Man and His Becoming by Philip H. Phenix
Philip H. Phenix was educated at Princeton University, Union Theological Seminary, and Columbia University. He was formerly Dean of Carleton College, and was professor of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. This book presents the Brown and Haley lectures at the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington given by Philip Phenix in 1964. Published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1964. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Chapter 1: Being and Becoming Human
The question of what a human being is and how he becomes what he may become is one that every serious and thoughtful person seeks to answer. Every personís plan of life reflects some image of man as he actually is or ideally should come to be. Oneís relations to others also imply characteristic conceptions of human nature, whether or not they are consciously formulated.
The problem of man and his becoming is particularly urgent for parents, teachers, school officials, and citizens concerned with the conduct of education. To choose soundly what to teach and how to teach it, to judge what educational goals are practicable and what ones are not -- such wisdom requires the best possible understanding of human nature and its transformation.
Where is this knowledge of man and his becoming to be obtained? Unfortunately there is no single brand of specialists -- call them "hominists"-- to whom one can turn for authoritative answers about man, as one might turn to linguists for information about languages or, if he had great faith, to meteorologists for understanding the weather. To be sure, there are anthropologists, who helpfully describe the logos of anthropos, and there are psychologists, who offer comprehensive theories of human behavior. But neither of these two groups of investigators, nor any other, has succeeded in winning exclusive rights to the human province.
In point of fact, claims to authentic knowledge of man and his becoming appear from many fields of inquiry. Physicists and biologists include man among the objects they investigate. Sociologists, economists, and political scientists devote themselves entirely to forms of human behavior. Artists, historians, theologians, and philosophers likewise offer their own special insights about human beings and becomings.
A momentís reflection makes clear the reason for this ubiquity of concern about human nature. All knowing, regardless of its ostensible object, yields knowledge of man, for knowing is a characteristically human function. It follows that knowledge in any field of study yields insights into the nature of the knowing person. This conclusion holds whatever oneís theory of knowledge may be, whether idealist, realist, pragmatist, positivist, or any other -- although what is concluded about the knowing person may depend on the theory of knowledge accepted.
Not only is this sharing of interest in man inevitable, it is also required for an adequate picture of human nature. Every field of disciplined study is defined by certain characteristic methods and concepts. These defining properties of each field both advance and circumscribe understanding. They advance it by providing categories of intelligibility. They circumscribe it by ignoring other equally illuminating ways of categorizing. Biology, economics, and music all contribute to knowledge about man. But each contributes only certain perspectives, to the neglect of other equally significant insights.
Every way of knowing about man and his becoming succeeds by virtue of certain methodological self-limitations. Just because each way is itself and not some other way, it yields only partial understanding. Conflict and confusion result when this partiality is forgotten and the advocates of particular disciplines presume to tell the whole truth.
The nearest one can hope to come to the whole truth about man and his becoming is to construct a comprehensive picture, making use of the perspectives gained from each of the main disciplines of knowledge. Since each kind of inquiry is concerned with the same humanity, the several conclusions reached should be mutually complementary. Conflicts of doctrine about human nature between investigators in different disciplines must then be ascribed to errors in inquiry, or to an epistemological imperialism that arbitrarily limits the admissible perspectives, or to an incorrect analysis of the relation of the several perspectives to one another. It is chiefly to this last source of doctrinal conflict that the present analysis will be addressed.
In what follows an attempt will be made to indicate as precisely as possible how various disciplines of knowledge contribute to a consistent and comprehensive understanding of man and his becoming. The present chapter will consider the contribution of mathematics and the natural sciences. The second and third chapters will deal with what is known of man from the social sciences and the humanities, respectively.
Before beginning the more detailed exposition, a summary preview of the line of argument may be useful.
Throughout this book the terms "body," "mind," and "spirit" will frequently be used. Very roughly, "body" refers to material things perceptible to the senses, "mind" refers to the processes of perception, reasoning, and learning, and "spirit" refers to human self-awareness and freedom of choice. The analysis will show that these categories are not independent and sharply distinguishable, but that they overlap and intertwine. It follows that "body," "mind," and "spirit" are useful only as abstract terms for certain gross common-sense aspects of a personís nature and activity. They do not represent separate entities, constituents, or even clearly distinguishable functions of actual human beings.
The traditional image of man has been that of a tripartite being comprising body, mind, and spirit, each part existing in a relationship of mutual interdependence and tension with the other parts. For an understanding of man as body it has been customary to look to the natural sciences. Man as mind has been studied by the social scientists and psychologists, and man as a spiritual being has been understood through various humanistic studies.
The difficulty with this three-fold division lies in the insistent sense of the unity of the human being. A person regards himself as an integral whole and not as a patchwork of parts that can be investigated separately. Also, it is not satisfactory to regard human becoming as the successive accretions of body, mind, and spirit components.
