The Notion Of The Human Person In Kierkegaard Vis-À-Vis African Individual
2.0 LITERATURE REVIEW: THE NOTION OF THE HUMAN PERSON IN THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY.
Though the existentialist notion of the human person in its developed forms is a phenomenon of recent times, its root can be traced back in the history of philosophy and even into man’s pre-philosophical attempts to attain to some self-understanding. Existentialist philosophy brought to our utmost awareness an attitude of mind and a way of thinking that are as old as human existence itself. TO PLACE AN ORDER FOR THE COMPLETE PROJECT MATERIAL, pay N3, 000 to: BANK NAME: FIRST BANK ACCOUNT NAME: OKEKE CHARLES OBINNA ACCOUNT NUMBER: 3108050531 After payment, text the name of the project, email address and your
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After payment, text the name of the project, email address and your names to 08064502337That has manifested itself in varying degrees throughout the history of thought. Sometimes we see those themes that we have taken to be typical of existentialism rather prominent in certain phases of culture. Thus, existentialist understanding of the human person has a definite lineage.
The story can be traced back to the mythological stage of thought. The existentialist accounts see in mythology man’s first groping towards an identity. So, it may be claimed that the fundamental self-questioning that is characteristic of the existentialist style of philosophizing was already struggling for expression in the period when human thought was still mythological in character.
- IN ANCIENT PERIOD
In this period, the existentialist themes already present in a latent way in the myths became increasingly explicit. Rational Greek philosophy began with the so-called physicists, and it seems to have been directed outward upon the world rather than on the specific being of man.
However, Socrates is of special significance in the genesis of a philosophy of existence, for with him a revolution took place in Greek philosophy. Attention was shifted from nature to man himself as the center of all philosophical enquiries. One is not surprised then why Kierkegaard admired Socrates. It was in Socrates’ philosophy that the proper knowledge of man as an agent began. Socrates did not see man only as a rational being but as an existential being. Thus, he insisted that “all thought and activity should be directed towards enhancing the meaning of human existence”10. No wonder his insistence that “an unexamined life is not worth living”.
After Socrates, the individual was again “pushed into the background by systems of thought, historical events and technological forces”11. The major systems of philosophy had rarely paid attention to the uniquely personal concerns of the individual. Plato and Aristotle wrote about the human person.
According to Plato, man is a composite of body and soul, and soul is the real nature of the human person, while the body is a sort of the ‘prison yard’ of the soul. On his own part, Aristotle rejected Plato’s dualism in his concept of the
human person. For Aristotle, the human person is composed of body and soul, both of which are equally important elements of man. He underlined the substantiality and unity of man as a composite being. Aristotle equally wrote a major treatise on ethics. Notwithstanding these, Montaigne challenged that “he could not recognize most of his daily doings when they appear in Aristotle”12. This most probably implied that Aristotle’s philosophy, as well as that of Plato, had no direct concern about particular individual man as an agent.
- IN MEDIEVAL PERIOD
In the medieval period, St. Augustine, Boethius and St. Thomas Aquinas among others also spoke on the concept of the human person. The notion of person became more definite and clearer in this period. St. Augustine engaged in profound introspective psychological analysis to discover the source of human beings’ personal insecurity and anxiety. He defined the human person
as, “singulus quisque homo una persona est”13. That is, “every single person is a man”. Boethius from his own point of view sees a person as “an individual
substance of a rational nature” (rationalis naturae individua substantia). St. Thomas Aquinas adopted this Boethian definition. Despite the efforts of these medieval philosophers at explaining the human person, they ended up at stating what the human being is and should be like, and not what concerns the individual in his day-
to-day life. So, philosophy still dealt with the technical problems of metaphysics, ethics and theory of knowledge in a general and objective manner, which by passed the intimate concerns of people about their personal destiny. 14
- IN MODERN PERIOD
Some philosophers of the modern period, especially Descartes and Locke, equally contributed their own quota towards the true understanding of the human person. With Descartes (1596-1650), Western philosophy became more rationalistic and intellectualistic. At this time, even religion, “the traditional source of human beings’ sense of worth, meaning and moral guidance was itself suffering from the critical impact of rational and scientific thought”15. Descartes philosophy is founded on the thinking subject (self-consciousness) as only a thinking subject. There was no concern about the existential subject. The whole essence of man was to ‘think’. This is equally seen in the philosophy of Locke (1932-1704). His definition of the human person is “a thinking intelligent being that has reason and reflection….”16.
