside of self: e.g. male, female? Is a child permitted to report “evil” thoughts or not; are thoughts or actions “labeled” by parents. How often does one judge or “count?”

 

Within the same language (e.g., American English) how does a child come to be a Catholic or a Jewish or an Am. Indian thinker?

 

Size:

 

It has seemed to me that a “return” to religious literalism on the part of many so moved, is motivated by a sense of personal diminution, a reduction in size or in scale.

 

Within a materialistic theory of human being, for example, explanations for human moral and philosophical questions often do not arise or appear, as the human condition becomes an (perhaps interesting) aspect of particle physics or biological molecules, possibly of neurons. In this material context one’s sense of being, of size, of importance and power, seems to recede, not to reside anywhere exactly. To say that I am here on earth, that my very existence is some “chance” event or some congeries of carbon rings, is not uninteresting necessarily, but doesn’t help much when the days are not sunny or bright. Thus it is tempting to many to enlarge their (effective, existential?) size to fill some necessity of their being which any simple pain in the back or in a tooth can easily overwhelm.

 

To invent or discover or preach a Godhood which says “I am that I am,” the most gigantic force in all the universes of all of being, has the direct effect of making anyone larger. To think that such a being cares about “I/Me”, created me, loves me, is thinking even about doing vengeance if I happen to stray somehow, is enlarging. I, diminished I, find whatever is a necessary sense of person, of power in this story I tell my self that I and my self are as large as I want or need to be…

 

Life’s Diminutions:

 

There are several ways (at least) in which humans may become “diminished.” The diminution of oneself is not an uncomplicated notion or experience, and may include a lessening of personal experience (e.g., via news media), a bending of character toward some externally imposed definition (e.g., in the military, a bureaucracy, any situation where power is acceded to some external person or agency, and one has to “go along” with it); via technology where there is a “trade-off” between, e.g., speed (auto, plane) or strength (levers), so that a better job is done, but through some external agent or tool. All of these may diminish a person.

 

“Scale” also may diminish. When there are so many persons that one becomes (another) member of a class, then one is not a person, but some bit of attributes or features in common with all others who are seen to fit that category. In modern (1984) America, one is not a who, but is a what-one-does; I am a (mother) professor — any one will do as well as any other.

 

When agency is exteriorized from people (e.g. the university as faculty, as a Community of Scholars — Newman), to curriculum (a set of courses taught by any interchangeable persons), then a person is diminished. Students study a “subject” rather than studying with a particular person.

 

When the world is politicized into an us vs. them (workers – management, Professors – Administration), then we abstract ourselves into a position in an argument, and we, personally, diminish ourselves. Similarly, in a world which is considered (a la Aristotle) to be material vs. spiritual, the materialistic urge places causality outside of ourselves as humans, and we become something extra, often, meta- to physics.

 

In this latter sense of religion-as-spirituality, humans are diminished when taking the side of materialism. Peculiarly, within an outlook which is “authentically” or totally (Big “R”) Religious, then humans are small with respect to God: e.g., why humanism enlarges us at first, only to be diminished when inspiration which is derived from Humans occasionally languishes.

 

…The “size” of our being.

 

Integrity and Human-Nature:

 

Lessons from pathology and “insults” to any sense of the wholeness of one’s being. From quadriplegics and paraplegics: the notion that a person can sustain life and thought with very little of the body intact and/or in any direct realization of its parts and aspects. From pathology: the notion that insult to integrity is most powerful; more powerful, even, than the physical destruction of much/most of the body. The insult is in a sense symbolic, a story one tells oneself about s/his wholeness, and it is this story which turns out wrong, false, or loses its sense of truthfulness, thus affecting the concept of the will to live. The body, one instant whole, the next not intact, adjusts to itself apparently quickly not in any mechanical instant, but almost. The concept of integrity, insulted, the body’s image of itself broods long: as long in alteration, perhaps, as the long of its development — the metaphor of the root of the plant being about as large as its airy aspects, perhaps being apt.

 

The inference, then, that the wholeness and integrity of anyone’s being is that aspect (at least) of the will to live, the will to power, the will to will…

 

The Fullness of Life:

 

For some people, some of the time, life is sufficient. Who they are, what ambitions, desires, how life happens, the who of all relationships, is what they want; it is enough. The will to power is satisfied; full enough.

