Gabriel Marcel


Saturday, May 12, 2007


Gabriel Marcel’s The Mystery of Being
Gabriel marcel's The Mystery of Being is based on the Gifford Lectures which he delievered at the University of Aberdeen in 1949 and 1950. The first series of lectures is entitled "Reflection and Mystery," and the second series of lectures is entitled "Faith and Reality.".
"Volume I: Reflection and Mystery" is divided into ten chapters, which are entitled: 1) “Introduction,” 2) “A Broken World,” 3) “The Need for Transcendence,” 4) “Truth as a Value: The Intelligible Background,” 5) “Primary and Secondary Reflection: The Existential Fulcrum,” 6) “Feeling as a Mode of Participation,” 7) “Being in a Situation,” 8) “‘My Life,’” 9) “Togetherness: Identity and Depth,” and 10) “Presence as a Mystery.”
"Volume II: Faith and Reality" is divided into ten chapters, which are entitled: 1) “The Question of Being,” 2) “Existence and Being,” 3) “Ontological Exigence,” 4) “The Legitimacy of Ontology,” 5) “Opinion and Faith,” 6) “Prayer and Humility,” 7) “Freedom and Grace,” 8) “Testimony,” 9) “Death and Hope,” and 10) “Conclusion.”
Each series of lectures is outlined in the table of contents at the beginning of each volume. The text consists of explanations of the statements which are made in the table of contents. Marcel does not attempt to construct a complete philosophical system or to formulate a comprehensive set of arguments in order to describe the mystery of being. Instead, he conducts a wide-ranging inquiry into the mystery of being, and he examines all of the results of that inquiry.
According to Marcel, we live in a 'broken world.' The modern world is often in conflict with itself, and thus we have a need to transcend its disunity The need for, or exigency of, transcendence is the source of our attempts to understand the nature of our own existence. Transcendence implies going beyond the limits of ordinary experience.
Marcel explains that to transcend is not merely to go beyond the spatiotemporal limits of ordinary experience. Transcendance is also a kind of vertical ascent over the limits of ordinary experience. Transcendence (i.e. rising above ordinary limits) is opposed to immanence (i.e. remaining within ordinary limits).
Marcel also explains that the exigency of transcendence is intrinsic to human experience. Transcendence does not imply a state of being beyond all experience. To the contrary, the transcendent is capable of being experienced. If the transcendent were beyond all experience, then it could be thought or felt.
According to Marcel, truth is only a single aspect of reality, and is not the whole of reality. Truth may emerge from reality, but reality is more than truth. The fulfillment of truth, or the totality of all truths, may produce an inclusive reality. The universe may realize itself in the fulfillment of truth. However, the universe may also include things which are lacking in truth. Truth is both immanent and transcendent.
Marcel argues that truth is a value or ideal which we may strive for. Feelings may be different from logical propositions in that feelings may be neither true nor false. Judgments of value may be either true or false, but we may not be able to describe a sensation or feeling as either true or false.1
Marcel also argues that philosophic thought is reflective in that it may not onle be concerned with the nature of human existence but may also be concerned with evaluating its own mode of being concerned with the nature of human existence. Reflection may be a process of recalling or reexamining our past experiences in order to understand them. Reflection may transform experiences into concepts.
According to Marcel, primary reflection tends to break down the unity of experience, but secondary reflection tends to restore the unity of our experience. Primary reflection is an analytic process, but secondary reflection is a synthetic process. Primary and secondary reflection are on opposite sides of an existential fulcrum, in the center of which is the question: "Who or what am I?" Primary reflection may discover that "I am not who I am thought to be," but secondary reflection may discover that "I am not merely the negation of who I am thought to be." Further reflection on the question of "Who am I?" may enable each of us to recognize the importance of personal feelings and emotions in defining who we are as human beings. We may discover that who we are cannot be separated from what we feel.
Marcel argues that feeling is not merely a passive function which is made possible by sensory capability. Feeling is also a mode of active participation in the world. Active participation may be either objective or non-objective. Non-objective participation may include subjective participation. However, non-objective participation may also include intersubjective participation. Intersubjectivity (or shared subjectivity) may bring unity to our being in the world.
Marcel emphasizes that feeling is not passive, and that feeling is participation. However, participation is more than feeling. Participation is active engagement in the world.
According to Marcel, each person may have both an objective identity in the outer world and a subjective identity in the inner world of his or her own thoughts or feelings. A person's subjective identity may be a felt quality of identity which may change in accordance with changes in that person's feelings. A felt quality (or a quality of feeling) may be unanalyzable, because the quality of a person's feelings may be inseparable from the things which that person feels. A felt quality may be a unity of feeling which cannot be dissolved by primary reflection.
Marcel describes contemplation as a mode of active perception which transcends the difference between subjectivity and objectivity. Contemplation is a mode of observation which transcends the difference between the inner world and the outer world. Contemplation is also a mode of participation in the being of whatever is contemplated. Contemplation is an inward regrouping or ‘ingathering’ of mental resources. To contemplate is to gather one’s mental resources in the presence of whatever is being contemplated.
Marcel explains that the exact relation between existence and being may be indefinable. Existence and being may be inseparable insofar as anything which is perceived as being may also be perceived as existing. 2 Being is always ‘being in a situation,’ and thus is always changing. Our own mode of Being is 'being in the world.'
Marcel also explains that we may not be able to provide an objective answer to the question: “What is Being?," because we may not be able to objectively consider our own experience of being. Being may transcend any of our attempts to define it objectively. Thus, ‘intersubjectivity’ becomes an important starting point for any mode of ontological inquiry.
According to Marcel, we are part of, and thus cannot be objective about, our own existence. Existence transcends objective enquiry, and is thus a mystery. Scientific questions may be objectively answerable, and may be considered as problems for which there may be solutions. However, philosophic questions may not be objectively answerable, and may involve mysteries which are part of our own existence. Science may be concerned with problems which we can stand apart from and be objective about, but philosophy may be concerned with mysteries which we cannot stand apart from or be objective about.3
Marcel argues that the mysterious is not the same as the unknowable, and that the unknowable is only the limiting case of the problematic.4 A mystery is not an 'object' of perception, but is a 'presence' which is capable of being recognized.
Marcel also argues that mystery may reveal to us a depth of being which leads to eternity. Eternity is a mystery, and every mystery flows into eternity.5
Marcel distinguishes between faith and opinion by explaining that faith is a belief in something, while opinion is a belief which makes a claim about something. To have faith is not to believe that, but is to believe in.6 Faith may be a belief in a transcendent reality whose existence is a mystery. If we believe in something, then we place our faith in it, and thus we may be changed by faith, and faith may change our sense of our own being.
Marcel explains that faith is associated with humility and prayer. Humility is a mode of being in which an individual acknowledges his or her own imperfections. Humility is also an affirmation of the sacred.7 Prayer is a form of spiritual communication with God. Authentic prayer is not a self-centered request for attention but is a way of uniting ourselves with God.
According to marcel, freedom is the ability to act significantly. Free acts are significant because they help to make us who we are as human beings. Freedom is not merely the ability to make arbitrary choices, because we are not free if everything which we can choose to do is insignificant. Freedom is the ability to make significant choices, and is given to us by God.
Marcel's The Mystery of Being is really less concerned with being than with mystery. Marcel explains that mysteries must be explored if we are to understand our own existence, and he argues that mysteries are capable of being recognized and investigated. His lectures in The Mystery of Being have existential themes, but make a persuasive argument for religious faith.
1Gabriel Marcel, The Mystery of Being, Volume I: Reflection and Mystery (London: The Harvill Press, 1950), p. 60.2Volume II: Faith and Reality (London: The Harvill Press, 1951), p. 30.3Alasdair MacIntyre, "Existentialism," in A Critical History of Western Philosophy, edited by D.J. O'Connor (New York: The Free Press, 1964), p. 522.4Marcel, Volume I, p. 212.5Ibid., pp. 218-9.6Volume II, p. vi.7Ibid., p. 86.
MacIntyre, "Existentialism," in A Critical History of Western Philosophy. Edited by D.J. O'Connor. New York: The Free Press, 1964.
Marcel, Gabriel. The Mystery of Being. Volume I: Reflection and Mystery. London: The Harvill Press, 1950.
Marcel, Gabriel. The Mystery of Being. Volume II: Faith and Reality. London: The Harvill Press, 1951.
Copyright© 2001 Alex Scott

Monday, May 7, 2007


" Tragic Wisdom and Beyond " by Gabriel Marcel ( pages 251-256 )

Paul Ricoeur: With our sixth and last conversation, M. Marcel, the moment has come to make our most strenuous effort to grasp the profound unity of your work. Certainly, as we have remarked, there is no Marcellian system. Yet perhaps we can discern the living unity governing all the themes of your philosophy7. What we are looking for is the ridge common to all those slopes of your work which we have considered separately--the ontological, the dramatic, the existential, and the ethical. Do you think that this unity can be expressed in the only designation you have accepted, I believe it was in the preface to The Mystery of Being, that of Neo-Socratism?

Gabriel Marcel: Yes, but notice that this term wasn't mine. Joseph Chenu, who is now professor in Morocco, suggested it once when he was coming regularly to participate in my seminars. That was just after the Second World War. Actually I think this characterization is perhaps the least misleading one, although of course I strongly dislike all "isms." The expression "Neo-Socratism" does seem to emphasize the central role interrogation plays in my thought, the fact that often my primary concern has been to find an adequate way to pose problems before attempting to solve them.

This expression also indicates the fact that despite the illusions of my adolescence, I eventually found it necessary to renounce absolutely the idea of building a system My way of itself, no longer considering the other except in relation to itself. But the possibility of opening to others (that is, in a completely different language, charity) is clearly one of the key certitudes I have come to. I think that it is on the level of agape, on the level of charity or intersubjectivity, that experience undergoes a certain transformation in that it takes on the value of a test.

