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Appears in Collections:Law and Philosophy eTheses
Title: Person and world: the interrelation of newness and presence
Author(s): Knock, Andrew H D
Issue Date: 1977
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Introduction: a) Methodology In the essay which follows, three concepts occupy the central stage:- learning, the world, and the person – and in large measure the essay is an exploration of the ways in which these three are bound together. It is thus in one sense a conceptual exploration; but not one which proceeds by considering cases, and any appeal to illustration and example is more often than not absent. A full explanation of this belongs, obviously, to the body of the text: a general justification for such an approach is that it is the concern of the essay to put forward certain basic features of learning, the world and the person – features which are ontologically prime – and this concern with what is basic is inimical to any analysis which proceeds by examination of cares. Up to this point I would agree with P F Strawson (Introduction to Individuals), that philosophy is competent to handle other questions than those arising out of the consideration of examples, and that this leads it back into metaphysics. What Strawson has seen, and rightly, is that the very presuppositions made by a methodology that describes how we speak, typified by J L Austin and the bulk of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations are still logical ones and need viewing in a more general framework. But Strawson’s own approach – to generalise on these logical presuppositions and set out the kind of particularity and generality we in fact operate with, although legitimate as far as it goes, begs as many questions as it deals. Descriptive metaphysics, which is how Strawson labels his own work, goes hand in hand with the description of cases; thus Strawson properly describes the methodological presuppositions of anyone seeking understanding through the description of particular cases. Where it has seemed to me that we must leave this approach behind is when we attempt to understand what learning is, and in particular the development of a concept of particularity – the concept of an ‘object’. Strawson is aware that the concept of a person does not quite fit into the framework of ‘objects’ he first develops, and thus that particularity is strangely difficult to set out with respect to other people and to oneself. My own concern in this essay is to approach the question of particularity, both in ‘objects’ and people, from a completely different angle – that of learning, in which the question of the emergence of our concept of particularity is not handled in isolation from the fact that we are people. That is, I have sought to view the concept of an ‘object’ in continuous relation to the concept of the person who has such a grasp of objectivity, rather than treating language, even on this very general level of logic, as a reality which can be understood without reference to the very personal being of those who speak it. This I take to be the problem in metaphysics – not to say how all reality is, from the point of view omniscience, nor simply to relativise that omniscience and offer a world-view, but to say how it is in fact possible for this concept of reality to be thought through by a person at all. It is not then a consideration of the concept of reality we do in fact employ – this is descriptive metaphysics in Strawson’s sense – but rather a consideration of how people are related to reality in such a way that they can have a concept of reality at all. One very important way of tackling this question is Heidegger’s: - the approach to reality must be through the reality of the man who conceives of it in order to approach it. But my own background and training have led me to Wittgenstein, whose principal questions are not about ‘man’ as such, but about the relation between language and the world. As I have noted, Wittgenstein often appears as one of the archetypal representatives of a purely illustrative philosophy of cases – a describer of logical geography par excellence. But although I have continually born mind a remark of Peter Winch (in “Wittgenstein’s Treatment of the Will”) to the effect that a concern with some feature of language as more basic that the rest is a concern which is rather alien to Wittgenstein’s later thought, it has also seemed correct, as I take it it seems to Winch, not to take the techniques of the bulk of Philosophical Investigations as the fullness or point of this later thought; hence one of the secondary themes of this essay is the extent of the projection of earlier ideas into Wittgenstein’s later though. b) Aims My purpose in writing the essay, and focusing on the concepts of learning, person and world, has been primarily to work out a model for personhood, for being a person. This has involved a ‘sifting out’ of the concept of a person from that of the world, a gradual differentiation handled with almost exclusive reference to the concept of learning. The attention given to learning owes a great deal to Wittgenstein, largely because Wittgenstein has always seemed to me to metaphysician in the above sense, and to have found that this concern to speal about how we speak about the world required him to approach this through the way we learn. The central three chapters of this essay are concerned to work out what this approach to the world, and our conception of it, can be seen to tell us about the concept of a person. The fifth and final chapter then explores this concept more critically, with particular reference to the Jewish theologian Martin Buber. Buber’s very decisive importance in developing and popularising the ideas of personal encounter and relationship in not one I have any wish to minimise – but it does seem to me that the cost of this popularising has been that he writes on a moral level rather than the ontological level he claims to be working on, and hence