Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Problem of Language?

I was having a discussion last night with my roomate. He was stating that he is going to be researching the history of the idea of a person, with concentration on the theologians of the East.

He was stating that this is a topic he's going to spend time on because of a problem in engaging the idea of person nowadays.

He stated that, when discussing the distinction between man and animals, the ability to distinguish between man and animals is lessening with an alarming rate. Why is this happening? Because of an overly emphasized empiricism. For example, people say that apes can have a sense of the idea of beauty because they stare longer at a piece of art that is beautiful then one that is ugly. Therefore, they exhibit a human characteristic and thus are not so different really, and perhaps they are indeed persons.

My roomate was arguing that we have focused too much on the idea that man is a rational being, and it is the gift of reason that distinguishes him from animals. I was completely honest with him in that I didn't agree. The problem was not the idea of man being reasonable and something that has been taking by animal behaviourilists and applied to animals. Reason is that which defines the individual. But the problem is not on the individual level, but on the level of species.

One thing that is not discussed is man as a social animal. Perhaps there has been an over-emphasis on man's individual isolation from the rest of the animal kingdom. This is why it is important to affirm mans's social aspect. This is why God said it is "not good" for man to be alone on the 6th day. This is quite strong language, considering God is constantly saying "behold, it is good". The first statement of value is that God says it is "not good". That should really stick out to anyone who reads the Bible. God saw Man as not being complete and so created a partner fitting for Adam. Man became fulfilled by being a society of persons. Then God not only said that it was good, but that is was "very good". This again should leave us food for contemplation, because it is the only time in the creation narrative that God says "very good". Man is only fulfilled by being a society of persons. Man, on the species sense, is fundamentally different from the individuals. The individuals are individuated from animals because of their ability to reason, but also to be social in a society.

This, of course, is the theological position. To bring in Genesis to the public square on the nature of animals would probably not go over too well. And so, I propose a second problem, a flight from metaphysics.

People in the modern world have taken the idea of science too far to the point that all certainty is in that which we observe through our senses. They divorece it from any idea of a universal principle, form, or what not. When you divorce metaphysics from empiricism, you divorce your ability to make your case convincingly on a universal basis. Metaphysics discuss those universals from which we derive our particulars.

And this is why I think JP II's Theology of the Body and Philosophical Anthropology are the tool to this modern epidemic. One is a theological language, exclusive to the Christian discussion and affirmation of Man, while the other is a philosophical language, based in truth and in a deep understanding and experience of the human condition, being able to engage all people, whether they are Christian or not.

This theological and philosophical idea that JP II has is unique because of its unique unitivity. It understands the principle that nothing is in the mind that is not previously perceived through the senses (a standard medieval principle and the basis of empiricism), while at the same time affirming that our empirical experiences are a mode of coming to experience something more then just the particular, but to grasp a universal. It unite empiricism and metaphysics in a proper classical method. It further unites subjectivity with objectivity.

I think the most important thing is that it affirms the idea of experience as the means of attaining knowledge, something almost every human person, I think, would agree with. However, it says that our personal experience is personal and unique to us, but that does not mean that it is not a personal and unique experience of something universal. It affirms that personal understanding of truth and says "a universal does exist, you have experienced from your indivuality, which is unique. You have experienced a universal in a unique way, thus adding to man's total understanding of that truth". In other words, it defends itself against the plague of relativism that is the result of a purely empirilistic world perspective.


No comments: