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 2: Being and Becoming Related
The first chapter considered some of the important lessons to be learned about man and his becoming from mathematics and the natural sciences. It was suggested that relatively little of human significance can be discovered in these disciplines as long as they are restricted to the objective description of human beings. If these sciences are to afford valuable insights into human nature, they must be broadened to include philosophical considerations growing out of the critical scrutiny of science and technology as human undertakings. When this philosophic dimension is admitted, the natural sciences become prime sources of knowledge of man, not only in respect to those material properties shared with the nonhuman world, but also in respect to the uniquely human qualities of mind and spirit.
This chapter will consider what the social sciences, including linguistics, anthropology, sociology, economics, political science, and interpersonal psychology, may contribute to a comprehensive philosophy of man and his becoming. The relevance of these disciplines is obviously quite different from that of the natural sciences insofar as the latter do not have man as their direct object of study. Since the social sciences are explicitly and exclusively concerned with human life, one may look for direct knowledge about man in these disciplines rather than finding their human meaning mainly in philosophic reflection on the enterprise of inquiry, as in physics and mathematics.
Insofar as social studies are conducted on a scientific basis, yielding universally warrantable propositions, their indirect meaning, as human activities, is the same as in the case of the natural sciences. In the subject matter with which they are directly concerned, however, they differ from the natural sciences. The object of inquiry in the social sciences is man-in-relation. The focus of investigation is neither the human species in general, nor individual persons, but persons in association. Relationships are those limited aspects of human existence that are shared by two or more persons. A knowledge of these relationships adds specificity and richness to the universals of human nature revealed by and through the natural sciences and mathematics.
Since human forms of relation are evidence of mind, it might appear that the social sciences are concerned only with manís mental nature. It can be shown, on the contrary, that just as the natural sciences yield a comprehensive view of man, so the picture of human nature provided by the social sciences is that of a three-fold integration of body, mind, and spirit.
In I and Thou Martin Buber affirms that all existence has its ground in relation. He holds that relationships are not derivative patterns subsisting between essentially self-sufficient entities, but that they are the primary basis for all being and becoming whatsoever. There are two "primary words," which he calls "I-Thou" and "I-It." The primary word I-Thou is the fundamental personal relation from which authentic being springs. The primary word I-It appears when the personal relation is replaced by a depersonalized subject-object relation.
It is significant that Buber calls the relations in which all human existence is grounded "words," for in doing so he hints at the centrality of language in the life of man. From the study of languages and reflection on the meaning of language come some of our most essential insights into human nature and growth.
The power of speech is a characteristic human function. No other creature possesses this ability, except perhaps in the most rudimentary way. To be sure, other animals communicate. But the manner of their communication is essentially different from that of human speech. They use signals, which function as direct cues to action. Language, on the other hand, is not a system of signals, but of symbols. The human power of speech is the ability to create and to use symbols.
Symbols differ from signals in being bearers of meaning. While signals immediately direct action, symbols convey meanings, and these meanings mediate between utterance and action. Ernst Cassirer in his Essay on Man designates man as "animal symbolicum," and shows that all of the typically human functions stem from this fundamental ability to formulate and communicate meanings.
The phenomenon of language nicely illustrates the synthesis of physical, mental, and spiritual aspects in human nature. Symbols are physical entities, such as sounds or visual images. They are objective material creations, requiring bodies for their production and use. The human organism that employs them must also have a suitable array of sense receptors and neurological structures. The pathologies of speech, hearing, and sight demonstrate the profound dependence of all of the higher human functions upon bodily structures. The moving account of Helen Kellerís transformation from the essentially animal to the truly human level illustrates both the importance of a physiological basis for meaningful human existence and the dramatic contrast between life with and without symbols.
Symbols are also instruments of mind. They have forms or structures that bear meanings. The meanings conveyed by various symbols are contained in their distinctive forms. Knowledge of a language consists in the ability to recognize and use the patterns adopted to express meanings. These patterns are abstractions that the mind uses to order experience and thus render it manageable and intelligible. Without such symbolic abstractions the rational organization of behavior would be impossible; by virtue of them a cognitive relation to the world is established.
It is a mistake to suppose that language is simply a way of expressing thought that is already in the mind. Language is rather the very source of thought. A thought that cannot be expressed is no thought at all. The idea of an unsymbolized idea is meaningless, for the being of an idea consists in its form, as expressed in symbols. Thus, human mentality and symbolization are inextricably united.
Furthermore, language is a spiritual function, for the self-conscious person by reflection is able to make a four-fold discrimination between: (1) particular things symbolized, (2) the sensible symbols used to symbolize them, (3) the meanings conveyed by the symbols, and (4) the self by whom the meanings are understood. Such reflective discrimination is possible only by virtue of the power of self-transcendence that betokens the spiritual life of man.