that, while he constantly draws our attention to the riches and centrality of other people in our lives, he never soes justice to the ‘I’ that is to come into relationship with them. Rather than writing about I-Thou relationships, Buber writes about Thous, and thus he never quite leaves discourse about possibilities of experience rather than of a relationship which transforms the experiencing self as well as his experience of the other. At apparently the other extreme to Buber, the writings of the French thinker and mystic, Simone Weil, almost ignore the possibilities of encounter with other people. It is the self, and the possibility of transforming oneself, which is at the centre of Weil’s thought – yet for this reason she offers a valuable foil to Buber’s focus on ‘the other’. She is a writer who seeks to set out the possibilities of transformation of the self with reference to nothing other than the world of matter, while holding form to the conviction that it is God’s will that one should never for one minute look beyond this world, even to God. It is my concern to show that neither Buber nor Weil does justice to what a person is. Both writers as it were overreact – Buber by forgetting self, Weil by forgetting the other. They are still working with a concept of objectivity which assumes that a person exists in the same dimension of particularity as an object; and hence that it must in the end be possible to say that ‘I’ and ‘the other’ are two of a kind. This question of the ‘sameness’ with which we may speak of self and others is a problem Wittgenstein concentrated very heavily on, and it has led to much discussion of the ideas of ‘inner’ – as opposed to ‘outer’ or worldly – experiences, and of private knowledge of, and language about, oneself. While aware of the breadth of this discussion, I have tried to pick my own way through this rather highly-strung area, and have made references to only a few articles. Wittgenstein’s basic approach seems to me to have a great deal to say to the enthusiasm of Buber and Weil, in redressing the balance between their extremes and suggesting that what a person actually is is something a bit more mysterious than either writer has seen. This dimension of mystery is not a puzzle or a problem however, and it is the serious defect of Strawson’s approach that this is how it in fact appears: we can only record that mind and body are in fact related, though we know not how. Certainly I would agree that it is impossible to do justice to what a person is without taking account of our concept of ‘the world’- here again Buber and Weil between them point to what is needed; the question is whether we begin from the understanding we have of ‘the world’ in order to place people within it, or rather begin from this understanding in order to ask how people can understand the world at all. The thesis of this essay is that when we follow this latter approach, and only in this way, can we do justice to what a person is, because we find that one person’ understanding of the world presupposes and rests upon others who are not part of this world. That is not to say, then, that ‘a person’ as one of these others rather than oneself, or vice versa: the attempt to reduce person to one or other of these goes hand in hand with particular philosophical reductions – realism or solipsism. Wittgenstein early on recognised that these are both oversimplifications: Solipsism, when its implications are followed out strictly, coincides with pure realism. The self of solipsism shrinks to a point without extension, and there remains the reality coordinated with it. Thus there really is a sense in which philosophy can talk about the self in a non-psychological way. What brings the self into philosophy is the fact that ‘the world is my world’. (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 5.64 – 5.641) But at this stage, as we shall be considering in more detail, Wittgenstein, like Weil, viewed the problem as one arising between self and world, without reference to any problem surrounding the notion of other people – thus it is fair to say that there is here no distinct concept of a person at all: rather than asking whether ‘person’ can be reduced to ‘others’ in the world’, or to the self, Wittgenstein’ problem was simply whether the self can be reduced to the world, or the world to the self. There are only two elements in the reduction, not three – nonetheless the fact that he wished to avoid either reduction remained the base from which he could much later reject the corresponding reduction of what a person is. Such a reduction appears even in Strawson’s proposal that person is a two-sided concept, applying both to others and to oneself, as if we already knew the particular distinctness of self and others – that they are different kinds of entity which we simply have to hod together. What I have therefore essayed is to consider what happens when we no longer assume we know what kinds of entity people – self and others – are, but simply ask how we arrive at our concept of particularity – an object. The mystery of the person which emerges is certainly a ‘relational’ concept, in which it is not possible to isolate out individuals; but a ‘relation’ whose primary mode of description is that of an ‘object’. It is not, that is, a relation between objects (individual people, or subject and object), but itself an object. This of course means that it is an object in a somewhat specialised sense – an object of metaphysics rather than physics. But this in no sense means that it is a formal category without relation to our day-to-day view of the world’s furniture – the point is rather that we are not asking, What is the general category of object we employ? (the question from Aristotle to Kant and Strawson), but How do we dome to have any conception of an object? This is not, as it is sometimes taken to be, an empirical question rather than the former analytic one; it is not a question of genesis and of educational study. Certainly learning is the key concept here, but