 

Why don’t some persons seek any beyond what they are and what they have? Because many people seeking to become the character which is desirable, what is sought and what they see, is who they are. What more is necessary; what more is there? Any will to live, any will to power, is full up to the brim of existence.

 

Why don’t…they don’t ask. I is not that life doesn’t have sadnesses and down days and laments, but that the fullness accommodates much else of what there may be.

 

What creates the sufficiency? Is it merely, only that the world-scape of desirable possibilities and possible desires is satisfied? Is it that power has come into the life of any person as it ought to have, was supposed to? Is it that fullness itself expands at all opportunities to enlarge the life it enhances, ameboid to the edges of all of life’s living? (But the Stoic, Epictetus, tells us we can live with anything, no matter how bad…!)

 

Life vs. Living:

 

The existential shift, to live life, to be in the process of living, not to find a position from which to judge life as if one (I) am removed from my own life, observing.

 

The Christian temptation: to accept the idea…of the worst, and to live in that space at any and all movements, watching my self watching my self watching. This life(!) turns into a query: This is life?

 

Sufficient Space:

 

For many, life is not at all moments full; not sufficient, not enough; yearning for itself. What paradoxes reveal themselves trapped in the imaginings of what I had supposed, been taught to imagine, to turn life’s “maybe’s” into the “is-ness” of life itself, left not so filled?

 

Nature-Culture:

 

The universe of being split into two (equal/equivalent; coherent/integral?), where what is Human removes and is removed from NATURE. HUMANS outside of the natural world, posing the question of some mechanism of how Humans are or come to be removed from a NATURE where, in some sense or other of history, we all derive. CULTURE did it! – got us outside of nature.

 

The problems remain there: what is Culture — this problematizing a new sort of wonder concerning what is Nature. Before, we merely queried or tested, what is Nature; now we speculate upon the very nature of Nature, but within the context of what is Culture, that (it) is not Nature…in this new, dichotomized sense. Some circularity of reasoning here which re-problematizes an enquiry in some dimensionality outside of itself.

 

This is, of course, an Aristotelian type of Category argument where it is wise to examine, [first?] the structure of any dualism (or tri-alism, etc.), to try to pick-apart what is the problematic, if any, and what is the nature of any dualism such as the Nature-Culture dichotomy [partakes (in)].

 

The first structural rule is one of “identity” — the notion that the dichotomy exists, plus the idea that the named categories are actual entities…and that these are in some sense well-bounded and equivalent.

 

Having entered this domain — innocently, gladly, or out of some intellectual hurriedness — the usual “task” is to identify the characteristics of one or the other category. Since it is in some sense dichotomous, the observations or other notions of one category, by virtue of their being, already imply the other category as they are “opposites” or otherwise partake in the notion of “otherness” which dichotomous thinking entails.

 

It is important to realize that either category, once identified (i.e., named) and located within a dichotomous space, becomes a kind of transcendent notion within or as structure, because the space of the dichotomous categories seems to enlarge itself to all of thought, wiping out much else of what is actual, and acting almost magnetically to sweep any extremeties within its boundedness or to make them vanish. Thus the dual categories are transcendent like a diety and seem to us to make our minds “larger” or “higher,” potentially all-encomposing.

 

The dichotomous category “game” enlarges so pursuasively, in fact, that even after the initial listings, principles, and qualities are exhausted temporarily (because the quality of transcendence is such that the dichotomy will re-invent itself in some periodic cycles) the attempt is to wander within their “interface.”

 

The “interface game” is to grant, to take-as-given the two categories as axes shaping the ends of the universe, and to attempt to show how the categories fit together, inter-relate, or “affect” one another. In the “mind-body antinomy,” for example, various “moves” have been made, various games have been played there; some processual, dynamic; others postulating some group of entities operating in any particular time; others, even, which seem to connect the categories of body (more “ancient,” “pre-human, “pure “biology” of) with the mind (Cultural, human, recent”).

