Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Person Who Relates

I was flipping through Eugen Fink's Existenz und Coexistenz when the following sentence sprung out at me: "The human being exists as a relation" (Der Mensch existiert als ein Verhältnis). I'd like to play with that as an ontological proposistion, but I'll make some modifications so as to end up with this sentence: The human being by nature is a person who relates.

The first problem I see that I should want to guard against is a substantialist reading of the human being or person. This is not in the letter or spirit of what Fink is talking about, and it's not an interpretation I should want to slip into or allow to be nurtured as a subtext to my own sometimes fuzzy thinking about the matter. I used the phrase "by nature" as a nod to Aristotle, but my understanding of nature is rather existential, and I certainly don't mean to import Aristotlean metaphysics wholesale. However, I do mean to personalize the problem, to embody it in a person, a who, a who who acts in this characteristic way of relating, always as a person. So I definitely do not mean that the human being is by nature a being that relates or even a person that relates. The human being is always a person, a who.

The personal relation implies a plurality. There is always the person who does this or that, and there is at least one other person who is addressed by the very fact of personhood. Speaking in the third person can we imagine a kind of other that is not another person, and we can imagine another kind of action, but the essential addressivity of being a person cannot be wiped away. The addressivity of being a person is not merely a matter of a reciprocity of viewpoints implied by speaking. It is a vital aspect of our whoness, of how we naturally relate to the world.

Is there an intentional structure to human relating? Must we always relate to something? I don't know. In personal addressivity we are always already relating to other persons, but it is not clear to me, dear reader, whether such persons may not be allowed to remain vague and undifferentiated. Evidently we can relate to the possibility of another person as if it were actual. I won't dare to call this possibility Other. It could after all be me.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 6:29 PM.


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