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Metaphysics of Personal Existence

Metaphysics of Personal Existence

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Speculations on the I-Almighty
Speculations on the I-Almighty

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Published by: David Arthur Walters on Oct 02, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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"Personal life is the fine flower of life.”
Emanuel MounierI. The Gist of ExistentialismPersonalism might be a popular ideology or at least a household word today if existentialism had not better suited the aversive reaction to the cult of supremepersonality that had fostered two massive world wars. Whereas personalism emphasizesthe social human being, existentialism places the onus on the individual alienated fromsociety, and affords bare existence priority over clothed being. Existentialism isan anxiety-bound mélange of rationalizations spawned by homelessness, alienation, themeaningless of life and absurdity of death made apparent in the horrors of two worldwars systematically fought pursuant to the institution and breakdown of political andeconomic systems deemed "objective', "rational", "reasonable." Not only irrational faithin a personal god but faith in impersonal reason and universal, abstract systems-of-beingwas also lost when confronted with the disastrous effects of being fanatically rational andreasonable. Considering humankind as a whole, it does seem suicidal and thereforeunreasonable to murder others; yet it also seems quite rational to align individuals ordivide the population into fractions that murder perceived enemies for the sake of individual and group survival – there is safety in numbers.The term "existentialism" was picked up by the press in a smoky Paris jazz cellar from acasual remark made by a jazz singer to a reporter about the "scene" observed by the
 American tourists flocking to Paris in the aftermath of the war. Jean Paul Sartre and other“existentialists” dismissed the term at first - they were just philosophizing – but when thelabel came into vogue, they adopted and employed the appellation much to theiradvantage. Existentialism as they described it includes especially the notion that theparticular individual must be solely responsible individual for his own thinking instead of relying on habitual culture or rationalized systems of being; but existentialists seek theimpossible, for language itself is a social tool dependent on and responsive to the will of others. Existentialism is not a system at all, but is more or less an anxious and absurdreflection of the human predicament, particularly the predicament of a man'sindividuality made obvious by the disturbing fact of death. Indeed, any sort of systematicexistentialist thought put forward by a so-called existentialist would contradict the verypremise of existentialism – thus did Sartre, for example, strive never to repeat himself.The subject of Existentialism abstracted from human personality, the subject that isindividual human existence as distinct from and prior to human being, is the broadest of subjects, the subject of all subjects subjected to particular existence. Kierkegaardappropriately called abstracted individuality the “category of one.” Being and existencesomehow converge in the category of one. The category of one is presumably a generalterm for particulate being or qualitative individual existence, as if objects stripped of theirpredicates still had a quality in common – “existence” – but still remain unique inthemselves. We might revert to Leibniz and speculate on independent existences aswindowless monads that are identical but for number, yet, although identicallyconstituted, somehow have slightly different perceptions.Suffice it to say that the category of one is incomprehensible hence is compatible withirrationality; the non-categorical category of absolute individual freedom has no relationto hence no dependence for its category on others; thus is existentialism is non-systematic, indefinite, and irrational despite the volumes of rationalizations that justify it.A perceived individual or particular is a unique coincidence of universal qualities had incommon by many particulars, qualities that “survive” the individuals involved, so tospeak; the qualities are sorts of general beings that have no perceivable existence absenttheir coincidence in particular objects. The uniqueness of individuals, needless to say,does not preclude their being typecast according to their similarities, thus they areaccorded with a higher, more conceptual being. But denuded existence, or the conceptionof existents stripped of the qualitative predicates necessary for being, is virtually nothingand unknowable to boot.Christian existentialism, for instance, is a contradiction in terms; Christians in need of anseemingly objective standard or external authority in order to prolong isolated or “freed”subjective individuality beyond the inevitable fate of all individuals, death, project thevague qualitative impressions of the fleeting willful self within onto a screen: the eternalSubject external, the Immortal Subject of subjects, the unknown self-god painted large,the Divine Individualist crucified by existence in the world. But then the Christianexistentialist has placed Being before denuded existence, and in the form of a socialcreature, a human being, thus slips from Existentialism to Personalism. Yet here thehuman being is still alienated from the Supreme Being although reflecting it.
 As Boethius said, “Nothing is said to be because it has matter, but because it hasdistinctive form. But the divine substance is form without matter, and therefore one, andis its own essence. But other things are not simply their own essences. For each thing hasits being from the things of which it is composed. The Pure Form “is truly One in whichis no number, in which nothing is present except its own essence,” of “God that differsfrom God in no respect,” and “where there is no difference there is no sort of pluralityand accordingly no number; here therefore is unity alone…..” Precisely how this Beingdiffers from Nothing is unclear, but like the category of one that is said to be individualexistence before being, the being before existence strips or alienates the godly personfrom material existence, and it remains to be seen how this person really exists at all.However that might be, long before the term 'existentialism' was coined, the abstract yetirrational subject of individual subjective existence was considered to be unlimited by oreven antithetical to grandiose systems-of-being such as those cranked out by theologiansand the likes of Hegel and Marx. Indeed, we have a history of centuries of alienation,freedom, irresponsibility, guilt, despair, and dire circumstances of persecution unto death,not to mention other factors of enormous interest to today's existentialists.II. The Gist of PersonalismPersonalism shares existentialism’s concern with the plight of the existent individual; therhetoric is similar is several respects. Yet we may draw a convenient distinction to positthat personalism is the hopeful affirmation of the absolute value of the socially organizedhuman personality, in contradistinction to existentialism’s pessimistic denial of the virtueof socially organized being. Personalism’s social optimism is not the positive mentalattitude of the bourgeois towards the rational organization of economic mass man forproduction and consumption. Shortly before the Great War, optimistic leaders atinternational peace conferences declared that free trade between countries had renderedwar obsolete; for, they argued, unprofitable war would certainly be self-destructive henceinsane. But self-destruction is the unconscious motive for war. Of what avail is it to tellangry competitive men, for whom economic trade is an unsatisfactory surrogate for war,that the murder of particular enemies is on the whole a form of mass suicide no matterwho wins or loses? The enemy, sayeth the prophets, are the rods of god, thus does thedeath instinct serve the god of death and relieve the swarm of its crowded stress that theremainder can begin anew with more elbow room. Once the ground is leveled, thesurvivors clutch their bibles, glorify their god, and the say ‘never again’ during thereconstruction period; but once prosperity sets in, bibles are laid aside and the goldencalves are reestablished on altars for a repeat performance.Emmanuel Mounier, a pioneering Personalist of Catholic disposition who took refuge inVichy France, where he was involved in the moral indoctrination of youth, had this to sayof the vicious cycle wherein the cheap, hypocritical optimism of having a positive mentalattitude no matter what transpires plays an important role when business is done as usualbefore the next apocalypse:

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