Friday, October 05, 2007


What would it mean today to view the world according to a concretely personal conception? Jan Patočka introduces us to this problem beginning with the pre-Socratic discovery of the world, which is coextensive with the discovery of mathematics (An Introduction to Husserl's Phenomenology, trans. Erazim Kohák, Open Court, 1996). In particular, this is the discovery of the whole of the world, the cosmos, complete with the abyss of nothingness that surrounds it. "As with mathematical entities, there is here something independent of the given, something which its objectification presupposes and which for that very reason is not accepted, strictly speaking, but rather something accessible to us not from external givenness but from internal freedom" (p. 6). Patočka, though, sees a limit in the Greek understanding:

Precisely this objectively oriented practice, in this understanding of humanity in terms of a completed organism of things in the cosmos, reveals the limits of the Greek understanding of being, of the world, and of humans–of oneself and of the other. To the Greek mind the discovery of the whole did not mean at the same time a discovery of human being with each other in its fullness, in its originality. Humans, to be sure, were discovered originally in terms of their relation to the kosmos–as worldly being–though not together with the originality of their relation to others which can be realized only in a turn no less profound that the turn from individual things to their global coherence.

(p. 11)

The next stage in thinking the world that Patočka consideres is the (more or less) Cartesian discovery of the abstractly personal conception of the world.

The abstract person and its relation to the world are will and domination. This will shatters the ancient kosmos and all its legacy, things no longer constitute an organic whole. The world is no longer an equal participant in a shared drama, rather, we are free with respect to it, it does not represent a fundamental limit for us but rather is for us a stage, a reservoir of raw materials, the basis for action in which it ultimately figures as a mere subordinate component. Because we, too, are objects in the world, we deal with humans similarly, generating not only a technology of things but in conjunction with it a technology of the organization of human resources. The abstractly personal relation to the world is thus a technology which becomes its own purpose. In a basic contradiction in the being of humans: to be the world-constituting being and at the same time a thing in the world–this abstractly personal relation leads to an actual subjugation of humans by the aspect of will and domination as such.

(p. 13)

He passes on to Kant and the thinkers that followed.

Subsequent thinkers posed the question of the world in a new way: as a matter of a revitalization of withered human relations, restoring them to an inward from in which the other, without ceasing to be other, loses its strangeness and externality and becomes no less an internal content of our lives than we of its. That gave rise to the problem of a concretely personal conception of the world which transcends the abstractly personal conception as no more than its starting point and as the ground that makes it possible, though it finds the overall meaning, otherwise absent from it, only in a community of mutual respect and mutually interchanging individualites.

The concretely personal conception hopes to attain this global construction of the meaning of the world and of being by unfolding a new logic, capable not only of construing the relation of the subject to nature but also a system of spiritual relations in a historical evolution. It will succeed where ancient metaphysics was shipwrecked: it will be a logic of action and movement, not merely a logic of changeless structure, of transtemporality. It will, however, be at the same time a logic of the whole, an exhaustive logic, the logic of the final uncovering, obscured by nothing.

(pp. 14-15)

Patočka quickly moves from Hegel to Husserlian phenomenology.

Face to face with this focus on contemporary discussion, methodologically continuous with empiricism and its reflective method, another conception of the question that led to the rise of Greek philosophy is emerging, of the question for the drama of the world, for being which bestows meaning on all that is and sets each particular a priori into a meaningful framework. It is a conception which also sees the meaning of philosophy in setting humans free for a prevenient continuity of the world and of being, but so analyzes the continuity that as a consequence of these analyses we might doubt whether that continuity can itself ever be surveyed as a whole, mastered, and exhausted.

(p. 15)

I'm stricken by Patočka's optimism. In Body, Community, Language, World we caught a glimpse of how Patočka would extend phenomenology beyond his roots in Husserl and Heidegger. In Introduction he is closer to his phenomenological roots, but in several chapters he will develop his own thinking on such problems as the body and temporality. I'm interested in how he sees the personal, a dominant theme of Body, as a project carried on by phenomenology. I like the idea of the personal being caught up in the drama of the world, and I am stricken by Patočka's grasp of threads in the history of philosophy, such as the drama of the world. Someday I hope to read his Heretical Essays in the History of Philosophy (my order for that book was finally cancelled after many months of waiting).

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:42 AM.


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