If the person is a unity, and if the natural sciences reveal him as body, then it follows that from a natural science standpoint man is nothing but a body. He is a complex physicochemical mechanism, and mind and spirit are simply forms of bodily behavior. Such is the view of man in reductive materialism.
On the other extreme if a person is a unity, and if the humanistic disciplines reveal him as spirit, then it follows that from a humanistic standpoint man is nothing but a spirit. He is a free creative subject, and body and mind are simply objectifications of spiritual substances. Such is the view of man in reductive idealism.
Between these two reductive positions the social sciences may portray the person as a complex organism equipped with intellectual powers for adaptive adjustment to its environment, both natural and human. All human behavior, ranging from bodily processes through the most advanced forms of cultural creation, as in the arts and religion, is then interpreted by means of categories drawn from the experience of social interaction. In this way body and spirit are in effect subsumed under mind.
The effect of assigning body, mind, and spirit respectively to the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanistic disciplines, and at the same time affirming the unity of the person, is to create conflicting reductionisms. Materialists contend against idealists, and both seek to capture the social behaviorists who occupy the intermediate territory. The consequences of this contending of scholars is intellectual confusion, deepening already intense personal and social disorder. Instead of one mankind, there develop the estrangements of C. P. Snowís Two Cultures, or, more precisely, the three cultures of materialists, social behaviorists, and idealists.
It will be argued in what follows that these destructive conflicts are due to a misconception of the provinces of the several branches of disciplined knowledge about man. A correct appraisal of the various ways of knowing not only shows that they do not contradict or interfere with each other, but that they beautifully enhance and complement one another.
The crucial misconception is that the natural sciences have to do only with bodily properties, the social studies only with minded behavior, and the humanistic studies only with spiritual realities. It will be shown that all three branches of knowledge have to do with all three of the traditional aspects of human nature, and that every discipline in fact studies man as a whole, comprising body, mind, and spirit.
How, then, do the three main branches of inquiry differ in their contributions to knowledge of man and his becoming? They differ only in respect to the degree of generality of their disclosures. In brief, the natural sciences are concerned with those properties of human nature that are universal, that is, shared or shareable with all other human beings. The social sciences deal with relational aspects of man, that is, ones that pertain only to some persons. The humanistic studies have to do with singular human qualities, that is, ones that belong to persons in their uniqueness.
Clearly, with such a division of the realms of knowledge no conflicts about the essential nature of man such as arise from the usual body-mind-spirit trichotomy need occur. A person has certain features in common with all persons, others he shares with members of groups to which he belongs, and still others are singularly his own. Furthermore, the universal, the relational, and the unique human characteristics all have bodily, mental, and spiritual aspects.
In brief, then, mathematics and the natural sciences are the clue to being and becoming human, the social sciences are concerned with being and becoming related, and the humanities have to do with being and becoming oneself. Since every person at one and the same time is a member of the whole human family, enters into limited human associations, and is a singular self, the three classes of knowledge about man and his becoming are fully compatible and complementary. Together they afford the basis for a comprehensive philosophy of man. Such a philosophy in turn imposes on the several contributory disciplines an obligation for scope and depth of application that may be lacking in the customary pursuit of these specialized studies.
The detailed exposition of this thesis begins with a consideration of what the "queen of the sciences," mathematics, discloses about human nature. From one point of view, mathematics yields no knowledge at all of man, or of anything else. For, despite its many practical applications, mathematics is essentially not about any existent thing. That existing things, including people, can be ordered by means of mathematics (for example, in a census, or in actuarial statistics) is a happy circumstance that does not negate the essential independence of mathematical ideas from every empirical reality. The authentic subject matter of mathematics is systems of symbols and not the existential interpretations those symbols may be used to express.
Seen from another standpoint, however, mathematics tells a great deal about human beings. In modern mathematical thought it is becoming increasingly evident that one cannot really be said to know mathematics unless he is self-conscious about his knowledge. He must not only know what, he must know why. At every step of his reasoning he must be fully aware of his assumptions, and he must be able to make clear to himself and to others the rational justification for every proposition he affirms. The essence of mathematical knowledge is not the ability to make correct calculations and to manipulate formulas skillfully. Competence in mathematics is measured rather by the rigor and precision with which the thinker can exhibit the basis for his thought.
Mathematics, then, is the study par excellence for the development of disciplined self-awareness in all its purity. Mathematics is the inquiry the essence of which is thought becoming conscious of itself. Such activity is prime evidence for the human quality of spirituality. To be a spiritual being is to have the power of self-transcendence -- the capacity to be simultaneously a self and an observer and appraiser of the self. In mathematics people both reason and scrupulously examine their reasoning. They play the dual role of actor and spectator of their actions.
Self-awareness is the most distinctive universal property of a person. It is what separates human beings from everything else in creation. It is the most fundamental property that each human being shares with all other persons. And this property is the basis of the mathematical enterprise. Hence, mathematics is a prime revealer of man as a self-conscious, or spiritual, being.