Eventually, this thinking subject came to its apex in Hegel (1770-1831). Hegel absolutised thought. For him, there is only one reality, the Mind or Spirit. And thus, “all concrete individuals are necessary and inevitable manifestations in the universe, known a priori and all coming from the single, i.e., the absolute Mind or Spirit”17. This implies that man’s position in this constantly mediating system of Hegel is extremely negligible. The individual self is not a separate and independent entity, possessing essence and existence, a free agent who chooses and is the master of his own destiny. Rather, he is merely a moment within the unfolding of the absolute Spirit. It was this utter negligence of the concrete individual by Hegel that sparked off existentialism in the contemporary period. Thus, the attentions of Kierkegaard and other existentialists were attracted.
2.0.4 IN CONTEMPORARY PERIOD
In this period especially, the existentialists particularly emphasized the importance and the dignity of the human person. The existentialists make man’s subjectivity the measure of all things. They emphasize the place and the importance of the individual subject. The individual subject is the beginning and the end of every endeavour and every inquiry.
The existentialist philosophers have diversified ways of philosophizing about the existing individual. There are those who philosophize from atheistic viewpoint, those who philosophize from theistic viewpoint, and those who philosophize from agnostic viewpoint. Theistic existentialists like Soren Kierkegaard, Gabriel Marcel, Martin Buber and others admit the existence of personal Transcendent Being-God. For these theistic existentialists, man’s life on earth is a movement towards the Transcendent Being. The atheists like Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and so on deny the existence of the Transcendent Being. For them, whatever man does ends here in the physical world. The agnostic existentialist, like Martin Heidegger, neither affirmed nor denied the existence of God.
However, viewed theistically, atheistically or agnostically, contemporary existentialists are “primarily concerned with human existence, considered in a dramatic light, and the term ‘existence’ has for them a special meaning, referring first and foremost to man as a free, self-transcending subject”18. So, the human person as a free agent has a central place among contemporary existentialists. The free individual protests against whatever threatens his unique position as an ‘ex-sistent’ subject, that is, as a free subject who, though a being in the world and so part of nature, at the same time stands out from the background of nature. The existentialists therefore, insist that the flesh-and-blood individual man, and not some Platonic form or even a moment in a Hegelian dialectical process, is the proper object of study for philosophy.
All existentialists furthermore, are constantly concerned about the question of authenticity and/or inauthenticity of the individual’s existence. For Kierkegaard, “authentic existence is achieved by making a leap of faith and by becoming totally committed to a life of subjectivity and truth.”19. For Heidegger, man is also urged to live authentically by means of existential choices he makes in dread and in the shadow of death. For Buber, Marcel and Berdyaev, authentic existence is also grounded in communion and inter-subjectivity. Jean Paul Sartre’s man should also live authentically by making his own choices. For early Camus, authentic existence is a life amidst the absurd. It demands a rejection of both physical and philosophical suicide. For later Camus, authentic existence lies in a life of common brotherhood of man.
It is clear that for Marcel, Buber, Berdyaev and the later Camus, man is not an Island, and in order to lead a meaningful and authentic existence, he must establish a loving and mutually reciprocal relationship with other human beings. Hence, in order to live authentically, the individual man should treat a fellow human being as a genuine “thou”, an individual who has personal rights and sacredness and dignity that I must respect. The authentic individual as an “I” is therefore totally conditioned by the generosity with which one makes oneself available in mutual love, fidelity and faith to the other. This view of theirs concerning the individual subject resembles the African view in a way. We shall see the African view shortly, but suffice it to say now that Africans see the individual, the authentic individual from reference to the environing community. This is not just philosophized about, as we see in the above philosophers. It is a way of life of the Africans, which has eaten deep into their fabric. It stems from their unitary world-view. So, African notion of communal relationship is deeper and more profound than a mere mutual respect and friendly living as propagated by Buber, Marcel, Berdyaev and later Camus.
Meanwhile, let us see, in a nutshell, how the human person was understood in contemporary African philosophy.
2.0.5 IN CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY
The Ancient African had no written tradition. African philosophy was being transferred orally from one generation to the other. Hence, their philosophy was preserved in myths, folklores, folktales, proverbs, wise sayings and so on. The then African philosophy was not thoroughly critical. It was at the inception of this contemporary era in African philosophy that there came a written record of African thought, and the light of reason was poured on the unsystematic mass of thought loosely called “African philosophy”.