Spirituality is evident, too, in the fact that the symbolic patterns of language are freely chosen. They are not wholly dictated by natural necessity, but are constructed by the human community. The evidence for this freedom is, of course, the multiplicity of existing languages.
On the other hand, the freedom of symbolization in language is not as marked as in mathematics. In the case of language two sources of constraint operate. The first is the demand that linguistic symbols adequately express the meanings of experience in the objective world. Since language is not, like mathematics, a purely imaginative intellectual construct, but is a means for understanding the real world, its patterns must in some sense represent the way things really are. The other limitation on freedom in language follows from the fact that communication is a social and not an individual function. Languages are not for the most part deliberately invented. They grow and change in the human community. Whoever wants to be understood is constrained to speak in accordance with the practices of the language community to which he belongs.
The power of symbolization is a universal property of human beings, without which humanness cannot emerge. Yet the forms of language are not everywhere the same. They differ from one language community to another, providing an essential bond of interpersonal association. Every particular language serves as the basis for communication among a limited number of persons. Each contains certain characteristic categories of thought that determine the way in which its users organize their experience. These common symbolic patterns not only make possible intelligible relations to the world of things, but more significantly, they enable people to be in effective relationship to one another. They enable persons to realize their essentially social nature.
Language, then, is a human creation. The converse also holds, that human beings are created by language. Persons grow through relation, and the quality of their relationships influences the characters of persons. Since language is a fundamental mode of interpersonal relating, it follows that what people become is dependent upon their language experiences.
Accordingly, the study of language rightly occupies a central place in the education of the young. From the moment of a childís birth the process of symbolic interaction begins. Before long the patterned stimuli of spoken sounds assume reliable and more or less consistent significance, and the creative power of language begins to manifest itself. A world of shared meanings opens up, with boundless possibilities for action and enjoyment.
Formal education continues the expansion and deepening of symbolic understanding. Most school learning occurs through the use of language. When a child has reading difficulties, his whole educational development suffers. Such a child is also likely to experience serious problems of social and emotional adjustment, for he senses that in his language deficiency the very foundations for his participation in the life of relation -- and hence for having any life worth living -- are threatened. It is therefore of the utmost importance that a childís language difficulties be taken seriously and that remedial measures be applied without delay, since his whole future as a person so largely depends on competence in the use of symbols.
While the importance of language instruction can scarcely be overemphasized it should also be recognized that such teaching may degenerate into arid formalism, in which verbalisms are taught in rote fashion without concern for real understanding. In that event language is robbed of its symbolic character. Instead of communicating meaning, the words serve only as signs, stimulating certain approved forms of behavior, usually also verbal, such as "repeating the correct answer."
Language is an essential part of human becoming only when its symbolic character, that is, its power of conveying meanings, is respected. In every community and in every age verbal formulas need to be critically examined and reinterpreted, through dialogue and fresh experience, in order that their power as bearers of meaning, and hence as creators of authentic human existence, may be assured.
Linguistics is one branch of the most comprehensive of the social sciences, namely, anthropology, the aim of which is to offer a more detailed account of man than do the several descriptions provided by the universalizing natural sciences. The distinctive impetus for anthropological study has been and continues to be the conviction that human differences are significant and worthy of investigation. Anthropologists have effectively contested the simplistic conceptions of man that would put every human being into one uniform category, recognizing that some of the most interesting aspects of human nature relate to dissimilarities rather than likenesses.
But the anthropologist is not concerned with individual differences. He studies the differences among groups of people all of whom share some common factors. That is, he investigates the different ways in which groups of people are alike. Hence, anthropological knowledge exhibits the significant types or classes of human beings. By describing human nature in categories that apply to some, but not necessarily to all persons, a far richer picture of man emerges than by regarding only universal properties.
The critical idea here is that of significant types. There are all sorts of possible ways of classifying people. The problem is to find categories that are genuinely illuminating, in the sense that they provide a rational basis for understanding what people are and why they behave as they do.One of the ways of classifying people is by inheritable physical characteristics, such as size and shape of head, physiognomy, hair distribution and type, skeletal structure, body proportions, blood type, and skin and eye pigmentation. Investigators of such matters are physical anthropologists. From their knowledge it is possible to arrange people into groups defined by certain shared characteristics. Historically one of the most important typologies based on physical characteristics is that of race. The principal value of the scientific study of race is to render the concept more exact than it is in common use and to demonstrate its severe limitations as a classification device.
Race proves to be a term that is not properly applicable to individual persons at all, but only to groups of persons. It does not refer to properties identical in all members of a group, but only to the statistical distribution of inheritable physical characteristics in the members of the group. For example, Caucasoid and Negroid groups differ on the average in skin color, hair form, shape of nose and jaw, blood type, and other features. The reason why only statistical averages apply is that inheritable qualities are for the most part independently determined. There is no biological basis for perfect individual correlation among different characteristics, such as pigmentation and shape of head. All existing human populations contain mixtures of traits. There are no "pure" genetic types that make it possible to assign individuals completely to one human group rather than to another. Thus, the idea of race as a basis for reliable and definite classification of individuals clearly has to be abandoned in favor of a problematic and inexact system of statistical abstraction.
