Saturday, September 24, 2016

Seeing Others as Ourselves, and Ourselves as Others

What does it mean to “love your neighbor as yourself”? Does it mean to love your neighbor as you yourself would want to be loved? Does it mean to care for your neighbor’s well-being as much as you care for your own well-being? Does it mean to love your neighbor as if you yourself were your neighbor and you were in the same situation that your neighbor finds himself or herself in?
      Who exactly is your neighbor? Can your neighbor be anyone you meet, regardless of the particular neighborhood or community they belong to?
      What does it mean to love another (or the other) as self, to love the other as other, to love the self as self, and to love the self as other?
      When we love others as ourselves, we may act for their benefit as often as, or even more often than, we act for our own benefit. We may indeed see their benefit as no different from our own benefit. We may see others as having the same basic needs, interests, and concerns that we have. We may empathize with them when they suffer loss or misfortune, and we may try to “put ourselves in their shoes” when we make judgments about their actions.
      We may also find that seeing ourselves as others is inseparable from seeing others as ourselves. Seeing ourselves as others and seeing others as ourselves may be complementary aspects of self-awareness and social understanding. They both may be ways of becoming ourselves. They may also be ways of transcending ourselves.
       When we see others as ourselves, we cannot ignore them when they are suffering or in distress. Their well-being may become as important to us as our own well-being. We may discover that by promoting their well-being, we also promote our own well-being. We may then need to recognize that from their perspective, we may be the “others.” We may need to recognize our own otherness, and to ask ourselves whether our whole way of conceptualizing sameness and otherness needs to be revised and rethought.
      When we love others as ourselves, their suffering may indirectly become our own suffering, but we still do not directly experience their suffering unless we take that suffering directly upon ourselves in an effort to comfort or relieve them. If we are truly altruistic, then we will, if necessary, sacrifice our own comfort and security in order to relieve the suffering of others, and we will take upon ourselves the task of removing all suffering. We will also show compassion toward those whose suffering cannot be completely remedied or relieved.
      When we love others as others, we love them in all their difference(s) from us. We may even love them for their difference(s) from us. We may celebrate, rather than disparage or mistrust, their difference(s).
       When we love others as others, we also love them for who they are, rather than for who we want them to be. We respect their differences, rather than try to contest or change them. We accept their otherness, and love them without trying to deny or erase their difference(s).
      On the other hand, when we see others as others, we may sometimes make the mistake of seeing only their difference(s) from us. We may try to maintain their otherness, rather than see them as more or less the same as, or similar to, ourselves. We may try to separate ourselves from them, rather than recognize the ways in which they share with us the same basic needs, interests, and concerns. We may see them as others simply because we are ignorant about, or do not really know, them.
      If the idea of seeing others as ourselves makes us feel apprehensive, uncertain, or insecure, then we may also try to maintain their otherness for the sake of our own perceived self-interest. We may see others as fundamentally different from ourselves, even when such an attitude is based on implicit or explicit bias (racial, ethnic, gender, religious, social, or cultural), rather than on objective assessment.
      We may therefore see others as others approvingly or disapprovingly. If we see them as others disapprovingly, then we may try to maintain their otherness, rather than try to see their being in the same way that we see our own being.
      Luce Irigaray (2000), in an interview concerning her book I Love to You: Sketch for a Felicity Within History (1996), says, “’I Love to You’ means: I don’t take you as an object of my love or desire. I love you as irreducibly other. I keep a ‘to’ as an inalienable space between us, a guarantor of your freedom and mine…I protect the two that we are and the relationship between this two: I love to you like I talk to you…”I love to you” means that I will never entirely know you and that to love you implies respecting the mystery that you will always be for me.”1
     The “others” for us may be those who are (racially, ethnically, sexually, politically, socially, or culturally) different from us. But we ourselves are all, to some extent, different from one another. We all are “others” to, or for, others.
      We also are more or less psychologically, emotionally, and cognitively different from one another. We all may to some extent differ in our perceptions of ourselves and of one another.
      There may also be a true and a false sense of otherness. We may sometimes feel as if we are others, when in fact we are not. We may try to become others by appropriating their otherness, but we may not obtain a true otherness by doing so. We may indeed only obtain a false sense of otherness and of being outsiders, when in fact we are merely others and outsiders by choice. The true outsiders may be those who have been excluded by the insiders.
      On the other hand, we may not always be aware of our own otherness. We may have a false sense of being accepted as the same, when in fact we are not accepted as the same, and are different.
      As others, we may sometimes be made objects of suspicion, ridicule, derision, and contempt by those who want to subjugate, oppress, and impose otherness on us. We may be made victims of (racial, ethnic, gender, religious, social, or cultural) prejudice and discrimination. We may be unfairly perceived as interlopers or trespassers.
     We each may have to ask ourselves, “Who am I?” But we may find that we can only answer, “I am myself” or “I am the other.”
      If we love the self as self, then we may see the self as self, and not as other. We may, however, also become selfish or solipsistic. We may put our own interests and concerns before the interests and concerns of others. Our own self-love may guide our attitudes and actions toward others. We may be narcissistic in our concern for, or about, ourselves. We may look favorably on ourselves and unfavorably on others, simply because we see ourselves as different from them, and see them as different from us.
      On the other hand, if we love the self as other, then we may see ourselves as in some way strange and not understood by (or not understandable to) us. We may see ourselves as alien or unknown to us.
      Emmanuel Levinas (1961) describes “Welcoming the Other” as a mode of subjectivity that places the freedom of the self in question, because the self is faced with the infinity of the Other. The self remains free by separating itself from the Other, but the self is responsible for the decisions it makes regarding the use of its own freedom.2
      The dialectic of self and other is also the dialectic of “we” and “they.” “We” are the same or similar, while “they” are different. “We” belong to the same group or community, while “they” are others or outsiders.
      Welcoming others may consist of inviting them to become members of our (residential, professional, academic, religious, social, or cultural) community. It may also be a means of affirming the aims, interests, and concerns that we share in common. It may also be a means of promoting social and cultural pluralism.
     