Through the rigorous self-awareness of mathematics, an important property of universal human spirituality is disclosed. The thinker critically surveying his thought does not simply find his thought. He finds thought-making. He discovers that mathematical forms are not given in the nature of things, but that they are posited. It is now well established that every mathematical system rests upon a basis of primitive or undefined terms, logical concepts, and postulates or axioms. The basis is essentially arbitrary. It is chosen as the foundation for a particular mathematical system. There is no single "true" basis in mathematics. The bases for ordinary algebra, for vector analysis, and for Riemannian geometry, for example, are different. Each provides the formal rules required for the elaboration of a satisfactory symbolic system. Definitions, axioms, and the resulting theorems are posited, or freely adopted. They are elected by the thinker and not imposed upon him as objective realities.
What the postulational method of mathematics shows is that man as a reflective thinker is free. Freedom is another aspect of spirituality. It is exercised only by virtue of the power of self-transcendence. The thinker surveys a range of possible rules of thought and selects those that promise to yield interesting and illuminating elaborations. Since the discipline of mathematics demonstrates the capacity of spiritual man to create new rational systems without limit, it is an important sphere of human inventiveness and decision.
But if the freedom implied by the postulational method has the first word in mathematics, necessity has the last word. There is ample reason for the common-sense view of mathematics as a realm of absolute, certain, and demonstrable truth. The proposition that the sum of the angles of any triangle in the Euclidean plane is equal to two right angles is incontrovertibly true. Its truth is not a matter of choice or preference, but of logical necessity. No one is at liberty to reject it as false. It is an assertion to which everyone is rationally obliged to give assent. This necessity is logical rather than psychological. There may be people who do not in fact believe the proposition, for any of a variety of causes. In such cases it can be confidently affirmed that the nonbelievers are surely mistaken and that the causes for their error should be removed.
The freedom of definition and postulation, and the logical necessity of mathematical propositions, are in no way incompatible. Necessity rules only within the system of propositions resulting from a particular freely posited axiomatic base. The aforementioned proposition about the sum of the angles of any triangle is necessarily true only within the system of plane Euclidean geometry. For a triangle drawn on a spherical surface, with segments of great circles as sides, the sum of the angles is always more than two right angles. Both of the foregoing propositions are necessarily true, but only with regard to the meanings assigned to the terms in which; they are respectively expressed. When the terms used apply to different freely chosen formal systems, the resulting propositions do not really contradict each other, because each presupposes a different basis. Logical necessity governs only after the rules of the mathematical system have been posited and accepted.
The interesting question in the present context is what the logical necessity of mathematical propositions reveals about the nature of man. What follows from the fact that the freedom of system construction is complemented by absolute logical coerciveness in the outworking of the theorems deduced from the basis of each postulated system?
Necessity in mathematical reasoning is a consequence of adopting a principle of consistency. Conclusions follow from premises by necessary inference only by virtue of the demand for consistency. A reasoner is held to be in error if he can be shown to affirm both a proposition and its contradiction, within the same axiomatic framework. What are the sources of the demand for consistency? Why should one feel obliged to avoid contradictions? Clearly, the principle of noncontradiction is required for all orderly thought. It is a presupposition without which the difference between correct and incorrect reasoning cannot be tested. Without it, dependable conceptual systems cannot be constructed, for then the rules of construction would somewhere contain mutually irreconcilable directives.
The demand for consistency is also rooted in the search for universal principles of thought. Mathematics represents ways of reasoning that are universally warrantable. By limiting admissible systems to those that produce consistent theorems, potentially universal agreement is assured. What is affirmed in mathematics holds without respect to persons, and applies for everyone without exception.
The demand for consistency thus points to the human need for some universal basis for the assessment of thought -- a demand that comes with the force of a moral obligation. People who are not consistent in their reasoning ought to be consistent. It is wrong for them to indulge in self-contradiction. In effect, then, the mathematical enterprise shows man as having a sense of universal obligation. The logical necessity of mathematics rests upon the basic "laws of thought," which define not how people actually do think, but how they ought to think, if the goal of universal understanding and agreement is to be achieved.
It is possible that the coercive force of mathematical necessity has an even stronger basis than the demand for universal agreement, important as that may be. The human desire for agreement is, after all, balanced by even stronger forces of divergence. Conceivably, the denial of validity to reasoning that leads to self-contradiction is a consequence of manís bodily existence. Being in space and time is defined in common-sense experience by a law of self-identity and of mutual exclusion. A body is what it is and not something else. It is located in a series of particular here-nows. It cannot be fully here and there at the same time, nor can the spatiotemporal location of two different beings be in all respects identical.
