Chapter 3: Being and Becoming Oneself
The first chapter showed how mathematics and the natural sciences reveal human nature in its universal aspects, and the second chapter indicated the contribution of the social sciences to the knowledge of human qualities shared in social groups. This final chapter will consider the function of the humanities in disclosing human beings as unique persons.
The humanities that will be discussed include several of the fine arts, history, certain aspects of individual psychology, and religion. As in the case of the disciplines treated earlier, the analysis will be concerned both with what the humanistic studies directly disclose about man and his becoming and with what can be inferred about human nature indirectly by reflection on the activities comprising those studies.
As before, it will be demonstrated that each discipline reveals man as a dynamic unity of matter, reason, and spirit, the differences among the disciplines reflecting different aspects and components of the total life of individual persons.
The first part of the analysis concerns what esthetic experience and artistic creation in general reveal about man. The essence of the esthetic attitude is the contemplative enjoyment of an interesting object. The thing enjoyed may be either natural or man-made -- a rock, a person, a statue, or a sonnet. In the esthetic encounter one does not consider the properties of the object as a kind of thing or as something the inherent meaning of which is derived from sharing it with others. The esthetic object is appreciated in and for itself and the act of appreciation is ultimately and ideally a personal response of the perceiver, without reference to the reactions of other persons to the object.
Esthetic experience is thus decisively different in kind from the acts of descriptive observation and of communication that characterize the scientific and relational life of man. Esthetic life is not concerned with general functional conceptions but with singular nonfunctional perceptions, that is, perceptions in which the esthetic object is regarded as interesting in itself and not as a means to serve other interests.
The esthetic attitude is evidence that man understands and values individuality. In the act of appreciation he shows his respect for the object in its own right. He sees it as a concrete particular embodying an excellence that belongs to that thing alone. He does not seek to incorporate the object into his own being, but discovers himself drawn out of himself in self-forgetful acknowledgment of an objective, finite perfection.
Of all the creatures only human beings appear to engage to any appreciable extent in the activity of esthetic contemplation. This is because only man has a highly developed spiritual capacity for self-transcendence, enabling him to lose himself in the nonfunctional perception of an interesting other being. The lower animals for the most part appear to perceive functionally. They regard things with an eye to the animal’s own organic interests; they are not fascinated with things as valuable in themselves. Only the self-transcending human percipient has the power of vicariously living the life of the interesting other being.
This understanding and valuing of other individual beings is possible because a person himself is an interesting and interested unique self. The perceiver knows from his own being what individuation means. Because he perceives his own inner life as a continuous series of singular concretions, he is able to recognize and to respect as a value-in-itself each object that captures his esthetic attention.
In esthetic experiences there are the roots of what may well be mankind’s most fundamental moral persuasion, namely, the inherent worth of the individual. The esthetic attitude is essentially one of respect for the thing-in-itself and for the freedom of the perceiving subject. In such an attitude there is no place for coercion, for manipulation, for classifying, or for ranking. Things of worth are prized for what they are and not for the extrinsic benefits they may bring. Despite the importance of the subjective element in esthetic perception, the esthetic attitude is fundamentally objective, in that it concerns the ascription of worth to an object of value.
This basic morality of respect for the individual may be the grounds for equality and justice in the social order and for the ethics of publicity and veracity in the scientific community. In the light of the esthetic ideal communal relations can be established so as to yield the maximum individuality, variety, and liberty to create. In the same light, even the potential universals of scientific inquiry can be derived from the fellowship of free persons each responding to the personal persuasion of the evidence available to him.
Esthetic objects are interesting not only because of their unique existence, which is spiritually perceived, but also because of their rational and material aspects, resonating with the corresponding aspects of human nature. Esthetic objects are embodiments of reason. They are materializations of intelligence. Here reason and intelligence are to be interpreted in their individuated forms. Mind is not manifest only in the forms of discursive reason. Besides the mind disclosed in scientific universals and in relational orderings, there is the mind of unique esthetic presentations. Mind in this last sense is the creative source of all understandings, including the concepts and conventions of the general forms of reason. Before any patterns of thought can be put to use in the categories of science or the structures of human organization, they must be perceived as significant forms by the esthetic imagination.
Esthetic experience is thus the basis for understanding the elemental patterns of human rationality, of which the forms of ordinary logical cognition are only generalized modes selected for the non-esthetic purposes of communication. The direct intuitive understanding of a tree, of a pattern of clouds, of a human face, of a house, or of a song is an achievement of intelligence no less reasonable and no less significant than the comprehension of a mathematical demonstration or of a legal regulation.
If human beings are to become mature selves it is essential that they be given regular opportunity and encouragement in esthetic exploration, and that such learning be accorded its due status as an authentic rational pursuit. Without this esthetic basis reason becomes narrowly canalized in its generalizing modes and loses the creative vitality of the particular perceptions upon which all intelligence, including that of science and practical organization, depends. In this sense scientific, technical, and social man is rooted and grounded in esthetic man.
