Thursday, November 05, 2009

Economic Success: Work as Gift

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Albert Einstein (source unknown)

Economic Success: The Object of Work as Artistic Gift

The Good:

It has been a consistent conundrum to ascertain the origin of value. When reality is reduced to quantity, value is reduced to an epiphenomenon of quantified matter, or transmogrified into the rarified “ether” of subjective lucubration. If you think it’s good, it’s good. Or in the parlance of Jane Fonda: “How can you be wrong if you’re so sincere?”

Those are the two sides of the San Andreas Fault (Walker Percy) between matter and thought that has plagued us since Descartes. Karol Wojtyla changed that with his simple phenomenology of the person experiencing himself as good or bad. Wojtyla discovered that the origin of good or bad is the self experiencing itself as either self-transcending or self-seeking. Very simple. Good or bad is not to be discovered outside in the sensibly experienced world (Hume), nor in categories of the mind (Kant), but in the ontological experience of the “I” as acting. This is a very simple brand of self-examination to which they give the name “phenomenology” since Edmund Husserl.

Experience becomes the missing key to find that it is the real ontological self and not things “out there” nor ideas or principles “in here.” As we all sense that an action that we perform is either good or bad, Wojtyla was able to put his finger on the source of that sense. It came from an “experience” of the self itself. He went to work and distinguished what he found to be consciousness and conceptualization as distinct ways of knowing. He didn’t work with an abstractive sensible-abstractive first order epistemology which understands reality as substance and accident. He didn’t deny it, but saw it as “metaphysical terrain” whereby there is an intellect and will as accidents of a substance that is an “’in-itself.” Intellects don’t know, and wills don’t will. It is the Self conscious of its inner experiences who desires.

The major inner experience is self-determination vis a vis an act to be freely performed. Prior to it, there is the experience of potency and act as to the ability to perform the act. Posterior to the act there is the experience of joy or sadness, which results from the actualized state of the being of the “I.” Prior to the act there is freedom to do it or not. It is not a choice between this or that object, but the mastery, or failure of mastery, over the self. If there is no self-mastery, any action is sub-human, and therefore not good as human action. If there is self-mastery, then the action must be in conformity with reality perceived as true. If that occurs, the action is “good.” If the self-mastery is in disconformity with reality it is false and therefore “bad.”

The next question, then, is what is the reality to be conformed to? Joseph Ratzinger may be most helpful here. In his “Truth and Conscience” he presents the “ontological tendency” of the self in imaging the divine Persons as the metaphysical ground of the good and the bad. He says: “(T)here is an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine. From its origin, man’s being resonates with some things and clashes with others. This anamnesis of the origin, which results from the god-like constitution of our being, is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents. It is, so to speak, an inner sense, a capacity to recall, so that t he one whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself, hears its echo from within. He sees: That’s it! That is what my nature points to and seeks.”[1] Note that we are dealing with the image of God that is an “ontological tendency” and hence a most realist grounding tendency that becomes consciousness: “That’s it! That is what my nature points to and seeks.” The good. When I determine myself to act in conformity with that tendency, I become good. The “I” then is what I mean by “good.” Good is the ontological “me.”[2]

The theological grounding of this axiology is Christ’s reference to God: “No one is good but only God” (Mk. 10, 18). If this is the grounding origin, then the value “good” can be predicated of man only in so far as he images in the same dynamic mode the prototypical Reality of the Trinity of Relations. As God is prototypical Communio, such must be man. John Paul II wrote in the “Original Unity of Man and Woman:” “If… we want to retrieve also from the account of the Yahwist text the concept of ‘image of God,’ we can deduce that man became the image of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons, which man and woman form from the very beginning. The function of the image is that of mirroring the one who is the model, of reproducing its own prototype. Man becomes an image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. He is, in fact, ‘from the beginning’ not only an image in which the solitude of one Person, who rules the world, mirrors itself, but also and essentially the image of an inscrutable divine communion of Persons.”[3]

This point is large and scarcely understood today in the light of the faulty eschatology of the second millennium – which we have yet to emerge from - following on the split between Christian East and West and the condemned but sociologically influential formulation of Joachim of Fiore concerning three stages of Salvation history (13th c.). The split in the year 1054 was the formalization of the individualizing forces in the Church whereby the East – separated from the unifying power of the papacy - became ensnared by the nation states such as Russia, Rumania, Greece, etc. In the West, the absence of the intersubjective dynamic of communio produced an ongoing rationalization and individualization whose end we have not seen. The Parousia has been removed from the “now” of present day history and postponed to coincide with the chronological end of history and the Second Coming. The hope of “development” into “another Christ” as the paradigm of the human person has been replaced by the anticipation of “progress” in science and technology whereby the person called to image God has been replaced by the individual, the unencumbered Self – alone - dominating matter and becoming a self-sufficient god. As alone, man shrinks from everything: death (fear), judgment (guilt), Heaven (achieved pharmacologically in drugs), and Hell (depression).