This is not to argue for the metaphysical adequacy of the common-sense view. Alfred North Whitehead has shown persuasively the pitfalls in the idea of simple location that underlies it. This is merely to suggest a reason for the coerciveness of the principle of noncontradiction. May this principle not be a rational rendering of the universal experience that different bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time. There is not only a kind of logical scandal in asserting both p and not-p, where p is any proposition, but also a conviction that such a contradiction is an impossibility in the domain of existent things.
If this argument is valid, it shows that mathematics is rooted in bodily life and that the necessity in mathematical reasoning is rooted in manís spatiotemporal existence. It may also afford a clue to the puzzle as to why mathematics, which is a project of pure thought, turns out to be so widely applicable to the description of the real world. There is reason to think that the structure of the natural world arises from the coordinations of elemental entities exhibiting a rule of self identity and mutual exclusion. If the fundamental requirement of noncontradiction also defines mathematical systems, then one would expect to find mathematical constructions serving as models of the empirical world, as they do in every quantified science.
Mathematics interestingly exhibits the interplay of body and spirit in human personality. The freedom of the spirit is manifest in the postulational method, and the necessity of bodily existence is shown in the rigor of deductive inference. The thinker is free to choose any axioms he wishes, except self-contradictory ones. The choice is limited in this way for the very sake of freedom, because self-contradictory axioms make the fruitful development of a system impossible. Security of necessary inference is essential to the fulfillment of postulational freedom. Unlimited arbitrariness leads to unfreedom rather than to productive liberty. On the other hand, rigorous consistent adherence to the rules of the posited system is required if its potentialities are to be realized.
From this confluence of freedom and necessity springs the order that is the prime evidence of mind in mathematics. Mind appears in the discernment of pattern or structure. The axioms of each mathematical system define its particular kind of order, its special manifestation of mind. The mind made manifest in these orders is not the fullness of human mentality, but mind in its universal aspect. Mathematical form is pure abstraction. It is form-in-itself, without reference to concrete exemplification. Its aim is complete generality, free of particular embodiment.
The quality of mind exhibited in mathematics is well epitomized in the concept of sets, which figure so prominently in most of the recent revisions of the school mathematics curriculum. A set is a collection of elements having some property in common. This common property, which is the defining feature of the set, is an abstraction, that is, an aspect singled out for exclusive attention. It is the only consideration used in dealing with the members of the set. This power of selective abstraction of form is the very essence of human rationality.
The forms of rationality in mathematics are expressed by the use of symbols. Symbol-making is a characteristic mark of human spirituality, about which more will be said in the next chapter in connection with language. Suffice it now only to note that the special property of mathematical symbols is the universality of their signification. They do not depend upon the accidents of person, place, or epoch, but derive their meaning solely from the formal structures they are devised to express. They constitute a universal language for the symbolization of universally demonstrable, purely formal relations.
It is clear that the insights into human nature afforded by mathematics do not result from applying mathematical methods to human beings. As a purely abstract and formal discipline no such direct inquiry would be appropriate. Instead, the significance of mathematics for a philosophy of man derives from reflection on the mathematical enterprise as a type of human activity. Such reflection shows man as a spiritual being with self-consciousness, rational freedom, and the ability to make and use symbols. It shows him further as having a mind, with the power to create conceptual abstractions and to order ideas into systematic formal patterns. It further suggests that man is bound by existential necessities stemming from his spatiotemporal embodiment, and that fulfillment of his freedom and rationality depends upon conforming the processes of thought to the elemental demands of necessity through loyalty to the rule of noncontradiction.
These observations also point to the role of mathematics in the making of persons. Mathematical studies in the curriculums of schools and colleges sharpen self-awareness in thinking, stimulate conceptual inventiveness, and develop the capacity for symbol construction and transformation. They also provide for growth in powers of abstraction, generalization, and perception of formal relationships and inculcate a sense of the inexorable objectivity of valid thought -- and even, perhaps, of corporeal being.
Turning to the physical sciences, one finds an equally comprehensive view of man as that which derives from reflection on mathematics. Again, a first thought would lead one to expect little insight into human nature from the physical sciences. Knowledge of stars, rocks, and atoms, yes, but knowledge of man?-- it would seem one must look elsewhere for that.
It is clear that the normal business of the physicist, the chemist, the astronomer, and the geologist is not to investigate man as such. They are concerned with the description and explanation of matter and energy in a more general way, without particular reference to human life. It is not especially illuminating to know that a human being falling in a uniform gravitational field moves according to the law s = 1/2 gt2 -- though such information might be of vital importance to divers, high-wire walkers, parachutists, and others engaged in activities of the utmost gravity. Nor is it particularly important to know the chemical composition of a man, except for the purposes of amusing or shocking audiences in popular lectures by telling them that they are so much hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, potassium, sulfur, and so on, worth one dollar and ninety-eight cents on the current market in chemicals. (Such recitals are an inevitable prelude to perorations about the infinite qualitative worth of each human being.)
