CONDEMNED TO MEANING WHAT?

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  • REVIEW-ARTICLE CONDEMNED TO MEANING WHAT?

    A S U R \ . E Y OF THE W O R L D S C E N E M I G H T R E V E A L T H A T T H E C E X T K A L P R O B L E M OE M A N K I S D C O N S I D E R E D AS 4 W H O L E I S T H A T OF T H E M E A K I N G 0 5 H U M A N E X I S T E N C E . \T.hat is the significance of human being? A survey of the world philosophical scene to discover the central problem of philosophers considered collectively might find i t to be that of the place of philosophy in human living. What is the sig- nificance of philosophy? The central problem within this second question may have something to do with the differences between Continental and Anglo- =Imerican styles of philosophizing. To attempt to supply a solution to either of these problems is a superhuman undertaking, for the first has persisted at least since Socrates started asking questions and the second has persisted at least since Bacon and Descartes started writing about new methods. If someone attempted to solve both of these problems, or a t least tried to point out the way they might be pursued for solution, and if he tried to do so in a small book, and if that book, moreover, was addressed to an audience that apparently required considerable popularization of these most weighty of philosophical themes, one could hardly begin to know what should be expected in the way of detail, consistency, com- prehensiveness, and depth. ,At any rate, this is what Huston Smith has boldly attempted in the seventh of the John Dewey Society Lectures, Condemned to Xfeo 72 i ng.

    (1) ,After indicating that the expansion of knowledge is accompanied by the modern malaise, Smith surveyed anthropology, psychology, and philosophy to indicate that primitive mans myth-making served to establish meaning and security in his life, that the most significant trend in therapy, existentialism, is best represented by Frankls notion of the will-to-meaning, and that there is a schism in philosophy between inquiry into life-rneanings and linguistic meanings. (2) He then tried to draw some distinctions that would enable and direct phil- osophical analysis of atomic life-meanings. (3) The subsequent pursuit of the nature of global life-meanings took the form of first suggesting t h a t all meanings are partly constructed, then relating the apparent agreement o f psychiatry, anthropology, and phenomenology concerning the progressive imposition or con- struction of the meaning of ones life-man makes himself-to kants phenom- enalism i n order to set the stage for what may be the most original feature of the book, L transcendental deduction of categories of life-meanings: trouble, hope, endeavor, trust, and mystery. The argument then passed beyond this Knntizn- isin (which bears a remote resemblance to Heideggers derivation o f the existen- t i o h ) to suggest that perhaps there is external support for mans meanings. This postulation of a realistic thesis, a step Kant did not take, incidentally, because he had read Hunie, suggested that meanings are partially discovered rather than

  • CONDEMNED 10 L ~ E A N I X C \\THA,I ? 371

    invented. ( 5 ) The whole is sandwiched between the title, taken from the quotation from Merleau-Ponty on the frontispiece, Because we are present to a world, we are condemned to mean- ing, and the penultimate sentence, For truly, man is condemned to meaning. The main filling in this sandwich seems to be a rather loosely-supported, unac- knowledged but poorly disguised, Neo-Thomism. I t is not particularly bad fare because of the appetizing lettuce (phenomenology) and mayonnaise (analysis).

    (4) Two implications for education were made.

    (1) The so-called explosion of knowledge may be the current myth invented by academia to assure the burgeoning quantity of researchers that their life is meaningful after all. To a thorough-going Hurnean-type positivist, however, the problem of induction is not yet solved, so that instead of positive knowledge, what is available is a great variety of ways of conceptually ordering experience, or jargon, for any discipline that has two or more theories to choose from does not have knowledge unless that word is defined in some way other than that used by those who assert th-ere has been an expansion of knowledge. To a thorough-going empiricist, as the word is used in the behavioral sciences, there is less knowledge available than is adver- tised, for the cumulative studies indicate that the problems are just beginning to be defined and the measuring devices constructed and understood. To a thorough-going phenomenologist, Husserls critique of the so-called beharioral sciences is still valid, for as long as man is considered both as a part of nature (by the objective behavioral sciences) and a purposeful creature (by the hu- manities and, e.g., humanistic psychologies), i.e., as half slave and half free, there is a crisis i n the knowledge of man, and then the knowledge of man that is allegedly expanding is, on the contrary, foundering. To a thorough-going pragmatist there is no knowIedge stored in books or published in journals that is not de- veloped out of and worked into human experience, so that the expansion of knowledge could only mean that the possibilities of enriching and fructifying life may have expanded, but that social conditions have not allowed for the ade- quate sharing of the increments of experience called knowledge that could make life more meaningful. To a thorough-going Alarxist, the alleged knowledge explosion may be only part of the bourgeois ideology, perpetrated to assist in the exploitation of the poorly jobbed and jobless (and students) by the newest addi- tion to the leisure class, the university researcher.