Consequently, it was during this contemporary era that the African notion of the human person was explored philosophically. The result was a great discovery, which was not only philosophized about by the African philosophers, but is also observed in the African lived experience.
Africans have a unitary world-view. Their understanding of the authentic individual is never in exclusion of the community. In taking any decision or in undertaking one’s responsibility, the African considers the good of others before his own. They find justice in living communal life. Thus, the African man is not only concerned about the individual man as an existing subject, but in relation to other subjects.
Moreover, there is even a close connection with the dead in the African setting. The dead who lived good life while alive are still in communion with the living. They are considered in whatever the living are doing. That is why a misdemeanor by the living can attract punishment from the spirits of the ancestors. These ancestors are described as the “Living-dead”, for they are still believed to live among the living spiritually. So, the African community is a communion of the living and the dead in God. The individual is defined from within this community. The authentic individual is the one who is able to live in the community in communion with others.
In chapter four, we shall see the African view of the individual on a more elaborate note. For the time being, let us expatiate on Kierkegaardian view of the human per
- THE NOTION OF HUMAN PERSON IN
Kierkegaard did not treat the concept of the self explicitly. However, all his philosophy centers on restoring the dignity of the human person. In fact, his philosophical itinerary was all in defense of self as an active agent in the events of life. His emergence, which is concomitant with the emergence of existentialism, was a reaction against Hegel’s absolute idealism, which depersonalized the human person absolutely. Existence for Hegel was an act of the mind but Kierkegaard saw it as a category relating to the free individual. Thus, to exist, for Kierkegaard, means “realizing oneself through free choice between alternatives, through self-commitnent”20 Explaining existence further he says, “to exist means becoming more and more individual and less and less a mere member of a group”21. Hence, it is a transcendence of universality in favour of individuality. In Kierkegaard’s opinion, Hegel had no place for the existing individual. Hegel only universalized the individual in a fantastic manner. So, for Kierkegaard, the abstract objectivity and systematization of Hegel ignores the importance, the uniqueness and the individuality of the human person.
Self, for Kierkegaard, is therefore an actor instead of a spectator in the drama of life. The existing individual commits himself, and so gives form and direction to his life. He exists towards an end for which he actively strives by choosing this and rejecting that. This authentic existence is reached when one, by his choices, makes a “leap of faith” to God. Thus, for one to exist, one must consciously and deliberately be making personal choices about one’s own life. Let us now see in details the various aspects of the authentic individual in Kierkegaard.
- THE “INDIVIDIAL” AND THE “CROWD”
Kierkegaard has stated that it is man’s free choice that differentiates him from the ‘crowd’. Man must be at the helm of affairs of one’s own life, directing the course of one’s own life by free, personal decisions, choices and commitments. This way, one will be responsible for what one does and for the way one lives. Being aware of one’s individuality and singularity in his choice as an individual, one should not allow oneself to drift away passively with the ‘crowd’.
For Kierkegaard, every human being is an individual distinct from other persons and things. He even sees each of the members of an enraged mob as an individual. A mob may have a common consciousness that is capable of performing actions that its members could not perform precisely as an individual, no doubt. But this kind of organized mob does not depict what Kierkegaard terms a ‘crowd’. A mob may decide to carry out some tasks and after which, they disengage and remain who they are as particular individuals. A ‘crowd’, Kierkegaard explains, is a situation where one’s actions are determined by the social conventions of one’s environment. Under such an environment, one thinks, feels and acts as a member of “the One”, as a member of an impersonal collectivity, rather than as an individual. In The Point of View, Kierkegaard explains that a ‘crowd’ is not this or that crowd but “the untruth, by the reason of the fact that it renders the individual completely impenitent and irresponsible, or at least weakens his sense of responsibility by reducing it to a fraction”.22 What Kierkegaard is kicking against is not one belonging to this or that mob, but a system of philosophy that emphasizes on the universal rather than the particular. This kind of philosophy tries to show that man realizes his true essence in proportion as he rises above what is contemptuously regarded as his mere particularity and becomes a moment in the life of the universal. For Kierkegaard, this theory is false whether the universal is considered as the State or as the economic or social class or as Humanity or as absolute thought. He disapproved of the idea of employing the categories ‘race’ to indicate what it is to be a man. He sees this as a misunderstanding and mere paganism because it lacks some fundamental distinction. Human race is different from animal race, “not merely by its superiority as a race, but by the human characteristic that every single individual within the race is more than the race.”23 He sees personal relationship with God as higher and more dignifying thing than to be related to the race and through the race to God.
