Sunday, April 03, 2005

Stage Fright

In Being and Time, Heidegger provides a summary of Sheler’s position on the questions of actions and personhood. We are given an incentive to draw distinction between the psychical being, as a secluded inner entity, and the personal Being, that in Scheler’s view (as presented by Heidegger) “exists in the performance of intentional acts.” This leads to an investigation into the nature of the acts.
To establish a link that connects the acts and the person, it is necessary to investigate what it means for the acts to be performed. Performance is usually viewed as an effort to begin a certain task with intent of carrying it to completion. The problem arises, when the outcome does not reflect the intent. Should such an attempt be considered a performance of an act? If an act is defined in terms of the correlation between intention and outcome, failing to perform a certain task should not be considered as an act, but could be composed of an array of other acts. For example, a writer who spends a year unsuccessfully trying to publish a book, does not perform an act of “publishing a book” but accomplishes performing a number of underlying acts such as purchasing notebooks and writing pages. Similarly, “failing to publish a book” should also not be regarded as a genuine performance of the action. However, such a hardline definition does not accommodate for “trying to publish a book” – a performance rooted in a supposition of a desired outcome. Similarly, mistakenly publishing a movie script, due to sending the text to a wrong address, should not negate the act of trying to publish a book.

We are discouraged from viewing acts as mere physical manifestations, yet an act usually carries with it a physical component. They can be argued to originate from our spirits in a form of motivation and be physically enacted by our body. Granted, some motivations reflect the needs of the physical body, but it is the spirit that gives them meaning. This union of body and spirit in act has traditionally been seen as the basis for personality.

A spirit for Sheler, is not locked in the confines of mechanic rationality, it is a driving force and the originator of all that separates us from objects such as tables and pieces of chalk. The concept of a “soul” is subject to religious interpretation and it’s meaning, properties and value are inseparatable from a particular system of belief. It can be seen as either an involved originator of action or as a mere bystander that has little effect on the decision making process. Thus, it will perhaps be fitting to limit the consideration of the concept of a soul that leads directly to a lengthy theological discussion, and is practically useless without resolving the questions of faith. A spirit, though frequently used as a synonym to soul, is free from dogmatic connotations and does not rely on a belief of certain incorporeal presence.

Let us assume that a spirit is a sentient quality that arises from physical phenomena such as the firing of electric impulses between the neurons. That entails that a “meaning” could be charted and represented in its entirety as a consecutive series of signals. But would such a measure provide a valuable insight into the value of the meaning? Similarly, a painting can be represented in binary code that a machine can use to put together, but it will not carry a full account to the meaning behind the piece. Thus, even a deeply materialistic view of the origin of meaning involves a presence of a certain spirit as a sentient manifestation of a virtual “presence” of the higher order then the body that creates it. We are thus left with a more inclusive definition of a meaning that will shed light on the question of its origin and it’s relation to the intentions that are instrumental in formulation of the acts.
The attempts to identify the personhood through examination of the psyche ultimately lead to tautologies. Sheler’ solution, to view persons inseparably from their performance of the acts provides a way to overstep this pitfall. A continuous string of meaningful acts bring together the physical and psychical components as well as the outside influences and responses, giving rise to such considerations as need and responsibility that a purely psychical being is barred from.

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