 

Some have been “omnibus” statements, used and useful for different things in different times and contexts; e.g. the mind is the “real” us, placed within the body, as if by accident — here the interface concerns how they march in some parallel, non-mutually destructive ways, at least for a while. Or the interface was seen in a sense of linear history when it was posited to “contain” or to consist of the “emotions.” “Facial expression,” (Paul Ekman) in this context, is seen to consist of the emotions “playing-out” upon the facial surface, the face becoming, then, a kind of place where the mind “operates upon” the body, at least where the mind “comes to the surface.” The body, historically, was earlier (pre-human, pre-language, pre-”complex” connunication), the emotions were somehow the pathway, the via media by which body got emotional noise (ouch!) turned into language; thence the mind; the soul, sociality, objectivity, rationality, etc. (“Natural Law” theory)

 

In another era the interface fades as problematic and the categorical boundaries re-arise as issues: what is the mind, what is in the mind? Here, Descartes, for example, used the cogito ergo sum to justify or to solve the cosmological question of existence by talking about thinking, refocusing on the mind (as by oppositional extension, inevitably upon the body) in terms of what they “are,” how they “work,” etc.

 

But, the point is, most of this argumentation is structural, already implicit in the very notion of a two-category oppositional scheme. Whereas possibly the most interesting question is: “what drives the system” from category-bounding discussion to interface discussion, cycling once again to category arguments? And this is some sort of argument about the nature of form, but, most importantly, it is located very little in any sphere of context, but is ensconced in the History and, especially, in the Sociology and Politics of Ideas.

 

Finally, in this era, [The Present Age] we begin truly to appreciate that these arguments are structural-formal, that the categories and oppositions may be transcended or superceded by denying any necessity for the dualism as in-opposition, and begin again to observe humans in the fullness of our being in the world; cloven together as we are (or we can acknowledge that much/most of life is paradoxical, and the perceived antinomies-oppositions are “unnecessary” to explain ourselves to ourselves).

 

It is the same with the categorical duality of Nature-Culture. The problem is to understand the range of actualities and possibilities, of difficulties and complexities in the having, being, becoming, sustaining of life in complicated times. To split the human universe into two in some a priori or “early” fashion is to pre-limit, perhaps, the nature of what we will study and consider to be the human condition; to defend or to ensconce ideas strongly in historical settings rather than to (enable us to) see us as we are — an approach which gets nervous and retreats into cynicism and varieties of nihilisms when the going gets tough.

 

On the opposite side, as it were, any (structural) dualism reacts to criticism in particular ways and directions, irrespective of particular content. This has to do with the oppositional nature of dualisms; i.e., that any criticism seen to fit within the duality (and most criticisms must be seen there, in any transcendent phase of a dualism where the categories have expanded to the edges of the universe of knowledge) is seen to oppose the view (I) anyone holds, and that criticism is always referenced to the other side of the dualism.

 

If, for example, “Culture” is attacked, then the attack “must” be from the “Nature” side. The insidious difficulty is that the attack is referenced not to whatever the Naturist position is in any substantive sense, but to whatever the Culturists hold to be in the oppositionist category in that particular era; having little necessity to query those who hold the Naturist (say) position, but most to do with how the Culturists are defining or delimiting Culture, and with what notion of opposition that raises in their minds. Thus, if the Culturists feel criticized, they respond to any attack by attacking in return their notion of Nature, which may or may not have much to do with the category of Nature which the Naturists hold to be their truth. So, often, both sides end up attacking/defending their own construction of the opposite category, a “strawman,” rather than examining the actual content of the (apparent) opposition.

 

Antidotes include a stepping-back from the dualistic construction of any (apparent) problem, an examination (such as this) concerning the formal structure of any categorial form of argument, a comparative study of all (e.g.) dualisms to note commonalities, derivation, etc. (For example, mind-body, Culture-Nature et al, are usually aspects or slight variations of the identical dualism into another realm of being.) This attempt to step-back may involve finding some other “ground” from which to observe, various forms of suspension of judgment, etc. It requires, as well, an excursion into the history of ideas as well as their sociology to see whence they derive, why they “made sense,” and to whom; who were they directed against, if anyone; what other ideas did they argue against or supercede; what questions were agitating the thinkers of any era?

 

Above all, we must begin again to observe and to attempt to describe what there is, what happens, and to whom. A comparative mode (for Human Nature, with other species), is necessary to being to understand issues of “locus” of any problem and questions of context –> Comparative Thought.