Esthetic individuation is achieved by the ordering of material substances. Esthetic perceptions are not mere rational abstractions. They yield knowledge of embodied forms manifest in particular material things. The uniqueness of the esthetic object is not a consequence of a general idea, but of the way sensible stuff is put together. The qualities of the materials used, together with the complex effects achieved by organizing them into a unified whole, give the esthetic object its distinctive character.
Corresponding to the individual interesting material object is the unique bodied human perceiver. Esthetic experience is dependent on the physical senses. No pure, immaterial, disembodied perception of beauty or of any other esthetic value is possible. Feeling depends on sensation -- not raw, unorganized impulse, of course, but bodily sense infused with the rational power of particular discriminations.
Thus, the esthetic life makes clear the inextricable unity of matter, reason, and spirit in the individual life of man. Esthetic experience reveals the sensible forms in which reason finds concrete expression. It also provides the occasion for the recognition of uniqueness that marks man as a self-conscious spiritual being.
That part of the esthetic life of man connected with artistic creation yields a particularly clear picture of human nature as revealed in esthetic experience generally. The spirituality of the artist is evident in the fact that he creates perceptible objects. He exercises the freedom of deliberate construction, in which the objects fashioned constitute a second creation -- a new world, transcending the processes of nature. In this way man, who is dependent on nature, at the same time shows his spiritual freedom to rise above the determinations of the natural order. Likewise, he demonstrates his participation in the eternal, which transcends the flux of time. For the making of works of art is an effort to create enduring objects which will preserve for repeated enjoyment the consummatory perceptions that vanish so quickly from subjective consciousness.
Paradoxically, the means of securing this relative immortality -- this partial immunity from the decrements of time -- is the embodiment of the once-living perception in nonliving matter. The source of continued resurrectability of the esthetic idea is the permanence of the inanimate stuff in which the artist objectifies the idea. Hellas lives today because its glory was captured in undying stone.
In this respect the arts emphasize the being rather than the becoming of man. They offer a reminder that sheer becoming has no meaning, and that value inheres in consummation. Becoming, growth, change, are justified by the being to which they lead. Pure Heraclitan flux is no more satisfactory than absolute Parmenidean immobility. Time and eternity are indissolubly wed. The arts beautifully maintain the sense of this union, which is so essential to the understanding of authentic human existence. On the one hand, they provide for freshness and novelty through acts of creative origination. On the other hand, they allow for the preservation of consummatory values through the fashioning of enduring material objectifications. Thus, the arts help to maintain the balance between progressivism and conservatism that is essential to the health of civilization. Progress is achieved through the free creation of new esthetic objects. Conservation is assured through the lasting materialization of esthetic perceptions.
The secret of this happy balance is individuation. A work of art can properly be absolutely new and absolutely permanent only because it is absolutely unique. No such possibility exists in the partially or universally shared aspects of human existence. For all matters held in common, whether in science, in law and custom, or in institutional arrangement, continuity must always be qualified by criticism, and conversely, novelty to be significant must be introduced with due regard to tradition.
The theme of singularity in art should not be pressed so hard that no room is left for common enjoyment, esthetic communication, and significant criticism. Because esthetic experience is shared, and meaningful esthetic judgments are made and defended, the arts are not without relevance to the relational and even to the universal aspects of human nature. In fact, it is widely held that the measure of greatness in a work of art is the universality of its appeal. Nevertheless, esthetic conviction is grounded in singularity, both of the work of art and of the person who perceives it as significant; such breadth of appeal as a work has is due to the universality of the drive toward personal uniqueness.
Accordingly, esthetic judgments are not coercive in the same way either as scientific demonstrations or as social agreements. While esthetic appraisals may be influenced by illuminating criticism and may be widely shared, they remain essentially free personal responses that reflect the inner life of the unique human being.
The different contributions of the several forms of art to the understanding of human nature depend principally on the types of material used to embody esthetic ideas.
The most intimate and direct esthetic presentation of human nature is attained in the dance, for in this art form the human body itself provides the expressive means. The dance constitutes a living refutation of the assumption that bodies exist only to support the higher human functions and that they themselves have no distinctive human meaning. The somewhat marginal status of the dance in modern civilization, as compared with some of the other arts, may well be due to the prevalent dualistic conception of man, in which the physical organism is assigned to physical activities and the mind to the "higher things." Primitive cultures and archaic civilizations, in which the dance was the dominant art, may be closer to a true understanding of man than are modern civilized cultures. The discovery of psychosomatic unity in the practice of medicine is a partial and largely pragmatic recovery of the integrity of the human person that has always been the unquestioned premise of the dance. The degree of prominence of the dance as an art form may well be a significant measure of a people’s understanding of human health and wholeness.