Even more important than the foregoing qualifications of the race concept is the recognition that the properties commonly employed in racial classification are humanly insignificant. For example, since skin color has no demonstrable relation to intellectual ability, esthetic sensitivity, or character, it follows that no significant conclusions about a personís characteristically human behavior can be drawn from the nature of his pigmentation.
One of the main lessons of physical anthropology is that one must look elsewhere than to inherited physical traits for personally significant modes of human classification. That is to say, abstractions that are limited to bodily characteristics yield an extremely meager account of human beings.
The most fruitful basis for human classification devised by anthropologists is found in the idea of culture. The culture concept is one of the great illuminating ideas of modern science, comparable in importance to the concept of evolution in biology, the concept of electromagnetic and gravitational fields in physics, and the concept of the atom in chemistry. The term culture refers to the entire complex of customs, laws, institutions, beliefs, values, traditions, and artifacts that constitute the common man-made environment of a group of people.
Human beings are not only or mainly denizens of the world of nature. They also live and grow in an artificial world of human design. Moreover, there are many such artificial worlds. Man-made environments vary according to the particular life-histories of the human groups that live by them. Cultural patterns thus represent aspects of human nature that are not universal, but shared with a limited number of other persons.
Man does not live by bread alone, that is, by means of his natural environment. His life is also rooted in culture. The network of cultural connections is as essential to personal existence as food, air, and water are to bodily survival. When a person is displaced into a radically different culture, he suffers acute distress, and when cultural patterns deteriorate through internal contradictions in a society or by external forces, the persons concerned undergo disorientation and disintegration.
The facts of culture make it evident that the notion of the person as an independent self-contained unit cannot be maintained. A kind of "field" theory of human nature is evidently needed. The being of persons extends beyond bodily boundaries to include the field of interconnections embodied in the culture. A living culture is a matrix of person-sustaining relationships that are inseparable from the human beings who participate in them.
Culture not only sustains persons; it is also in large part the means for creating them. Human learning is not so much an activity in culture as an inevitable and omnipresent effect of culture. It is a form of "enculturation." Who a person becomes is affected greatly by the formative influence of the whole culture in which he lives. Teachers, preachers, and others who devote themselves to the work of instruction can be saved needless frustration and disappointment if they bear in mind the weight of educational influences exerted by the culture as a whole, and if they take account of the prevailing cultural patterns as they plan their teaching.
The facts of culture beautifully exemplify the compresence of body, mind, and spirit in human nature. As to body, culture is deeply rooted in biological needs. Man is an organism struggling for survival, in the face of threats from natural forces and other living things. To protect himself he builds houses, makes clothing, and invents weapons. To supply his material wants more abundantly he fashions tools, harnesses the powers of nature in water, wind, and fire, and domesticates animals to his service. Since survival and material progress also require human cooperation, men devise social structures to provide for division of labor, specialization of function, and distribution of material goods. Furthermore, the elaborate patterns of culture connected with birth, initiation, courtship, marriage, illness, and death all express responses to the insistent demands of natural existence in particular circumstances of space and time.
Rooted though culture is in biological necessities, it reveals methods of human adjustment that transcend those of animal instinct and trial and error learning. Culture is a product of mind. Instruments, artifacts, and institutions are crystallizations of ideas. They are meaningful structures intelligibly related to purposes consciously entertained. The creations of culture are, in fact, the visible embodiments of the thought of a people. They are tangible evidence of the special forms of rationality that characterize a certain human group, as contrasted with the products and processes of reason that apply universally.
Culture is also evidence of spirituality. The products of human imagination extend far beyond the satisfaction of practical interests. In this man differs radically from the lower animals. He cannot rest content when his biological needs are supplied. He projects new possibilities of experiencing and then creates conditions of life that convert those possibilities into higher-order necessities. Civilization is far more than organization for the efficient exploitation of nature. It is a spiritual creation that transcends nature, constituting a new world of interests, enjoyments, and perplexities.
Among the cultural forms studied by the anthropologist are ones that explicitly embody spiritual meanings, including the beliefs, practices, and institutions of religion, some forms of which appear in every known culture. Important as these explicit evidences of spirit are, they should not be regarded as the only such manifestations. All cultural creation in some measure bears the mark of spirit, for it proceeds from the projecting, initiating power of free self-transcendence. Thus, language, law, science, art, manners, customs, history, and tradition are elaborations of the human spirit no less than is religion.
