Emotion as a WOK: Care/Caring as a Way of Being in the World

“The pedagogical principles that underpin IB programmes recognize, and indeed emphasize, that learning is a social process. Such learning must be underpinned by an ethic of care in which all those involved as teachers and students share an interest in supporting the learning of each other. This study has highlighted the importance of creating cultures in schools that have at their foundation an ethic of care.”—IB summation of Stevenson, H, Joseph, S, Bailey, L, Cooker, L, Fox, S and Bowman, A. 2016. “Caring” across the International Baccalaureate continuum.” Bethesda, MD, USA. International Baccalaureate Organization.

Care as a Way of Knowing

“[Care/Love/Emotion] has the advantage of being open to all, the weak and the lowly, the illiterate and the scholar. It is seen to be as efficacious as any other method and is sometimes said to be stronger than the others, since it is its own fruition, while other methods are means to some other ends.” (Bhagavad-Gita)

“And thence it comes about that in the case where we are speaking of human things, it is said to be necessary to know them before we can love them…but the saints, on the contrary, when they speak of divine things say that we must love them before we can know them, and that we enter into truth only by charity…” Pensees, Pascal

“Once when Care was crossing a river, she saw some clay; she thoughtfully took up a piece and began to shape it. While she was meditating on what she had made, Jupiter came by. Care asked him to give it spirit, and this he gladly granted. But when she wanted her name to be bestowed upon it, he forbade this, and demanded that it be given his name instead. While Care and Jupiter were disputing, Earth arose and desired that her own name be conferred on the creature, since she had furnished it with part of her body. They asked Saturn to be their arbiter, and he made the following decision, which seemed a just one: ‘Since you, Jupiter, have given it spirit, you shall receive that spirit at its death; and since you, Earth, have given its body, you shall receive its body. But since Care first shaped this creature, she shall possess it as long as it lives. And because there is now a dispute among you as to its name let it be called ‘homo’ for it is made out of humus (earth).”—Hyginus Fable 220 and Goethe, Faust, Part 2.

If one has been following the thoughts expressed in the other units on the Ways of Knowing, they will see that, in the West up until the 20th century, sense perception and reason have been given primacy as to “how we know things” and that this cognition finds its flowering in what has been called the technological. This primacy gained its prominence in the Cartesian separation of subject/object as well as through the separation of theoretical knowledge from practical knowledge, one example of which is the fact/value distinction. This primacy of sense perception and reason still retains its strength in the movement called logical positivism which has found substance for its thinking in the thought of the philosopher Kant and those who have been termed “neo-Kantians”. While the IB attempts to be everything to everyone, it is the thought of the neo-Kantians who view Kant as an epistemologist (what is knowledge?) that is the core of this “Theory of Knowledge” course that is given to us from the IB.

Paul Ekman

Today, a significant proportion of the thinking on human emotions is focused on the attempt to discover universal facial expressions of emotion, or to find a universality that is at the basis of emotions and to, thus, say something of what it means to be a human being. Paul Ekman’s original hypothesis, “that particular facial behaviors are universally associated with particular emotions,” has been reaffirmed in numerous studies, often using sets of photographs of faces prepared by Ekman. The “particular emotions” that Ekman identified—happiness, sadness, disgust, surprise, anger, and fear—are now generally assumed to be the “basic emotions” common to all human beings. “Normal” people are expected not only to express these emotions as they are shown in Ekman’s photographs but also to correctly see and interpret these emotions on the faces of others. Thus, some psychologists have come to associate mental abnormalities with an individual’s failure to correctly identify emotions from Ekman’s prototypes.

ekman facial prototypesUpon a quick analysis, one can see that Ekman’s studies of emotions remain in the realm of Western metaphysical thinking, and his ‘discoveries’ were already something understood by Aristotle (see Language as a WOK and Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics) and viewed as ‘common sense’. There is much that goes on in today’s human sciences that was understood by the Greeks to be “common sense”, and many studies in the human sciences are of the “how many angels are on the head of a pin” variety.

These outward expressions of emotion do not really identify the ‘being’ or the ground of these expressions and it is from here I wish to begin our exploration of Emotion as a Way of Knowing. We need to distinguish between the fleeting emotions which Ekman’s study “universalizes”, to emotion as a “ground of being” or Emotion as a Way of Knowing in much the same way as we distinguish between the knowledge problems of TOK which are permanent (freedom vs. determinism, for example) and the questions that attempt to provide ways or paths towards those permanent knowledge questions or problems which are the result of our current social and historical contexts. The fleeting emotions as “experiences” ignore the way in which Emotion discloses our world and being to us as human beings. Is anxiety or dread the ground of our emotional response to being in the world experienced as chaos, or is some other ground or emotion possible if one does not experience the world in this way?

Emotion as a Way of Knowing in the West is a late arrival on the scene, and its “lateness” is due to the fact that it springs from the philosophical movement known as existentialism. In the USA, “emotional intelligence” as a way of knowing and discerning emotions was the response of schools to the calling of President George H. W. Bush for a “kinder, gentler nation.”