Paul Ricoeur: Yes, and it is in this way that your meditation on mystery differs as much as possible from any movement of flight or of exile. We have spoken of Socrates. You are Socratic but certainly not Platonic, if "Platonism" means being carried off to an "elsewhere" or to an "over there." The problem of intersubjectivity, the problem of others, has ceaselessly brought you toward the inexhaustible wealth of the concrete. It is the act of recognizing others which ceaselessly leads us to experience and makes experience a test.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Cautionary Ontological Approach To Technology of Gabriel Marcel

The Cautionary Ontological Approach To Technology of Gabriel Marcel
Bernard A. GendreauXavier
ABSTRACT: I present the arguments of Gabriel Marcel which are intended to overcome the potentially negative impact of technology on the human. Marcel is concerned with forgetting or rejecting human nature. His perspective is metaphysical. He is concerned with the attitude of the "mere technician" who is so immersed in technology that the values which promote him as an authentic person with human dignity are discredited, omitted, denied, minimized, overshadowed, or displaced. He reviews the various losses in ontological values which curtail the full realization of the human person in his dignity. The impact of technology leads too often to a loss of the sense of the mystery of being and self, authenticity and integrity, the concrete and the existential, truth and dialogue, freedom and lover, humanity and community, fidelity and creativity, the natural and the transcendent, commitment and virtue, respect of the self and responsiveness to others, and especially of the spiritual and the sacred. Thus, the task of the philosopher is to be a watchman, un veilleur, on the alert for a hopeful resolution of the human predicament..
Technology as the ever-present dynamic factor affecting our daily lives and transforming our contemporary civilization could be described as the rationally created artificial world of learnable operational rules, methods, recipes, and skills furnishing a complex of universally available standardized means used automatically to attain predetermined goals in any variety of endeavors with more mastery, more efficiency, more productivity, more predictability, more durability, and more practicality. (1) Technology, under all its forms, dominates every aspect of our lives by making it possible for us to manipulate any physical or mental activity dealing with domestic, social, political, economic, medical and aesthetic concerns, facilitating means of transportation and communication, enhancing conditions of work and play, and helping in harnessing the forces of nature and in transforming raw material. (2)
The advent and progress of technology as it becomes a global all-encompassing phenomenon appears to be both a blessing in the way it improves the human condition in its efforts at coping with life and the world and as a tragedy in its destructive outcome as it is affecting the physical universe and impacting on the future of humanity. (3) It lessens the hardship, the suffering, and the despair in the face of overwhelming odds in mastering the universe and achieving chosen goals and enhances self-mastery, higher achievements and hope in performing essential tasks and chores demanded or chosen for survival or human flourishing. Techniques employed in propaganda and war appear to be objectionable, techniques used in business maneuvering and in the industrial workplace show themselves to be questionable, techniques appealed to in society and by individuals lead to detrimental results, and even more importantly techniques taking over the whole of the human being's endeavors lead to a displacing of the properly human aspirations. (4) The possible detrimental effects of technology on the future of humankind has been and still is a serious concern for many. (5) In any case, technology is here to stay and is bound to extend its role in an exponential way. The interplay of the benefits and the shortfalls of technology demand a serious analysis of the advantages it brings about and the inconveniences it produces for the person in its quest for a truly authentic integrated fully realized human life. Gabriel Marcel in line with Henri Bergson, Emmanuel Mounier and Nicolas Berdyaev, as well as with Martin Buber and Martin Heidegger, among others, did undertake such an analysis. (6)
Gabriel Marcel's main concern and analysis does not deal primarily, as it is the case with many others, with the positive and negative effects of the incessant and inevitable progress of technology in our society on the ecological integrity of our planet, on the management of the industrial complex, on the development of the economic practices, on the conditions of the workers in the workplace affecting their individual and family life, on the pattern of organization and planification in the social, political, and religious institutions and in the national and international arena. Gabriel Marcel understands his intellectual task as a philosopher to be in a different perspective with a different emphasis. (7)
The concern Gabriel Marcel had with regard to technique or technology is how the condition created by the spirit of technology could become detrimental to the flowering of humanity and work adversely against the aspiration of the person toward its fulfillment in being. What is at stake for Gabriel Marcel is the natural vocation of the human person open to a spiritual life and with an orientation toward transcendence. The issue is a metaphysical one requiring a commitment to the whole of the person as an embodied spirit functioning in and through its material external condition and its internal spiritual exigency. (8) The need is to establish a balance sheet recognizing our achievements in creating a better worldly life through the progress of technology and our prospects for an enrichment of our being with a fuller personal life.
But keeping in mind the devastating results of the techniques of degradation at work in Nazi concentration camps and in the waging of wars in our century, one should be wary of the progress of technology because of its possible dehumanizing and depersonalizing effects on the private and public life of human beings. (9) The approach of Gabriel Marcel is a cautionary one warning about the dangers involved in allowing technology to take over the culture and to thus reduce the human person to the status of being a "mere technical man." (10) His negative criticisms are not intended to reject technology and to seek to destroy it. He continuously reminds his readers of the positive contributions of technology. In itself, technology serves an invaluable purpose in making life more pleasant, more humane, and safer. (11) The danger comes from the fallouts connected with technology which place the integrity of the human being at risk. (12)
To appreciate Gabriel Marcel's concern it is necessary to understand the paradigm under which he was developing his philosophy. His life-long philosophical reflection was dedicated to the task of developing a comprehensive existentialist, humanist, personalist, and Christian view of the human person in its integrity and its dignity as living in the world and as open in its being to a higher level of transcendence both within itself as open to the spiritual and beyond itself as open to other persons and to God. (13)
Gabriel Marcel stressed that technology cannot promote peace since the faith about and the understanding of the higher human values are "foreign to the spirit of the man of mere technique," (14) and that technology is conducive to war by fomenting means of degradation and refining instrument of destruction. (15) There is a parallel between the features of technology which explain its detrimental effects and its impoverishing of the human potential and the conditions which are conducive to war and render peace problematic. In analyzing the conditions which promote peace and which occasion war Gabriel Marcel used an analysis which brought out his concerns for the fate of humankind with regard to a meaningful creative life for the human person. The danger consisted in accepting a way of life which would allow for a primacy given to the abstract, to opinion, and to equality instead of promoting a primacy given to the concrete, the truth, and fraternity. Gabriel Marcel brought out, both in his philosophical works and in his dramatic stage plays, how a concrete and existential approach to life situations produces a respect for the human person contributing to peace while the spirit of abstraction and generalization is a factor in causing war, (16) how truth and authenticity brings about a society in which communication and invocation lead to peace while opinion and self-deception create an atmosphere leading to war, (17) and how fraternity and communion promote a community of persons seeking peace while equality and competition encourage war. (18) Technology while facilitating material living conditions, enhancing production of goods, and controlling nature operates in the abstract, on the level of opinion, and on the supposition of equality leaving out of consideration the concrete, the truth, and fraternity. There results a lack of integrity with regard to the whole self of the human person, a lack of authenticity in the revealing of the true self as a person, and a lack of fidelity in participating in a community of persons. The human person is frustrated in its aspiration for an integration of its being with existential transcendence, for a revelation of its being in communicating with others and for a creation of its being in communion with others. Technology leaves the self with a sense of loss of uniqueness, of a solid foundation, and togetherness. Faced with a sense of frustration, of despair, and of alienation caused by the inadequacies of technology in dealing with the whole human person, Gabriel Marcel sought to discover the flaws inherent to technology and to try to find some way out of the quagmire. (19)
Gabriel Marcel's analysis of the spirit of technology in our times furnishes us with a variety of convincing arguments which show the limitation and insufficiency of technology in dealing with the human person. (20) Gabriel Marcel, in developing these arguments, pursued his task of being "un veilleur," a watchman on the alert to promote the human person toward its full realization and to detect whatever proves deleterious to achieving this goal. (21) He sees the need to overcome the despair resulting from finding oneself trapped within a situation which leaves out of the picture any hope to open up to a proper human fulfillment. There is a feeling that the human being is being impeded in the process of creating the self in the full range called for by its being in its inner core by supervening adventitious forces which impose a lower standard for the human being, albeit very useful and effective. Faced with the overwhelming and all-encompassing presence of technology Gabriel Marcel emphasized the sense of loss as to opportunity, availability, incentive, direction, vision, concern, and interest for the pursuit of the human being's true goals which are higher than what is intended or can be expected in and through technology. It becomes important to determine the place of technology in the scheme of things and to establish the higher levels called for by the human being and the way to achieve these. (22) The question becomes how to overcome the desacralizing, the dehumanizing, the depersonalizing, and the degrading of the human person to an empty shell weighted down by the parasite of technology and unable to pursue fulfillment through its own inner being. (23) The overcoming of the pitfalls and excesses of technology requires that we develop a second level reflection on the fullness of being to reach out to our inner core as it is revealed through lived concrete existential experience. (24)
Technology tends to deprive the human person of what counts most in making the being human as meaningful and operational and, therefore, tends to make the human being depraved, in a fundamental way, as stymied and demeaned. It is not surprising that a chapter in Man Against Mass Society entitled: "Technical Progress and Sin" follows upon a chapter entitled: "Techniques of Degradation." (25) Gabriel Marcel's various arguments about the negative situation created by technology concentrated on the loss incurred of what, in his philosophy, is most essential in the human being considered on various levels with the hope of reinstituting an awareness and a commitment with regard to the true values proper to the human being.
The impact of contemporary technological civilization is to produce a loss of authenticity through a loss of interiority rendering the human person estranged from itself because it is lacking the ability of ingatheredness or recollection and awareness of itself. (26) As a result it is unable to reach within itself to the inner life and inner core of its being and thus suffers from a nescience about its true self. It cannot achieve the deepening insight into the mystery of being within itself which involves an openness to the spiritual and is oriented toward the transcendent. There results a loss of a feel for love and fidelity and a loss of readiness for responsiveness and availability towards others. Technology takes over and becomes the center of attention as furnishing all that seems to be needed for human comfort and well-being. One should concentrate on these benefits and seek nothing further. One becomes willingly a slave to the power of technology and identifies the self with this lower minimal level of objects instead of seeking further higher values as subject which distinguish the human being from the world of things and animals. (27)
The overwhelming impact and attraction of the knowledge brought about by technology through the primary reflection dealing with the world of objects understood through ideas or concepts need to be overcome in favor of the secondary reflection dealing with the inner-world of being revealing itself in its plenitude in the human subject. (28) This would bring out the mystery of being which dwells within the human person and is the font from which its true meaningfulness as a living creative agent and thinker is made manifest and realized concretely in its existential condition. Through a deeper reflection the abstract objectivity used to identify and describe the self is complemented and enriched by the concrete subjectivity which reveals the fullness of being in the self. Without an insight into the very core of what constitutes the authentic self in its foundation in being there would result a loss of an awareness of the universality inherent in the human being. The loss of the sense of this existent universality which implies the recognition that beings are mutually different while existing together in their differences leads to a loss of the concrete basis for reciprocity, responsiveness, disponibility, invocation, communion and creative fidelity. (29) The technological mentality leaves out of consideration, excludes or ignores what the human situation calls for in its lived experience. There is therefore a need for a reversal in attitude to get away from the habit of considering the attractive features of efficiency, productivity, and sufficiency technology offers in satisfying the external material objective needs in our worldly life and to turn toward a dwelling in contemplation on the mystery of being within our integral authentic self to reach to the plenitude of being in itself and in all its ramifications. (30)