 

From Other Species (from Nature?):

 

The Lorenzian trick is to claim a wider universality to Nature, particularly what other species presumably are like, thence to infer to Human whatever aspects of being one notes (claims to note) in other species. Presumably as well, we humans possess these features of existence, but we (humans) cannot observe them clearly because we are too close to them, unaware, or blind to them for other/various reasons (the “arrogance” of Language, for example). (K. Lorenz: On Aggression Chap. 13, “Ecce Homo”)

 

The general error is in the claim that we can see clearly what other species are like; usually, on the grounds that they are simpler than humans, or possess some archetype which is ancient, showing up in various manners in different species. Most of these arguments, so far, are basically “political” in the widest sense of politics. They refer to relationships between intra-species individuals (e.g., “pair bonding,” “dominance,” “caste”) which, since other species (on grounds of their “simplicity” = often, non-languaging) possess them, or “do” things some way, humans (they infer) “really do,” or “ought to do.” We human observers of ourselves are thus mis-directed or mis-led. We should take the categories as observations from other species, and “apply” them to our seeing of humans — buying the authority of the “naturalist” to be accurate in telling us what is Nature.

 

The danger, of course, is that we see in other species, categories of behavior derived from some (theory of) human politics — then apply what we think we see in other species, to Humans in the name of (some concept of) Nature. This is circular at best, misguiding both our observations of other species and of umans. It is political in the sense of making some simplistic claim about other species and (inevitably) simplifying what is human; setting up the rather easy possibility of controlling a “simple” species.

 

It permits a kind of thinking about humans by which we are or ought to be controllable. Thus it is politics.

 

Humankind – The GOAL of Nature: (Nietzsche: Daybreak V)

 

Wow! How long ago did life begin? Thousands, millions, billions of years? And here we are. All of it, life that is, leading up to this moment. Laugh for joy? Cry for the sadness of the apocalypse which is the promise of this time?

 

The Design of Nature – all for us? Arrogance; vanity? We create the notion of Deity which serves us. Does it serve the notion of Deity?

 

Nature working, burrowing in the trenches all those eons without benefit of incandescent light or the microscopes by which close becomes very close. And all leading to us. To me!

 

Does every single being, breathing the essences of life’s impulses, believe it all led to this very existence? Is our arrogance based on the sense that we know about our existence? And others do not? And if they do?

 

Better to find a better task than to attempt to forget our Human arrogance by praising it.

 

Isolation of Information from Experience:

 

Reading about the development and rise of newspapers in America late last century: the author (Trachtenberg) remarked about how this (mostly industrial) revolution, the scale of life in the city, and other factors, isolated people’s information from their experience.

 

Whereas earlier, people, each person had to experience or to witness, or to know someone who personally experienced any event, with the advent of “NEWS” experience was reduced; perhaps greatly. Much of knowing became “knowing about,” the black and white of print, then of radio, now of colorific video, is reportage, journalism, testimony about experience, about something which happened.

 

Worrying less about how truthful is that testimony (which is worry enough), what has this isolation of information from experience done to our being and thinking and evaluation and to knowing?

 

Are our memories lessened; have our senses gone to sleep; do we pay less attention? Surely if we read, watch, listen with some care, we know a good deal. Perhaps our scope is wider…at least for some of us. For others it is probably much reduced. Do we rely less upon ourselves – the end point in all cases – and more upon testimony? Knowing more is knowing less? Where are the boundaries between hearing testimony and hearsay?

 

How distrustful of technology and of the actual world have the Humanities become?!

 

Do texts isolate information from experience also? — or do they provide some alternative sensations of experience which closely substitute for experience, lobbying even for their “superior” reality?

 

Arrogation of Terms:

 

In the Present Age the term “theory” seems to have high value, and to be opposed to something lower: the “applied” or the “practical.” It is difficult often to discern why something or some idea or notion is called theory, when it is hardly more general or more abstract; barely more an idea than anything else. Utopias and dystopias are, I suppose, theories of society – but even they possess utility — measures against which to judge the what is now, or the where we are.

 

Aren’t theories supposed to have some utility, some “for-ness? To grab the notion of theory seems, to me, often to aggrandize the idea, and especially the aggrandizers. So it is often difficult to distinguish such characteristcs of theories and theorizers from the whatever the theory is for or about, how powerful or general or parsimonious or elegant or symmetrical.

 

To have a theory of nature or of society seems at once powerful and to (mis-)lead one either away from observing, or to observe within a constrained framework, or to be useful as a critique of something which might motivate its overturning.

 

On the down-side, if an idea or a theory has no particular utility but to serve to aggrandize its practitioners, then it is (but) a chimera.

 

(…but a chimera which will sustain life even while it denies it…?? — Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity.)