In the best sense of the phrase the dancer glorifies the body. This does not mean that he glories in the body as body, but that he integrates the body into an expression of complete humanness. He literally effects an embodiment of reason and spirit, or, conversely, a rationalizing and spiritualizing of the body. For him in fact if not in doctrine the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is a fit vehicle for the most exalted treasures of the human mind and imagination.
The dance portrays the inner life of man in relation to the conditions of space, time, and gravity in which human experience occurs. A great range of human attitudes and emotions, from hope to despair, from suspicion to trust, from resolution to aimlessness, from impudence to reverence, are translated into expressive body positions and movements, demonstrating the indissoluble linkage between the subjective experiences of man and their outward objectifications.
Since the human body itself is the means of expression in the dance, this art form is an exception to the principle of immortalization through artistic creation. Although there are ways of preserving dance forms through photography and dance notation, many dance compositions are as evanescent as human experience itself; the work is created and vanishes with the creation. This transcience applies particularly to the modern expressive dance. Such mortality is the price paid for the advantage of using man’s own mortal stuff as the expressive material, thereby assuring the unity of subjective and objective elements in the esthetic object.
Much dance is also concerned with universal and relational aspects of human nature rather than with individual expression. This is especially the case with ritual dances and with conventional forms such as the stylized traditional ballet. Even free expressive dance as a performing art is not meant to be simply idiosyncratic, but is intended to present human meanings of general significance. Nevertheless, the principle of free personal appropriation is fundamental in the dance as in all esthetic experience, and in this respect the concern for uniqueness is preserved. Furthermore, each dance composition, no matter how widely shared, is a singular construction, and as such sustains the ideal of individuation.
Music shows human nature as a resonator to rhythmic energy pulsations in the audio-frequency range. The sensory channel for musical meanings is a tiny stretched membrane in the ear, the vibration patterns of which are analyzable into a linear, temporal sequence of varying amplitudes. It is one of the miracles and mysteries of man that the whole rich content of musical experience can be contained in such a rhythmic pulse. The miracle, of course, is not in the vibrating tympanic membrane, but in the human mind, in which the temporal sequence of energy amplitudes is converted into a perception of tonal patterns by virtue of the power of memory. Memory overcomes the sheer flux of temporal process, making possible a present in which the past still resounds. The very idea of a tone, with a given pitch, is impossible apart from the mind that collects and connects the rapid succession of pulses that are the physical form of sound. Similarly, the effects of rhythm, harmony, melody, and the various structural patterns in musical composition exist only because memory affords a mode of conscious existence in which the percipient both lives in the time stream and outside of it.
The mystery of music in the life of man is bound up with the ways in which the elemental realities of temporal passage and number can be combined to achieve qualitative effect. In sound perception energy frequency and amplitude are the embodiments of number. The qualitative effect is attained by a certain regularity of impulses, yielding temporal sequences of stimuli with a degree of intelligible periodicity.
It is interesting to speculate on the significance of rhythmic patterns in human existence, indeed, in existence of any kind. Periodicity is found everywhere, from the energy configurations of atoms and the circling of the planets to the life cycles of biological organisms and the ebb and flow of social organizations. Such rhythms are the means of uniting change and constancy, novelty and stability. In rhythmic patterns there is dynamic order -- patterned process -- making possible that balance between security and adventure required for creative advance at every stage in the evolution of the cosmic order.
Music is the art in which this primal fact of constancy-in-change is deliberately celebrated and exploited. Musical patterns provide consciously perceptible experiences of statement, variation, repetition, contrast, and return that link the person to the vastly extended and intricate cycles of the whole hierarchy of creation, and particularly of life, in which variety and flux within continuity of structural and functional patterns are of the essence. In this sense the enjoyment of music is an act of rejoicing in being itself, and especially in being alive.
Music is far more abstract and intellectual than the dance, which utilizes the whole body, either directly in the dancer or empathically in the viewer. Though music also affects the whole body in its rhythmic pulsations, its aim is the more limited one of sharpening the perception of intelligible (because to some degree cyclic) temporal orderings. By virtue of its high abstraction, the range of constructive combinations in music (as in the closely related domain of mathematics) is very great, and (again, like mathematics) its penetration into the secrets of existence (including man’s) is very profound.
In the motion of the dance, temporal and spatial orders are united. In music, abstraction occurs along temporal lines, suppressing the spatial factor. In the visual arts, including painting, graphics, sculpture, and architecture, abstraction takes place spatially, minimizing the temporal factor. To be sure, the visual arts need to be viewed rhythmically in time. Also, qualities of color, and light and shade, are perceived by virtue of the same memory factors in the mind that make possible the discrimination of tones -- the difference in the case of visual perception being in the order of energy frequencies involved and in the nature of the required receptors and resonating brain circuits. Nevertheless, visual perception is an abstraction in the extensive mode rather than in the mode of duration that belongs to music.
Although paintings, prints, statues, and even buildings can be and often are constructed so as to give a sense of life and motion, they are made with fixed and enduring materials and therefore represent a timeless objectification of the living experience. While music, too, can be perpetually re-created by performers or by means of recordings, and may also provide enduring objectifications, it does not reflect man’s longing for permanence as directly as do the visual arts.