The enterprise of anthropology is itself an outstanding illustration of manís spiritual self-transcendence. The aim of the anthropologist is to understand cultures by sensitive and sympathetic participation in them on their own terms. He seeks to achieve a new kind of objectivity by identifying himself in patience and sincerity with cultures other than his own. Commonly he studies primitive cultures because they have greater inner homogeneity and simplicity than more advanced cultures and because they provide sharper contrasts with his own cultural habits and expectations. In this manner anthropology provides a bridge between the universal and the relative aspects of human nature. The ability to transcend oneís own relative position through imaginative participation in the relativities of other peoples is the basis for a new, richer universalism, in which the significant partialities of particular groups are encompassed within a sympathetic accepting awareness.
The concept of cultural relativism is particularly helpful in connection with the understanding of values as one of the expressions of human spirituality. Convictions about good and bad, right and wrong, important and insignificant, and the like, differ from culture to culture. While this relativity can be interpreted to mean that values are wholly defined by the circumstances of culture and are merely expressions of cultural exigencies, the insistent pressures of the human conscience, oftentimes in contradiction to accepted cultural norms, render this interpretation doubtful. What the relativity of values does show is that no one system of preferences can win assent for all people and under all circumstances. The easy assumption that oneís own provincial commitments are the standard by which everyoneís values should be judged is called into question. Ethical obligations are in one sense necessarily universal: they refer to what anyone ought to do or to approve. But the qualifier "in such and such circumstances" must be added, for rights and duties are not independent of the context of action. Cultural relativity is a reminder of these contextual factors in the specification of values. Thus, the universal moral obligations that inhere in the scientific commitment to truth are supplemented by the particular loyalties that are proper within the limited relationships of actual cultural traditions.
As already pointed out, culture is a powerful agency in the formation of human personality. The same social realities, however, also underlie the massive conservatism of culture. The principle of self-perpetuation is fundamental to all living things, and homeostasis, or conservation of form, is characteristic of the open systems comprising all enduring organisms. Similar conservation principles also apply to manís life-in-relation. Cultures are patterns of interrelation that give particular groups their identity. These groups maintain their integrity, and provide a sense of security and continuity to their members, by holding fast to the customs, beliefs, and values that comprise the cultural heritage.
From this persistent fact of cultural conservatism arise the most serious problems of social conflict, including the bitter strife of races, classes, sects, and nations. In such conflict, as well as in the quieter processes of peaceful transformation, cultures may change; conservation of culture is not an absolute law. Patterns of life can also be so severely disturbed that meaningful human existence is put in jeopardy. The present century is such a time of violent cultural dislocation, in which the system of common assumptions and shared convictions that make stable and integral human existence possible have been shattered, as a result both of burgeoning knowledge and inventiveness and of the destructive intergroup conflicts made possible through the powers at modern manís disposal.
The solution of this problem of cultural conflict and disintegration is perhaps the major challenge to modern civilization. There are four possible lines of resolution. The first is to retreat into pure individualism, denying the necessity for culture and affirming the essential autonomy and independence of the solitary person. This atomistic solution is a romantic illusion, for persons are made in and for relation, and anyone who imagines himself to be self-sufficient is simply oblivious to the network of relations in which his being consists.
The second approach is to work for the creation of a monolithic universal culture in which all particular patterns of life will be eliminated. This solution has the obvious merit of removing the basis for intergroup conflict. It is the preferred goal of utopian world planners. But again, it is doubtful that such a plan is consistent with human nature. Though man has universal properties that link him with all other members of his species, he also has qualities that he shares with only some of his fellows, and still others that are his own singular properties. To organize mankind on a uniform global pattern would eliminate one of the most enriching bases for human existence.
The third possibility is to create a system of cooperating cultures, united by certain common commitments required to adjudicate conflicts, but still preserving the group identities that give the separate cultures their distinctiveness. Mankind would then be organized into a federation of relatively autonomous, self-contained ethnic groups subject to principles of intergroup amity and mutual understanding. Such cultural pluralism is consistent with the requirements of human nature for a determinate social matrix, and it provides for continued enrichment of the life of mankind through a variety of contrasting traditions.
It appears unlikely, however, that the form of manís life-in-relation will in the long run be that of a plurality of cultures. With the accelerating pace of travel and communication, the conditions of relative isolation and constancy required for ethnic continuity and identity are ceasing to exist. This leads to the fourth and most promising possible solution to the problem of intergroup conflict, that is, the emergence of a single pluralistic world society, in which there will be ample provision for individual and group differences, but not on the basis of relatively independent culture groups.
Perhaps the present age marks the passing of ethnic man and the appearance of social man, the transition from an anthropological to a sociological epoch. The classic anthropological picture, largely drawn from the study of primitive societies, of tightly-woven patterns of culture, each element of which has to be understood in relation to all the other interconnected elements, is decreasingly relevant to the understanding of man-in-relation. Instead, people in a pluralistic society belong to many different groups and have many different roles to fill, depending upon their place in the various structures of the society in which they live. In such a society it is not possible to divide people into cultural groups each of which has a complete and distinctive way of life. Each personís way of life is compounded of the many different roles he plays in connection with the various associations into which he enters.