 

Strong Will – Weak Will:

 

Are humans, is human nature composed of individuals who possess a strong, or a weak will?…who are “possessed by” a strong, a weak will?

 

The loci of this question seem to be various in the extreme. 1) insanity – do we go, become crazy or are we, do we become “sick,” attacked by some pathological bug whose life overtakes ours?; 2) why do we go on…living – the will to live. Will we do anything in its name, in its all-consumingness? Fraud, bribery, heroism, murder (suicide?)? Here will seems so strong. A weak will, in this sense, leads to (sic!)…hypochondria, sickness of all sorts, psychosomatica; 3) self-determination, a strong will to say who (I) am and what (I) will do. A kind of bio-politics which says this strong will is a perversity, a chimera which mis-leads and mis-directs the biology, the brain – which has an archetypical life of its own placed in a body, perhaps, but the sense of us which “ought” to be heeded in its more truly us-ness; 4) a humanism whose strength is not (merely) to deny any sense of Deity, but to trust ourselves; to query oneself, to be able to think rationally. Opposed, perhaps, to a sense of Deity (or government or bureaucracy or social structure of any sort) to which (my) will is subject, and any sense of a strong will is pretense, perversion, or worse; 5) a mix, oftimes a confusion, between the verbal auxiliary, and verbal “will” (will…go, try,…), the sense of futurity and some depiction of an intention slightly stronger than purely passive, a sense perhaps of hope vs. a real sense of a person “intending”… I will…certainly… a contract is drawn between me and others, me and tomorrow’s my-self,…The distinction between a therapeutic and teaching approach to ontology, to becoming; questions of freedom and responsibility; of empowerment and the will to transcend one’s willing.

 

Appearances:

 

How can it be that human nature appears different in different times, settings, to various persons (within each of their lives!)?

 

Most people infer from particular and limited experience(s), from talk and grandmothers’ tales, from the fear of the odd-looking, and the fear of our own becoming lame…or worse. We invest our lives and theories with the stories and experience of who we may become, enriched (or spooked) by the memory of the now dead who were, and we knew, alive. We are told how to be, to live well with examples as well as stories; what is virtue, what is shame, how to have conscience and to be conscientious. We know who to treat well, those who may frighten us, those whom we may attempt to frighten. We live as feelings, we eat of the world, and kill and prepare what is our food which sustains us that we go on.

 

We know talk of other sorts of beings, from afar or abroad who differ; who may hate us; love us. And we create them out of stories of war and pestilence and the sense that we fall somewhat short of virtue…or that we may.

 

We see variation and imagine variety in all these directions. We know beauty and ugliness; and we judge…

 

Transcendence:

 

Moving beyond oneself; as Nietzsche put it, striving to go over, to always be becoming an Übermann, going, traveling past wherever one is today, towards tomorrow; to be engaged actively in this process. Obvious?

 

Why, an issue? For different reasons in different traditions at various points in life: in dual traditions, we possess already a sense of two-ness, one which is constant (perhaps continuous, steady, outside of process), the other which is changing, buffeted by the vicissitudes of life’s perturbations. Here the I which I am observes the changing self, remaining aloof. The problematic remaining is Heraclitus’ paradox of being at once the same and not the same.

 

In Amerindian traditions, perhaps others in prehistoric times, a spirit shared with other species: Naguales. The problematic being which reality, which is reality: waking, sleeping? Asleep, my spirit wanders, its other faces join me; I become free, transcending the body which may indeed sleep, seeing more. More-ness is transcendence, transferred back to the waking body; dreaming joins the body; dreaming is the real.

 

Others join the dead, the deities and sundry spirits who are themselves in process, changing yet remaining: remaining yet changing, the problematic shifted beyond the edges of notice and of valuation. Others still locked in some steps, sometimes counsel with those they call relatives. Snow White’s beauty eclipsing her mother’s, turning mother into witch, and turning once again the cycles of Ecclesiastes whose turning knows no endings.

 

Transcendence otherwise knows either that today is neither yesterday nor tomorrow, or that I awake each day in a different place.

 

All Against All:

 

Some sense of a global force, a super-organic invisible hand, a “Leviathan” (Hobbes) which tells each of us that each other is to be viewed with a hesitation bordering on suspicion.