The visual arts result from man’s attempt to organize matter beyond the limits of his own natural body. By arranging ink, paint, clay, metal, brick, glass, and other substances the artist seeks to put the stamp of his individual creative mind onto matter. In so doing he fashions purely material things that bear the marks of reason and spirit. By the ideas expressed these things betoken mind, and by bearing witness in their very being to having been deliberately made they show self-transcending spirituality. In the unity of the created singular work the union of these three dimensions of the unique person is made manifest.
The dance, music, and the visual arts are elemental in the sense that they directly utilize energies and materials that are elements of the natural world -- organic functions and structures, sounds, colors, and substances of every kind. These three arts therefore celebrate man’s kinship to the natural cosmos. They manifest his linkage to and active reciprocity with the world of space, time, matter, and energy. They are the counterparts in the realm of esthetic individuation of the universal disciplines of mathematics and the natural sciences. The dance corresponds most nearly to biology, music to mathematics, and the visual arts to the physical sciences.
A new and quite different array of arts is generated when instead of the universal natural elements the relational materials of human culture are organized into esthetic constructions. The chief among these materials and the most distinctive of human nature is language, from which the language arts are formed. By means of language also the entire world of other cultural products, as well as any relevant natural objects, is made available through symbolic reference in the imaginative creations of the writer. The use of language thus indefinitely extends the possibilities of esthetic expression, opening up boundless resources for symbolic presentation. All the rich treasures of shared meanings contained in language are added to the already vast expressive powers of the speechless voices in the three elemental forms of art.
The arts in which language is used are of three main kinds, paralleling the three nonverbal types already considered. Corresponding to the dance, the most comprehensive and fundamental of the language arts is drama. In the theater human action is presented in the form of action. The play is a means of vividly holding up to view selected interesting aspects of actual or conceivable human life. By what the actors do and say the spectators are enabled to participate imaginatively in situations that bring to focus the ingredients and perspectives out of which personal existence is constituted. These situations may be ones of conflict, decision, and suffering such as occur in high tragedy. Or they may be comic views of human existence, from which the spectators gain a healthy perspective on the finitude and contingency of man’s condition.
The power of drama as a revelation of human nature consists in the fact that its expressive ingredients are whole live persons engaged in credible concrete actions. The dramatist cannot, of course, set forth the entire infinitely complex truth about man. Each play deals with only certain selected perceptions about the human situation. This does not mean that the play has a lesson, or a moral, that can be set forth in literal propositions, but only that it presents some reasonably coherent set of illuminations about the meaning of human existence.
Furthermore, these truths or illuminating perspectives are not generalizations about mankind or groups of men, though the insights of drama may serve as data for such generalizations. The man known in drama is always and essentially a unique person. He is not, as in allegory, simply a type masquerading as a person. The character in a play is not a kind of person, but a person with a name, and what makes him dramatically interesting is precisely that he is himself and nobody else.
The appeal of drama consists in the opportunity it affords for self-identification through imaginative participation in the being and becoming of the characters in the play. The emphasis achieved by the playwright through deliberate selection, invention, structuring, and weighting of dramatic elements gives drama a higher order of effectiveness in self-identification, with all degrees of positive and negative reaction, than is usually possible in the ordinary associations of actual life. The simplified, concentrated, enlarged, vicarious experiences provided by drama are an important source of imaginative models of personality and conduct for use by persons as they continually search for their own authentic being and ways of becoming.
The central elements of drama are situation, decision, character, and destiny, and all of these are derived from the fact that man fashions his life in and by means of a world of space and time. A person’s environmental situation both empowers and limits his decisions. By his decisions his character is formed, and from his character in turn his decisions are fashioned. From one’s characteristic decisions in situations his destiny is shaped, that is, the meaning of his life as a whole is established. Human actions do not take place in isolation. A person’s present actions are profoundly conditioned by the whole series of his prior actions, as well as by the accidents of his situation, and what he now does affects in perpetuity what he can do in the future. The function of drama is to display for efficient and moving contemplation the endlessly various and subtle interweavings of these several aspects of the individual person’s pilgrimage.
Poetry, the second of the language arts, stands in about the same relation to drama as music stands to the dance. Just as music is a high abstraction from the total bodily expression of the dance, emphasizing ordered temporal sequences, so poetry is primarily an art with temporal order, specializing in the rhythmic qualities in language, abstracted from the total personal action of the drama in space and time. The distinction between these art forms, of course, is not absolute. The dance arts usually make use of musical accompaniments, and drama is not uncommonly given poetic form. Nevertheless, the formal distinctions are still legitimate, and have value for analyzing the special contributions of the several arts to the understanding of human nature.