In a pluralistic society, while there must be certain standards by which everyone is regulated, there is no inclusive pattern of life for the society as a whole. There are, in fact, mutually exclusive, even contradictory, modes of existence. Moreover, each personís pattern of life is made up of diverse combinations of roles from the various groups in which he participates.
The resulting demands made on the individual person for choosing the relationships into which he enters and for integrating them into a reasonably viable mode of coherence is unprecedented in the history of mankind. Ethnic man had a ready-made way of life that could be interiorized through the normal processes of enculturation. In this given pattern lay much of his security, as well as his limitation. Man in the pluralistic society is released from this secure confinement into the exhilarating but frightening responsibility of freedom. It should occasion no surprise that so many moderns try to escape this dreadful freedom by re-creating comprehensive orthodoxies, whether ecclesiastical or secular, that will restore the unity and simplicity of life through closed systems of ethnic identification.
The central problem in the creation of a pluralistic world society is, then, a spiritual one, requiring the acceptance of the gift and responsibilities of mature freedom. The study of the possible forms of relation in which that freedom may be exercised is the province of the social sciences. The unique organization of those choices in the making of singular persons is the province of the humanistic studies, which will be considered in the following chapter. Thus, the crisis in modern manís being and becoming related, as revealed in anthropology and sociology, also requires for its solution the human understandings gained in the humanities.
Anthropology and sociology both aim at a comprehensive description of man-in-relation. Other social sciences, concentrating on certain limited kinds of human activities, together afford a more detailed picture of manís culture and social organization. One of the most important of these specialized types of activity, namely, language, has already been discussed. The remainder of this chapter will be concerned with three other kinds of human relations -- economic, political, and familial -- and with what the sciences centrally concerned with them tell about human nature and its transformations.
Economic phenomena point most obviously to the bodily life of man. Without food, drink, and shelter people cannot live. The sustenance and security of the physical organism are prerequisite to all of the higher and more characteristically human functions. Most of what people do seems to be concerned directly or indirectly with supplying bodily wants. Agriculture furnishes food, drink, and fiber. From forests and mines come building materials and fuels to keep men safe and comfortable. The transportation industry carries people bodily from place to place. One cannot view the whole gigantic production apparatus of modem advanced societies and the perennial preoccupation of mankind with making a living without being impressed by the dominance of physical demands in the life of man. Such economic facts render untenable any picture of man as a purely mental or spiritual being.
Yet even in economic affairs man proves to be more than body. His organic demands are only the first stage in the elaboration of a system of wants that far transcend biological impulses. Man has psychogenic needs that are just as insistent as those of the body. To satisfy them natural objects are transformed into a complex environment of created artifacts bearing the impress of human mentality. Human beings do not rest content with physical satiety. They hunger also for the goods of intelligence. Accordingly, a large part of economic activity is devoted to the satisfaction of manís psychic wants.
Human rationality is also evident in the very fact of economic organization. The incredibly intricate system of accounting that makes possible the business and financial structure of society bears eloquent witness to the powers of the human mind to achieve rational ordering and control of human affairs. One can gain some measure of this attainment by imagining the chaos and destructive conflict that would ensue if all records of economic transactions should disappear. Far more than is usually acknowledged, the security and well-being of the human community are dependent upon that great triumph of the symbolizing mind, bookkeeping.
Supervening on bodily wants, psychogenic elaborations, and rational systems of control are the spiritual factors in manís economic existence. Economic problems are occasioned by the perennial disparity between the available supply of goods and services and the demand for them. If persons were only intelligent organisms with finite wants, the problem of adjusting demand and supply could in principle be easily settled by rational calculation. In fact, human beings prove to have limitless desires. They do not, like lower animals, become content when their bodily hungers are satisfied. Humans are endowed with a boundless craving, such that when one want is fulfilled, some other and more urgent demand takes its place. People are never fully satisfied at any stage of attainment. From each level of fulfillment they always look up longingly to still higher levels. That is why economic problems do not diminish as the standard of living rises. If anything, they are intensified. Things that are regarded as luxuries in one economic bracket are considered necessities in the more affluent circles. While the kinds of things people want do change as goods become more abundant, the fundamental economic fact of scarcity continues to operate. For, relative to the potential total human demand, no possible supply of goods and services is ever sufficient.
This persistence of economic problems is due to the infinitude of the human spirit. The interesting point is that this quality of transcendence is shown in connection with the supply of material wants. Because body, mind, and spirit are an indissoluble triad in the human personality, man deals with his physical needs in characteristically mental and spiritual ways, ordering his economic life according to rational canons and multiplying his demands beyond all limits in obedience to the infinite yearnings of the self-transcending spirit.
