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 ph