One distinctive virtue of poetry is to link the whole intelligible world, as embodied in language, with the elemental cosmic periodicities celebrated in music. Everything that applies to music regarding its revelation of the interfusion of time and eternity, of change and constancy, applies also to poetry, but with the vastly expanded significance that comes in discovering these fundamental rhythmic cycles in the symbol world. Still more important is the insight that poetry provides, through the poet’s intimate and imaginative explorations in language, into the less obvious affinities of things.
The two essentials of poetry are rhythm and metaphor. Both have the same basic function of establishing unity-in-difference -- an achievement (as already pointed out) that is close to the ultimate secret of being itself. In rhythm change is given intelligible order. Metaphor discloses likenesses in different things and thus provides a common bond between what would otherwise be disparate entities.
A successful poem penetrates the darkness of temporal succession. It reveals that the apparently haphazard order of unrelated human experience need not be the only or final answer to the question of life’s meaning. By means of language deliberately ordered in cycles of contrast and return, and in juxtapositions disclosing inner connections of meaning through metaphoric vision, poetry provides models of significance in the sequence of human experience. These models are not only interesting in and for themselves; by analogical reference they also help to illuminate events beyond the poems, be they peaceful or agitated, hopeful or depressing. There are many sorts of poetic models, pointing to the abyss as well as to the heavenly city. Whatever their content, they are esthetic presentations that help satisfy the deep hunger of human beings for deliverance from sheer temporal atomicity and miscellaneousness.
On the other hand, chaos is not the only enemy of human meaning. Sheer sameness is another. Too regular a continuity from one moment to the next is just as deadly as abrupt disconnectedness. The conformity and routine of a secure and predictable life-order militate against the creative vigor proper to living things. Poetry is a means of combating such conformity and repetitiveness. The connections established in good poetry are not the obvious and standard ones. The poet’s aim is to awaken the reader from his conventional slumbers by presenting metaphoric associations that disturb established relationships and to substitute ones that are fresh and laden with further possibilities of insight.
Descriptive literature, the third type of language art, roughly corresponding to the visual arts, is not concerned, as poetry is, primarily with the temporal ordering of experience, but with enlarging and enriching the inner vision. Since words are surrogates for things, such descriptions can provide an endless variety of scenes for contemplation, surpassing the powers of painters, sculptors, or architects. One who has dwelt in the realms of imagination created in great literature is likely to find even the best sense presentations disappointing by comparison. Such is the spiritual potency of language.
As in the case of poetry -- indeed, as in all the arts -- the human function of imaginative presentations is to provide new visions of life that overcome the deadness of uniformity, and yet to arrange these visions in some intelligible order. The worth of any literary work is measured by the success with which it binds contrasting elements into a convincing and significant unity.
This esthetic achievement of unity-in-variety is the basis for individuation. The uniqueness of a person does not refer to some particular invariable quality that can be predicated of him, nor to the sum total of his variabilities. His uniqueness consists in the organization of the multiplicities of his existence into a coherent self. All of the arts at their best -- but most powerfully the arts of literature -- exemplify the attainment of unity-in-multiplicity and thus serve as models and resources for the development of selfhood. Companionship with great art in all its forms protects one from drifting into the subhuman boredom of routine existence as well as from the nonbeing of a completely disordered life.
The writing of history grows out of some of the same human motives that lead to the creation of works of art. History writing is both a reminder of change and mortality and a seeking after the eternal and immortal. It emphasizes the fugitive character of life by bringing to notice states of affairs that have passed away. At the same time it resurrects the past, and by the re-creation of former actions makes them happen again in present minds. Only man among all the living creatures possesses a sense of history. Only man is concerned about the passage of time and seeks to arrest it by keeping records, erecting monuments, and otherwise taking steps to insure the endurance of the passing present. The historian’s reconstruction of the past, in the present, using the relics of earlier events, is the counterpart of the effort of earlier generations to maintain themselves in being by means of those memorials.
Man shares with all other living things the fate of dying. But man alone of all the creatures knows that he must die, and this knowledge of inevitable death profoundly affects the whole of man’s life. He lives out all his days under the shadow of death. Even in youth he does not escape this thought, and the intensity of his participation in the affairs of life -- the eagerness with which he grasps life -- is heightened by the hovering anxiety of eventual extinction.
It is out of this consciousness of mortality that history is created. History is a means of conserving the values of the past. It is a way of giving assurance that because the past is no longer in being it is not therefore worthless. Implicit in the careful recollection of past events is a conviction about the enduring worth of present events. Human beings are anxious about death because they believe that life ought to have value, and they see death as a threat to values, for a value is not valuable apart from a valuer. Historical activity provides valuers to prize the values of past human events and thus to rescue them from the night of nonbeing.
Concern for history is therefore a measure of the meaningfulness of life. Persons who have no interest in the past in effect deny the value of former occurrences and in so doing betray the insignificance of their present experience, which in the very living of it takes its place in what is to them the inconsequential past. One who ignores or despises history can hardly be designated a person at all, because he rejects the distinctively human element of reflective valuation. Contrariwise, concern for history is a special mark of humanness, and the study of history is one of the most essential means of affirming and augmenting the significance of one’s personal existence.
