Thoughts on Deviancy, Public Recognition, and How to be Authentic

One of Hegel’s most important contributions to philosophy was his philosophy of recognition. To put it very simply, Hegel thought that humans seek to be recognized as an end, not as mere means or instruments to another’s end. Kant would call this a recognition of another’s dignity and membership in the Kingdom of Ends. It is staking a claim on our right to be treated as more than instruments. Of course, we must treat people as instruments. We use the cashier at the checkout counter to purchase our groceries. But this relationship is based on consent, and as such we are treating each other as ends, even though this isn’t immediately obvious or part of any formal agreement.

The recognition for Hegel is more thorough than Kant. Kant, at least Hegel claimed, failed to reconcile the universal with the particular. To put it crudely, Hegel synthesized the dignity of the subject with the object. Our dignity as a subjective person is only abstract apart from the embodiment of personality into objects. Hence, Hegel claimed that “property is the embodiment of personality.” Recognizing the dignity of another, then, does not occur by shedding ‘appearances’ and getting down to the subjective ‘I’ — the bare first-person or the subjective ‘pole’ of another. This is to reduce the other to a mere abstraction, which is arguably exactly what Kant’s moral philosophy does.

Our modern age is obsessed with recognition of the Kantian sort. Christians, including both Protestant and Roman Catholics, use the “imago dei” as a synonym for Kantian-like dignity. Non-believers constantly call others to recognize the dignity of this or that person, regardless of his or her behavior. The public realm has become a place for this ‘I’ to externalize or particularize in all sorts of strange and deviant behaviors and manners. All value is placed in the ‘I’ and the value of the particulars flow from this. In other words, recognition of another is not on the basis of their behavior. Rather, because we must recognize that abstract ‘I’ as having supreme value, we must in turn recognize, even celebrate their behavior.

To my mind, this a retreat from meaning, because meaning produces insecurity. The demand to live up to something produces anxiety, and to prevent this anxiety, so people think, we must undermine the demand. Hence, we place all meaning in the abstract ‘I’ and derive from it the meaning of our external actions.

Yet what has become apparent is that this retreat from the ‘they’ or the popular standards of behavior, dress, manners, etc. is indeed a flight — it is always ‘from’ something. It defines itself against, and it will perpetually. Hence, the call to ‘be-yourself’ is a call not to be like the crowd. And yet the attempt not to be like the ‘crowd’ or Heidegger’s das man (sometimes translated as the ‘they’) is an attempt to achieve recognition from the very crowd you’re fleeing from. You yearn for their rejection. You seek recognition through rejection. You are just as tied with the ‘they’ or the crowd as before, yet now you crave negativity. It’s pathological. That’s what deviancy usually is.

Now, I say all that to say this: we ought to seek a positive recognition from others through appearances–through the particulars. We ought to seek recognition not by our ‘I’, but by our ‘I am.’ So our dress style, home and yard, our manners, etc. all these should be done and be the basis of our recognition before men. It is through their judgment that we are recognized, and we should crave a positive judgment. One ought to recognize us as worthy of being treated as ends through our manifestations of dignity, not in the abstract dignity of the ‘I’.

Now to labor. Since we seek recognition through the particulars and since the self of the producer can be embodied, in a phenomenological sense, in the product of their labor (see my posts here and here), then we have an interest in seeking recognition of our selves by the judgment of our products. Of course, this is risky, since we are subjecting our-selves to judgment. But it is necessary for a fully realized life. Marx himself said that labor results in the worker losing “realization.” My contention is that the affirmation of one’s labor as an end in itself — that it is/was worth doing for its own sake — comes through the positive judgment of others (usually the consumer). This judgment satisfies the producer and therefore restores the loss of realization.

The absurdity of our age is in our thinking that recognition must be apart from judgment and apart from appearances. And yet we are starved by a lack of completion in life. We are risk-adverse, insecure, and cannot tolerate the judgment of others. We continue to define ourselves as someone against others rather than for others. We are walking negations — pure inauthenticity.