In spite of its own creativity technology tends to lead to a loss of the fullness of creativity appropriate to the human person. This unfortunately devalues and denigrates what the human being is all about as a rational reflective being. Reduced to a mechanistic and manipulated way of life the human person is limited to being a "mere technical man" and is denatured and mutilated as deprived of its full deployment as a knower reaching to the plenitude of his being. (31) The human person is made to be less than it is and could be and is left to operate at a more restricted level than it could and should. The tragedy is that being enclosed within the workings of technology the human person is not aware of its restricting situation or is even encouraged to not acknowledge it. (32)
It is true that the creativity of technology has enhanced the success of the human person in solving overwhelming problems throughout its pilgrimage in the agricultural age, in the industrial age and now in the information age. (33) Technology appears to Gabriel Marcel as a high level of achievement appropriate to the human person as a rational being. The level of performance is often awesome and to be admired. Gabriel Marcel praises the achievements of technology as a manifestation of the power of human rationality and ingenuity, of commitment and adaptability, and of commitment and persistence guided by a sense of patience and wonder on the part of the scientists, the engineers, the inventors and the planners who created techniques to make the world a better place to live in. (34) But the pilgrimage which gives meaning and purpose to the human person should not be limited, curtailed, and diverted because of the overbearing influence of technology. (35) The power of the rational methods used and the technical skills developed in technology is used to manipulate and dominate all the activities of the human person. This external impact on the human person limits its freedom, its creativity, and diminishes its dignity as a reflective thinker, as a spiritual being and as an autonomous moral agent. It distorts the role the human person as the bearer of wisdom is to play in the overall destiny of humanity. The wisdom each person carries within itself to cope with the lived world of experience is side-stepped by the technician as superfluous or irrelevant. The sense of mystery and uniqueness which is central to the human person is not given due consideration in facing the issues of birth, life, death, in dealing with truth, goodness and beauty, in sharing responsive communion and creative fidelity, in identifying the meaningful and the admirable in human endeavors, in experiencing a sense of awe and wonder in the presence of the world and other persons and in recognizing within the self an aspiration towards the transcendent. The questions involved in these human experiences are beyond the reaches of technology and should be allowed a free play in human inquiry. Technology tends to claim that whatever does not fall within its purview given its methods and skills is beyond the field of human rational inquiry and does not deserve consideration. As a result the mind is left confused and unsatisfied and this leads to despair in the absence of a solution or at least of an ongoing analysis. The limitation imposed by technology on intellectual creativity should be overridden. (36)
Technology brings about a shift in what the human person is understood to be and in what its quality of life should be. The techniques used to manipulate human beings and things are seen as indispensable and self-sufficient means to perform any task or project desired in the acquisition of things or in the management of activities of both human beings and things. Technology is elevated to the level of being the highest object of admiration and the center of all our attention. As a result of technology's high achievements and brilliant success what else could be needed and what other endeavor could count as having any value. All our basic desires are for objects that technology offers for our possession and all our fears are at the thought of losing these beneficent products. The ideal then becomes to partake in technology either to be the creator of new techniques or to be a user of these concocted devices. The whole life becomes consumed by the need to find a place within the regime of technology and to put oneself in a position to fit in effectively and comfortably. Our daily life at work, in education, at play, for information, and in relationship revolves around our role within the technological world. Our basic daily human needs are all met through the use of technology. Our activities become fully involved within the realm of technology. Soon our very being becomes identified with the condition of the "technical man" engrossed in creating or using technology. (37) This leads to a forgetting about being present within the self and available for self-creativity. The complete absorption of the person within the sphere of technology leaves no time or place for leisure devoted to recollection toward reflection on the mystery of being and for communion with others towards creative fidelity. Leisure, the basis of culture, is rendered irrelevant and impossible. (38) Leisure becomes time off for play and relaxation to recoup for the next day of technological involvement. The change in what man is called to as a result of technology changes the calling of man and defuses and deflects his ability for being fully creative.
What is more, while the original maker of the technology was creative and enjoyed all the incentiveness and virtues necessary to achieve a properly human act of creativity most people involved in the technological society today seem reduced to being users without any contribution made to the invention or the making of the objects used, the thinking through of the process and the skills needed. (39) The technical culture individual becomes an automaton requiring minimal involvement and participation. Little properly human effort is needed to run and manage things. One becomes a cog in the wheel whether we are dealing with machinery or institutions. The lack of creativity, commitment, involvement and participation leads to boredom and alienation in a world empty of values above the minimum condition for survival and a comfortable life in an anonymous and monotonous society. Technology leads to loneliness for the individual who possesses the ability to master and manage by himself the use of these instruments and be an independent operator often at home and at a distance without any need of being in contact with other persons. There is a loss of the sense of virtue as a condition for the good life since there is a loss of commitment and of the need to improve oneself once the needed skills are acquired. There follows a sameness in repetition. There is a loss of the sense of inquiry to discover the truth and the good in a world where all is preset and prefabricated. There is a loss of a sense of presence as to work done and as to involvement with others in view of the vast size of most enterprises and the centralized control and automatized activities within large work groups physically together in large areas. There is a loss of a sense of autonomy involving a moral agent with the responsibility of setting the rules or norms which would become a moral imperative to create a moral community of moral agents. (40) One is lead to lose a sense of moral responsibility in making decisions in a world where all activities are determined beforehand as a result of overall planification and organization. There is a loss of the sense of cooperation, relating, and community leading to a loss of a foundation to promote reciprocity in communion and creative fidelity. There is a need to rehabilitate the human person by promoting beyond the depersonalizing and automatonizing involvement in technology an active participation in the creativity needed for self-mastery in the challenging activities of thinking, doing, making, relating and hoping undertaken by the person on its own in the pursuit of a meaningful life assuring full personal dignity.
The abstract and artificial features of technology imply the loss of a sense of the natural as a given in the physical bodily reality found in the world as it is and in the living existential experience in the human person. (41) Technology through its skills and rules creates a world at a level removed from nature as it is functioning on its own in physical things and in human beings. That is its contribution and the reason for its success in harnessing the forces of nature and in managing human affairs. There follows an identification of the human person as the fabricated man of the "homo faber" deprived of the organic dynamism of the living being the person is in its reality and in its activity. (42) The rational discourse of technology tends to replace the course of nature in things and in persons. In the process the human is reduced to the level of a thing and of an object and is dealt with as on a par with them for the setting of a pattern for rational management. To assure competent functioning and proficient planning technology promotes efficiency and quality control by creating uniformity, regularity, regimentation, mechanization, centralization, classification, departmentalization, automation and bureaucracy. There results a loss of diversity and uniqueness, individualism and community, mystery and wonder, the existential and the concrete. (43) There is a loss of the spark of life involving vitality, spontaneity, creativity, randomness, organic development and the ebb and flow of the rhythm and cycles inherent in nature. This creates a humdrum type of life which leads to a state of boredom, disillusionment and despair which brings about and condones, according to Gabriel Marcel, waywardness in the moral life and social behavior of the masses as well as the elite wallowing in drugs, sexual indulgence and perversity, laziness and vulgarity as well as dishonesty and fanaticism and which encourages the breakup of the family and the breakdown of society. There follows an eclipse of the refinement and sensitivity needed to promote value and love in society. (44)
Faced with the prospect of living one half a life seeking perfection in performance and organization to be in control of the situation at hand and of living the other half of life left in the dark as to what is the full reality of the human person and what is to be done according to standards of morality Gabriel Marcel committed himself to the breaking down of the barriers which solidify this dualism to assure the integrity towards fullness of life called for by the human person. (45) He is not suggesting that the factories should be closed, that the industrial complex be dismantled, that the research laboratories be eliminated in favor of a return to an underdeveloped, untamed, untouched and primitive world of nature. He rejects the Gandhi approach or the return to the land movement. (46) We should not deprive ourselves of the benefits of technology. But we should pay attention and meditate on the fact that technology does not meet the most basic and most fundamental human person's needs and aspirations and leaves the human person in a discomforting and hopeless position where essential questions remain unanswered, situations unresolved, meaningfulness undetermined and the orientation of life obscured. The programmed world and society of technology goes against the grain of nature and therefore must be reassessed and supplemented with the enlightenment which comes through a philosophy of reflection and an ontology of being. (47)
Gabriel Marcel deplores the loss of a sense of the sacral as a result of the dominance of technology in our society. (48) Technology being in a position to solve all the problems we encounter in life it would seem that the management or handling of the world and people is sufficiently taken care of within the universe through learned scientists and skilled technicians. The concern should be to put to proper use for the greatest efficiency and self-sufficiency possible all the tools made available through technology. There is no need for a higher explanation or causality for what needs to be done. The human being is self-sufficient and master of the situation. No one should go beyond the self and the world or aspire to an encounter with the transcendent in the self or above the self. The realm of the sacral must be reduced to an illusion which presents itself as the enemy of progress for the welfare of humanity. The anthropocentric replaces the theocentric worldview. The desacralization of the human being and human life is the ultimate offense technology is guilty of. (49) The sacrilegious attitude which ignores or rejects the sacral must be vigorously fought against to discredit it and debilitate it in order to preserve the integrity of human dignity.
Gabriel Marcel understood that technology cannot entertain such considerations involving a metaphysical level of reflection. (50) He holds, however, that the human mind and the human lived experience lead to an awareness of more in life which is proper to the human person. For him creative fidelity requires and brings out the sense of transcendence within the self and above the self. The aspiration of the self from within the self orients the human being to the more in being. A whole range of ramifications come out of the basic insights in secondary reflection which offer opportunity for a more meaningful life for the self and within the community. (51) One issue which Gabriel Marcel struggles with is the religious experience of the transcendent and religious participation within a religion. (52) While he leaves no doubt that certain religions, especially Christianity, are more conducive to success in the search for the transcendent he emphasizes that the personal experience of the rational and reflective person is central so that anyone with proper recollection and reflection can reach inward and gather himself together to open up to the plenitude of being. One's availability and disponibility in being responsive to the other can bring about on the natural human level a creative fidelity leading to an openness to the transcendent. In any case reaching to the transcendent is what the human person is for. Technology is not conducive and is even an impediment to this openness to the transcendent.