Historical activity is evidence of man’s reaching for the eternal within the temporal. Human beings possess a sense that their deeds have a lasting significance and are not altogether finished in the doing. But in making good his commitment to the eternal, historical man is not content simply to affirm the spiritual or rational continuation of the human act. He is not satisfied with the theoretical conviction that value is a timeless attribute of being. Rather, in reconstituting the past so that it may be experienced by concretely existing people in the present, he makes good the right of significant being to lastingness. History does not rest upon the idea of abstract immortality, but of concrete resurrection.
Implicit in the historical attitude is a profound sense of respect for the truth. The past cannot be changed. It can offer no favors, nor can it be influenced to yield present advantage. The past is an absolute, a finality, to which one can only seek to do justice in the recalling. Although the complete and precise story of any past event is beyond the possibility of finite man to tell, the sense of unconditioned factuality applies to historical knowledge as to no other kind. When the future is at issue, one’s hopes and biases may enter into the determination of truth. But in reference to the past, only the objective reality of the completed and unalterable fact determines the truth -- even though the human estimates of that truth are inevitably partial and fallible.
The obligation to discover and to tell the truth is one of the most insistent and perennial aspects of man’s moral consciousness. As pointed out in the first chapter, this obligation plays a central role in the scientific enterprise. Yet, it is in the historical attitude that the most secure foundation for the persuasion to truth must be found. The future lies open, and who is to prove the impossibility of even the most rash prediction about it? Who knows what fresh unforeseen possibilities may upset even the most well-established scientific laws and theories? But the past is as it actually was --however meager and subject to revision present knowledge of it may be -- and one cannot escape the pressure of its unconditional truth.
This idea of obligation to truth about the past adds a new dimension to the concept of necessity. One aspect of necessity is physical compulsion, representing the victory of superior force. Another aspect is logical necessity, based on the principle of noncontradiction. The historical aspect is the necessity of the past, signified by the assertion that the clock cannot be turned back, that the past cannot be lived over. Historical necessity means that what happened, and now it cannot have happened otherwise, though before it occurred the event might have been other than it was. The past is what it was because time is irreversible. The future can still be altered. The past cannot be changed. This essential difference between past and future is fundamental to man’s consciousness of time. From the past comes the demand for truth, from the future the lure of possibility. The past is the domain of factual necessity, the future is the realm of creative freedom.
In this respect history and art complement one another. Man as artist is not concerned primarily with fact, but with visions of the possible or even of the impossible. Man as historian is concerned with fact, and his imagination of possibilities is only of use as a means of hypothesizing what really did happen.
Nevertheless, history, though presently a necessary past, is not concerned with necessary truth in the logical sense. It is a tale of freedom exercised within the context of physical and social necessity. History is the story of what human beings have freely chosen to do. Still, the historian well knows and attempts to show persuasively that no human choice is wholly unconditioned. Free action always occurs within a context of limitation. Human beings choose among real possibilities and not among merely abstract or imaginary options. Thus, freedom is intertwined with necessity. Spiritual freedom does not consist in acting without reference to rational insights and material conditions, but in effectively organizing material factors in accordance with the leadings of intelligence and self-conscious purpose.
No historical account is a satisfactory interpretation of the past if it presents persons as acting solely on the basis of sovereign will, or of pure reason, or of social and economic forces. Of all the disciplines history most vividly discloses the intimate interconnection of spiritual, rational, and physical factors in the interplay of freedom and necessity in human conduct. Furthermore, historians who write about the past from purely spiritualistic, rationalistic, or materialistic presuppositions give a distorted picture of the events they recount, because they fail to understand the complex unity of self-awareness, intelligence, and bodily factors in human nature.
The truth about the past, to which historians are committed, concerns unique persons making particular decisions in singular situations. The historian aims to understand and interpret individual events, or happenings, each of which was the outcome of some special constellation of factors never before and never since concretized in an identical determination. Truth in history is therefore not like the truth in the probable generalizations of science. Truth in science, by virtue of its abstractness and generality, is at the same time, in a sense, a planned falsehood. It is a deliberate and useful simplification. In contrast, historical fact is concrete. It concerns what happened, with due regard to the many factors that entered into the human determination of the event.
Moreover, historical understanding is personal. The historian interprets events in the past by entering imaginatively into the personal being of those who caused the events to occur. The historian’s obligation is therefore not primarily to an abstract and impersonal truth -- although such truth is relevant in historical interpretation -- but to unique persons in their concrete existence. The historian should be able to show with particular clarity that being a person is more than being a member of the species homo sapiens or a participant in various social relationships. He should set forth the singularity of the human person, emphasizing the incomparable selfhood of each human being as an intrinsically interesting and inestimably valuable creative center.