There is much on the periphery that is said about or is called “existentialism”, but its hard core rests in the writings of two German philosophers: Nietzsche and Heidegger. This hard core rests on their critiques of the Greeks and on the “history of philosophy” which we have come to see is the history of Western metaphysics. (Some may argue that I should include Soren Kierkegaard and Jean Paul Sartre into this “existential core”, but Heidegger in his “Letter on Humanism” and elsewhere states that both these thinkers are still enveloped in what he has called Western metaphysical thinking. The term “existentialism” is attributed to Sartre, but Sartre used the term from his exposure to Heidegger’s and Karl Jaspers’ thinking and lectures in the early 1920s Germany).

Through existentialism we can come to see that many of the “knowledge problems” or “knowledge questions” that arise in TOK are due to the Cartesian separation of the world and being into “subject/object”. Unlike Descartes, “doubt” is not the primary mode of human being-in-the-world for the existentialists: “care” is for some, “angst” or “dread” is for others (and this shall be discussed at greater length later). The connection between human being and the world is the projection of Human Being (human being), the sense in which human beings “are” in that world. We have called this projection logos in other sections of this blog.  “Emotion” or mood of human being reveals the character of the world as seen by human beings, but more than that, it is Human Being’s world (and we shall look at whether or not this “emotion” or “mood” is properly understood as angst or “dread” or whether it can be seen as “love”). Human beings are in the world differently than occurrent things; for example, rocks, animals. To use a musical analogy, human beings’ care and projections give the world a certain “tonality” (C-major, for example, but other “tones” are possible) and thus the relation between human beings and their world does not differentiate between two kinds of things (subject/object, mental/physical). It is, rather, a mutually constitutive relation yoked together in the logos.

Human being is the “farthest ontological entity” (the most difficult to understand, to grasp) because we are not just entities; we are processes (ultimately the processes of understanding, being-towards-death, anticipatory resoluteness, caring in the existential understanding of the world). As the philosopher Nietzsche once remarked: “Human being is the as yet undefined animal”.

Care and the IB Learner Profile:

Martin Heidegger

“Man is not the lord of beings. Man is the shepherd of Being. Man loses nothing in this “less”; rather, he gains in that he attains the truth of Being. He gains the essential poverty of the shepherd, whose dignity consists in being called by Being itself into the preservation of Being’s truth.” (Heidegger–Letter on Humanism, 1964)

In attempting to deal with emotion as a WOK, we shall examine and try to provide clarification for this concept in relation to the ten characteristics of the IB Learner Profile. What follows could be described as no more than impertinent précis of much of the difficult thought of the 20th century.  I believe it was the poet T. S. Eliot who once remarked: “Do I repeat myself? Very well, I repeat myself” with regard to some of his poetic ideas. The same could be said about this writing.

It will be noticed that Love is not included among the ten characteristics in the Profile, and this may be due to the fact that Love has become associated with a biological activity of human beings (sexuality) rather than the emotional disposition or mode of being that allows human beings an opening and access to the most profound things and the most profound questions through a recognition of the “otherness” of things as is noted in the quote from Pascal above. It seems that love and charity are two terms that have been conspicuously avoided in the determination of the Learner Profile characteristics. The fact that these words carry Christian theological overtones is not appropriate in the secularized, tolerant world-view that is the world of the universal, homogeneous state.

If one has been following the thinking that is present in the other sections of this blog, one will see that the approach to thinking, questioning and reflecting taken here is an analysis and questioning of the West’s meta-physical approach to knowing and understanding. Like our wonderment at Blake’s “why the ‘y’?” in “The Tyger”, we must ask ourselves why the “why” of our questioning of the things that are and come to an understanding of the manner of our questioning; that is, we must come to a self-reflective thinking regarding what we consider to be our understanding . When Socrates says that “it is fitting” for human beings to live in communities and to think openly about the whole, he is defining for us what being a human being is i.e. what human being is ‘fitted’ for. When human beings are referred to as ‘human resources’ and ‘human capital’, a quite different understanding of the ‘fittedness of human beings’ is understood and undertaken.

Simone Weil
Simone Weil

The more appropriate translation for the word in brackets [emotion] from the Bhagavad-Gita is “Love” or, perhaps, “Care”. Earlier, we began the TOK blog with the statement: “Faith is experience that the intelligence is enlightened by Love” from the French philosopher Simone Weil. The manner in which Love enlightens or illuminates or ‘reveals’ will be central to our understanding of the questions that occur in the TOK, not only in such an obvious AOK as Ethics, but also in all the Areas of Knowledge that are dealt with in the IB Diploma and in TOK. It is quite clear that we cannot love “resources” or “capital”; at least we cannot if we are sane.

Everyone knows that love can have different meanings in different contexts, but we shall attempt to understand these “contexts” as the varieties of love that “participate” in the Form of Love in Plato’s use of the word. Just as an oak and an elm participate in “treeness” and so allow the tree to be seen as a tree and not something else, so the shoe fetishist (Imelda Marcos as an example, but there are others) and someone driven by the love of otherness (Simone Weil and Mother Teresa as examples) participate in varying ways, and to varying degrees, in the fullness of the form of Love.