 

Embedded, embossed in a theory of being, futurity, especially of survival, we are told that each next, each other is in some deep competition with every one for the life-space, the gladdings and the goodies of life’s promised lands. Each individual person cast upon life’s teeter-totter: as I go up, you go down. Worse: as you go up, my life’s fulcrum may hit hard upon the earth rising to meet my ass-cendent destiny; destination earth crumbled unto dust.

 

A sense here that communion, compassion, generation are some necessity of fate’s personal creation, but not us, not me. If others do for me or I for them, it is out of some intrinsic struggle wired deep within my crudely passioned nether-brain to keep going; to use whatever means are possible to insure that I continue. No choice have I. (Sociobiology – E.O. Wilson)

 

Set within a Rousseauian depiction of nature which is bestial in this sense of world drama to hang on by the clawing which pre-figures any human existence, a kind of competition which hardens sinews into steel and casts feelings into oblivion, the only non-accidental event in the universe is oneself…

 

[But Nature is not like this within any species, within groups of smallness of scale sociality is present and highly dynamic...]

 

Sex/Gender:

 

Until this era, Human survival has depended on sexual reproduction. Now?

 

Differences in experience: being male; being female:: being in a male or female body!? (This is what they gave me!) Differences in thinking, in relation to change, to Nature (natural processes) more present, more constant, more remembered. Location of the feelings, an inner self-description of the genitalia. Others’ seeings of oneself, their interpretations cast upon their faces which are there to be seen, absorbed, reacted to…

 

Objectification, a male probable? Absorptions of the other, female? Where does an individual (male/female) locate oneself? Where does any person reside that one is characterized as…?

 

Generation: in relation to one’s past, cast upon one’s children, human nature theories of individuals surviving, a male mythos? My story…only a male story? Possible to generalize? To all males, to all people. What import, the lack of a female God?

 

A Capacity (for Language) vs. Innate Ideas:

 

Some focus on the ability of humans to think, to be abstract, etc., directed toward a concept of language — now fading…To say humans have a “capacity” for whatever the metaphor is to account for human uniqueness is not to say more than that we are in some senses identifiably unique or uniquely identifiable, and is probably trivial. (The fact that humans are identifiably unique is not, however, trivial as an aspect of the human experience!)

 

This, as opposed to the notion of humans who possess some ideas innately, inherently. This latter has been used to justify a dualism of (human) mind and body, particularly to explain a “mind” which concentrated the ideas of Human uniqueness into a smallest packet. This shift argues a new depiction of human nature with two obvious directions (more like other species but stupider; or more like, but both they and we are smarter), and probably some unforeseen directions as well. The “interesting” shifts, however, will be in the realms of theo-politics and not in metaphysics, at least in the public domain.

 

Life Its Own Confirmation:

 

Much of (Western) thinking about human nature has been an attempt, veiled or apparent, to prove that God exists: thence that we Humans exist.

 

This form of theorizing inevitably runs into trouble because the argument is peculiarly circular. The fact is (if there are, indeed, any facts in here) that it is our own (human) existence which allows us to pose this question – whether or not we are confirmed by any deity. To attempt to by-pass this fact is a (perhaps) cunning subterfuge, but a subterfuge nonetheless. It is usually to permit (the fear of) death to define or to confirm life. But life is its own confirmation and (any) God must already agree to this as fact.

 

To say this is not to deny God necessarily, but to state simply that thinking emanates from existence, not the reverse (as Descartes would have it).

 

This cosmological complication, the primariness of death-worry, of attempting to prove a God who will, in turn, confirm us, derives from an outlook which is deeply, even essentially individual; where other persons (even mothers and children) are problematic, even aspects of the environment much like any other objects. Within this outlook of the universe ending and beginning at our corporeal boundaries, it is here that the questioning of existence can even arise as problematic…

 

But…life is its own confirmation! (And any actual, serious notion of a deity must proceed from this as fact.)

 

Criminals…by Our Nature:

 

“This is because human behavior ultimately derives from human volition – tastes, attitudes, values, and so on – and these aspects of volition in turn are either found entirely by choice or are the product of biological or social processes that we cannot or will not change.”

James Q. Wilson, 1975: Thinking about Crime

 

Not being in any way certain or clear about what this all means, it certainly is a statement about the notion that crime is a question of “will.” The interesting thing is that such thinking resides in some notion that human behavior is not merely what it appears to be on its face, but has some locus or loci of cause; here, of “derivation,” which is caused, at least approximately.