While economics as a descriptive study is not concerned with moral issues, the facts of economic life inescapably point to the moral element in human nature. Economic activity has to do with the production and distribution of goods, and "good" generally has ethical connotations. In scientific economics one can remove the normative element by defining an economic good as whatever anyone wants, leaving open the question as to whether it ought to be wanted. Such economics is limited to the ethically neutral desired, leaving out of account the normative desirable. However, this elimination of the moral factor is alien to human nature; because man has a conscience, he cannot escape moral self-appraisals. When a person desires anything, he tends to ask whether or not he ought to desire it. Because human beings are thus morally concerned, "goods" can never be wholly "de-moralized." That is, the question of desirability cannot be persistently avoided.
The moral issue arises because economic affairs have to do with man-in-relation. Each personís wants have to be considered in relation to the wants of others, and the limited available supply of goods and services must be distributed among the various claimants. Economic systems are designed to give an answer to the question of how this distribution shall be effected. In contemporary civilization three main conceptions of economics compete for acceptance, and to each corresponds a characteristic picture of economic man.
The first view is that of classical free enterprise. Under this system goods and services are distributed by means of an open market in commodities, land, labor, and money, the values or prices of which are determined by competitive bidding. Presumably the aim of economic activity is to maximize material gain, and the enterpriser has an unalienable right of ownership in what he produces and acquires through market exchanges. The error of such free market economics is that it substitutes an automatic social mechanism for moral responsibility and thereby permits grave social injustices to occur. The freedom and privacy of the few strongest and cleverest are bought at the price of the enslavement of the many less able. Given the cumulative power of private property, justice does not result from the competitive interplay of acquisitive individuals.
The second economic system, that of communism, is also unrealistic about human nature, but in a different way. Under this system it is assumed that a just distribution of goods and services will automatically follow the elimination of private property rights in the means of production. Communists hold that by the expropriation of capitalists and the dictatorship of the proletariat the ideal of distribution "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" will inevitably be realized. In actuality, grave injustices occur under this system also. The strong still exploit the weak, the important human values of freedom and privacy are effectively denied, and incentives for productive activity are undermined.
Both the free market and the communist economic philosophies should be rejected, because both substitute a social mechanism for moral responsibility. Economic affairs inescapably raise questions of justice, which no institutional structure, individualistic or collectivistic, can automatically insure.
There remains a third answer to the distribution question, based on a deliberate acceptance of the demands of the moral conscience of man. Economics is not a natural science, describing how events in the world of production and distribution must occur, whether by the laws of the free market or by the dialectic of economic determinism. Economics is a policy science, providing a basis for making intelligent decisions in the light of the common good. Economic activity is not a self-contained, autonomous domain of life, but a means to fulfill the moral ends of mankind.
The importance of the changes that have taken place in economics largely since the Keynesian revolution does not lie principally in the many new practical devices and theoretical discoveries that have been made, but in the picture of human nature implicit in the newer views. In this picture man is no longer seen as subject to ineluctable economic forces, but as himself responsible for deliberately organizing his life-in-relation according to the requirements of social justice. Economic institutions are human creations, made to supply physical, intellectual, and spiritual needs. The particular mechanisms employed depend on circumstances of history, geography, and culture, and decisions about them can be made responsibly only by taking account of manís acquisitive propensities, his need for rational order, his longing for freedom, and his sense of justice -- in short, by relying on an integral rather than a truncated conception of human nature.
The forms of economic organization are powerful means of forming persons. A nonmoral economic system tends to create a society either of acquisitive or of collective automatons, depending on the principles relied upon to regulate economic behavior. On the other hand, a society in which conscious control of economic processes is undertaken for the common good encourages the growth of moral personalities. Becoming a mature person requires the discipline of wants. The economic system educates because it supplies the institutional structures through which desires are regulated. The rewards and sanctions administered by economic institutions become internalized ingredients of personality in those who live by and in the system. Therefore, it is of great importance for the nurture of human beings that the economic organization of society be based upon a comprehensive and not a partial concept of human nature.
The most powerful influence of economic life in the formation of persons is the occupational structure. Since a person essentially is what he does and can do, his habitual occupation to a large degree determines his character. There was sound insight in the custom of an earlier day of identifying persons and families by their callings. The very being of Mr. Smith consisted in his smithing and of Mr. Carpenter in his carpentering, and it was presumed that both the designation and the occupation would continue from generation to generation. Thanks to the passing of occupational castes, Mr. Smith can now be a banker and Mr. Carpenter can even be a mason, union rules permitting. Still, the new Smithís being is formed by his banking and the new Carpenterís by his masoning.
The primary social question in regard to occupation is whether work is determined by the requirements of a sovereign economic mechanism or by deliberate social planning guided by an integral concept of human nature. When maximum production and continually increasing economic growth, measured by income and expenditure figures, are taken as the measures of social well-being, then occupations and the educational preparation for them are dehumanized and made narrowly vocational; and persons are degraded into interchangeable parts in a giant social machine designed for generating and gratifying acquisitive hungers.