Authentic living is understanding ourselves as in a nexus of subjects and objects — a lifeworld. As Husserl stated, “all of us together, belong to the world as living with one another in the world; and the world is our world, valid for our consciousness as existing precisely through this ‘living together'” (Crisis, 1936). To be, is to be part of, in, and enmeshed in a world: Heidegger’s being-in-the-world. It is through being with others, interacting, sharing with them, laboring with then, sharing concerns, etc. that we support and contribute to a way of life. We shape a heritage. It is not through being walking negations.

We should seek to be for others, which means seeking their recognition through our activity and appearance. We can and must be authentic, but authenticity is being constructive with our world, not deconstructive and fleeing from it.

Occupy Wall Street

A Review of Scruton’s The Soul of the World

In The Soul of the World, Roger Scruton argues for a type of cognitive dualism that accounts for both the natural world—that is, the objective world of the neuroscientist and Darwinian evolutionist—and the Lebenswelt, 3150scrutonbook_00000002390the life-world that “emerges” from the natural world that is yet irreducible to it. Scruton is clearly influenced by the big names of continental philosophy: Kant, Husserl, Sartre and others, and he often cites Searle for his speech-act theory. What Scruton provides, with rare clarity for an author influenced by such difficult thinkers, is a fascinating description and defense of our attachment to the sacred.

The book is primarily a defense of lived experience in phenomenological tradition. The author contributes to this tradition by arguing that our live experience in the Lebenswelt (a term borrowed from Husserl) is an “overreaching intentionality,” that is, a response to a “subjectivity that lies beyond the world of objects” (175). In a world of objects, somehow the subjective emerges. When we glance at another’s face, we see more than flesh; we see one’s subjectivity. “The face,” he writes, “although it appears in the world of objects, belongs essentially to the subject” (96). This encounter with the other is the “I-you” relationship that cannot be explained or reduced to neuroscience. When we encounter the face of another we see past it, at its “horizon,” to encounter the other’s subjectivity, and this demands that we give more than explanations for our actions (through the examination of causal connections in brain states or “adaptability” in Darwinian evolution), but also reasons and understanding. This is part of the cognitive dualism: explanation on the one hand, understanding and reasons on the other. When we dwell only on explanation, the person vanishes as with our responsibility toward the person. When the person vanishes our action is governed by nothing but the presence of an object.

For Scruton, this encounter with the other not only occurs with the face of another, but with the world as well. He describes this best with a fascinating phenomenology of music. Music has a “movement” that emerges from the experience of sounds, but when analyzed as sounds one cannot find movement. This property of music as experienced is irreducible to the sounds, yet we hear it. No matter how much we analyze sound waves or even our experience with each sound or tone in a musical movement, we cannot explain why or what it is that we hear. We simply hear the music move. As with the face, in hearing this movement we are experiencing our capacity for “overreaching intentionality.” This experience with the world is like encountering a subject that isn’t there: “Music addresses us as others address us….it address us from beyond the borders of the natural world” (175).

In a few places Scruton addresses political theory taking a stance against reductionistic social science and Rawlsian and contractual theory. On his account, these all involve “clearing away from the Lebenswelt all the threads of pious observance that cannot be replaced by free choice and self-made obligations….[forming a world] in which we humans are not truly at home” (94-95). Instead of trying to reduce the life-world to explanation (which, again, he thinks is impossible), it should be embraced as fundamental to human and social happiness: “Through the transcendent bonds of piety we enter the realm of the sacred things, of obligations that cannot be accounted for in terms of any deal that we made, and which speak of an eternal and otherworldly order” (176). Scruton is known for his indebtedness to the thought of Edmund Burke, and it shows here. Grounding our attachment to people, places, and things is one way of justifying Burke’s theory of the “little platoons” of human relations. According to Scruton, our encounter with the other by means of the face and the Other in the world provides the basis for intersubjectivity in the form of shared meaning and solidarity in an age of alienation.

Scruton addresses other topics including Hegel’s political theory, religion, creation myths, the existence of God, and architecture. Much of the content is a summary of his previous works in aesthetics. Overall, the book is less than persuasive not due to any fault in the arguments (though I question a few), but because the scope of the book is so wide that it inspires the reader to read on rather than settle. Scruton beautifully touches the surface of so many issues that while a reader might not be fully convinced of all his points, he demonstrates the potential for a coherent and comprehensive worldview with an exciting and legitimate life-world.