 

If the behavior (deriving from volition) is the “product of biological” processes, the assumption is that it cannot be changed, because “biological” = natural in this context means unchangeable, by definition.

 

If the behavior is produced by “social processes,” then these processes are somehow beyond our own “will” to alter them. Perhaps we find them to be beyond our understanding.

 

Perhaps this thinking is the attempt to push our understanding of human behavior into some deeper, causal realms that we usually avoid; e.g. tastes, attitudes, values, and so on. What I think, is that there is a variety of ways to explain human nature, human behavior being a focus (particularly if it’s noxious), but where to look for explanation (= causality?) remains unclear…

 

 

{1991 addenda}:

 

Time:

 

The only thing I am certain about time is that we/I-as-body exist within the gravity of the earth pulling down while I pull up and against and dance within. Time entails this as process. Existentially it goes “forward” in the sense of experiencing and telling oneself that one is here in the context of telling oneself how she got here. “Aging” is about acceding to gravity (or gravity “winning” over us) while development is about winning over gravity. We are terrestrial creatures and would (I feel certain) appear much different in different gravities.

 

Theory and Praxis:

 

The pragmatics of being have (always) been confused with some sense of the mundane and ordinary, while theory has been held to the invention and possession of the philosopher. I think this has been a mistake. The theory of our being is how humans conceptualize and raise each next generation. Theory is thus owned by ordinary humans, not by philosophers. The problem is how to problematize and to see the ordinary without either underestimating it in its ordinariness and obviousness – or overestimating oneself as theorist.

 

This has gotten unbelievably complicated over the centuries by acting in terms of the history of the theories by which we have told ourselves how we are.

 

Transcendence (the temptation):

 

The modern rationalist singing the Blues over the “return” of the Eastern Bloc formerly atheistic thinkers to some notion of God: remarkably like the ones which they had presumably abandoned 70 years earlier (and almost all of them weren’t even born yet; yet…). No progress here from the arational and irrational and not very rational to logicality and experiment and hypothesis and proof. The deity has wormed his(!) way back into being: into our being.

 

The modern rationalist singing the hymn of humanism says, “Woe is us!” Somewhere there lurks in us, he wonders, the old Yiddish song line: “Who stole the kishka?” Our guts writhe, telling us to yearn and fill them with food for the soul –> the transcendent temptation!

 

I sit trembling to hear him react so violently, overthrowing his own bid to rationalize the universe, by invoking human nature to account for what (for him) went wrong. “It’s us, it’s in us! Woe is us!”

 

“Whoa!” I say. “Slow down. Examine your own thinking that you trusted until the former atheistic-claimers unclaimed their own trust in thinking their being is sufficient. Examine your intellectual taste before falling once more for a full gut. There is some reason for/in the transcendental temptation.

 

In this life we do, after all, start little and get big; start with little knowledge and experience and increase it by leaps and bounds, heaven only knows. So when we reach “adulthood” (you should pardon the expression), when we quit growing upward and winning over gravity, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we quit wanting to grow in other ways. And grow means to overcome, to overreach, to move beyond. Much/most of child development is transcendental in quite powerful ways: like puberty, like the slowly dawning notion of death, like the hundreds of conceptual realizations which may now seem mundane and ordinary, but seemed at the time of their understanding, to be revelatory. No wonder we are tempted to go beyond; why not?

 

To go beyond, to engage in the transcendental temptation does not seem immature, any mere carryover from a childhood filled with fantasy and the proportion of mythic reality. It was/is much of our actual experience: to wake up, to become enlightened, reflective, responsible is quite amazing. And to the extent that we were/are amazed, why not continue to seek amazement? Why do we drink, seek out drug experiences, seek to heighten, to alter?

 

Are not food, sex…reading, movies, stories told all (mind)altering experiences? Doesn’t each day at least somewhat anew?

 

Perhaps, as there has been an Anthropology primarily of the “exotic” peoples (always somewhere else, quite different), we have forgotten the admonition of she at Delphi who counseled: “know thyself.” We have neglected any Anthropology of the “ordinary” and did not wonder at each next day. Having placed experience into custom and habit, we forgot/forget to love each moment and to squeeze destiny into it. We have been infatuated with the reality of the externalities of life, of materiality, and have little explored the fact that life is itself transcendent.