FOOTNOTES

1Luce irigaray, “Different from You/Different Between Us,” in Why Different? A Culture of Two Subjects: Interviews with Luce Irigaray, edited by Luce irigaray and Sylvère Lotringer (New York: Semiotext(e), 2000), p. 81.
2Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity (Totalité et Infini, 1961), translated by Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969), pp. 27, 85.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Johann Gottlieb Fichte's Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation

Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation (Versuch einer Kritik aller Offenbarung, 1792), despite its title, is a defense, rather than a critique, of the meaningfulness and validity of the concept of revelation, and it is an investigation not of “all revelation” (in the sense of both religious and non-religious revelation), but only of religious revelation (which for Fichte constitutes “all revelation”).
      Fichte describes a theory of volition according to which the will to obey principles of morality may be guided by practical reason. Insofar as the idea of God as moral lawgiver may facilitate determinations of the will, it may also guide us to act according to practical reason. The translation of the idea of God as moral lawgiver into the idea of the moral law in human nature is the principle of religion, insofar as this translation of pure into practical reason may serve as a guide for determinations of the will.1
      Fichte distinguishes between natural and revealed religion by saying that God as lawgiver may proclaim himself to us through natural or supernatural means. Natural (or rational) religion is based on recognition of the natural (or rational) means by which God may proclaim himself to us as lawgiver, while revealed religion is based on recognition of the supernatural means by which God may proclaim himself to us as lawgiver. Natural and revealed religion may be combined, and they are mutually compatible.
      Revelation, according to Fichte, is an event or experience by which something is made known to us. Something is revealed to us when it is made known to us. Revelation therefore presupposes two internal conditions: the thing that is made known, and the form in which is made known. It also presupposes two external conditions: someone who makes something known, and someone to whom that thing is made known. 2
      The possibility of divine revelation also presupposes the existence of God. Fichte therefore asks: how can we know that a given revelation comes from God? How can we know that it is God who has revealed something to us?
       Such questions may be especially important when we try to distinguish revelation from other phenomena, such as fantasy, hallucination, or the delusion of a deranged person who commits some senseless crime or irrational act and then says, “I heard God’s voice talking to me,” or “I had a vision from God,” or “God made me do it.” In contrast to a delusion, which may be described as a fixed, persistent, idiosyncratic, false belief that is resistant to reason, a revelation may be described as a proclamation or communication from God that apparently conforms to reason.
      To answer the question of how we can know that a given revelation is from God, Fichte describes some criteria for the divinity of a revelation (with regard to its form), including (1) any revelation that has proclaimed, maintained, or propagated itself by immoral means cannot be from God,3 (2) only a revelation that proclaims God as moral lawgiver can be truly believed to be from God,4 and (3) any revelation that attempts to move us to act on account of motives other than reverence and respect for God’s holiness cannot be from God.5
      Fichte describes some additional criteria for the divinity of a revelation (with regard to its content), including (1) a revelation cannot require faith in teachings that cannot be arrived at by reason, (2) a revelation cannot require faith in teachings that are contradictory to reason (indeed, we can convince ourselves of the divinity of a given revelation only if it conforms to reason6), and (3) the divinity of a revelation must be evident not only on grounds of its conformity to reason, but also on other grounds7 (such as its arising from something supernatural in the sensory world).
      Fichte explains that the essential element of (divine) revelation is the proclamation, through a supernatural effect in the sensory world, of God as moral lawgiver.8 Thus, revelation cannot be proven to have any objective validity, and it may not even have subjective validity for all rational individuals.9 A rational acceptance of a particular revelation as divine is possible only on a priori grounds, and this renders problematic any acceptance of a particular revelation as divine on the basis of principles learned from experience.
      Fichte also explains that a priori knowledge of something is demonstrated, rather than revealed, to us.10 We can have a posteriori knowledge of something on the basis of experience, but only a priori knowledge enables us to conclusively prove or objectively demonstrate it.
      A questionable claim made by Fichte is that something can be made known to us only if we do not already know it. Something that we already know cannot be made known to us; only the fact that we already know it can be made known to us. But this claim raises the question: why can’t something be made known to us more than once? Why can’t something that we already know be repeatedly revealed to us? —Perhaps the repeated revelation of a given thing may secure our knowledge or confirm our certainty of that thing,
      Another questionable claim is that whenever something is made known to us, there must be someone other than ourselves who has directly or indirectly made it known to us. But why isn’t it possible for us to reveal things to ourselves? Why can’t we reveal things to ourselves that we weren’t previously aware of? Perhaps in revealing things about ourselves to others, we may reveal to ourselves things about ourselves that we weren’t previously aware of or that we weren’t previously prepared to acknowledge.
      Another questionable claim is that only things that are known a priori are provable or objectively demonstrable. —What about proof by experience or scientific testing?
      The concept of revelation presupposes an empirically given moral need for revelation, explains Fichte. God would not reveal something to us if it were not logically necessary for him to do so. Every (divine) revelation proclaims God as moral lawgiver, and therefore only those revelations that have this proclamation as their ultimate purpose can be truly believed to be from God.
     Fichte concludes that (divine) revelation is rationally possible, and that a critique of it can only apply the concept of it to a given event or experience and guide us in doing so; that is to say, a critique of (divine) revelation can only determine the conditions under which the application of the concept of revelation to a given event or experience is possible.11 We may therefore be certain of both the possibility of revelation in general and the possibility of a particular manifestation of it by some event or experience that fulfills the proper criteria.