Modernity and Wendell Berry’s “Making it Home” – Part 2

Rolling over tradition, custom, heritage, manners, and cultivation—that which gave people meaning, purpose, direction, and hope—is the spirit of modeVBTigerrnity, and this spirit of destruction took centuries to develop. I will give a short and rough sketch of this development using some major figures in Western history.

The world did not become meaningless overnight. It is tempting to say that it all started with Socrates, or at least the spirit of Socrates indwelling Hegel. It was Hegel who famously said that Socrates was, as the inventor of morality, the first modern. He wrote,

And it was in Socrates…the principle of subjectivity—of the absolute inherent independence of thought—attained free expression. He taught that man has to discover and recognize in himself what is the right and good, and that this right and good is in its nature universal. Socrates is celebrated as a teacher of morality, but we should rather call him the inventor of morality. The Greeks had a customary morality; but Socrates undertook to teach them what moral virtues, duties, etc. were. They moral man is not he who merely wills and does that which is right, not the merely innocent man, but he who has the consciousness of what he is doing.[1]

Hegel separates tradition and indwelled habits from conscious moral acts. It is not good enough for a person to act from habit or custom; one must know what is right and good and know that and when he is doing it. To use a modern term, an authentic moral act is one performed in accordance with some universal principle (without any admixture of custom), has been individually discovered and recognized, and is performed being fully conscious of its rightness and goodness. Put simply and negatively, the everyday morality that was instilled from birth and community is not true morality. Following one’s dispositions toward right action qualifies as moral only accidentally, and, in Kantian terminology, the act deserves no recognition of moral worth.

The “principle of subjectivity” is the key Hegelian phrase. The rise of the self—as the center of importance and worth, as the arbiter of all meaning, as the source of all moral determinations, and as the buffer by which everything on the outside of one’s self is controlled and mastered—is fundamentally the rise of modernity. Augustine seems like an important source of the rise of the self. In his quest to prove the existence of God in On the Free Choice of the Will, he moves from the outer world to the inner world of the mind and soul. It is a journey from the “lower” to the “higher.” In the mind, “we see [numbers] by an inner light of which the bodily sense know nothing.”[2] Finding God is a deepening of one’s reflexivity. As Charles Taylor comments, the “vantage point of the ‘I think’ [has become] outside the world of things we experience.”[3] This “inaugurate[d] at new line of development in our understanding of moral sources, one which has been formative for our entire Western culture.”[4] Ironically, it is the turn inward toward the divine that made the modern turn possible.

There is much more to Augustine that the turn inward, and he certainly was not a “modern.” Taylor is likely correct, however, in making Augustine a crucial source for the thought of Descartes and, perhaps, Kant. But it important to recognize that the inward/outward distinction for Augustine, when interpreted in light of his other writings, is actually anti-modern to a certain extent. The “inward” was one way to encounter the divine, but the outward order still provided peace, security and meaning.

This heavenly then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognizing that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace.[5]

The outward order for Augustine is not as robust with meaning as Rowanberry finds in his Port William, but it is for Augustine a place to which one must conform for one’s good. The crucial and important difference between Augustine earthly city and Port Williams, is that the former ought not, nor must it, shape the soul. The redeemed soul, for Augustine, exists in heaven. The inner/outer distinction made innerness primary, yet it does not dismiss the outer. The outer is a place of practical affairs, a place to construct peace and security.