Since occupations are made for man and not man for occupations, the nature and distribution of work should foster the growth of complete persons. From this standpoint, the prevailing division of occupations along the lines of physical, mental, and spiritual functions -- or as manual, white collar, and managerial and professional -- is undesirable. It is not necessary to give up the specialization of functions that makes advanced civilization possible. What is required by the criterion of human integrity is that occupations be so defined that manual work is also a rational pursuit and an opportunity for constructive imagination, that symbolic skills may be exercised in clear relation to material necessities and in the light of moral responsibilities, and that creative professional activities will be conducted with a vivid sense of the realities of nature and the canons of reason. In short, every occupation can and should be designed to take account of the essential unity of body, mind, and spirit in human nature. Such an occupational structure would not only nurture integral persons; it would also create a healthy society. Is a fatal mistake to suppose that a good community can be constructed by combining partial human beings according to some ideal blueprint. The good society can only be constituted of whole human beings. In the making of such persons, integral occupations play a central role. In schools and colleges, the best preparation and continuing support for occupations of this kind is liberal education, in which the full range of human potentialities is developed, rather than a narrowly conceived program of vocational training. Such liberal education is entirely consistent with a high degree of specialized technical instruction, provided the latter is carried out imaginatively and with continuous concern for the wider bearings and the deeper meanings of the specialty.
Inseparable from the economic structure of society, as well as from all of the other institutions regulating the common life, are the instruments of government, with which political science is concerned. Man is a political animal, whose being and behaving are determined in the context of association with others. In their essential interdependence, human beings exert power and influence on other persons. The science of politics deals with these power relationships.
The anatomy of social power vividly illustrates the interfusion of physical, mental, and spiritual elements in human affairs. In physics power means capacity to do work, and it is calculated by multiplying the amount of an acting force by the speed with which it acts. All changes of motion in material things, including people, are due to the exercise of power in this sense. Sometimes human affairs are conducted on the basis of such direct physical compulsion. When the police carry a resistant culprit to jail or when one army drives back an opposing army in battle, social power takes the same form as the powers of nature.
Usually, however, human behavior is not caused by the direct application of physical force, but is controlled by habit patterns acquired in earlier social experience. That is to say, most human action consists of learned responses, which depend on mental capabilities. Possessing minds, persons can become socialized, in the sense that they can develop response patterns more or less closely corresponding to the demands of the social order in which they live. Physical compulsion is thus largely replaced in social relationships by mental control.
The most distinctive form of power in human affairs extends beyond the acquired responses of mind, to the self-transcending action of the human spirit. A person is aware of himself as occupying a certain social position, and it is by his evaluation of that status and of himself in relation to it that his behavior is governed. Each social position carries with it certain rights, privileges, and responsibilities, and the pattern of social positions determines the power structure of the society. A large factor in the maintenance and operation of this structure is the symbolic system, including the rituals, symbolic objects, and verbal forms that embody the values to which the members of society are committed.
A fundamental fact about government is that it possesses the means of compelling compliance by physical force if necessary. It has the ultimate sanction of police power. Equally fundamental is the fact that such physical sanctions are effective only when most members of the community habitually and voluntarily accept the existing order, that is, when their internal springs of action are consistent with the power structure of the society. These two facts underline the fusion of body, mind, and spirit in power as a human reality. Though physical force in human affairs is largely replaced by rational and purposive controls, the connection of these higher forms of power with direct compulsion remains. Though a life in relation cannot be truly human until force is subordinated to persuasion, it is doubtful that purely mental and spiritual power can exist, severed from any connection with physical force as a possible ultimate sanction.
In this connection the practice of non-violent resistance is instructive. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other like-minded apostles of social change, and their followers, have been effective in challenging the prevailing power structure because they did not merely appeal to reason and high purposes. They used their bodies literally to force consideration of their better vision. The general principle is that the ultimate test of every commitment to ideals takes place at the bodily level, whether in the application of force by the governing powers or in the suffering of those who actively or passively resist the prevailing political order.
These considerations have significant bearing on the education of the young. Physical compulsion has an essential place in character development. Pure reason and exhortation are not meaningful by themselves. They gain their significance by ultimate reference to forceful sanctions. Parents and teachers who believe that physical restraint and corporal punishment are uncivilized and injurious to personality and hold that permissiveness and affirmation are the sovereign rules of child training deprive the children in their care of an essential element in personal growth. A child governed by sheer force would become not a person but a brute. On the other hand, a child is not a discarnate mind, nor a pure soul. He has a body, and it is in and through this body that his character must be developed, his physical existence supporting and standing as a pledge for the reality of his rational and spiritual commitments.
The study of family relations and of the growth of persons within the family is the special concern of interpersonal psychology, particularly as represented in the various psychoanalytic schools. Sigmund Freud was a pioneer in calling attention to the fundamental importance of the family constellation in the development of persons, and those who succeeded him in the depth analysis of the human psyche demonstrated the fruitfulness of this approach to man and his becoming.