Certain practical values are gained from the physical measurement of human beings. For example, physical anthropometry is used to determine the optimum distribution of clothing sizes by large manufacturers and distributors of apparel. Architects need to know about human weights and heights in planning structures for human use. Similarly, designers of all sorts of equipment need to know the physical characteristics of the intended human users.
But all such items of information about man from the physical sciences are relatively trivial and uninteresting within the context of a total understanding of human nature. They refer only to the gross physical characteristics of the human body. A comprehensive physical science perspective on man must yield more than such information.
Really significant direct insights into human nature come from the engineering analysis and simulation of the processes of human thought. It is largely through investigations in this direction that the persistent conviction that physical science has to do only with bodies and not with the mind and spirit has been called into question. The evidence is found in the astonishing growth in recent decades in the construction of control mechanisms using the cybernetic principle of feedback regulation.
The point of central importance in these developments for a philosophy of man is that man-made physical mechanisms are no longer limited to rigid patterns of mechanical action, but are now admitted to the domain of sensitive response, memory, and even of decision-making -- activities that traditionally have been thought the exclusive province of minded organisms. Technologically, the new automatic machines are of overwhelming importance, because they can perform far more precisely, swiftly, and economically than can many operations that were formerly believed possible only for persons. Thus, human beings, earlier liberated from physical drudgery by the simpler machines, are now being emancipated also from mental labor by cybernetic machines.
Perhaps even more significant than this replacement of human labor is the extension, classification, and perfection of the human powers of thought made possible by automatic machines. The developments of computer design and programming have exposed the anatomy of logical thinking with a clarity and precision never before achieved. Because of these mechanisms, vastly more than ever before is now known about the formal patterns of thought. The operations to be performed by these computers have to be specified exactly. Complex instructions must be carefully analyzed into a series of elemental steps to be carried out in the digital type computers by simple on-off switching devices. Analog-type computers, on the other hand, exemplify the configurational aspects of thought rather than logical processes reducible to elementary counting operations.
That computer physics and engineering have direct relevance to human nature and development is demonstrated by the rise of programmed instruction. The basic premise of educational programming is that the same careful articulation of small sequential steps that enables the computer to achieve its reliable results is requisite to effective human learning. Just as the success of the computer depends upon the meticulous preparation of instructions by the programmer, omitting no step in the whole process, so it is assumed that the success of the human learner, who is believed to be (among other things) a very complex cybernetic mechanism, depends upon the scrupulous logical organization of teaching materials.
Programmed instruction is frequently criticized for being suited only to rote learning, in which one correct answer is given in advance, and not for developing creativeness and individuality. Such objections are only partially justified. Programs can be devised to encourage inventiveness and flexibility, but only within limits foreseen by the programmers and built into the programs. Computer technology is not a clue to all thinking, but only to those processes of thought that are generalizable. There are other aspects of thought that pertain to the unique person, and these evidently cannot be programmed.
Cybernetic mechanisms are particularly illuminating in connection with the processes of decision-making, which belong to the sphere of human spirituality. They involve reflective consideration of alternatives, imaginative projection of possibilities, and conclusive resolution. By enormously extending the range of factors weighed and the possibilities explored, and by dramatically accelerating the execution of component judgments in a complex decision, the efficiency and reliability of choice-making can be greatly improved. In this way physical science makes a valuable contribution to the understanding of human spirituality.
This is not to say that human beings are automatic machines, nor that cybernetics affords a complete model of man, but only that the development of computers provides a basis for the unprecedented exploration of the structure of the human mind and spirit in their universal aspects. The simulative mechanisms are products of human thought and decision, and like all tools they bear the impress of their makers. The extraordinary fact about these tools is that, unlike ordinary instruments, they do not simply extend the reach of the bodily senses and by their form yield information about the body and its functions. Instead, they disclose the patterns of human cognition and conscious deliberation with new clarity and precision. In this way the computers constitute important means of revealing to man certain universal features of his being and becoming.
Further insight into the human condition arises from reflection on the progress of scientific technology generally. Through knowledge of the regularities of natural processes men are able to predict with varying degrees of accuracy the future course of natural events. They can then govern their own conduct so as to take advantage of this foreknowledge. Likewise, understanding of the behavior of material systems makes possible the invention of technical devices for making the energies of nature serve human purposes.
The demonstrated success of prediction and control through the natural sciences and technology shows that in some sense human intelligence is not alien to the nonhuman world. If it were, the effort to discover rational order in the world would have proven impossible. The intelligibility of the world is evidence that to some degree man is at home in nature, or akin to nature, and this recognition is an important source of hope and courage for mankind. The confidence begotten from the fact that there are discernible regularities in natural occurrences is an important source of morale in an existence that is beset with anxiety-producing contingencies.
On the other hand, the manner in which the technical control of nature is actually achieved makes it clear that man is not in a position to impose his will on nature unconditionally and arbitrarily. Human beings are by no means the uninhibited darlings of Dame Nature. She exacts rigorous conditions for the bestowal of her benefits. Her bounty is granted only to those who understand her ways and accept her demands. The price of technical mastery is knowledge of natural laws and action in disciplined subordination to the intelligible orders of nature.