Much later, Hegel makes a similar, though significantly different duality:

Personality implies that as this person: (i) I am completely determined on every side (in my inner caprice, impulse, and desire, as well as by immediate external facts) and so finite, yet (ii) none the less I am simply and solely self-relation, and therefore in finitude I know myself as something infinite, universal, and free.[6]

This non-theological account of the person is a more radical inner/outer distinction than found in Augustine. Hegel is following Kant who made a similar distinction between the phenomena and noumena realms. As part of the former, each person is subject to desires and inclinations, and seeking the fulfillment of these can never rise above skill and technique. Morality is possible only if a person can somehow rise above and beyond desire and inclinations to a world of reason and free will. This is the noumena realm or the kingdom of ends. The person participates in both realms, and yet one’s dignity is solely based in one’s participation in the noumena. One’s external existence is contingent and arbitrary. With this, Kant set in motion an old idea with a twist, namely, that the external order is not the source of moral truth and dignity; both come from within and rest on the capacity of the will. As Augustine said, “those who cleave to the eternal law by their good will have no need of the temporal law.”[7] One only needs to find the truth within; the external order is a world of lower practical affairs.

There is clearly a risk in this type of quasi-solipsistic individualism: Is it left up to each person to discover and apply the truths of practical reason? What is the place of public judgment and custom? This risk is exacerbated by Kant’s commitment to the Enlightenment. He was severely critical of prejudice. It held down the masses from thought and reason, and was implanted by the “self-appointed guardians of the multitude.”[8] Prejudice makes people incapable of acting in freedom. That is, it makes individuals incapable. It is one’s civil duty, then, to clear the prejudice from society so that each person can “become more and more capable of acting in freedom.”

People are so individualized under Kant’s account that they enter society in a state of war and competition—a “mutual opposition.”[9] One cannot tolerate others yet cannot withdraw from them. It is through conflict that a people go from barbarism to culture.  Kant uses an analogy of trees in a forest to explain his view of individuals in society and progress.

It is just the same with trees in a forest: each needs the others, since each in seeking to take the air and sunlight from others must strive upward, and thereby each realizes a beautiful, straight stature, while those that live in isolated freedom put out branches at random and grow stunted, crooked, and twisted.[10]

Individuals in conflict makes humanity straight. Without society, individuals would not develop. There must be conflict in competition. But if becoming “straight” requires competition, then it is only fair that each person is equally capable of competing. People must be on equal terms and have equal opportunity when entering society. The political implications of this are tremendous, and justify massive redistributions in wealth to public education, public health, public daycare and many other programs. No one is to be left behind.

Kant’s thought began in the West (though it was rooted in Rousseau) a spirit of destruction. I use the word ‘destruction’ according to its Latin roots: destruere, meaning literally “down build” or “un-build.” The Kantian project is one of tearing down the “prejudice” that prevent people from thinking for themselves and discovering the truth concealed by custom and tradition. Later Feuerbach would call belief in prejudice and superstition “projection.” Such belief transferred human potential to the divine. According to Kant, it is the responsibility of the “vocation of free thought”—the few free thinkers of any age—to destroy in order to “create room to let that free spirit expand to the limits of its capacity.”[11] The public intellectual is a destroyer. He or she is tasked to un-build or de-construct that which keeps the masses from achieving their potential. And since this is a cosmopolitan point of view, the objects of destruction are particulars. It is the attachment to place and tradition that prejudicially justifies certain hierarchies, cultural superiority, oppression and subjection, and a localist conception of morality and rights. All this needs to be cleared to permit universality, rationality, and democratization. Kant had a prophetic voice: make ready the way of freedom. Though Kant hoped that the need for spending on education and equality would preclude costly wars and thereby bring about a perpetual peace, his individualism called for perpetual war in civil society. It is no surprise that the conservatism first arose in the early 19th century.

There is another implication to Kant’s radical individualism. It is something that Nietzsche recognized, though surely Kant would have disagreed. Nietzsche rejected the Enlightenment understanding of morality because, in Alasdair MacIntyre’s words, “if there is nothing to morality but expression of will, my morality can only be what my will creates.”[12] The solution to this Enlightenment nonsense is, according to Nietzsche, “to become who we are—human beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give themselves laws, who create themselves!”[13] Nietzsche recognized that the end of Kantian (indeed, all Enlightenment morality) must be a morality that my will creates. We have, then, a radical individualism that treats morality as self-created; and not simply self-created, but self-determined and unique to that individual. And, we should keep in mind, individuals in society are still in competition. From here comes the will to power. But let us assume (probably wrongly) that the will to power is effectively suppressed in a liberal democracy. Since liberalism tries to create peace by reconciling various voices and factions within the society through law, the public space must become a place for individual expression and self-creating morality. What is required in liberalism, then, is the suppression of voices that call for some moral collective end or telos that is greater than simply the mutual recognition of each person’s right to self-create morality.