FOOTNOTES

1Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation, edited by Allen Wood, translated by Garrett Green (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 41.
2Ibid., p. 51.
3Ibid., p. 93.
4Ibid., p. 94.
5Ibid., p. 94.
6Ibid., pp. 100-101.
7Ibid., p. 99.
8Ibid., p. 96.
9Ibid., p. 66.
10Ibid., p. 52.
11Ibid., p. 132.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Letter and Spirit of the Law

With regard to the letter and spirit of the law, there may be four kinds of actions: those that obey both the letter and spirit of the law, those that obey the letter but not the spirit of the law, those that obey the spirit but not the letter of the law, and those that obey neither the letter nor the spirit of the law.
      In cases where there is an apparent conflict between the letter and spirit of the law, we may have to determine whether obedience to the letter of the law is more important than obedience to the sprit of the law, or vice versa. We may have to determine whether we can obey the spirit, without strictly obeying the letter, of the law, unless we adopt a legalistic interpretation of our moral duty. If we decide to be legalistic in our interpretation of our duty, then obedience to the letter of the law may be more important than obedience to the spirit of the law, whenever obedience to both cannot simultaneously be achieved.
      Since the spirit of the law may be a subject of debate, we may need to employ a variety of interpretive resources in order to precisely determine its nature. Legal hermeneutics may require social, cultural, linguistic, and historical investigation of legal texts. Since some texts may be imprecise, ambiguous, or unclear, they may require interpretation by judges, jurists, or legal scholars. Our interpretation of the spirit of the law may depend on what we perceive as the law’s intended purposes and effects, as well as on our own notions of what justice, equity, and fairness require.
      Relativism about the law’s letter and spirit may assert that they are merely a matter of interpretation, and that the law is therefore merely a coercive instrument used by those in power to reinforce their position of social, economic, and political advantage over others.
      Legalism with regard to moral duty may be described as the theory that moral duty is a matter of obedience to the law, and that actions are right or wrong insofar as they obey or do not obey the law. It may also be described as the theory that it is always our duty to obey the law, whatever the consequences of that law may be. It may also be described as the theory that our moral duty extends only as far as the law extends.
      According to one possible legalistic interpretation of our moral duty, as long as we obey the law, we cannot be said to have violated our moral duty. We do not have a duty to perform actions that are not legally required; we only have a duty to perform those actions that are legally required, and a duty not to perform those actions that are illegal. We do not have a duty to provide support to those who are helpless or to care for those who are suffering, unless we are legally required to do so. We do not have a duty to offer aid to the unfortunate or to provide shelter for the homeless, unless we are legally required to do so. We do not have a duty to end armed conflict abroad or to relieve world hunger and poverty, unless we are legally required to do so.
      Weaknesses of legalism as a theory of moral duty include the following:
      (1) It may delimit our moral duty to such an extent that we may not be inclined to perform those actions that are not legally required. We may not be inclined to perform generous or unselfish actions if we do not think they are morally obligatory. There may be no laws requiring us to be good Samaritans, and so we may feel we have no duty to extend help to our neighbors when they are in need.
      (2) It may encourage a literalistic interpretation of the law, even when that interpretation is not suitable for present circumstances and does not fulfill the needs of contemporary society. Thus, it may not allow for a situational ethics or a moral pragmatism. It may assert that it is always our moral duty to obey the law, no matter how unfair, inequitable, or unjust that law may be.
      (3) It may not recognize that we do not necessarily have a duty to obey unjust laws; we may indeed have a duty to disobey them. Thus, it may not recognize that civil disobedience may in some cases be justified as a means of seeking social justice.
      (4) It may encourage harsh or merciless punishment of those who disobey the law, even when such punishment is unnecessary and serves no useful social purpose.
      (5) It may encourage the attitude that “the law is the law, regardless of whether it makes sense.” Although there may be some laws that are outdated or that have unexpected loopholes or that have unanticipated consequences, it may not recognize that such laws should be changed and that reform of the legal system is sometimes necessary.
      (6) It may encourage the excessive use of the legal system and adversarial litigation as a means of resolving disputes, rather than promoting the use of less costly, less time-consuming, and less contentious methods of conflict resolution.
      (7) It may attempt to justify acts of legal chicanery or gamesmanship and other morally dubious but legal transactions, on the grounds that even if such actions are morally questionable, they are legal and cannot therefore be criticized for not having fulfilled the principles of moral duty. Thus, for example, legalism may be used as a justification for cheating a person out of her money or property, if such an act cannot be legally prosecuted.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Love and Understanding