By being loyal to the truth of the persons who made the past, one grows in self-understanding and integrity. The lesson of history is not primarily in the analogues it provides for the guidance of contemporary action. The sciences should be more helpful than history in this regard. The proper function of history is to provide opportunities to recognize and respect the uniqueness of persons, oneself included. Self-understanding, self-acceptance, and proper self-reverence grow in reciprocal relation to the acknowledgment and celebration of the personal uniqueness that is the distinctive province of historical consciousness.
Human individuality is a major theme not only in art and history but also in certain movements in psychology. Clinicians recognize the importance of a person’s affirming himself as a unique person and not merely as a member of a species or of various social groups. Objective behavioristic psychology does not tell everything or even the most interesting things about a person. Neither can a person be wholly understood in the light of his past interpersonal associations. Personality psychologists and existentially oriented interpreters of man insist on the centrality of idiosyncratic factors in human individuality, on the distinctive life-orientation by which a person guides his decisions, on purposes and goals that are inwardly recognized as one’s own and not as the reflection of any external standards, on creative autonomy instead of stultifying conformity, and on the reality of freedom, responsibility, and guilt, in relation to the primary obligation to be true to one’s own nature.
The unique self thus described is not conceived in animistic or mentalistic fashion, but as a psychophysical unity in which the distinctive personality is manifest not only in a general self-awareness but also in the identification of rational and bodily processes as one’s own chosen means of self-disclosure.
The uniqueness of each human person is most persistently and deliberately affirmed and celebrated in the religious traditions of mankind. Alfred North Whitehead’s assertions that "religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness" and that "religion in its decay sinks back into sociability" are essentially correct. Religions do have social expressions, and they are concerned with matters of universal moment. Nevertheless, the solitary element is primary in religion, for it is only in aloneness that the question of the ultimate meaning of a person’s existence can be asked. Religion requires complete inwardness. All of the outward manifestations of religion in doctrines, rites, codes, and institutions are but means to the attainment of that inwardness, and insofar as they hinder its realization they are obstacles to the religious life.
Complete inwardness is the way to authentic selfhood. It does not mean isolation or disconnection. On the contrary, it means total awareness of relations as they enter into the formation of concrete personal being. Solitariness is a centering in which the scattered ingredients of one’s existence are gathered into a coherent whole. By inwardness the whole world with which one is engaged is given meaning; it becomes something more than a totality of unassimilated fragments of experience. In the solitude of inwardness the world in which one participates is appropriated, that is, it becomes one’s own world, rather than an alien environment.
This appropriation is essentially unique. A person is himself and no one else. By an act of abstraction one can identify common aspects of persons. Persons enter into relations, and the forms of these relationships can be described, as they are in the social sciences. But such descriptions do not touch the personal core of being, which is constituted by the unique way the relations are organized in the particular self.
The religious question has to do with the importance or significance of this personal uniqueness. After all, everything is unique. No blade of grass is just like any other, nor is any atom precisely the same as any other atom. It might seem therefore that the assertion of personal singularity is only a special case of the uninteresting and trivial general proposition that anything is what it is and not something else.
In an age of science and large-scale organization the dominant presumption is that importance consists in universality or generality and not in singularity. The advance of science is measured by the degree of generalization in knowledge. Particular data of observation are valued only as they contribute to the formulation of general laws. Exceptions to general principles are regarded as indications that existing knowledge is imperfect and that present hypotheses need revision. From this standpoint, the most significant features of human nature are considered to be those that are shared by all people and least important are those that are idiosyncratic. Properties shared in groups are considered significant in proportion to how generally they apply. It is a short step from this belief to the assumption that the worth of a person is derived from his membership in and contribution to the collective enterprise.
When generality rides high, as it does when science is regarded as the only or the best source of authentic knowledge, those who assert the primacy of the individual are dismissed as romantics and anti-intellectuals, who oppose their private preferences to the public truth and turn aside from the only reliable path to valid understanding. The glorification of the unique is considered as an obscurantist assault on reason and an anarchic threat to the common good. In such an atmosphere esthetic experience tends to be given an instrumental role as a means of keeping persons fit for the performance of their social functions and as a necessary concession to the irrational and private subjectivities of the individual. History is regarded either as a kind of therapeutic recreation, like the arts, or as a social science yielding certain rough generalizations for the guidance of conduct.
Contrary to these assumptions, the fundamental religious insight is that uniqueness rather than generality is the source of significance, and that such importance as the universal and the general have is due to their exemplification and envisagement in the singular conscious self. Importance depends on concrete existence. The really significant truth about a person is the particular complex subjectivity that constitutes his peculiar being. Once this concrete personal reality is recognized as the primal truth, the process of analytic abstraction can be undertaken, to disclose the general and universal aspects shared among persons. It is not possible to follow the reverse process, of deriving personal significance from the consideration of abstractions. No accumulation of abstractions can yield the personal concretion in which meaning is realized.