Despite what many liberals claim today, liberalism in the West is not Lockean; it is post-Kantian. Lockean liberalism died with the death of natural law. For Locke, there still is a sense of place and time. The social compact is not, for Locke, a cosmopolitan compact, but one for localized or regionalized political communities. He writes, “For when any number of Men have, by the consent of every individual, made a Community, they have thereby make that Community one body.”[14] Kant leaves little room for particularism and localism. Its aesthetic expression is best seen in Le Corbusier’s city planning and architecture—rational, symmetrical, and universal. Yet the Nietzschean move made each individual the arbiter of all truth and meaning. The mess that this created is left to the managerial class to manage. Their job is to ensure that people do not interfere with each other in their highly individualized pursuit of the good life. The collective end is the rational maximization of non-interference.

The result of this progression of ideas is the meaninglessness of the world. It is what Weber called “disenchantment.” The cosmos has become the “universe” and a space of instrumentalization. Everything has been reduced to use-value. All desires are meant to be satisfied. There is no meaning in things apart from our projection. And, most important, everything ‘out there’ is nothing but particles and bits of matter. As the post-modern Richard Rorty said, “Truth cannot be out there—cannot exist independently of the human mind.”[15] Rorty, of course, finds meaning to be universally a social construct, so meaning is communal. But he also thinks that it is the prerogative of the few (the “ironists”) to redefine language and terms to move society forward. The post-moderns are just as individualistic as their modern predecessors.

We can now return to Berry’s Rowanberry and see how his enlistment in an army of progress and destruction is not about war, but about modernity itself. His destruction was more than a trampling drive toward some goal in the future but a perspective on the world. The world became meaninglessness. It was “empty.” It was in his following orders to destroy that he realized that meaninglessness is possible. It had never occurred to him in his life on the farm that his world on the farm could be nothing but a site on some geographer’s map and something subject to destruction to achieve some world-historical goal.

Rowanberry’s fighting “was not work that made much of anything” (86). Is Kantian destruction anything other than a critique? Hannah Arendt says no. “System-making” would be for Kant another “dogmatism.”[16] This is why, she reports, Mendelssohn called Kant the Alles-Zermalmer—the All-Destroyer.[17] In the mind of soldiers, says Rowanberry, “You had a thing on your mind that you wanted, or wanted to get to, and anything at all that stood in your way, you had the right to destroy” (86). A futural world-historical goal combined with a meaningless universe makes the destruction of “things that people had made well and care for a long time” completely justified. This was the cold reality of Rowanberry’s new world.

Berry’s short story is about war, but not merely conventional war. It is the war that is modernity itself. Its motivator is an eschatological vision of future that dismisses the imprint of the past on the present. The future is all that matters; and it is not merely some future present that we are after, as if the future is attainable. The future goal is always futural. The war never stops. Prejudice is never fully eradicated. Rowanberry got a respite from it all, but he had changed; and the sounds of artillery fire will always be in his mind—the creeping anxiety that his old world is meaningless or, at best, a bygone age targeted for destruction. This anxiety must be actively suppressed in order to conserve, or better put, instaurate the old world.

Part 1

[1] G.W.F. Hegel Philosophy of History, Trans. T.M. Knox (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), 280.

[2] Ibid, 46.

[3] Charles Taylor Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), 131.

[4] Ibid, 132.

[5] Augustine The Political Writings of St. Augustine (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 1962), 153.

[6] Philosophy of Right, 37.

[7] Augustine On Free Choice of the Will Trans. by Thomas Williams (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1993), 25.

[8] “What is Enlightenment?”

[9] “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View”

[10] Ibid, 5th Thesis

[11] “What is Enlightenment?”

[12] Alasdair MacIntrye After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981),113-114.

[13] The Gay Science, Section 335.

[14] 2nd Treatise, 96.1-3.

[15] Richard Rorty Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 5.

[16] Hannah Arendt Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 32.