    J t must be, there is so much knowledge accumulating.

    Although Smiths claim that there is a knowledge explosion and that i t is related to an alleged pervasive meaningless in modern life may be essentially cor- rect, there are many ways to articulate the nature of the connection. How one articulates it, in turn, can be related to ones perception of the schism in the academic community. Smith said the schism was between anthropologists, therapy-oriented psychologists, theologians, and existential philosophers, on the one side, and linguists and Anglo-American analytic philosophers on the other. How one sees the schism is also related to how one might attempt to heal the breach: Dewey and C. P. Snow saw the schism quite differently from Smith, sufficiently different to cause one to suspect that attempts such as Smiths niay be more politically than philosophically wise. If one takes into account the intensiveness of the training required to become a first-rate analyst or first-rate phenomenologist, both of whom have primarily a method of doing philosophy

  • 37 EDUCAVOP~AI. THEORY

    (this is not just applicable to analysis as Smith suggests, so that Smiths point that analysts cannot have doctrine applies to Smiths attempt to derive doctrine from phenomenology), i t is difficult to imagine either analysts or phenomenologists wanting to partake of a merger with the other. I t is to Smiths credit that he acknowledged, somewhat heretically, that there were alternative ways of doing philosophy, but mutual respect may be as advantageous as a synthesis that is unsatisfactory to both parties synthesized, i.e., obliterated.

    For example, John Wild has suggested the possibility of a common interest i n that the Lebenswelt, in some respects the prime focus of phenomenological investigation, is also the world of ordinary language. Then the substance of what the ordinary language philosopher studies is that which the phenomenologist studies. At first this looks very promising: two vastly different methods of in- quiry that study the same thing might be able to bracket methodological differences to engage in common projects, etc. But if neither has a doctrine because each is primarily a method, then what would have to be put out of play to effect collaboration would be the distinct claim to philosophical significance and respectability of each, which is obliteration, or surrendering ones philosophical integrity for a third of the kingdom. This can be clarified by a glance a t the major figures.

    For Heidegger the world of ordinary language is so full of sedimented mean- ings that bring in philosophical assumptions that it is rootless, free-floating (ground- less), and the abode of the opinions that anyone can have, and, therefore, the home of inauthenticity, or a meaningless existence. From Heideggers view, then, ordinary language is necessarily alienating and could be engaged in only at the expense of alienation from existential meanings and only on the condition of a prior alienation from ones authentic existing. For Sartre, furthermore, the spirit of analysis is identical with bourgeois objectivism, which is identical with bourgeois alienation from other people. Whatever one thinks of Heidegger and Sartre, there simply is no gainsaying that Being and Time and Being and Nothing- ness have to be taken very seriously by any quest for what Smith called life- meanings, unless one desires answers before the questions are well put. Asking anyone who takes them seriously to merge with analytic philosophy, then, is ask- ing him to leave his brains behind.