Instead of having a life centered on our technical achievements which leads to autolatry fostered by an idolatry of the human as the only necessary center of our life, one would be better off to be attentive to our lived experience and bring out the thrust within the personal center toward the transcendent as source of the meaningfulness of the person in the world and the orientation of a properly human activity in its full deployment and flowering. (53) Without the sacral at least on the natural level and especially on the supernatural level life is left truncated and the person unsatisfied and unfulfilled. Gabriel Marcel starting from the world and from lived experience always ends up with making us aware of the role of the sacral if life is to be worthwhile. This explains the strong antagonism to technology which tends to close the door to this further step taken by the human person.
In conclusion, what are we to think about the intensive intellectual campaign waged throughout his life by Gabriel Marcel against abstraction and against technology. If we were to evaluate the critical judgment made by Gabriel Marcel about the place of technology in the life of the individual and in society by looking at the words used to assess the situation we would recognize that he had a passionate negative attitude toward technology. When speaking in various places of the impact of technology on the human person and on human institutions he uses words like mutilate, denigrate, denature, enucleate, deracinate, uproot, degrade, devalue, belittle, desacralize, depersonalize, dehumanize, betray, atrophy, regiment, and manipulate. We find, nevertheless, that he often and clearly gave a positive recognition to the contribution of technology to our lives and expressed respect for the creators of technology. He does not, however, elaborate through a detailed and systematic critical analysis on the many benefits resulting from technology. Yet, technology and technique along with applied sciences are blamed and badgered in the worst terms for the loss of what is most meaningful in what the human person is all about in the eyes of Gabriel Marcel and, he claims, in the perspective of perennial philosophy. He identifies in his many arguments the losses as a loss of a sense for authenticity, community, concrete existence, integrity, contemplation, creativity, peace, responsiveness, creative fidelity, nature, virtue, contemplation, secondary reflection, ontological inquiry, leisure, freedom, personhood, interiority, transcendence, and the mystery of being. All these factors which make a difference, if not the difference, when the human person is involved are what is at the center of his philosophical reflection. He recognizes that technology cannot deal with any of these ontological values. But he demands that technology not be the Achilles' heel that makes impossible the reintegrating of these in our intellectual discourse and in our lived experience. He conceives the task of the philosopher in contemporary society to be a watchman continuously on the alert for whatever demeans and stymies the human person in its inner-reality and its ongoing aspiration for the plenitude of being and for communion with the transcendent. To recoup the possibility for the human person to find its bearings and to pursue aggressively and successfully the natural creative impulse toward the fullness of being was the overarching aim of Gabriel Marcel. This paradigm guided his arguments and his language. This was the prize sought after and the intellectual battle ought to be proportionate to the dangers encountered in the struggle. The harshness of the criticism directed toward technology is compensated by the nobility of the intention to save the meaning and the dignity of the human person. Gabriel Marcel's attitude and approach should be judged in this perspective.
(1) Gabriel Marcel, Man Against Mass Society, trans. G. Fraser (Lanham: University of America, 1985), 82 [hereafter cited as MAMS]. Idem, "The Limits of Industrial Civilization," in The Decline of Wisdom, trans. Manya Harari (London: Harvill Press, 1954), 1-20 [hereafter cited as DW]. Idem, "The Sacral in the Era of Technology," in Searchings (New York: Newman Press, 1967), 41-53 [hereafter cited as SE]. Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, trans. John Wilkinson (New York: Vintage Books, 1964), xxv. William Barrett, The Illusion of Technique: A Search for Meaning in a Technological Civilization, (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1979), 22. Thomas Anderson, "Technics and Atheism," Bulletin de la Societé Américaine de Philosophie de Langue Française, VII, 1-2 (1995), 59-60.
(2) Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, trans. John Wilkinson (New York: Vintage Books, 1964). Jean Fourastié, Le Grand Espoir du XXe Siècle: Progrès Technique, Progrès Economique, Progrès Social (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1949). Walter J. Ong, "Technology and the New Humanist Frontiers," in Frontiers in American Catholicism (New York: Macmillan, 1957), 86-103.
(3) Gabriel Marcel, Tragic Wisdom and Beyond, trans. Stephen Jolin and Peter McCormick (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 154, 202-205 [hereafter cited as TWB]. Idem, MAMS, 61. Idem, DW, 1-20. Bernard Gendron, Technology and the Human Condition (New York: St. Martin Press, 1977), 1-7. George F. McLean, ed., Philosophy in a Technological Culture (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1964). David H. Hopper, Technology, Theology, and the Idea of Progress (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1977), 3-35.
(4) Emmanuel G. Mesthene, "The Role of Technology in Society," Technology and Man's Future, ed. Albert H. Teich (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1977), 163. Idem, Technological Changes: Its Impact on Man and Society (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970). Daniel J. Boostin, Image, or What Happened to the American Dream (New York: Athenaeum, 1971). Idem, The Republic of Technology: Reflections on our Future Community (New York: Harper & Row, 1978). Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964). B. F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York: Bantam/Vintage Press, 1971). Sherry Turkle, The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984). Langdon Winner, Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-control as a Theme in Political Thought (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977).
(5) Thorstein Veblen, The Engineers and the Price System (New York: Kelley, 1921). Idem, The Theory of the Leisure (New York: The Modern Library, 1934). Lewis Munford, Technics and Civilization (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1934). Idem, The Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966). Siegfried Giediou, Mechanization Takes Over (New York: Oxford University Press, 1948). Georges Gurvitch, ed., Industrialization et Technocratie (Paris: A. Colin, 1949). Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counter-Culture (Garden City: Doubleday, 1969). Idem, The Cult of Information (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986), 47-86. Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1984). Daniel Bell, The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society (New York: Basic Books, 1973). Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (New York: Random House, 1970). Alvin and Heidi Tofler, Creating a New Civilization: The Politics of the Third Wave (Atlanta, GA: Turner Publishing Inc., 1994). Frederick Ferre, Hellfire and Lightning Rods: Liberating Science, Technology, and Religion (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993). Dominique Janicaud, Powers of the Rational: Science, Technology, and the Future of Thought (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994). Technology, Pessimism, and Postmodernism, ed. Yaron Ezrahi, Everett Mendelsohn, and Howard P. Segal (Amherst, MA: 1994).
(6) Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. A. Mitchell (New York: The Modern Library, 1944). Idem, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, trans. R. A. Audra and C. Brereton (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1935). Emmanuel Mounier, Personalism, trans. P. Marait (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1952). Idem, A Personalist Manifesto, trans. Monks of St. John's Abbey (New York: Longsmans, 1938). Idem, Be Not Afraid, trans. C. Rowland (London: Sheed and Ward, 1962). Nicolas Berdyaev, Solitude and Society, trans. George Reavy (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1947). Idem, The Beginning and the End, trans. R. M. French (New York: Harper, 1952). Martin Buber, I and Thou (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950). Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1977).
(7) Gabriel Marcel, "What Can Be Expected of Philosophy," in TWB, 12-15. Idem, "On the Ontological Mystery," in The Philosophy of Existentialism, trans. Manya Harari (New York: Citadel Press, 1956), 10-12 [hereafter cited as PE]. Idem, "An Essay in Autobiography," in PE, 104-128. Idem, "An Autobiographical Essay," in The Philosophy of Gabriel Marcel, ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp and Lewis Edwin Hahn (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1984), 1-68. Idem, "The Philosopher and the Contemporary World," in MAMS, 103-152. Idem, "My Fundamental Purpose," in Presence and Immortality, trans. A. Machado and Henry J. Koren (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1967), 13-30 [hereafter cited as PI].
(8) Idem, MAMS, 37.
(9) Ibidem, 41.
(10) Ibidem, 88.
(11) Gabriel Marcel, TWB, 245-246. Idem, MAMS, 56.
(12) Idem, The Existential Background of Human Dignity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963), 162 [hereafter cited as EBHD].
(13) Gabriel Marcel, "On the Ontological Mystery," in PE, 9-46. Idem, En Chemin, Vers Quel Éveil? (Paris: Gallimard, 1971), 198. Idem, TWB, 237-238. Idem, The Philosophy of Existentialism, trans. Manya Harari (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956). Roger Troisfontaines, S.J. De l'Exitence à l'Être: la Philosophie de Gabriel Marcel, 2 vols. (Paris: Vrin, 1953). Kenneth T. Gallagher, The Philosophy of Gabriel Marcel (New York: Fordham, University Press, 1959). Étienne Gilson, ed., Existentialisme Chrétien: Gabriel Marcel (Paris: Plon, 1947). Paul A. Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of Gabriel Marcel (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1984).
(14) Idem, MAMS, 88 and 78.
(15) Idem, MAMS, 81.
(16) Idem, "The Spirit of Abstraction, as a Factor Making For War," in MAMS, 153-162. Idem, "The Universal Against the Masses, I and II," in MAMS, 1-11 and 257-273. Gabriel Marcel, Le Dard, in Le Secret dans les îles (Paris: Plon, 1967), 25-153. Raphael Célis, "La Philosophie contre l'Esprit d'Abstraction," Revue de Théologie et de Philosophie, 125 (1993), 383-391. James Collins, "Marcel's Concrete Philosophy of Participation," in The Existentialists: A Critical Study (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1952), 115-149. Jean Wahl, Vers le Concret: Êtudes de philosophie Contemporaine (Paris: Vrin, 1932), 223-269 on Gabriel Marcel.
(17) Gabriel Marcel, "Les Menaces de Guerre," in Présence de Gabriel Marcel, cahier 4: Gabriel Marcel et les Injustices de ce Temps. La Responsabilité du Philosophe (Paris: Aubier, 1983), 49-57 [hereafter cited as PGM]. Idem, "Dangerous Situation of Ethical Values," in Homo Viator: Introduction to a Philosophy of Hope, trans. Emma Craufurd (New York: Harper and Row, Torchbooks, 1962, 155-165 [hereafter cited as HV]. Gabriel Marcel, Colombyre ou le Brasier de la Paix, in Gabriel Marcel, Théatre Comique (Paris: Albin Michel, 1947), 7-154. Idem, Colombyre or The Torch of Peace, trans. Joseph Cunneen, in Katharine R. Hanley, Two Plays by Gabriel Marcel: The Lantern and The Torch of Peace (Lanham: University Press of America, 1988), 31-127.
(18) Idem, "The Philosophy of Peace," trans. Viola Herms Drath in Philosophical Fragment: 1904-1914, ed., Lionel A. Blain (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1965), 7-19 [hereafter cited as PF]. Gabriel Marcel, Un Juste, in Paix sur la Terre (Paris: Aubier, Montaigne, 1965), 61-176. Carlo Schmid, "Laudatio," (on occasion of Peace Prize awarded Gabriel Marcel) in Paix sur la Terre (Paris: Aubier, 1965), 5-39. John B. O'Malley, The Fellowship of Being: An Essay on the Concept of Person in the Philosophy of Gabriel Marcel (Hague: Nijhoff, 1966). Vincent P. Miceli, S.J., Ascent to Being: Gabriel Marcel's Philosophy of Communion (Desclee Company, 1965).
(19) Gabriel Marcel, EBHD, 161-163.
(20) Thomas Anderson, "Technics and Atheism," Bulletin de la Société Américaine de Philosophie de Langue Française, VII, 1-2 (1995), 59-68. Donald F. Traub, Toward a Fraternal Society: A Study of Gabriel's Marcel Approach to Being, Technology, and Intersubjectivity (New York: Peter Lang, 1988). John Joseph Donohue, Jr., Gabriel Marcel on the Meaning of Work and the Cult of Technology (dissertation) (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1985).
(21) Jeanne Parain-Vial, Gabriel Marcel: un Veilleur et un Éveilleur (Lausanne: L'Âge d'Homme, 1989).
(22) Gabriel Marcel, MAMS, 88.
(23) Idem, EBHD, 159.
(24) Idem, TWB, 197-198.
(25) Idem, MAMS, 76-101 and 37-75.
(26) Ibidem, 100-101.
(27) Ibidem, 55-56.
(28) Gabriel Marcel, "Primary and Secondary Reflection: The Existential Fulcrum," in Mystery of Being, Vol. I, Reflection and Mystery, trans. G. Fraser (Chicago: Regnery, 1965), 95-126 [hereafter cited as MBI]. Idem, Being and Having: An Existentialist Diary (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965), 116-121, 140 [hereafter cited as BH]. Idem, MAMS, 173. Vincenti Miceli, Op. Cit., 99-101. Roger Troisfontaines, Op. Cit., 203-207.
(29) Gabriel Marcel, Creative Fidelity, trans. Robert Rosthal (New York: Noonday Press, 1964), 8-9 [hereafter cited as CF].
(30) Idem, MAMS, 100-101. Thomas Anderson, "Gabriel Marcel's Notion of Being," Contributions of Gabriel Marcel to Philosophy, ed. William Cooney (Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1989), 47-78.
(31) Gabriel Marcel, MB, II, 50. Idem, PE, 10-15.
(32) Idem, PE, 15.
(33) Ian G. Barbour, Ethics in an Age of Ecology (The Gifford Lectures 1989-91, vol. 2) (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993).
(34) Idem, MAMS, 82-83.
(35) Idem, HV, 7-12.
(36) Idem, TWB, 245-247.
(37) Idem, EBHD, 160-161.
(38) Joseph Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture (New York: Pantheon, 1964).
(39) Gabriel Marcel, EBHD, 160.
(40) Ibidem, 159.
(41) Gabriel Marcel, HV, 114-115. Idem, MAMS, 93 and 98. Idem, DW, 19.
(42) Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950). Paul Ramsey, Fabricated Man: The Ethics of General Control (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1970).
(43) Gabriel Marcel, HV, 80. Idem, MAMS, 94.
(44) Gabriel Marcel, EBHD, 163. Idem, HV, 83. Idem, MAMS, 93 and 185.
(45) Idem, "The Threat to Integrity," in EBHD, 164-170.
(46) Idem, MAMS, 82. Idem, TWB, 202.
(47) Idem, TWB, 247.
(48) Idem, "The Sacral in the Era of Technology," in SE, 41-53. Idem, TWB, 247. Idem, MBI, 25-26.
(49) Idem, SE, 43 and 45.
(50) Idem, MAMS, 94.
(51) Idem, MBI, 95-103. Idem, BH, 116-121 and 140.
(52) Idem, EBHD, 167. Idem, MAMS, 129.
(53) Idem, MAMS, 55, 71, and 84.