one we are still oblige to handle metaphysically – thus I have made sparing use of discussion in the philosophy of education, and only comment in passing on the controversy about the ‘new education’ (with reference to Illich and Freire). How do we come to have any concept of an object? is a question on a par with Why is there anything at all? and How did there come to by anything (rather than . . . . )? questions which Wittgenstein’s pupil and colleague, Rush Rhees, discusses with reference to Plato’s Parmenides in a most helpful way (“Where dies the world come from?” in Without Answers, pp 1015-9, to which I am indebted). Our own question does not lead us to generalise on the evidence of education, as if we know in advance of our observation what an object is and what a learner is required to do to show us he has understood its existence. If this latter is an intelligible inquiry – and it is certainly undertaken by many educational psychologists – it is a ‘realistic’ approach which takes no account whatsoever of the basis of experience – the movement, for the learner, from nothing to something being before him. This is not to say that it is a separate question – a matter of subjective rather than observational or objective psychology – and I have tried in what follows to bring out how this notion of experience in fact serves to point us back to problems that cannot be defined dimply in terms of either subject or object. The key to this seems to me to be the concept of presence and with it the move from nothing to a presence – the move what is new. Thus the essay begins with an introductory chapter which raises the problems surrounding the concepts of presence and newness in their most acute form – Meno’s paradox. I make no apologies for taking this paradox seriously, even though this is perhaps unfair to the thrust of the dialogue. It has been a great comfort at times when the prevalent methodology of linguistic philosophy – exhibiting cases – has seemed to indicate that we do, as Socrates argues against Meno, know everything anyway, and newness should not be a problem. It is not a problem within philosophy, perhaps – that is the basis Strawson’s notion of descriptive rather than revisionary metaphysics: to say where we are rather than go somewhere else – and Wittgenstein clearly assented to this: it is rather, of the essence of our investigation that we don not seek to learn anything new by it. We want to understand something that is already in plain view. For this is what we seem in some sense not to understand. (Philosophical Investigation I 89) But it has been a terrible straight-jacket on philosophy in the West that it has, by and large, taken this to mean that there is no such thing as learning anything new – whereas Wittgenstein himself devoted much of his investigation to precisely this phenomenon. The first chapter leads on to an initial consideration of presence with respect to ‘object’ and ‘world’, and at that point develops by contact with Weil, who has set out a very powerful conception of the ‘world’. This concludes the chapter, as a flag-marker, from which the essay moves off to review what ‘the world’ means. After a lengthy discussion of ‘learning’, ‘object’ and ‘understanding’, the final chapter, as already noted, sets out more explicitly what this means for our understanding of ‘person’. This attempt to be more explicit has obliged me to wite in a more ‘religious’ atmosphere than throughout the rest of the essay – a fact which reflects the much greater interest and understanding theology, unlike philosophy, has shown the concepts both of a person and of learning. This of course raises significant questions about the relation between philosophy and theology, and I realise that the loss of even a reference to other philosophers would, for many philosophers, exclude this final chapter from consideration as philosophy, while its unwillingness to talk explicitly about God would seem also to exclude it from consideration as theology. Since my prime concern here was with what is going on in a particular kind of experience and activity, and the understanding of personal presence we can draw out of it, it is, I think, a valid question to ask whether this experience and activity is in fact intelligible to any reader who does not know something of God’s self-revelation, and has not been led to see all else from this base and relationship. But, although valid, this is not a question I feel competent to answer; it would require lengthy and thorough understanding of central theological issues ranging from general/special revelation to universalism and the operation of the Spirit. Nonetheless, I have tried to develop, out of the more philosophical understanding of person in the essay, a perspective on the nature of faith which allows us to live a little more easily on the borderland between philosophy and theology. While I write from a firm conviction of God’s complete self-disclosure in his Son Jesus Christ, and the trinitarian nature of this revelation, it does not seem at all helpful to take this as a starting point for viewing the interrelation of philosophy and theology. It is not a matter of Yes or No to “Does God exist?” etc – and it has seemed important to comment on this simply because faith is so invariably viewed as an attribute of an individual person, something to mark him out from his fellows. If the concept of a person which I have been developing, as not primarily and individual at all, is correct, then this affects our understanding of what faith itself is, since it becomes tied up with the relationships people participate in rather than the means by which they are enabled to participate. Faith, that is, is not the prerequisite for communion – neither is religion; that both nonetheless occupy a central and essential place in our fuller understanding of person and communion requires, as I readily acknowledge, further and separate discussion.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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