Furthermore, Kierkegaard sees the highest self-actualization of the individual as the “relating of oneself to God, not as the universal absolute thought, but as the absolute Thou.”24 This is the general direction of his thought. According to him, God is not man, and man is not God, nor is man a moment in God or in the absolute Thought. And dialectical thinking cannot bridge the gulf between man and God. Instead, it can be bridged only by a “leap of faith” by a voluntary act by which man relates himself as an individual to God, and freely appropriates his relation as creature to creator, as a finite individual to the transcendent Absolute. So, in personal relationship and openness to God, man maintains his individuality. Kierkegaard sees the exaltation of the universal, the collectivity and the totality as mere paganism.
Further explanation of what Kierkegaard means by becoming the individual is best reserved for the context of his theory of the three stages. This is the content of the
3.2 THE THEORY OF THE THREE STAGES
Hegel expounded the dialectics of the stages by which the mind awakens to self-consciousness, to universal consciousness and to the standpoint of absolute Thought. Kierkegaard also expounds a dialectics. But his dialectics is different from
that of Hegel. The Kierkegaardian dialectics is “the process by which spirit is actualized in the form of individuality, the individual existent, not in the form of the all-comprehensive universal”25 On the other hand, the transitions from one stage to the other is accomplished not by thinking, as in Hegelian dialectics, but by choice, by an act of the will, and in this sense by a leap. Man has to choose between alternatives. The transition to a higher stage of the dialectic is a willed self-commitment of the whole man. This is no longer a question of overcoming antithesis by a process of conceptual synthesis; it is an act of the will.
The three dialectical stages are: the Aesthetic, the Ethical and the Religious.
3.2.1 THE AESTHETIC STAGE
The word ‘aesthetic’ comes from the Greek, meaning to ‘sense’ or to ‘perceive’. The aesthetic individual lives a life of the senses. He is concerned about the pleasure of the moment. The future is not in his diary. The past only serves to heighten the present pleasure. The aesthetic individual is not so much a victim of gross passions as he is a refined and sophisticated hedonist.
The aesthete is strictly an observer, a non-participant. He does not want to be involved in life. He refuses to identify himself with anything, which might suggest fixed or observed standard of morality. Anything, which might give direction and purpose to his life he jettisons from his life.
Explaining the aesthete further, Kierkegaard says,
The aesthetic individual has no fixed principle except that he means not to be bound to anything or anybody. He has but one desire which is to enjoy the sweets of life – whether their purely sexual pleasures or the more refined Epicureanism of the finer things in life and art, and the ironic enjoyment of one’s own superiority over the rest of humanity; and he has no fear except that he may succumb to boredom.26
For the fact that the aesthete is concerned only about the pleasurable moment, when the pleasurable moment is gone, he gives in to boredom, doubt and despair as he waits for another pleasurable moment. The more he searches for the truly happy moment, the more he doubts its possibility and the more bored he becomes; the more bored he becomes, the more he is plunged into despair. Thus, the end of the aesthetic self is despair – despair over himself, his human nature and life. It was at this time of his life that Kierkegaard thought about committing suicide.
This he would have done if not for his choice for a higher stage of life. Concluding about the aesthete, Kierkegaard states,
So it appears that every aesthetic view of life is despair and that everyone who lives aesthetically is in despair, whether he knows it or not. But when one knows it (and you indeed know it) a higher form of existence is an imperative requirement27
Having seen the shipwreck of his life, the aesthete now decided to make a choice. He has to choose himself, which entails turning away from all the distractions of the world and going within oneself. This launches him on a completely new mode of existence – the ethical stage.
- THE ETHICAL STAGE
The emptiness and the uselessness of the aesthetic mode of existence give rise to the ethical or moral stage. The disillusioned man now frees himself from the
transitory and fleeting aesthetic pleasures to choose a world of permanent values. When this choice is freely made, it bestows upon the individual a unique dignity and purposefulness in life. Thus, turning towards the inwardness of his own self, the ethical man “confirms a decision towards a future which is rich with new existence; for a life that is nothing, through the act of choosing comes to have meaning and true being”28. Like Socrates then, whom Kierkegaard considers to be a perfect example of an ethical man, the former aesthete now truly learns “to know himself
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