Gabriel Marcel Biography

This page was added December 2004, to indicate my future plans for the Existential Primer. Please know that this page may be delayed at least until 2006 while I address the primary pages of the primer. I consider it important to complete pages on Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Camus before expanding further.


Updated: 21 July 2003 (research continues)Most noted within existentialism for his disputes with Jean-Paul Sartre, Marcel was a gifted essayist and playwright, specializing in matters of faith and morality
Marcel was born 7 December 1889 in Paris. His father was a civil servant. Due to the nature of European politics of the time, it is important to note Marcel’s mother was Jewish. This link to the Jewish faith and traditions would influence Marcel’s understanding of human cruelty.
In approximately 1894, Marcel’s mother died. Marcel was four years old.
The French government dispatched Marcel’s father to Sweden in 1898. Marcel spent only a few years in Sweden, pursuing his education in France.
Marcel reccived his doctorate in philosophy from the Sorbonne in 1910. His studies were influenced by Bergson and F. H. Bradley. (I admit to being unfamiliar with both.)
Some form of health problems led Marcel to relocate to Switzerland in 1912. It seems to have been common to seek care and rest at various spas and health clinics at that time. While resting physically, Marcel began writing Journal Métaphysique, published in 1927.
During World War I, Marcel served with the Red Cross. WWI is sometimes described as worse than World War II. New technologies and horrific weapons left battlefields barren of all life. These images influenced Marcel, and most other European writers.
While with the Red Cross, Marcel began his first play, Le Soleil invisible (The invisible sun). Marcel would write more than 20 plays during his life.
Gabriel Marcel interviewed many French victims of Nazi Concentration Camps following World War II and wrote several important works on “Human Dignity and Cruelty.”
Marcel joined the ranks of “Christian existentialists” while working as the drama critic for L’Europe nouvelle. Following a favorable review of a work by François Mauriac, Marcel received a note from the author. “Why are you not one of us?” Mauriac asked. Not long after, Marcel joined the Catholic Church and would remain a defender of faith.
For Marcel, freedom was demonstrated by a respect for and love of other individuals. The truly free would undertand the rights of all men had to be defended to deserve personal freedom.
1889 December 7
Born in Paris, France
Mother dies
Father made ambassador or “French representative” to Sweden
Doctorate from the Sorbonne
Moves to Switzerland, begins writing Journal Métaphysique
Journal métaphysique, 1927
Rome n’est plus dans Rome, Play: 1951
Être et avoir, 1935 (Being and Having, 1949)
Présence et immortalité, 1959
Le Mystère de l’être, 1950 (The Mystery of Being, 1951)
Homo Viator, 1945 (English, 1951)
Les Hommes contre l’humain, 1951 (Man Against [Mass] Society, 1952)
Le Déclin de la sagesse, 1954 (The Decline of Wisdom, 1954)

"Reflection on Marcel's 'On the Ontological Mystery'"

"Reflection on Marcel's 'On the Ontological Mystery'"by John Barich
ATOMIC AGE AND MASS DEATH...twin scourges of the 20th century.
"Thus, the challenge of Marcel's philosophy -- the challenge of living by a set of values at odds with the world of the problematical -- will be difficult. It involves the commitment of one's entire life and of one's being, and might bring pain and rejection... For those of us who are heirs to the legacy of the atomic age and of mass death -- the twin scourges of the century -- the call to repent, to change how we think and act, has never been louder."
Analysis of the Essays Themes
To understand what Marcel means by the expression "ontological mystery" it is necessary to understand his view of reality. Marcel sees reality as existing on two levels which he calls the world of the problematical and the world of the ontological mystery. For Marcel, the world of the problematical is the domain of science, of rational inquiry, of technical control. The real is defined by what the mind can formulate into a problem, solve, and contain in a formula. Reality is merely the sum-total of its parts. In the world of the problematical, human beings are viewed as objects, as statistics, as cases. They are defined in terms of their vital functions, (i.e., biological) and their social functions; the individual is considered merely a biological machine performing various social functions. There is nothing unique about me. There is nothing more to my identity than the biological processes which keep me alive, the type of job I hold, and the number of possessions I acquire. I am my functions. Marcel further notes that the ontological need, the need for imbue one's life in transcendental meaning, is stifled and suppressed, ignored and denied.
Contrasted against the world of the problematical is the world of the ontological mystery. What makes this aspect of Marcel's essay difficult to understand is that he never defines what he means by ontology. The world ontology usually refers to discussions about the nature of existence or being. An ontological question or discussion seeks to elucidate the underlying structures of reality. A philosopher of ontology might ask: "What is the nature of being?" "What is the essence of reality?" Why is there something and not nothing" What is reality? For Marcel, being is an element of reality which exists in and of itself, which defies reductionist analysis, which can not be circumscribed by the formulas of the natural sciences. Being goes beyond the framework of the rational mind, mysterious sustaining reality.
Related to being is Marcel's notion of mystery. He defines mystery as "a problem which encroaches upon its own data, invading them, as it were, and thereby transcending itself as a simple problem." I think what Marcel is saying is that mystery is a phenomenon that appears as if it can be understand through rational analysis, but, the more one knows about the phenomenon, the more elusive and enigmatic it becomes. Marcel then goes on to assert that words and ideas lack the capacity to grasp fully the phenomenon of the mystery. The realty of the mystery can be partially seen or understood. It can be vaguely described by never totally revealed. Words allude to it; symbols express it; relationships raise our consciousness of it. But the mystery can never be wholly contained by language or meticulously categorized -- like a botanist compiling a list of plants.
Thus, the ontological mystery under girds yet surpasses and envelopes the world of the problematical: being sustains the whole of reality yet is shrouded in mystery.
To access the ontological mystery and gain a sense of its reality requires that one detach oneself from the world of the problematical. Detachment occurs in recollection, a process in which one gathers oneself together, turns inwards, and unifies the fragmented and shattered pieces of problematical living. Within recollection one encounters what Marcel calls presence, which he describes as an influx, as an encounter with that which is permanent and enduring, as an encounter with being. "Presence is mystery," Marcel writes, "in the exact measure in which it is presence." Marcel stresses that presence is a gift, a gift we can neither possess nor acquire. We can, however, prepare ourselves to encounter it through the process of recollection and by establishing authentic relationships with other people. Creative fidelity, and intriguing notion of Marcel, is also part of this preparation. Fidelity refers to the active augmentation of presence through creative acts of love; it refers to the reaching our to others in love and to acts of creativity and construction.
Encountering the ontological mystery brings about a gradual transformation within the perceptions, relationships, and life experiences of the individual. The individual broadens his visions of the world and begins to see aspects of reality not admitted in purely rational mindset. His perceptions deepened, and he becomes more attentive to the needs of others and relates to people as people and not as cases or as statistics on a balance sheet. As an individual, I come to realize that my being -- the core of my reality -- transcends the self which can be ripped apart and analyzed under a microscope. My personhood, the fact that I exist, transcends, the historical, sociological, and natural forces which brought my existence into being and contributed to my existence. There is more to my reality than my life; there is more to me than the totality of my experiences.
I am not my life; I am more than my life. In the domain of the ontological mystery, I encounter more than myself.
What can those of us living at the end of the twentieth century learn from the writings of Gabriel Marcel? First of all, we need to be open to the possibility that Marcel does in fact have something to say to us. His type of thinking is considered obsolete and irrelevant by the vast majority of educated people, especially at the universities and seminaries where his writings might be read and ripped apart by intellectual piranhas. Marcel himself, interestingly, never trusted academicians, and perhaps an intellectual and creative adept like Marcel needs to be appreciated, read, and contemplated outside of the castle walls of academia.
Although his philosophy does not bear the imprimatur and sacrosanct blessing of the intellectual community, Marcel provides us with a comprehensive framework for interpreting our world at the end of the twentieth century. Take Marcel's notion of the problematical world. Recall that thinking in this type of world reduces people to their vital and social functions. The value of a person is determined by his function. People are nothing more than statistics dominated the technology they have created to control their world.
This world that Marcel describes is our world. Our lives are dominated by a relentless technology supposedly desgined to make our lives easier, but which seems to make our lives more complicated and stressful. We are enslaved to our gadgets, to our machines, to our technology. Our society might collapse if we were to experience a breakdown of, for instance, our telecommunications network or the power grid. How could we live without the telephone or electricity? We have, in Marcel's vision, lost control of our control: we have lost control of our technology.
This loss of control is further evidenced by an economic ethos which seeks to maximize profits at the expense of people and the environment. Our way of life depends on an expanding economy, event though we are literally destroying the planet in the process of generating wealth. We are compelled to consume rapaciously the earth's resources, to feed the economic machine, so we can purchase products we don't need and acquire possession that are not lasting. Any serious disruption in the functioning of the economy would be devastating. It would disrupt the lives of millions of people.
We have created a monster we can no longer control, to whom we must offer our lives and talents.
Marcel was also perceptive when he described the lives of individuals in the world of the problematical. The functionalized definition of the human person has won out over older, traditional religious and philosophical definitions of humanity. We have lost the notion that people are created in the image of God, that they possess an inherent dignity and sanctity because they are human beings. Rather, humans are viewed as an amalgamation of processes, as a jumble of DNA and hormones conditioned to respond in pre-determined patterns of behavior. The discipline of psychology, whose name comes from the Greek word for soul, seeks to understand human beings solely in terms of biological, cognitive, and social processes contextualized in a Darwinian framework. Being human is nothing more than existing as an sophisticated animal in a technological world.
Moreover, people -- at lest in the West -- receive their identity according to the economic function they perform. As an individual, I am required to perform a function in the economic life of society. I am my career. When my function becomes obsolete, I am terminated, and then I am forced to find a new function or role to play. I can spend twenty years of my life serving a corporation but when I no longer help the company make profits, I am rendered unworthy of employment by the powers that be and am sent on my merry way to the unemployment line. If I am certain age, then it is unlikely I will ever find steady work again.
The functionalized definition of human beings has been characteristic of the history of the twentieth century. One can site numerous examples of this type of characterization. Think of Mas-tse Tung's "Great Leap Forward;" Pol-Pot's "Killing Fields;" and Stalin's forced collectivization and Five Year Plans.
But perhaps the most graphic example of the ideology of functionalism is seen in Poland during the Second World. I.G. Farben, the massive German conglomerate, used slave labor to produce rubber for the German war machine. The thinking of I.G. Farben officials was simple: the best way to maximize profits and reduce labor costs was to use slave labor, which saved the company millions while putting marks in the pockets of Farben stockholders.
Slave labor is a fantastic way to keep down labor costs. You don't have to pay a slave a regular wage; you don't have to feed him or her -- at least very much food; you don't have to pay them a Christmas bonus (documentation exists from I.G. Farben stating this); and best of all, you can work them to death without any moral or social repercussions.
And once you gas them, you can use their hair to make wigs, their body fat to make soap, their gold fillings to make jewelry.
Such is the dignity of the human person in the world of the problematical.
Is there any way out of this morass, this quagmire, this prison? Marcel does provide a vague way out. He emphasizes the need for humility, for love, for a letting go of the hubris which compels men to dominate nature and one another. His thought calls for a rebellion against established norms and patterns of thought which perpetuate ad nauseam the world of the problematical. By consciously sensitizing ourselves to the ontological mystery, we open ourselves to the mystery of presence and emerge from the darkness of our selfish egotisim. We begin to see the whole of life differently. We experience meaning where there was once emptiness; hope where there was once despair; presence where there was once the void. Relationships take on a new found significance. We gain the courage to smash the idols we worship, the idols of self, of money, of power; idols which compel us to use people and nature to satisfy our insatiable appetites.
Marcel is calling for a radical revaluation of values, for a fundamental change in how we understand reality and relate to other persons. One wonders if such a change is possible. Societal institutions are designed to reinforce and legitimize the world of the problematical. To place oneself in opposition to these institutions comes at a considerable cost. For a scientist to admit to the possibility of mystery is tantamount to committing academic suicide; for a business executive to refrain from cutting jobs to spare those who would lose their jobs from the hardship this entails would lead to his or her own firing. Institutions are not designed to reward humanistic behavior. They are designed to punish non-conformity: institutional guardians are paid to defend the ethos and insure the continuation of the institution. Institutions are set over against individuals, obliterating those who chose to live otherwise.
In short, institutions come before people; profits before huamnity; object before subject; abstraction before reality.
Thus, the challenge of Marcel's philosophy -- the challenge of living by a set of values at odds with the world of the problematical -- will be difficult. It involves the commitment of one's entire life and of one's being, and might bring pain and rejection. But, the way of the pilgrim has always been fraught with danger, isolation and sadness. Despite the inherent difficulty in such a life-choice, isn't the sacrifice worth it? Isn't the sacrifice worth the possibility of creating a new world? of relating to existence in an entirely new way? For those of us who are heirs to the legacy of the atomic age and of mass death -- the twin scourges of the century -- the call to repent, to change how we think and act, has never been louder.
How we respond to it....our response will be our legacy.
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Gabriel Marcel is difficult to categorize as a philosopher. He was idiosyncratic in his writing, intentionally avoiding systematic formulations. At the heart of his writing is concrete experience, and such experience provides the way for man to find his place in the universe. Marcel's emphasis of being over knowledge stands in stark contrast to our increasingly scientific age. For this reason, his criticisms are particularly relevant and must be carefully weighed.