David Schindler has the chronology of true eschatology right. He remarked: “The crucial points… are whether and in what sense the transformation toward this communion is to begin already now and ‘publicly,’ and not merely in the future and ‘privately;’ and whether this dynamic transformation is to originate from within the core of liberal social order or only by way of addition to it.”[4]

The Computer:

Schindler’s insight consists in seeing technology as a form of anthropology, an anthropology that is mechanistic in nature and that is aided and abetted by an epistemological prejudice that persistently reduces the real to sensibly empirical facts. It must be cautioned that reality is not facts. Facts are mental judgements concerning the real. To consign reality to the data base, small, medium or unimaginably large, is to reduce the real to our way of knowing it, which is to cut it down – Procrustean-like - to our medium of measurement. What else is this but a praxis of force-fed binge of rationalism?

And it creates an anthropology. It is enough to see – at any given moment - half the people on a city street, or in a bus, talking on a cell-phone, working a Blackberry or – child or teenager - mesmerized with the video game. They may be talking or texting with another person, but they are always doing something else at the same time. They are alone. They are in control. They are self-sufficient. They are apprentices – or masters - of the unencumbered Self on the way to becoming like gods. This is an anthropology that is turned back on self. It is an anthropology that does not see.

Schindler points out that “the computer is an arrangement or ordering of space and time and matter and motion for the purpose of realizing a certain kind of knowledge. The ordering is binary and digital. The knowledge sought consists in the gather of discrete bits of information. Knowledge takes the form of acquiring, manipulating, and controlling data. The knowledge proper to a computer is more a matter of power and of ‘summing’ than of ‘seeing.’”[5] And he goes on to point out that “the technological order of the computer is weighted against habits of patient interiority, of contemplativeness, of wonder, of sustained mutual presence, of an embodied being-with, of the wisdom that sees the order to the whole.”[6]

Subordinate the Computer to Art

The computer replaces insight.

Within the theme of Caritas in Veritate, there is the topic of the quality of the product made. I have always been a fan of John Paul II’s “Letter to Artists” where he proclaims that the artifact, as the product of human work, resembles the artist: “In producing a work, artists express themselves to the point where their work becomes a unique disclosure of their own being, of what they are and of how they are what they are. And there are endless examples of this in human history. In shaping a masterpiece, the artist not only summons his work into being, but also in some way reveals his own personality by means of it. For him art offers both a new dimension and an exceptional mode of expression for his spiritual growth. Through his works, the artist speaks to others and communicates with them. The history of art, therefore, is not only a story of works produced but also a story of men and women. Works of art speak of their authors; they enable us to know their inner life, and they reveal the original contribution which artists offer to the history of culture.”[7]

This would come to mean that the goodness of the artist would overflow into the goodness of the artifact as “disclosure of their own being, of what they are and of how they are what they are.” Even more clearly: “(Works of art) enable us to know their (the artist’s inner life.”

Faith as Artistic Act

The knowing that is faith and the concomitant anthropology that is self-gift. In reality they are the same thing. Faith is the ontological obediential act of self gift.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Conscience and Truth” On Conscience, Ignatius (2007) 32.

[2] But note that the whole of creation, including man, was seen by the Creator to be “good.” But after the naming of the animals and actualizing the subjective reality as obeying (and therefore relational) subject, it was revealed that as subject, it was not good for him to be “alone.” As subject, man becomes “good,” only in relation when in fact the first man and woman form a communio as image of the Communio of the Triune God. Cf. “A Theology of the Body”#9, November 14, 1979 DSP (Waldstein) 163.

[3] John Paul II “A Theology of the Body,” Ibid.

[4] David Schindler, “‘Homelessness’ and Market Liberalism” in Wealth, Poverty and Human Destiny ISI Books, (2003) 395.

[5] Ibid 408.


[7] John Paul II, “Letter to Artists,” #2.

Dear Matthew,

You've got it right. The metaphysics of substance and accident as really distinct arises within an epistemology of sensible perception and abstraction into concepts as "bundles of intellligibility." The notion of being as substance corresponds to that level of sensible and abstract knowing. It is not alse, but merely inadequate as a true metaphysics of the real. It is our way of knowing, not the way things are.

There is another level of experience of reality which is the self in the moral action. This kind of knowing is pre-conceptual. It corresponds to the revelation of the divine Persons as relations and Christology as relational self-gift. It is also available to, as I mention, to direct experience if one has the sensitivity to do the phenomenology involved - as Wojtyla did in his "Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the human person:" Person and Community Lang (1993) 209 -> This latter is a truly real metaphysic since it is immediate experience and not merely mediate through sense perception and conceptual abstraction.

This latter is the key to the future without throwing out the previous abstractive knowing which has been immensely beneficial and will continue to do so in complementarity to the phenomenological. Fr. Connor


Matthew said...

The philosophy I study now is very grounded on the real distinction and substance and accident and the like. I have little exposure to this phenomenology up until now. Do you see this phenomenology as something arising to answer a critical question of our time? If so, do I have it right that you mean this critical question is our understanding of the person as imago Dei, meant for gift, who is up against a culture trying to redefine him as something else?

Matthew said...

The philosophy I study now is very grounded on the real distinction and substance and accident and the like. I have little exposure to this phenomenology up until now. Do you see this phenomenology as something arising to answer a critical question of our time? If so, do I have it right that you mean this critical question is our understanding of the person as imago Dei, meant for gift, who is up against a culture trying to redefine him as something else?