The major contribution of interpersonal psychology to a comprehensive philosophy of human nature is that what a person becomes is decisively influenced by his relationships with other persons -- chiefly those in his family in the first few years of life. Many of the clues to adult behavior are to be found in childhood experiences. More than any other discipline devoted to the study of man, psychoanalysis underscores the connection between being and the process of becoming, particularly emphasizing the fact that the later development of persons is largely a working out of patterns early established in the family.
Psychoanalysis gives special emphasis to the reciprocal relations between bodily, rational, and spiritual functions in the human personality. The infant is completely dependent on his parents, especially his mother, for nourishment and protection. The manner in which the dependent childís organic needs are satisfied has a profound effect on his subsequent emotional development. If his wants are promptly supplied, he learns to regard the world as a friendly place and the people around him as trustworthy. If his wants are denied or served in an inconsistent or haphazard manner, the child comes to regard the world as hostile, unreliable, and enigmatic. Such attitudes of secure optimism or anxious pessimism may persist, coloring the thoughts and purposes of the person throughout his life.
Similarly, a homely bodily matter like toilet training may have a profound effect on the growth of personality. A child inducted too early into the control of his natural functions may develop lasting patterns of scrupulousness and anxiety. He may learn to fear his natural impulses, impoverishing his personal vitality by excessive rigidity and negation of feeling.
The loss of spontaneity and natural warmth is frequently associated with the denial of sexual impulses. Much of the modern study of psychopathology centers on the problems caused by sexual repression. For example, the classical Freudian theory makes the Oedipal conflict, in which the child must come to terms with his sexual attraction to the parent of the opposite sex, a central factor in the development of personality.
Interpersonal psychology further demonstrates that emotional factors deriving from the regulation of organic impulses for social purposes have a profound effect on the life of reason. Much of human thought proves to be rationalization, that is, a means of justifying to oneself or to others conduct that does not measure up to accepted standards. Human conduct is often largely guided by unconscious and irrational factors. However, the assumption of the psychotherapist is that irrational behavior can be brought under rational control by re-educating the person in healthy interpersonal relationships. Relationships are healthy if they are based on truth and love, that is, on a reality principle, and on concern for and acceptance of the person himself.
Physical well-being in turn is dependent on health of mind and spirit. It is now common knowledge that many bodily ailments are caused by emotional maladjustments. Ulcers, heart attacks, arthritis, indeed, almost any medical pathology one can name, including cancer, may be affected, if not caused, by psychological factors. Consequently, the healing of the body may depend on the healing of the mind and spirit. Hatred, fear, boredom, and hopelessness are often the sources of disease, and love, courage, high purpose, and hope are then needed to effect a cure.
Interpersonal psychology thus vividly demonstrates the essential interweaving of body, mind, and spirit in human nature. It also shows that personal health consists in wholeness, that is, in the integration of the human being through the proper articulation of his various component functions. A person becomes integral, or healthy, largely through relationships with other persons in which his early instinctual needs are adequately gratified but are also progressively disciplined as required by the realities of the natural and cultural environment.
The present chapter has shown what some of the sciences of man contribute to our understanding of human nature and development. The aspects of man that he shares with all natural things or with all other human beings -- as disclosed by natural science -- do not yield a complete picture of man. Humans are essentially social. The quality of their being and the modes of their becoming depend on their particular patterns of social interaction. Every set of continuing relationships contributes to the formation of particular qualities in the persons thus related.
The social sciences reveal the different ways human beings are alike. Alike they must be, for a person cannot exist in isolation. Relation is essential to being. Yet there are different patterns of relation, resulting from the creative freedom of human beings. The myriad forms of human culture and institutions comprise these different kinds of likeness.
Each social science provides an image of man based on certain aspects of life-in-relation. Linguistics shows man as a creator of symbolic systems that provide common worlds in thought and imagination. Cultural anthropology shows human nature as it grows out of the matrix of integral human communities. Sociology is more concerned with the various societal structures and mechanisms by which manís social existence is maintained and modified. Economics describes the variety of social mechanisms by which the production and distribution of scarce goods and services may be regulated. Political science analyzes human beings in terms of their striving for power and the need for its proper ordering. Interpersonal psychology discloses the sources of personality in the life of the family and through other intimate relationships.
The organization of manís life-in-relation is manifestly a work of mind. It is a product of the rational power of perceiving and fashioning forms, of understanding identity and difference, of classification and abstraction. At the same time, the shared life has a bodily basis, is adapted to the necessities of corporeal being, and is expressed by physical means. Finally, the embodied reason of manís shared cultural forms bears the mark of the free creative determinations of the self-conscious human spirit. Thus, the social sciences, like the natural sciences, show that manís nature and nurture in their relational as in their universal aspects, must be conceived with due regard for the inextricable interdependence of physical, mental, and spiritual factors.
Viewed 30251 times.