    On the other hand, there seems to be little doubt that Wittgensteins therapy of showing the fly the way out of the bottle through the clarification of misleading expressions has an existential concern of its own, for i t approximately identifies certain life-problems with language problems and holds that clarification of the latter solves (or, better, dissolves) the former. Wittgenstein also has to be taken very seriously, not only by philosophical analysts but by anyone wishing to engage in any kind of philosophizing, for no philosopher wishes to be led astray through the poor use of words. Other analytically oriented philosophers (of science) also show what can be construed as existential concern insofar as their inquiry concerning the methods and uses of scientific inquiry and results is partly consciously motivated by the aim of increasing the warrantability of assertions about the world in which any possible meaning of human existence has to have its realization. Asking either of these kinds of philosophers to merge with a way of doing philosophy that apparently deals solely in misleading expressions and that

  • c 0 N D E M N E D T 0 h l E A N J N G MH A T ? 373 apparently finds no need but much condemnation of modern science as a global force, then, is also asking for an act of philosophical suicide.

    Any attempt to synthesize Continental and Anglo-American philosophy, in other uords, has to combine the merits of each in such a way that the tasks that each is doing separately are continued, rather than combining the faults of each in such a way that no one well-trained in either way could possibly accept the

    synthesis. Smith has successfully accomplished the latter. The remainder of this article will indicate why his book could not be considered respectable as serious philosophizing by either tradition. The kind of respectability the book does have, and it does have its own kind, will then be stated.

    ( 2 ) In the chapter on An Analytic Approach to Existential Meaning Smith asked why analytic methods cannot be brought to bear on existential meanings, those arising from concrete life, and then drew some distinctions to show where analytic and existential philosophy might work hand in hand. He protected his arguixerit ahead of time by saying that imprecision, etc., demonstrates the need for more niinlytic work. He might as well have said that misleading examples, etc., show the need for rigorous use of phenomenological method, were he not playing both ends against the middle, so to speak. The first so-called distinction is between atomic versus global meaning, as between meanings in a specific situa- tion versus the meaning of life as a whole. Then he cited Hanson to the effect that a scientific concept has a theory implicit in i t such that abandoning a major theory entails abandoning the concept or deriving a new theory lest the concept crumble. Then in asking if the same holds for existential meanings such that atomic meanings belonging to a situation might implicate global meanings, he raised enough questions to make one doubt the validity of the distinction. H e asked the questions explicitly. Then he said that his point was not to show the relation of atomic meanings to global meanings (which is what he did show), but to show how they were distinct. No phenomenologist would grant the validity of the distinction except for describing disintegrated conduct, and no logical analyst would grant that it was validly presented.

    \Vhen the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic meanings is illustrated with S is meaningful and X means that Y, the analyst might respond by saying that the former is a sentence fragment and the phenemenologist might want to know to whom and under what conditions X becomes meaningful. Then when Smith said, An experience is meaningful insofar as its meaning is fully filled (fulfilled) in the experience itself, he uttered a tautology, for meaning is fully filled (fulfilled) merely repeats meaningful. I t says, then, that ameaning- h l elperience is a meaningful experience, which is an odd way to clarify the dis- tinction between intrinsic and extrinsic meaning, for intrinsic meaning becomes

    that which intrinsically meaningful experiences have, and extrinsic meaning becomes that which is not intrinsic. Smith must mean, I take it, that some experiences are meaningful and some are not, which means that unmeaningful experiences must be possible, which may be a contradiction in terms if experience is taken to pertain to that which has meaning, as for Dewey, unless one wishes to distinguish between authentic and inauthentic, or genuine and ungenuine, ex- periencing. The analyst, however, might say that one could not distinguish between intrinsically meaningful experiences and those which are not apart from

  • 374 EDUCATIONAL THEORY

    ones personal preferences as to what is intrinsically worthwhile, and a phe- nomenologist could ask for a full-blown treatment of the totality of human being in order to be able to make the distinction because he does not have to grant the former distinction between atomic and global meanings. Smiths point is that atomic meanings (assigned to analysts, or, where analysts are sequestered tdj are either extrinsically or intrinsically meaningful, whereas global meanings are invariably intrinsically meaningful.

    ,\ha! exclaims the analyst, I thought that is where you were going. But your illustration, Millers life is (was) meaningful, is misleading, for Alilier and his life are the same thing. You are saying, There is (was) a man called 3Iiller who...