[17] Ibid, 34.

Modernity and Wendell Berry’s “Making it Home” – Part 1

Just below the surface of Wendell Berry’s story “Making it Home,” a short story in his collection titled Fidelity,[1] is a critique of modern warfare and its unreserved and thoughtless destruction of people and propert51vIZtb1D+L._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_y. The story is about a man, Art Rowanberry, who survived World War II, though wounded, and experienced all the war’s death and destruction. The war shaped him. During those three years of training and warfare, his sense of the permanence of things was shattered, and all things, places and people, became nothing more than mere obstacles to his army’s goal; everything was subject to destruction for simply being in the way. All things and people were particle-ized, not only by bombs, but in the minds of Rowanberry and his fellow soldiers. During those years, Rowanberry’s world lost its meaning.

Berry’s story is more than an anti-war story and it is more than Hemmingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” reimagined, as some have argued. It is, in its depths, a subtle and yet profound critique of modernity. The story juxtaposes the meaninglessness and the inevitable destructive tendency of modernity’s radical nominalist and disenchanted world with a world of enchantment through attachment and affection, rooted in a people’s history, way of life, and their cultural imprint on the landscape and their connection with the soil. In an enchanted world, the intimacy of people and land has made a place in space. Life is not merely the occupation of a site or geographic coordinate. Nor is one’s property merely an asset and government-determined residential lot. Life in places has a fundamental temporal connection between people and between people and things. Modernity, on the other hand, is a utopia (lit. no-place) of competition and progress with no thought of or respect for permanence, historical and temporal meaning, and the interconnectedness of people and their things and places. Modernity, in both its ideal progressive forms and its goals of market-driven consumption, view the current world and its connection with the past as in the way.

Rowanberry is walking home to the place that made him both a farmer and a man. He is still in uniform as he walks, though it is now loose and ready to be closeted. As he walks, he recalls some of his experiences in war. He thinks to himself, “Everything was only pieces put together that were ready to fly apart, and nothing was whole” and “there was nothing you could look at that was whole—man or beast or house or tree—that had the right to stay whole very long” (88). And why would such things have a right to stay whole? After all, a soldier’s purpose was to champion over his opposition. Anything that stood in the way of the goal was fit for destruction: “Farms, houses, whole towns—things that people had made well and cared for a long time—you make nothing of” (86). As Rowanberry walked (not marched) home, as his uniform is almost shedding off, he finds himself caught between the world of meaninglessness and the world of meaning. He recognizes the farms and its farmers, the same type of farms and farmers around which he grew up and became a man. Yet now, after being totalized and homogenized for destructive action by the military, there is the lingering possibility in his mind that all things are meaningless, that everything is merely a collection of bits of matter. His world was once this place. Now it is one among many or, rather, one big world resting in a void. Indeed, he now thought of himself as “walking on the whole round world. He felt the great, empty distance that the world was turning in, far away from the sun and the moon and the stars” (85). All that provided him meaning and purpose is called into question. Being itself is called in question.

Rowanberry is caught between two worlds—a world reducible to bits and a world irreducibly complex, the latter being a world of relations or, put differently, an organic reality. War made this former reductionism possible; it was presented to him as a possibility of existence. But the story is not simply about war and its effects on those who participated in it. It is about how the reduction of the world to bits of matters forming one world in a void destroys attachment to particulars, and with it, meaning. It is about a man enlisted in a project, one that gave him the “right to destroy” that which was in the way of his assigned goals. Berry’s point in the story is that the modern march to the future has made the past and present subject to destruction, and with this destruction goes any hope for the future. Modernity presses upon us that eerie possibility that it is all meaningless, a possibility hidden in past ages. And after rejecting the likelihood of the possibility, it still lingers as if trying to master you and your view of the world. Even after Rowanberry is united with his family, he has to shake his head to suppress the call to meaninglessness, for he thought that “somewhere off in the distance, [he heard] the heavy footsteps of artillery rounds striding toward them” (103). He is a changed man. The possibility for meaninglessness will never leave him. War disclosed it to him, and now he must learn again to dwell on his land with his people.

Part 2


[1]  I cite the text parenthetically.