What technical control does is to challenge both fate and magic as factors in the human situation. It challenges fate by substituting a reliable rational order for arbitrary and inscrutable powers. It challenges magic by showing that the powers of nature must be studied, respected, and obeyed before they can be employed for the fulfillment of human wants.
Thus, technology has significant bearings on the relation of freedom and necessity in human life. The necessities of natural existence are not simply restrictions and negations of freedom. Though they do deny the unlimited autonomy of the human will, they also constitute conditions for the realization of human purposes. The natural laws disclosed in the physical sciences are not just bounds within which freedom is constrained. They comprise the knowledge through which positive freedom alone may be defined and fulfilled.
One of the great contributions of scientific and technical study to human growth consists in this disclosure of the intimate interdependence of body, mind, and spirit. The free spirit of man is realized, at least in part, by using his mind for the study of the necessities that condition him as a bodied being. Thus, by acquaintance with the scientific outlook the growing person learns that he is neither arbitrarily autonomous nor yet wholly dependent on forces outside himself, but capable of exercising rational freedom within and by virtue of the necessities of the natural order.
The natural sciences provide further clues to human nature through an examination of the character of the scientific enterprise itself. Two features of scientific activity are of greatest human importance. The first feature grows out of the very meaning of science. The subject matter of science may be taken as those matters of fact on which it is possible, in principle, to secure universal agreement. The methods of science are designed to make possible such agreement. Everything that is private, irreducibly subjective, esoteric, or idiosyncratic is excluded. The only knowledge scientifically admissible is that which is objective and publicly verifiable. For example, because color as such is a matter of essentially subjective qualitative perception, it does not qualify as a scientific property. On the other hand, the wave lengths of light corresponding to various colors are admissible scientific data because they are confirmable by observations that anyone can make.
The method of achieving potential universality of agreement is to adopt measurement techniques based on the elemental principle of self-identity that defines spatiotemporal existence. Physical measurement provides a means of ordering observations according to the necessary conditions of succession and juxtaposition that characterize bodily experience in time and space. Since, as we have already observed, these conditions are also the basis for mathematical necessity, the test for scientific admissibility is the possibility of mathematical formulation. It is the precondition for universalizability and therefore for scientific authenticity.
The fact that metrical operations can be constructed so as to make universal agreement possible is a remarkable property of the human mind in relation to the natural world in which it functions. Here again it can be seen how closely mental activity is linked to the bodily and spiritual life. Bodily existence is the basis for defining the procedures that give coerciveness and hence universality to scientific thought. The spiritual life is the source of the imagination and inventiveness whereby the metrical abstractions, experimental procedures, and theoretical models that render the observations intelligible are created. Thus, at the basis of scientific thought there appears the same curious interplay of freedom and necessity that was earlier shown to mark the human situation in its universal aspects.
The other most humanly significant feature of the scientific enterprise is its inherent moral imperative. Jacob Bronowski has made the point eloquently in his lectures contained in Science and Human Values. From the commitment of the scientific community to impartiality it is quite improper to conclude that science is a value-free enterprise. On the contrary, science is through and through a moral endeavor, and the very commitment to impartiality is one evidence of its values. The scientific community is dedicated to the construction of a system of understandings that are reliably and universally confirmable. Its mission is the fullest possible realization of those aspects of human cognition that belong to all mankind.
The point of special emphasis here is that this aim is not simply an objective for those who have scientific interests. It is a goal and a mission laid upon everyone as an ethical imperative. Truth is not merely to be sought and affirmed if one happens to like that sort of thing. Loyalty to it and to the human communities that foster it is a universal moral obligation.
Perhaps the claim of universal truth that underlies science is the primal source of all universal moral imperatives. The equality of all persons in respect to the truth, without favor or distinction, is the presupposition of every demand for justice. It is no accident that the Stoics, with their strong sense of universal reason in nature, were also one of the main sources of the idea of universal justice and of the equality of all men before the law. Thus, reflection on the enterprise of natural science yields important insights about man as a moral being, and education in scientific attitudes may be seen as one of the most significant ways of developing moral sensitivity and responsibility.
Most of what is known of human nature from mathematics and the physical sciences is based on reflection on those disciplines and hence is not normally thought to be part of their proper subject matter, but to belong more to the philosophy of science and mathematics. The same does not hold for the biological sciences, since the study of man falls directly within their domain of investigation. There is something a little odd about looking to mathematics and the physical sciences for knowledge of man, and the insights eventually obtained are of a different order from those ordinarily expected. In biology, on the other hand, knowledge of human nature is an important explicit aim of inquiry.