Does love require a kind of understanding? Does understanding, at least in some cases, require a kind of love?  Does one or the other have moral, logical, or epistemic priority?
      Can there be understanding without love, and love without understanding?
      Do we have to understand (or be able to show understanding toward) someone in order to be able to love them? Do we have to love someone in order to be able to understand (or show understanding toward) them?
      Is understanding a ground of love, and love a ground of understanding? Do we have to “love our enemies” in order to understand them?         
      There may be a certain kind of understanding that requires love of whomever or whatever we’re trying to understand. There may also be a certain kind of love that requires or depends on our presumed understanding of whomever or whatever we think we love.
       There may also be a kind of love of things that are beyond our complete understanding.
      Suppose that instead of saying “I believe, so that I may understand” (“Credo ut intelligam,” as Anselm affirmed) or “I seek to understand, so that I may believe” ("Quaero intelligere ut credam,” as he denied), we each were to say, “I love, so that I may understand” or “I seek to understand, so that I may love”? What would then happen to our perceptions of ourselves and one another?
      There may be many kinds of love: parental, filial, marital, brotherly, sisterly, neighborly, romantic, erotic, and sexual. There may also be many kinds of understanding: analytic, synthetic, intellectual, emotional, empathetic, experiential, practical, and theoretical. An “adequate” understanding of someone or something (however that “adequacy” may be defined) may require more than one kind of understanding of that person or thing.
      There may also be various kinds of self-love and self-understanding,
      Can we truly love someone whom we don’t at all understand? Can we truly love someone if we don’t actually know who she is and who we’re actually in love with? Perhaps we can love someone in spite of not always being able to understand them. Perhaps true love requires that we love others unconditionally and without necessarily having to understand all their thoughts, words, and actions.
      It may be argued that love may sometimes be irrational or unexplainable; but can such an act or emotion properly be called “love” (rather than “infatuation” or “obsession”) if it's utterly irrational?
      Mustn’t we be able to think that we have at least some partial or incomplete understanding of whomever or whatever we think we love?
      Don’t we in some cases love someone for the very reason that we understand them, or understand someone for the very reason that we love them? How much of a role may understanding then play in our falling in or out of love? And how much of our love for someone or something may be determined by our own capacity for self-understanding?
      Loving someone may require at least a willingness to try to understand them, even if we don't have the fully developed capacity to do so. The imperfectness of our love may then be revealed, at least in part, by the imperfectness of our understanding of them.
      There may also be degrees of love and understanding. If we love someone enough, perhaps that means that we’ll be able to sufficiently understand them.
       Is there a threshold level of love that’s necessary for our understanding of someone? Is there a threshold level of understanding that’s necessary for our love of someone?
      Perhaps we should try more often to determine both the nature of our understanding of love and the nature of our love of understanding. Perhaps we should also try more often to determine whether we’re actually developing a greater understanding of the nature of love or whether we’re merely falling in love with the idea of understanding it.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Artscape, Baltimore, 2016




















                       Reggie Wayne Morris


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