Marcel was born in Paris on December 7, 1889, the son of a state official. His early life was marked by tragedy as his mother died when he was only four. His father took Marcel’s aunt as his second wife. Both his father and stepmother were religiously agnostic, the former an unbelieving aesthete, the latter an unbelieving moralist. Marcel was greatly influenced by his deceased mother. He tells us, “that all my childhood, that probably my entire life has been dominated by the death of my mother, an absolutely sudden death which was to unsettle all our existences.”(1)

Marcel characterized his childhood as a ‘desolate universe’. (2) His desolation was caused by the absence of his mother and the sense of irrevocable loss. In addition, his education was “impersonal” and “objectivist”, and his family placed great emphasis on academic success. This arid and impersonal existence contributed to Marcel’s passion for “the faraway, the alien, and the remote.” As a result, Marcel convinced his family members to take him on journeys throughout Europe, some devised through his own imagination.

Exasperated by an education, which devalued personal growth in favor of academic success, Marcel pursued philosophical idealism. Marcel’s brilliance allowed him to transcend the problems of his personal life by seeking refuge in abstract thought. World War I proved to be a turning-point, not only in Marcel’s thought, but also his personal life. He served as a Red Cross official in the War, and relayed information concerning missing soldiers to the next of kin. His idealism did not survive in the face of constant tragedy. In fact, he became suspicious of idealism, and instead pursued concrete, existential philosophy.

Marcel did not convert to Christianity until he was forty years old. However, he did have a concern to establish the validity of religious thought long before his conversion. He began by exploring how, “…immediate existence, then the concrete faith-relation, could be grasped by the mind, hypothetically, without any personal commitment to a particular faith; but he realized later that the faith he intended was Christian faith, and that by religious history he meant Christian history.(3) Marcel’s conversion came through a “seemingly slight” event. After he had reviewed Francois Mauriac’s Dieu et mammon, the author wrote Marcel a letter which ended with the question, “But, then why aren’t you one of us?” Marcel did not so much consider this appeal as coming from Mauriac as from God. He responded by embracing Catholicism.

Marcel was struck by tragedy again in 1947. His wife of nearly thirty years, Jacqueline Boegner, died of an incurable disease. This loss echoed the tragedy of his childhood, and again his life was dominated by her absence.

Marcel was primarily not an academic figure. Although he spent brief stints at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, 1951-1952, and Harvard University, 1961-1962, teaching philosophy, his income was mostly dependant on his free-lance writing. He is well known not only for several dramatic works, but also for his work as an editor, critic, and lecturer. Marcel died October 8th, 1973.
Marcel was concerned that scientific thinking had bankrupted human experience. Scientific thinking, with its reductionism and technicality, avoids the mystery of life in favor of ‘problems’ and ‘solutions’. In modernity, man has, “…become unsure of his own essence and a stranger to himself.”(4) He has divorced himself from fundamental experience by turning to objective analysis. As a result, “the dignity and sacredness of being” is replaced by “the idea of function.” Man views himself as a functional being, incorporated into biological, mental, and social systems. As a result, “the capacity to love, to admire and to hope” are lost as man loses his desire “…to transcend his situation of alienation and captivity.”(5)

Behind this technological mentality lies the danger of man being tempted, “…to view himself as the sole giver and creator of meaning and value.”(6) In this view, the world is merely raw materials at men’s disposal, transformable to satisfy their desires. People then regard and admire their own technological creations, ascribing glory to themselves instead of the Creator. Unfortunately, this trust in technological advances diminishes our experience of authentic life.

Finally, Marcel saw that the dual approaches of abstraction and possession lay at the root of social problems. While both abstraction and possession are part of life, they can grow out of proportion and dominate, and ultimately destroy, man’s being. By abstracting, man forgets the concreteness of experience, or those aspects which do not neatly fit into categories. As a result, man adopts a resentment towards experience, and this attitude is entirely opposed to “admiration, humility, and charity.” By possessing, man gains, “…the power to retain, conserve, protect and dispose of ,”(7) an object. The insistence upon possessing things through a process of objectification limits concrete reality and its “mysterious fullness.”

Marcel's criticisms are particularly relevant in light of the growth of science and technology since his death. Through his writing, we can better understand the sense of alienation and lack of richness that characterizes human experience of our scientific age.
1. Cain, Seymour. Gabriel Marcel’s Theory of Religious Experience. New York: Peter Lang, 1995. 2.

2. Keen, Sam. Gabriel Marcel. Richmond: John Knox Press, 1967. 2.

3. Cain, 11.

4. Keen, 9.

5. Ibid., 10.

6. Ibid., 11.

7. Ibid., 15.


Gabriel Marcel: A Philosopher for all Seasons
Our present society, much like the world of antiquity, has succumbed to an anxiety and a sense of meaningless, both of which are symptoms of its flight from God. What is the task of the Christian philosopher or theologian in such a troubled climate, a climate pervaded by relativism and despair? In the words of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger:"..sooner or later, the professional philosopher and the professional theologian will be forced to realize what it is that people expect of them. This expectation far surpasses the external trappings of scholarship. People expect answers to the great questions of life: deep down, what does it mean to be a human being?" (Faith, Philosophy and Theology, p.10).Modern man is hungry for absolute truth. The truth about God and the truth about what it means to be a human being. It was Jacques Maritain who wrote that, "The great danger which threatens modern societies is a weakening of the sense of Truth. On the one hand men become so accustomed to thinking in terms of stimuli and responses, and adjustment to environment; on the other hand they are so bewildered by the manner in which the political techniques of advertising and propaganda use the words of the language that they are tempted finally to give up any interest in truth: only practical results, or sheer material verification of facts and figures, matter for them, without internal adherence to any truth really grasped. The philosopher who in pursuing his speculative task pays no attention to the interests of men, or of the social group, or of the state, reminds society of the absolute and unbending character of Truth." (On the Use of Philosophy, Atheneum, pp. 8-9).But for Ratzinger, it is only by keeping his appeal in mind that we will be able to fully understand the rational claims of both philosophy and theology, and their mutual relationship. Enter Gabriel Marcel: Philosopher of Communion. A man whose philosophy has influenced my own so profoundly. In the words of Fr. Vincent P. Miceli:"Perhaps this era’s outstanding philosopher, who worked hard for more than fifty years unmasking the hidden prevarications that have produced our ‘broken world’ and revealed the transcendent values that can yet save it from utter ruin, was Gabriel Marcel, a truly remarkable man. Wherever he went - and he traveled the whole world, except those regions walled against freedom which feared his presence - his delight was to be known as a neo-Socratic, not as an existentialist, a label he detested for its vulgar connotations.Just as Socrates in Fifth Century Athens played the gadfly to his fellow Athenians, stinging them into an awareness of their ignorance and into an alertness to their sacredness, so Marcel has been raising difficulties these many years for the easy conscience of an age which is secure in the possession of its material progress and smug in the splendor of its intellectual learning.Marcel’s excavations into lived experience represents in modern philosophy a break with the myopic dogmatism of natural science which affirms that the transcendent can never be encountered within the confines of experience. Moreover, these same probings run counter to the empty sophistries of the abstractionist philosophers who drain reality of its mysteries and desecrate it with techniques of degradation. Marcel’s kind of philosophy probes the mystery and meaning of existence, of the human person; he refers to this kind of thought as a ‘concrete philosophy, a philosophy of existence.’The main elements of this concrete philosophy may be summed up under three headings: 1) The main truth in philosophy is: the doctrine of participation; 2) The main question for philosophers should be: how to think participation; 3) The main answer to that question is: participation is thought through a secondary reflection that is creative and free. The ascent to the plenitude of being, i.e., to communion is achieved mainly through the activities of fidelity, hope, love...Basic to the thought of Gabriel Marcel is the need to break out of the barriers of monadic immanence. Trained in German-constructed philosophic systems, Marcel as a youth experienced the bitter loneliness of a man who is stranded and cut off in a desert universe, furrowed with moral imperatives and darkened with clouds of invincible despair. On the brink of a complete breakdown, he rejected idealism irrevocably, throwing off its mental straight jacket and plunging deeply into that current of personal and passionate research known as lived or concrete experience. There, in exhilarating wonderment, he discovered the physical tensions among cosmic creatures, the gravitational sociality of truth between human intelligences and the magnetic attractions of presences towards each other and beyond to the plenitude of the Absolute Presence.Marcel’s principal insight was uttered superbly long before by St. Augustine: ‘To know the truth we must be in the truth.’ Another shorthand expression of this intuition might be: to philosophize is to invoke the being which is present unsummoned, to love the being which is present unloved. The last word in the philosophic quest is not expressed with the detached mind but with the whole person freely committed to a love for truth. Man must freely attest to the indubitable presence of being. The knower to whom being is present must become the lover by whom being is embraced, otherwise the knower maintains the sterile position of being an isolated, insularized ego. The fact is that the experience of being arises in participation; even more strictly, it is an experience of communion: esse est co-esse, to be is to-be-with. There can be no I, no knower except in so far as there is communion. A self segregated, sealed off from other selves, quite simply is not. The self surges into being within communion. To be a creature is to be related, to be co-present to others. The continuing existence of the self is a gift from a transcendent generosity. Nay more, the most intimate and refined treasures of the self are created within the reciprocal generosity of other selves." (Women Priests and Other Fantasies," Roman Catholic Books, pp. 314-315).Gabriel Marcel proposes a concrete philosophy which is determined by the "bite of reality." His philosophy anticipates the appeal of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and provides answers to the great questions of life through lived experience and participation. What does it mean to be a human being? "To be a creature is to be related, to be co-present to others." To be a human being is to live in communion.God love you Gabriel Marcel.
posted by Paul Anthony Melanson at 2:03 PM

Friday, April 27, 2007

What Can Be Expected of Philosophy

Tragic Wisdom and Beyond


chapter one

What Can Be Expected of Philosophy

I SHALL BEGIN with a remark I think is important. It would be entirely wrong to think that the question "What can be or what should be expected of philosophy?" can be answered in a way that would apply to any philosopher whatever. It would perhaps be possible to get such an answer if one were asking what can be expected of a scientific discipline or, a fortiori,of a technical procedure. But the words "any philosopher whatever" are probably no more meaningful than the words "any artist whatever" or "any poet whatever." And this is because philosophy, like art or poetry, rests on a foundation of personal involvement, or to use a more profoundly meaningful expression, it has its source in a vocation, where the word "vocation" is taken with all its etymological significance. I think that philosophy, regarded in its essential finality, has to be considered as a personal response to a call.