The great contribution of biology to the understanding of human nature is the light it throws on the significance of time. Everything that is exists in time. Everything is immersed in ceaseless process. Everything has a past from which it has emerged and a future toward which it inescapably moves. While all things, inanimate and animate alike, share in temporal passage, living things make it more evident. The eternal hills appear to stand unchanged, while the growing things that cover them bloom and wither with the seasons. Material artifacts often endure from generation to generation, while the men who make and use them are born, mature, and die in unceasing succession.
It was mainly from the study of living things that the great idea of evolution sprang -- an idea that appears to be applicable to everything, living and nonliving, natural and man-made, material and nonmaterial. According to this idea, everything is what it is by virtue of a process of growth and development involving a long chain of related antecedents.
This evolutionary perspective forbids any facile identification of the essential "natures" of things, including human beings. Because the principle of universal change is so widely assumed, inquiries into the nature of man (or of anything else) are regarded by many scholars as futile, since all that can be known is the series of stages through which a developing being or class of beings moves. Accordingly, anything affirmed about the nature of man requires the tacit qualification: "at this point along the evolutionary line." With this tentativeness also belongs an attitude of expectancy concerning new human possibilities that may emerge as evolution proceeds.
Biology thus fosters a view of man as engaged in a continuing adventure, drawn on to new levels of fulfillment by the lure of future possibilities. The human future is open rather than closed, as it is with a static view of a fixed human nature. Moreover, the evolutionary picture shows that manís beings and his becomings are intimately connected. Man is what he has become; and his present being is what it is by virtue of the long struggle for more successful adaptation to the environment. Therefore, the individual becoming of man and the evolutionary becoming of mankind are mutually illuminating -- an insight embodied in the old dictum that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny."
The decisive feature of living things is not the fact of change, since everything changes, at varying rates. What is distinctive about living things are the manner and direction of change. Organisms are characterized by their ability to preserve constancy in the midst of change. Living matter has the astonishing power of reduplicating itself, incorporating materials from the environment according to the constant pattern of its own being. This power is the secret of organic adaptation. The environment supplies energy and raw materials that the organism utilizes for its self-perpetuation.
The phenomenon of homeostasis exemplifies this tendency of living matter to preserve its identity amidst change. Injured parts are repaired, or other parts modify their functions to compensate for the loss, restoring the integrity of the whole organism. In the higher organisms, including man, a complex set of neural and humoral regulatory mechanisms preserve the stability of the metabolic processes within very narrow limits, despite substantial changes in the external environment.
This property of constancy amid change depends on the fact that living things are open systems. According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, every energy transformation in a self-contained physical system takes place in such a way that the entropy -- a measure of the randomness of the energy distribution -- is increased. That is to say, all isolated energy changes proceed in the direction of greater disorder. Living things, on the contrary, have the ability to maintain themselves against disordering tendencies. They can do so only because they are open rather than closed systems. They exchange matter and energy with the environment, perpetuating their own organization at the expense of other low entropy energy sources, such as the sun, from which the energy for photosynthesis is derived.
A fundamental property of all living things, including human beings, is their ability to perpetuate themselves. They function according to a principle of the conservation of organic order. Self-preservation is the very law of life. Affirmation of existence, the will to live, is written into the constitution of all living things.
But the manner of change in living things is not exhausted by the facts of dynamic equilibrium in homeostatic open systems. The living world also presses on toward increasing complexity of organization. Through sexual combinations and genetic mutations new forms of life are created, and of these the ones that are best fitted to use the resources of the environment in the effort of self-perpetuation gain selective advantage over less well-adapted forms. Thus, living things not only conserve order; they also evolve toward more comprehensive patterns of hierarchical articulation.
The profound revelation that biology affords is that these processes of form-conservation and form-creation are found at every level of the evolutionary scale. Even in the inanimate realm things persist through time by virtue of stable energy configurations. Atoms and molecules, for example, are energy systems exhibiting more or less dynamic equilibrium. Building on these elemental physicochemical orders, successively more complex patterns have evolved, culminating in the most advanced organic forms comprising the human species.
From a biological standpoint, then, human beings are at the top of the evolutionary hierarchy, having developed the most effective means for conserving and creating order. This effectiveness has been achieved chiefly through the growth of intelligence, and is most clearly manifest in the decisive change that has taken place in the method of evolution, which in man proceeds through reflective deliberation rather than through the unconscious processes of natural selection that prevailed in the pre-human era.
This view provides powerful support for the argument that body, mind, and spirit are intimately interconnected. The forms of the body are explicable only by reference to the life of the mind that finally blossoms into the self-conscious deliberations of spiritual creatures. Organized matter, life, and thought are successive achievements in what Teilhard de Chardin calls "cosmogenesis." Each phase in cosmic evolution is continuous with the preceding one. As Edmund Sinnott points out in Cell and Psyche, what appears as organizing forces in the elementary forms of life and as organic drives in the higher forms manifests itself as conscious purpose in man. Body, mind, and spirit are thus seen to reflect three aspects of a single cosmic process.