Complete inwardness is participation in the source and ground of all being. The consciousness of such participation imparts a sense of infinite importance to personal existence. "The soul" is the concept used in religious thought to designate the aspect of human nature that affords this sense of infinite significance, and the names given to the source of being to which the soul is related are the various designations of the divine, or of God, in the religious traditions of mankind. The soul is the person as a bearer of infinite meaning by virtue of his potential participation in the source of all being.
If the ultimate importance of the person derives from his realization of being-itself in the process of singular concretion, a religious conception of human nature supports the insights gained from the other realms of inquiry concerning the compresence of body, mind, and spirit in man. Through his spirit the person is conscious of himself and of his freedom to be and to become. Through his mind the person is aware of the patterns of meaning in his existence. Through his body the physical and organic basis of his personal existence is supplied. None of these three is a separate or separable entity. They are abstractions useful for designating certain aspects of a human being, and they are all relevant to man viewed from the standpoint of religion.
A person, then, does not fulfill his religious being by denying the body and its claims and by ascending into a realm of pure mind or spirit. The body is integral to the person, and the mind and spirit require the body for their fulfillment. Importance is a property of the whole being. Persons cannot be at all without bodies.
In the light of the singular and unitary nature of man, two of the most important and from a rationalistic standpoint most difficult of the Christian doctrines may prove of special interest and relevance. These are the doctrines of incarnation and resurrection. The doctrine of incarnation affirms that the clue to the significance of human life is given in a particular person in history, and not in any general truths of reason. The ultimate truth of life is not to be found in a supernatural realm of spirit or in abstract ideas, but in a real person living in the world and subject to all of the circumstances of natural existence, including death.
The doctrine of resurrection is concerned with the destruction of meaning that results from death. According to this belief, God can re-create persons who have lost their being through death. This belief is radically different from the dualistic doctrine of immortality, according to which a part of the person, the soul, does not perish with the body. According to the holistic resurrection faith, a person is an inseparable unity, and he dies just as he lives, as a whole. If he lives again, by the power of God, he lives in a unity of body, mind, and spirit, though not necessarily in a unity of precisely the same order as the original one. For example, Christians hold that the resurrected Christ lives in the life of his Church, the continuation of the incarnation.
The problem of the importance of uniqueness may now be viewed in the light of the fact of death and the hope of resurrection. The important uniquenesses are the resurrectible ones. The ones that stay dead are insignificant. Unique blades of grass are insignificant because they stay dead. But persons are not necessarily unique in this insignificant way. What is eternal, or worthy of resurrection, in man, and what is not? Being or existence grasped as a final end-in-itself will cease permanently. When the individual interprets his participation in importance to be importance-in-itself, he engages in an act of self-deification that in the end is self-nullifying. Being or existence poured out for other being, on the other hand, is resurrected. The consequence of sacrificial dying is living again.
The name for the resurrectible in personal existence is love. To love another, one has to affirm the uniqueness and infinite importance of the other’s being. It is not loving to treat him by the model of one’s own uniqueness. To do that is to play God and incur the penalty of permanent death. To love is to live for the other and to find the eternal importance of existence in the act of dying to the presumptuous importance of one’s own being.
Thus, it makes all the difference what the individual does with his solitariness. In his inwardness he encounters the source of his being. He may grasp at the being that has been given him, fearing the abyss of death into which he sees all existence hurtling, and in so doing insure his own perdition. Or he may remain open to the wider opportunities to establish other persons in meaningful existence and thus participate in life that is eternally made new.
In summary, it may be helpful to state some general conclusions that emerge from the argument of the present book.
Human nature is profoundly complex and immeasurably rich. Since man participates in being-itself, his nature is as boundless and deep as existence in all its forms.
From each perspective human nature appears as an integral interfusion of material, intellectual, and spiritual elements. Rationality and freedom depend upon physical factors, and conversely, man’s impulsive nature is transformed by the presence of mind and spirit.
Such integral perspectives should help to overcome the divisions between the three cultures: the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. All are humanly significant enterprises and all are concerned with material, mental, and spiritual matters. The natural sciences do not deal only with material things, the social sciences only with the rational organization of life, and the humanities only with things of the spirit. Each of the three domains is equally revelatory of all three aspects of human nature. The three domains do not contradict each other, but are mutually complementary. The natural sciences disclose the universal aspects of human nature, the social sciences describe those aspects that are shared with some but not all other persons, and the humanities show man in his uniqueness. A satisfactory picture of man and his becoming requires all three types of insights.
Finally, this analysis may help to demonstrate the personal relevance of liberal learning at every level from kindergarten through graduate school, and beyond, in what should be everyone’s lifelong pursuit of understanding. For it should be clear that the study of mathematics and chemistry, language and economics, music and religion, do not merely yield knowledge of number and molecules, words and prices, melody and God, but of mankind, one’s associates, and oneself. Thus, through diversified liberal studies one may grow in the grace of true humanness, sincere neighborliness, and authentic selfhood.