 

We do not read, or do not understand Nietzsche, who proclaimed that “God is dead” would mean the loss of meaning and the rise of European nihilism. So it rose like the efflorence of the still-warming genitalia and is now subsiding after the experience of finishing with it, but not having marveled at its experiencing.

 

Looking for love, but afraid of the fear, we do not see ourselves seeing. Lacking love, lacking trust, we forgot that being is becoming, and that the transcendental temptation is sufficient to life and an aspect of existence. The need to invoke an external agency – be it deity or text or magic or mystic or history or my memory of my mother comforting me or the wet nose of my dog snuggling – is to want to abandon the experiencing in favor of…of what?

 

It is not so inexplicable, the temptation to be beyond this moment, to have to impute it to some new mysterious space in our being. The problem is how to study it, manage it, use it, understand that others come with the same stuff. How to gain in meaning, toward one’s “next places”…aahh!

 

Paradoxes of Life

 

In attempting to “see” human nature in the wide, it is informative to see how all the world’s (major?) theo-political systems construct themselves. Beginning from Western thought, I lived for two years in Southern Mexico among Mayan Amerindians, and discovered somethings about them, and reflexively about myself (ourselves). One thing led to another. And I began to note both differences and similarities across “mega-cultural” boundaries (e.g., Western, Buddhistic, Confucian, Amerindian, Africanist).

 

It has seemed to me that different mega-cultural traditions are effectively world-visions which can be gathered less in terms which have seemed to characterize them when considered one or two at a time. They can be understood better, perhaps as some grand global collectivity, by noting that each of them handles or “reduces” to the set of “life paradoxes” which might be said to be aspects of our (“psychological”) life experiencings. this is to say that the grand meta-traditions have “handled” such experiential paradoxes in only a very few ways. The noted large differences really are due to dealing with a smaller or larger number of paradoxes, and which ones in particular seem to be “central” to any tradition. (In some cases, the most “basic” seem so obvious within any tradition that they are not noted as peculiar or particular; e.g., dreaming vs. wakefulness as our “real” existence. It is only when we step into Amerindian life or go back to Heraclitus and beyond that we see that this is a life paradox in the general sense.)

 

The central gathering issue has to do with whether any tradition “wants” (tends?) to resolve or to complementarize paradoxes. (A life-paradox, by the way, is the experience that life consists of two apparently opposite states, at least some times.) Western thought, Amerindian, seem to want to resolve paradoxes on one side or the other – but not on both: sleep vs. wakeful, change vs. permanence. But Confucian thought seems to complementarize change and permanence: one, then the other in some yin/yang arrangement. In many African traditions, there is no particular distinction between life and death, each “new” life taking on the spirit of someone recently deceased. This move to resolve or to complementarize seems to possess the conceptual power of veritably defining the nature of reality – certainly in the traditions in which paradoxes are resolved. They are capable of “defining” or depicting the nature of deity, of existence, and perhaps of providing the effective loci of the “virtues” in any tradition.

 

The major differences between traditions seem to reside in which paradoxes are given primacy (in some processual or hierarchical senses): life-death, change-permanence, sleep-wakefulness; one-universal, male-female, and so on. Once this is understood, much of the rest of what are mega-cultural differences seem much more to involve the details and particularities of geography and history.

 

Domestication of the Species (Geometrization)

 

Peter Wilson’s wildly speculative notion that the human species began (only) to geometrize when we setted down into fixed settlements, alters radically how we might consider the human condition. For the first time with domestication, we began to have restrictions upon our experiential vision: walls, insides and outsides; inside people, outsiders; we and them. The world began to be described as geographic places: not from nature, but from domesticity. The garden of Eden, the emergences of palaces and kingdoms, notions of hierarchy.

 

Not from “our human nature” but from our experience living in domesticity. Not Freud, not Marx; just process and experience. Available to all (other) species, can we move beyond/away from geometrizing the world. Or have we so altered our being, as well as the world in our geometrizing imaginations, that there is no return?

 

(And what theories of deity will this new speculative insight into our nature bring upon its tails?)

 

(toward) A true Psychology:

Nietzsche regarded himself, above all, as a psychologist; perhaps the “first” psychologist. What does he mean? What is missing as we construe the very possibility of a psychology that we don’t already understand, at least know?

Culture, Race, and other Categories

Masks: Appearance and Reality

to be continued…

Life-as-death