It goes without saying, of course, that like all other human activities, philosophy can be degraded, it can degenerate more or less into a caricature of itself. This happens, for example,when philosophy is treated as something that can be displayed in a examination. In France,where we have an organized program of studies in philosophy and give a baccalaureate degree, this danger is very much present. There is always the unfortunate possibility that the teacher who has the job of getting a student ready for the final comprehensive examinations will follow the lead of his colleagues in history and the natural sciences, simply preparing the initiate to give answers to the written or oral questions he will have to face. The frightful word "cramming" expresses admirably this sort of intellectual stuffing, which is not only unsympathetic to philosophy but is exactly its contrary. Of course it is possible that those responsible for this cramming job might originally have heard that call which I mentioned above and which I shall try to describe. It is possible that they have heard it, but not certain; and in any case it is certain that very often this increasingly tedious task snuffs out whatever spark of philosophy the professor may have had at the beginning, smothers it as one smothers the last embers of a campfire. Not that this is inevitable. I have known professors who were able to hold onto that special sort of ardor without which philosophy loses its vitality and shrivels to nothing save the mere husks we call words.

But we ought to consider this matter from the point of view of the student or disciple as well. The genuine philosophical relationship, as Plato not only described it but lived it for all time, is that of a flame awakening a flame. In such a relationship anything can happen. For example, it may actually come about that through a relatively dry kind of teaching a young man in whom philosophy exists potentially would, in spite of everything, discover the reality that he longs for and to which I might even say he already belongs in a certain way without knowing it. I can point to my own personal experience here. I had one philosophy professor, a man of great learning, whose teaching was distinguished by remarkable clarity. But now, looking back at his teaching from a distance, objectively, I must admit that it lacked that passion, that inspired warmth without which today I would be tempted to say no philosophical teaching can be alive. Yet my own desire was such that from the very first lesson I was telling my family that I had found my path, that I was going to be a philosopher, and this conviction never flagged.

Under such circumstances, it would obviously be wrong to expect generally valid conclusions following from a broad investigation into the original question of this essay. Indeed it would be wholly consistent with my thinking to say that the very notion of investigation, if it is not closely linked with that of a search, is without a doubt quite foreign to philosophers as such.

At this point an objection something like the following may occur to my readers: "In insisting as you do on the role of personal involvement in philosophical activity, do you not risk depriving philosophy of any objective weight, making it nothing but a game to be played according to individual caprice?" This objection must be faced squarely in order to get rid of a confusion which could lead to the worst misunderstandings.

The confusion I am thinking of has to do with the very idea of subjectivity. Perhaps it will be clearer if we focus our attention on art, which in certain respects is comparable to philosophy. At the the origin of a work of art we find-or we assume-the existence of a personal reaction, an original response to the many and often inarticulate calls that things seem to address to the consciousness or the artist. But I think it would be agreed that this subjective reaction has no artistic value by itself. That value appears only with the structures constituted through what we call the creative process, which offer themselves to the appreciation not only of the subject, in this case the artist, but also of other possible viewers or listeners. Of course, it would be foolish to speak here of universality in an extensive sense, for surely these structures will not be appreciated or even recognized by everyone. Indeed "everyone" is an empty and inappropriate concept here. I remember very well that before the music of Debussy became widely accepted there were a great many people who claimed it lacked any melody; today this affirmation seems odd to us. In a work such as Pelleas et Melisande, for example, there is continuous melody; but it is precisely because it is present everywhere that inexperienced listeners were not able to make it out. For them a melody was something you whistled or hummed on the way out of the theater or concert hall. Of course, it is not enough that form-in this case the melody-be perceived simply as form or structure. It must also be recognized as meaningful, even though the meaning may be immanent, inexpressible in words. Yet it is only on the basis of structure, whatever it might be, that the inter-subjective communion can be established without which it is impossible to speak of value. Of course I can converse with another person about the first movement of Beethoven's Fourteenth Quartet, for example, and we might accomplish considerably more than just making some observations about the tonality or the way the different instruments break in here or there-structural matters which could also be observed by a non-musical deaf person simply by reading the score. If we are sensitive to this music, then through the poor words we are condemned to use we will become aware of a certain quality made present to us through the structure, a certain sadness, a certain distance which is perhaps best expressed by the English word "remoteness"; and we may agree that perhaps never before has the sense of the infinite been so intimately rendered.

I have spent so much time with these examples because I wanted to show that in art, subjectivity tends to pass over into an inter-subjectivity which is entirely different from the objectivity science honors so much, but which nonetheless completely surpasses the limits of the individual consciousness taken in isolation.

Now some analogous observations can be made about what 1 shall call philosophical experience .. Surely there is not and there cannot be any philosophy worthy of the name without a special kind of experience, which I shall try to describe by comparison with something that can be observed in the world of music. There can be no authentic music where there is no ear for hearing. But let us beware of the unfortunate ambiguity of the word "ear." I do not mean simply to repeat the truism that music presupposes the existence of a particular organ of hearing. The word "ear" in its aesthetic sense means something infinitely more subtle, a certain faculty for appreciating relationships, or perhaps again a certain attitude of consciousness in the presence of what is given for hearing. For a person lacking ear in this sense there is no difference between a noise and a sound, and what we call a melody may seem to be just a succession of noises.

The philosophical attitude is perhaps not altogether different from "ear" understood in this way. Notice I am using the word "attitude" now, whereas above I spoke of experience. But there is really no contradiction in this, for the attitude in question can reveal itself only as a certain way that consciousness reacts to what must be called its fundamental situation. Let us now try to specify more precisely the nature of this reaction. It could be defined, it seems to me, as a wonder which tends to become a disquiet. Perhaps, as is so often true, an appeal to negation will best enable us to give an account of this disposition: it consists above all in not taking reality for granted. But what can be meant by reality here? Certainly not this or that particular phenomenon whose explanation might be in question. No, what is meant here is reality as a whole, and it is this ensemble or this totality which is put in question in the philosophical attitude. We ought perhaps also to take special note here of the mysterious relation between the I who questions and the world I am questioning. What am I, I who question? Am I within this world or outside it? In the presence of any given, the philosophical spirit lives this question with anxious impatience.

Let me use an example here which I think is highly significant. A person with a philosophical mind will not simply accept the fact that reality appears to us in an ordered succession of moments. The order here, which may sometimes also appear as disorder, will undoubtedly awaken in him a kind of cautious suspicion, as if he were on ground that did not offer sure footing. He will perhaps ask himself whether the orderly succession is not really a certain mode of appearance for something which under other circumstances could appear quite otherwise; and this question might in turn lead him to ask whether ultimately a thing could exist in itself, beyond any mode of appearance whatever. It could easily be shown that these questions are related to others pertaining to the self that I am and to whom appearances are given. For example, inasmuch as I am the location of appearances, am I not myself existing in some sense at the level of appearance? Following up such reflections would lead perhaps to a philosophy like Bradley's.

Please understand that I do not mean to say that a philosophical mind as such would ask itself questions like this. Remember what I said just above; it is no more legitimate to speak of the philosopher in the abstract-as "any philosopher whatever"than it is to speak of the artist or poet in that way. Such designations are appropriate only in the domain of pure objectivity, in the experimental sciences, for example. If we mix any particles whatever of given chemical substances (chlorine, sodium, etc.) the inevitable result will be a standard reaction which can be verified by any observer whatever. Here, of course, we have the experience for which Kant claimed to have specified the a priori conditions. But the peculiarly philosophical experience, or the experience of the artist, is of an absolutely different kind. One could even say that it takes place on a completely different level of reality.

Now there is something quite remarkable to notice here, and that is that different philosophical (or artistic) experiences can enter into communication with one another. I would even say that a philosophical experience that is not able to welcome an experience other than itself in order to understand or if necessary go beyond it ought to be regarded as negligible. It is essential that philosophical experience, once it is explicitly worked out, confront other experiences which are themselves fully elaborated and generally formulated in systems. One could go further, and say that this confrontation itself is actually part of the experience in question insofar as that experience comes to be clarified and crystallized in concepts. This is especially dear with a thinker like Heidegger, who seems to be engaged in a perpetual dialogue with the philosophers that preceded him: not with all of them, of course, but with those he feels close to-the great pre-Socratics, Plato and Aristotle, and among the moderns, mainly Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche.

Let me mention something here about Heidegger which is significant for our discussion. Heidegger came to France for the first time in 1955, and was invited to the Chateau Cerisy-la-Salle where several philosophers and students had gathered to hear him. Everyone hoped that he would give explanations of certain passages in his works which were especially difficult to make sense of. What a surprise when, after an introduction to philosophy in general, he set out to comment not on his own works but on certain texts of Kant and Hegel! He explained, to those who expressed their surprise and disappointment, that his method consisted precisely in clarifying his own thought through the encounter with great philosophers he had studied carefully. Of course it is important to see that such efforts by a man of Heidegger's originality always issue in a creative reinterpretation of the philosopher in question; this is especially true with respect to his encounters with the pre-Socratics and with Kant. Moreover, it should be recognized that there are some general problems concerning the history of philosophy itself which are eminently worthy of reflection. Certain philosophers, especially in France, have seen this. Today more than ever before it is acknowledged how necessary, though at the same time how difficult it is to achieve a philosophy of the history of philosophy.

In any case it seems that philosophical experience, even if it necessarily begins as an instrumental solo, needs to become part of a whole symphony. This is true even where such experience stands opposed to the views of other philosophers, for opposition is one form of dependency. Such was the relationship between Kant and David Hume, for example, or closer to our own time, of Bergson and Spencer. If I may mention myself in this context, I might say that my own thought developed in concerted opposition to contemporary Neo-Hegelians, especially Bradley, and to a certain French Neo-Kantianism.

At this point some of my readers may be inclined to object. ''If we understand you correctly." they might say, "you are offering a very strange and misleading answer to the question you raised at the beginning of your inquiry. First you said that philosophy can only exist for someone who has a certain kind of personal experience, or at least has an ear for philosophical thought. Now you say that philosophical experience requires a living communication, a dialogue with other experiences already elaborated, that is, a dialogue with other philosophers. But doesn't this amount to saying· that all philosophy happens within a kind of magic circle of privileged initiates, a sanctuary to which the uninitiated can have no access? Those of us who would actually ask the question ''What can be expected of philosophy?" are interested in what philosophy can bring to the uninitiated, to outsiders such as ourselves. If it is just a game for a few qualified people, then we are not interested in it, any more than someone Who doesn't play chess or know its rules would be interested in watching a chess game:"

This objection forces me to make some clarifications. First of all, I think it would simply be wrong to imagine that there is anything like a dividing wall separating the philosopher and the non-philosopher. There really never has been such a wall, but
today it is especially difficult to see any line of demarcation, since literature-what everybody reads or is supposed to be reading- is so full of philosophical thought. This is true not only of the essay and the novel, but also of the theater and the cinema. To take the work of Sartre, for example: precisely where his drama and fiction leave off and his philosophy begins simply cannot be determined. The same is true of my own dramatic and philosophical writing's. Or take a writer like Paul Valery who, even though he claimed to distrust philosophy, was actually so much a philosopher even in his purely poetic creations that a professional philosopher like Alain could see fit to devote an extended and careful commentary to his great collection of poems, Charmes. But I would go much further and assert that every thinking person, especially in our time, has at least moments where he enjoys an elementary philosophical experience. This experience appears as a kind of vibration in the presence of those great and mysterious realities which give all human life its concrete structure: love, death, the birth of an infant, and the like. There is no doubt in my mind that every personally felt emotion resulting from contact with such realities is like the embryo of philosophical experience. In the great majority of cases, of course, this embryo not only fails to develop into an articulated experience, but even seems to require no such development. Yet it is also true that almost every human being, in certain privileged moments, has experienced this need to be enlightened, to receive an answer to his own questioning. It must be added that this becomes more and more true to the extent that religion as such declines or at least changes to the point where people are less and less satisfied with the ready-made answers which it seems they once accepted without question.

