Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Metaphysical Underground of John Paul II that Accompanies Benedict XVI

Notes on the discovery of the experience of the “I” as Being

1) The “I” has been explicitly “reduced” to consciousness from the Cartesian ”cogito” to the present day.

2) Neo-scholastic philosophy and, therefore, scholastic theology has tended to refer to the person in the Aristotelian and Thomistic category of “substance” so as to insure “objectivity in being” and grounding in reality, and concomitantly to avoid conflating referrals to the person, or the “I,” with “subjectivism” and consequent relativism.

3) What has been absent throughout any dialogue between Enlightenment thought and scholasticism is the development of the notion of experience on two levels: 1) the level of sense perception and 2) the level of the self as agent of moral action.

4) The contribution of Karol Wojtyla to this dialogue is considerable. The main object of his philosophic endeavors has been to describe the inner experiences that the “I” has of itself as agent of the moral act, and hence the ontological reality of the “I” as the “privileged locus for the encounter with being (actu essendi), and hence with metaphysical enquiry.”[1]


Selection of Quotations:


The experience of self-determination:

“I must insist that human cognition forms an organic (not just an organizational) whole. Experience is always the first and most basic stage of human cognition, and this experience, in keeping with the dual structure of the cognizing subject, contains not only a sensory but also an intellectual element. For this reason, one could say that human experience is already always a kind of understanding. It is thus also the origin of the whole process of understanding, which develops in ways proper to itself, but always in relation to this first stage, namely, experience. Otherwise I see no possibility of a consistent realism in philosophy and science.
The image of the world that we produce in them could then be basically at odds with reality.

“This also applies to the human being as the object of philosophical anthropology. The basis for understanding the human being must be sought in experience – in experience that is complete and comprehensive and free of all systematic a priories. The pint of departure for an analysis of the personal structure of self-determination is the kind of experience of human action that includes the lived experience of moral good and evil as an essential and especially important element; this experience can be separately defined as the experience of morality. These two experiences – the experience of the human being and the experience of morality – can really never be completely separated, although we can, in the context of the overall process of reflection, focus mo more on one or the other. In the case of the former, philosophical reflection will lead us in the direction of anthropology; in the case of the latter, in the direction of ethics.
“The experience of human action refers to the lived experience of the fact `I act.’ This fact is in each instance completely original, unique, and unrepeatable… The lived experience of the fact `I act’ differs from all facts that merely `happen’ in a personal subject. This clear difference between something that `happens’ in the subject and `activity’ or action of the subject allows us, in turn, to identify an element in the comprehensive experience of the human being that decisively distinguishes the activity or action of a person from all that merely happens in the person. I define this element as self-determination.

(…) “`I act’ means `I am the efficient cause’ of my action and of my self-actualization as a subject, which is not the case when something merely `happens’ in me, for then I do not experience the efficacy of my personal self. My sense of efficacy as an acting subject in relation to my activity is intimately connected with a sense of responsibility for that activity…”

“Self determination as a property of human action that comes to light in experience directs the attention of one who analyzes such action to the will. The will is the person’s power of the self-determination….

“When I say that the will is the power of self-determination, I do not have in mind the will all alone, in some sort of methodical isolation intended to disclose the will’s own dynamism. Rather, I necessarily have in mind here the whole person. Self-determination takes place through act s of will, through this central power of the human soul. And yet self-determination is not identical with these acts in any of their forms, since it is a property of the person as such… My analysis, however brief, shows that self-determination is a property of the person, who, as the familiar definition says, is a naturae rationalis individual substantia. This property is realized through the will, which is an accident. Self-determination – or, in other words, freedom – is not limited to the accidental dimension, but belongs to the substantial dimension of the person: it is the person’s freedom, and not just the will’s freedom…”
[2]


The Nature and Function of “Consciousness” in Experiencing the “I” in the Act of Self-Determination


Concepts objectify what is known by forming a sign through which the reality “lives in” the intelligence of the knower. We know the reality through (quo) the concepts that we form, but we leave out the existential dimension of it in that we know the way we are, not the way the reality is. This is what is understood by “mediation” in knowing. Wojtyla says: “It lies in the essence of cognitive acts performed by man to investigate a thing, to objectivize it intentionally, and in this way to comprehend it…. The same same does not seem to apply to consciousness. In opposition to the classic phenomenological view, we propose that the cognitive reason for the existence of consciousness and of the acts proper to it does not consist in the penetrative apprehension of the constitutive elements of the object, in its objectivation leading to the constitution of the object. Hence the intentionality that is characteristic for cognitive acts… does not seem to be derived from acts of consciousness.”[3]

What is consciousness? The knowing that accompanies experience. “As `consciousness’ we understand then `reflecting consciousness’ – that is, consciousness in its mirroring function” ("The Acting Person," 32)

“We then discern clearly that it is one thing to be the subject, another to be cognized (that is objectivized) as the subject, and still different thing to experience one’s self as the subject of one’s own acts and experiences. (The last distinction we owe to the reflexive [not reflective knowledge as concept-forming] function of consciousness).” ("The Acting Person,"44)

The mirroring function of consciousness reflects the states of the subject as potency to agency over self, and as act produced by that agency. It is not cognition by concept formation which would render the subject as object, but “mirroring” the two states and therefore forming what we understand to be “experience,” and experience of the self in this moment of the genesis of the “I.” This work of Wojtyla is at the basis of his understanding of “work” as having not only an objective dimension in the object made by the work, but also the development of the subject. It is the phenomenology of that he offers of Adam in the Garden who, in the act of obedience to name the animals, comes to a consciousness of self as “alone,” i.e. “different” from everything else in creation that is “object.” That is, he had crossed the threshold to activating his subjectivity by determining his very self as gift of obedience to the creator. In that act, he became conscious of being precisely a “subject,” and therefore, alone.
[1] John Paul II, “Fides et ratio” #83.
[2] Karol Wojtyla, “The Personal Structure of Self-Determination,” Person and Community (1993) 189-190
[3] Karol Wojtyla, “The Acting Person,” Analecta Husserliana Reidel (1979) 32-33.

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