Wednesday, May 11, 2005

An Aspid that Bites Itself in Silent Anger

In an attempt to observe and reflect upon Max Scheler’s view of the relationship of personhoods and acts, presented by Martin Heidegger in a book “Beginning and Time,” I have written a short essay that aims to trace the development of the thought process that led from the casual common-sense understanding to a more inclusive conception. This approach seemed as the only way for me to come to understand Scheler’s position. In this paper, I will attempt to reevaluate the results of this approach and pick out the loose threads of thought that might have some relevance.
The essay begins, rather clumsily, with an attempt to define performance through a relationship of intentions and outcomes, spilling into a discussion over a possibility of identifying and validating acts (both intentional and unintentional) thought the consideration of an outcome. This progression seems to have some merit, as the discussion of the outcomes could easily have spread into the beginning stages of understanding the nature of the unity of meaning. The outcome is merely one of the facets of the non-psychical elements that relate to acts. Sadly, the point was not developed further, and the view quickly shifted to a simpler, traditional understanding of acts as the union of body and spirit.

As previously stated, the task of arriving to Schelers point from a simpler understanding of the acts has been at the heart of the essay from the beginning, but the appearance of that definition in the body of the text seems a little backwards. The following blunders of the terms spirit and soul did not help my credibility, but allowed to at least eliminated one of the extraneous elements that could’ve lured the unity of meaning into the depths of theological quicksand.

The next paragraph takes a step even further back and attempts to determine the presence of a psychical component in the mix that makes up a person. It is an important point, as it is not uncommon for the existence of some inner entity to be denied or questioned in our highly materialistic world. The paragraph provides a link between our biological composition and the sentient quality that arises from it and attempts to show why it should be considered on it’s own grounds, separate from the electrons passing over the synaptic gaps. The placement of that discussion is counter-intuitive, as the psyche, or the soul, has already been dealt with in the preceding text, and any attempt to construct an integrated and continuous development of the idea of acts as non-psychical would have it be positioned close to the very beginning.

It is only at the end of the essay, that the problems posed in the section on performance are finally brought up and a few sentences are provided that introduce the unity of meaning in relation to the unity of acts as the basis of personhood. It is here, that such considerations as need and responsibility, are introduced, that a purely psychical being is barred from.

The essay could be seen as a good way to establish the groundwork that would allow for a leap into the understanding of Scheler’s position, if it were to be reorganized in the consecutive order. It provides the basic tools and terminology for further development, but falls short of breaking the confines of the traditional understanding of the acts.

To make the leap from traditional view of a person as an integration of body and spirit, to a view of a person as of a performer of intentional acts, it will be instrumental to rely on some simple examples that would illustrate intention, performance and outcome in relation to the unity of the meaning and it’s effect on the unity of the action as a basis of personhood.

For the first example, let us appropriate a method used in geometry of proving a statement through disproving the opposite claim. Let us assume that any act can only consist of the psychical meaning and physical performance. Painting a fence has an undeniable physical component of moving ones limbs in a semi-orderly fashion while balancing and shifting the weights to change the position in space. The possible inner intention that could be seen as contributing to the performance of such an act, would be a desire for new visual stimuli in a form of a painted fence, a need to break the monotony of the day, and a search for an outlet of artistic expression. All three are possible motivations that could easily lead to one picking up a brush. The first incentive presupposes the memory of an unpainted fence, as well as some consideration of taste. The memory of the fence probably consists of flashes of its state of being in time, related to particular context. A taste is in part an acquired and culturally determined preference that develops through interaction with the world in time. A desire to break the monotony of the day is a psychical reaction to a string of consecutive events that occur outside and suggest a certain mode of behavior. It touches the entire span of world history, leading to the current state of boredom of a particular individual. A need for artistic expression is even more loaded with extraneous connections and connotations and it’s meaning can hardly be contained in a purely psychical realm. It is therefore evident, that our supposition of seeing intention as purely psychical cannot be true in all cases.

The aforementioned example questions the seclusion of the psychic meaning, summoning the need for time and context to observe the origin of action. But it is a supposition rooted in the past, one that relies to heavily on our limited capacity of storing, retrieving, and processing information. From the intention of the act, we come to actual performance that propels the act to its completion. When one performs an act of driving a car along the rough country road, the meaning of the act consists of more then an intention to deliver dairy products to the commissioner on time. The meaning also stretches over the actual performance, as the driver turns the wheel to steer clear of the pit and accidentally drives over a rattlesnake, or when he passes a field with a pretty peasant girl who smiles at him suggestively. The caution of evading certain death, the recklessness of taking a life, and the sense of duty that prohibits spending afternoon on a haystack, all add to the unity of meaning that relates to the unity of the acts of avoiding, driving over, and driving forth, that are part of the act of driving a car, and is part of the larger array of acts that stretch in time to be a basis of our driver’s personhood.

The second example came closer to representing the emergence of meaning at the instance of the performance of an act, but fell shortsighted of the overstretching meaning of the outcome of an action. A young peasant girl, who came out into the clearing to lure an occasional stranger to paint over a fence that her previous contractor had turned into a work of postmodern art, has the intention, and carries on a performance, but does not receive a desired outcome, thus failing to perform an act. The unity of the acts of the driver, and the commissioner (who set the prices on milk) add up to the outcome of her attempt at performing her act.
As we have seen, the intention, the performance, and the outcome stretch outside of the psychical and physical domains of a human being. All three are required to construct the unity of meaning. But in order to present a person in terms of the unity of acts we need to add a notion of responsibility. For example, the painting of a fence entails responsibility to adhere to the wishes of the client. Accidental killing of a rattlesnake, can lead to regret as testament of partly accepting the responsibility. The attempt of luring the driver to paint a fence with promises of affection is likely to establish a certain role in the tight rural community. It is the responsibility that she consciously took in the performance of the intentional act. With the responsibility added to the concept of the unity of meaning, that contribute to the unity of the acts, it is possible for the latter to include all that makes up a person.

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