One other thing seems to me important in this regard, and that is that some scraps of philosophical thought conveyed through newspapers, magazines, and ordinary conversations find their way to one extent or another into all minds. Most of the time these scraps could just as well be burned like household garbage, and it is perhaps one of the more important functions of true philosophical thought to carry out this kind of trash burning.

Let us now take up a possible objection which is even more troublesome than the one we have just considered. "You acknowledge that a certain relationship may be established between the 'non-philosopher' and the philosopher. But what philosopher are you talking about? A novice is bewildered and suspicious when he is faced with the great number of existing philosophies, many of which seem to be mutually exclusive. The very fact that he would have to choose among them (leaving aside the question of how and by what criteria the choice might be made) seems irreconcilable with each one's claim to express a truth or truths. Yet on the other hand, doesn't philosophy become a mere game if it gives up such claims to truth? To put the question in another way: How, considering this irreducible plurality, is it possible to speak of philosophy in the singular the way we speak of science in the singular?"

Certainly we cannot avoid such an objection, and the answer to it will have a direct bearing on our original question about what can be expected from philosophy. First of all I think we ought to deal straightforwardly with an image more or less explicitly entertained by those who would raise such an objection. I refer to the image of a shop window or display case where different philosophies would be arranged side by side so that a customer could easily choose among them. One of the surest benefits of a little historical reflection would be the realization this comparison is absurd, for such an arrangement is only for objects, for things, and a philosophy can never be treated as an object or a thing. A philosophy is a kind of experience; it is an adventure taking place within the greater adventure of human thought itself. Or if philosophy is a manifestation of the Spirit and the Word-if it is a theophany-then it is an adventure taking place at the heart of something that transcends human thought.

But from another point of view, anyone who has grasped my remarks at the beginning of this essay will see that a philosophy must always be thought of as a function of a certain inner demand, The history of philosophical doctrines is in large part the history, not yet wholly revealed, of the inner demands of the human spirit. These demands must be effectively related to the general concrete situations that have helped bring them to birth. Indeed, this rerelationship between situation and inner demand is itself an extremely complex one which philosophical reflection must clearly bring to light. There would be no sense in saying that a situation can by itself produce a demand. We are not dealing with a causal relationship here, nor for that matter "With the much simpler one prevailing when we say, for example, that a certain kind of soil favors one type of vegetation over another. The verb "favor" here refers to an extremely complex knot of relations.

Thus for the misleading image of a choice among ideal objects on display we must substitute the image of different levels reached by the human spirit according to the type or inner demand it is responding to. In this way a philosophy based on the inner demands of the person, of personality as such, will stand opposed to Marxism, not necessarily because of its method (for surely the Marxist method can be fruitful when applied within well-defined limits), but because it pretends to be a total and ultimate interpretation of life and history; for Marxism cannot provide anything like an adequate response to these fundamental demands-it can only ignore them.

In this last part of this essay I would like to try to point out the special and insistent form in which I think the philosophical demand appears in our time. I do not deny that I am speaking in my own name here, but I would ask you to recall what I said at the beginning about how there is not and cannot be any philosophical thought without personal involvement. Moreover, I am aware that I will be appealing to those who in a more or less articulate way are experiencing the very demand I want to define. As for the others, they will have to acknowledge this demand at least enough to ask themselves whether they are able to ignore it or reject it completely. Thus what I say here can and must be personal, but at the same time it is more than purely subjective in the sense of simply representing some individual and isolated feeling or some arbitrary wish.

I would like to begin my remarks with a general description of the situation of mankind today, or at least of Western man, whom our observations fit best. I shall quote here from some of my earlier writings. They date from 1933, but I would not retract or change one word of them today.

The characteristic feature of our age seems to me to be what might be called the misplacement of the idea of function, taking function in its current sense which includes both the vital and the social functions.

The individual tends to appear both to himself and to others as an agglomeration of functions. As a result of deep historical causes, which can as yet be understood only in part, he has been led to see himself more and more as a mere assemblage of functions, the hierarchical interrelation of which seems to him questionable or at least subject to conflicting interpretations.

To take the vital functions first. It is hardly necessary to point out the role which historical materialism on the one hand, and Freudian doctrines on the other, have played in restricting the concept of man.

Then there are the social functions-those of the consumer, the producer, the citizen, etc.

Between these two there is, in theory, room for the psychological functions as well; but it is easy to see how these will tend to be interpreted in relation either to the social or the vital functions, so that their independence will be threatened and their specific character put in doubt. In this sense, Comte, served by his total incomprehension of psychical reality, displayed an almost prophetic instinct when he excluded psychology from his classification of sciences.

So far we are still dealing only with abstractions, but nothing is easier than to find concrete illustrations in this field.

Travelling on the Underground, I often wonder -with a kind of dread what can be the inward reality of the life of this or that man employed on the railway-the man who opens the doors, for instance, or the one who punches the tickets. Surely everything both ,within him and outside him conspires to identify this man with his functions-meaning not only with his functions as worker, as trade union member or as voter, but with his vital functions as well. The rather horrible expression "time table" perfectly describes his life. So many hours for each function. Sleep too is a function which must be discharged so that the other functions may be exercised in their turn. The same with pleasure, with relaxation; it is logical that the weekly allowance of recreation should be determined by an expert on hygiene; recreation is a psycho-organic function which must not be neglected any more than, for instance, the function of sex. We need go no further; this sketch is sufficient to suggest the emergence of a kind of vital schedule; the details will vary with the country, the climate, the profession, etc., but what matters is that there is a schedule.

It is true that certain disorderly elements-sickness, accidents of every sort-will break in on the smooth working of the system.. It is therefore natural that the individual should be overhauled at regular intervals like a watch (this is often done in America). The hospital plays the part of the inspection bench or the repair shop. And it is from this same standpoint of function that such essential problems as birth control will be examined.

As for death, it becomes, objectively and functionally, the scrapping of what has ceased to be of use and must be written off as a total loss. (1)

It cannot be denied, I think, that this sobering diagnosis becomes increasingly accurate each day, and as I wrote a little further on:

Besides the sadness felt by the onlooker, there is the dull, intolerable unease of the actor himself who is reduced to living as though he were in fact submerged by his functions .... Life in a world centered on function is liable to despair because in reality this world is empty, it rings hollow; and if it resists this temptation it is only to the extent that there come into play from within it and in its favor certain hidden forces which are beyond its power to conceive or to recognize. (2)

1.Gabriel Marcel, "On the Ontological Mystery," trans. Manya Harari, in The Philosophy of Existentialism (New York: Citadel Press, 1956)2.Ibid., p.12.

Now for the purposes of our present study this last phrase is of the greatest importance, and in its light it will now be possible to formulate a precise response to our original question.

What can be expected of philosophy at this particular moment of history is first of all that it make clear, as I have just done in a partial but significant way, the danger of dehumanization which accompanies the intensive development of technology in our world. Philosophy must bring to light the profound but usually UN articulated uneasiness man experiences in this technocratic or bureaucratic milieu where what is deepest in him is not only ignored but continually trampled underfoot. And philosophy can be expected, through extremely delicate and careful probing, to locate those secret powers I mentioned just above. What are these powers? It is very hard to name them, first of all because words are most often too withered, too lifeless for the task. But speaking very generally I would say that these powers are radiations of being, and thus it is being, as all the great philosophers of the past have seen (and as Heidegger, the deepest thinker in Germany and perhaps in all of Western Europe, is reminding us today), it is being, I say, which must engage the reflection of the philosopher.

"But," you may ask me, "when you speak of being, aren't you hiding behind an empty abstraction devoid of all concrete meaning?" I must answer that being is really the very opposite of an abstraction, although at the level of language it does almost inevitably become distorted, even to the point of looking like its own opposite. This is the cardinal problem for a philosophy of being, and this is why in the work I have just quoted, which is central to my thought, I insisted on the importance of what I called "concrete approaches." We cannot, I think, install ourselves in being itself, we cannot capture it or seize it, any more than we can see the source giving off light-all we can see are surfaces illuminated by the light. I think that this comparison between being and light is a fundamental one. And I hardly need mention that at this point I am very close to the Gospel of John where he speaks of the "Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." In another book of mine I have spoken of a light which would be joy at being light; to be a human being would be to participate in this light, while failing to do so would mean! sinking to the level of the animal or lower still.

Let me anticipate and quickly answer one final objection which might occur to my readers. "If philosophy answers in this way," the objection might run, "is it not offering something very much like a religious answer? It is very difficult to see what distinction you would make between philosophy and religion." This question is very important, and my answer would be the following: I am deeply convinced that there is and there must be a hidden cooperation between philosophy and religion, but I also believe that the means employed by each is different. Religion can :finally depend only on faith. The instrument of philosophy, on the contrary, is reflection, and I must say that I will always regard with suspicion any philosophical doctrine that claims to rest on intuition. But I have tried elsewhere to show that there are two different but complementary forms of reflection. One of them is purely analytical and reductive-primary reflection-and the other is reconstructive or synthetic. It is this second reflection which dwells on being, depending not on an intuition but on a assurance identical with what we call our soul.

Copyright © 1973 by Northwestern University Press All rights reserved Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 72-96700 ISBN 0-8101-0414-8 Printed in the United States of America
The first part of this book was originally published in French under the title Pour une sagesse tragique, © Librairie Pion, 1968. The second part was originally published in French under the title Entretins:
Paul Ricoeur, Gabriel Marcel, © 1968 by Editions Aubier-Montaigne.
Stephen Jolin is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Portland; Peter McCormick is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University
of Ottawa.

Acknowledgments / xi Translator's Preface / Pe:er Translator's Introductian Author's Preface / xxxi
TRAGIC \\-Il I / What Can Be Expec-
2 / The Responsibility
/ 16
3 / Authentic Humanism
/ 33
4 / The Questioning of 5 / Truth and Freedom 6 / Truth and Concrete 7 / Life and the Sacred 8 / My Death / 120
9 / The Encounter "ith :::, 10 / Man and His Furore
I I / Philosophical Athei= 12 / Philosophy, Negatin, 1 13 / Passion and Wisdom i
Philosophy / 18, 14 / Toward a Tragic \\-i5dc
PAUL RICOEG Conversation 1 / 217 Conversation 2 / 223 Conversation 3 / 230 Conversation 4 / 237 Conversation 5 / 244 Conversation 6 / 251

About Me

If my heart can become pure and simple, like that of a child, I think there probably can be no greater happiness than this. (Kitaro Nishida)