In this fashion biology reveals universal man, not in the sense of the Renaissance ideal of that name, but as the clue to the development of the whole cosmos. One cannot understand the universe without comprehending the universals of human nature, and conversely, what is known of the world order, and of world-making contributes to an understanding of man and his becoming.
What mathematics and the physical sciences point to indirectly concerning the belonging of man in the natural order is thus confirmed directly in the life sciences. But more than that, the study of life reveals two important universal truths about man. The first is that human beings, along with all other living things, are amazingly self-consistent. Throughout all the changes and circumstances of existence they seek to maintain their distinctive identity. This is a fact that educators tend to forget in their efforts to make and mold the young. Life in all its forms is defined by structures that afford constancies amid change. People grow and learn, to be sure, but not in direct obedience to the patterns of outer influence. Since the first law of all life is self-perpetuation, whatever gets incorporated from the environment must accord with the patterns of existence that characterize the person as an integral enduring self.
The second great truth is that man participates in a universal process of construction in which ever higher levels of differentiated coordination emerge. Biological evolution has a direction that can be clearly charted through all of the stages in material, organic, and cultural creation. This direction is toward increasing individuation in cooperative interdependence, as opposed to the increasing disorder of isolated physical processes. In this upward movement mankind may find warrant for confidence and hope for the future of the human enterprise.
In conclusion, the central theme of this chapter may be rounded out and underscored by a brief consideration of experimental psychology as the remaining major branch of the natural sciences concerned with man and his becoming. In reaction against vitalistic and animistic conceptions of pre-scientific thought, scientific psychologists seek to develop reliable procedures for the study of human behavior, so as to yield valid objective knowledge. Their chief method is the analysis of patterns of observable behavioral responses to experimental stimuli. They scrupulously avoid introspective data and they treat what have traditionally been regarded as directly intuited psychic phenomena, such as perception, memory, will, and emotion, solely as theoretical inferences from observed behavior.
By these methods much interesting and useful knowledge about the predictable patterns of human behavior has been gained. By inference these patterns can be used to construct a detailed picture of activities that have traditionally been called mental and spiritual, including feeling, thinking, remembering, purposing, and choosing. As a natural science, psychology aims to chart these human functions insofar as they exhibit universal regularities.
Despite the knowledge gained by these methods, it seems doubtful that the demand for complete objectivity in psychology can be justified. It is difficult to see how anything significant can be known about human subjects by eliminating everything subjective and treating them as if they were only objects. Even in the most rigorously objective study of human behavior subjective understanding is covertly introduced in identifying the meaning of the theoretical inferences. For example, the inferential construct "memory" is regarded as yielding knowledge of what is commonly known as memory only because the investigators already know immediately and inwardly what memory is.
In their anxiety to be rigorously scientific, some behaviorally oriented psychologists adopt a body-bias that effectively inhibits understanding of human beings. Just as physics reveals little of significance about man until one reflects on the enterprises of science and technology, so scientific psychology, aiming to out-do physics in objective rigor, can yield little insight about man until the distinctive human quality of self-awareness is acknowledged as an essential factor in psychological inquiry.
In respect to self-awareness as an essential ingredient in the knowledge of man, the example is most clearly set by the discipline of mathematics, understanding of which requires strict reflective scrutiny of the processes of thought. In this way the self-knowledge of man, the knower, is accepted as an essential part of the process of inquiry. From these considerations it becomes clear that mathematics, which superficially appears to have no relevance to the knowledge of human nature, actually affords important insights about human beings, not only as rational agents, but as persons with freedom yet also bound by necessities in the spatiotemporal order.
The physical sciences and the life sciences also yield their full harvest of knowledge about man only when the understanding gained through direct self-consciousness is used in the interpretation of the methods and results of objective scientific investigation and of technical invention. In affirming this intimate experiential source for the knowledge of man the data of objective research are not rejected, nor are the gates opened to uncontrolled subjective vagaries. Rather, a basis is provided for the meaningful interpretation of what is objectively observed.
It appears likely that scientific psychology will eventually fulfill its promise as the culminating natural science of man and that this will occur when the essential data of critical self-awareness are integrated with the methods of objective behavioral observation and inference.
Thus, mathematics and the natural sciences, including experimental psychology, are sources for the knowledge of man and his becoming, in respect to those features that all men have in common and that link mankind to the universal natural order. These features include not only the bodily functions that one expects to be treated by the natural sciences, but also the qualities of thought and decision that man possesses as a rational and spiritual creature.
Though the natural sciences therefore give a rounded account of man and his becoming, they do not tell the whole human story. Man is more than the universal human being whose nature and development have thus far been discussed. It is not enough to describe manís being and becoming human. For his other significant beings and becomings other sources of knowledge must be considered. These will be the concern of the succeeding chapters.
Viewed 29168 times.