Love has to do with the beauty of otherness. That there are other persons and a whole world apart from us is an obvious fact. Yet we can become so self-centered, so preoccupied with ensuring our own survival or so absorbed in our own pursuits, that we can live with an apparent refusal to consent to this otherness, seeing everything other than ourselves as simply subordinate to our own desires and purposes (and we should examine how the technological way of knowing may be responsible for this stance within being). When life becomes dominated by self-serving, the reality of otherness, in its own being, almost disappears for us, as it does for Macbeth in Shakespeare’s great play. Like Macbeth, tyranny over others becomes a real possibility for many of us, but it is quite clear from Shakespeare’s writing that this tyranny is evil. Today, for example, much is being written about abusive sexual relations and encounters by men in power over women who come into their worlds (Weinstein, Moore et. al.) These tyrannic relationships can be said to be evil.

What saves us from the evil of total solipsistic self-absorption is, according to Simone Weil, the beauty of others and the beauty of the world as a whole. In the contemplation of what is beautiful, our cravings for the things that we do not already have are temporarily stilled. To desire that something should be, not because we want to use it or to possess it, but simply because of its beauty, is to love it with a particular purity. It is to recognize its goodness, not for one or another of our limited purposes, but absolutely. To see the beauty of the world in this way–not from the practical technological point-of-view, but contemplatively, in a way that provides rest and release from practical considerations–is to recognize its essential goodness. To see the whole of the natural order, not just the useful elements or those we consider ugly or noxious, as beautiful is to suggest that beauty and goodness inhere in the natural order itself rather than in “the eye of the beholder”. It is to suggest that beauty and goodness are features of the world and not just “subjective” functions of our various reactions of our experiences to it and the things in it. It is, as William Blake once wrote, “To see a World in a Grain of Sand/ And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/ Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/ And Eternity in an hour”.

As a personal anecdote, some years ago one of the titles for the Prescribed Essays asked students to distinguish between knowing how to swim, knowing a mathematical formula, and knowing a friend. In the the 60 or so papers that I read on the title, none of the students wrote that they ‘knew’ their friend because they ‘loved’ their friend. They usually went on at length about “knowledge by acquaintance” as the manner in which they distinguished their friends from other human beings. If their friends had fleas, they would have counted them. But not a single individual used the word ‘love’ as the source of the knowledge of their friends from others and that it was charity that motivated their actions towards their friends rather than to other human beings that they did not know.

The ‘objectivizing’ stance of the technological world-view removes the term good of any definite meaning. It comes to be seen as a way of referring to what are really our own preferences or tastes. When we try to discover these ‘values’ by turning in on ourselves rather than outward, we find ourselves guided by only the fluctuating opinions and tastes of the Cave(s) about us, the They-self, our social and cultural contexts. If we examine and reflect on the word ‘value’ closely, we can see that it contains that which we consider ‘beautiful’ and ‘good’, but these are spoken of ‘subjectively’; our values are what we ourselves create in our own willing. How we have come to understand the word “values” is its bringing to prominence in the writings of Nietzsche and how these were incorporated into the social sciences by Dilthey and others.

Modern science, as it is realized through the technological world-view obscures, stifles, and suffocates the apprehension of the good because it implicitly denies the possibility of understanding things through the conception of purpose or ‘ends’. At the inception of modern scientific research four centuries ago (Galileo, Newton) this denial was explicit in the attacks on Aristotelian philosophy and science by writers such as Bacon, Descartes and Leibniz. The identification of scientific thought with basic doubt undermined the traditional understanding of what is good as what any being is fitted for. In the modern scientific view (i.e. four centuries ago), real knowledge is limited to temporally organized sequences of objectivity (that is, publicly) observable events, without reference to any conception of purpose or final cause. Without any final cause or purpose, then we cannot know what any being is really fitted for, since ultimately there is nothing knowable into which anything should fit. As Sartre would say: “Existence precedes essence”. We are left with ‘subjective’ answers to what is due other beings; for instance, Socrates final insight that human beings are fitted to live well in communities and to try and think openly about the nature of the whole. We are fitted for these activities because we are distinguished from the other animals in being capable of rational language or logos; or, for lack of a better word, we are capable of ‘thought’ or ‘thinking’. In living well together or being open to the whole in thought we are fulfilling the purpose which is given to us in being human, not some other type of animal. Good is what is present for us in the fulfillment of our given purposes.

These statements presuppose a traditional understanding of the natural order as an eternal framework within which human actions can be measured and defined, what was once understood as ‘natural law’ in the writings of the ancients. To the extent that we accept the modern understanding of nature as the product of necessity and chance–that is, outside any idea of purpose–such statements will have at best an untraditional meaning. They may serve to indicate our own goals and purposes, but these will necessarily be our own rather than anything that we have been given.  You can see that the German philosopher Martin Heidegger questions this view through his understanding of Being as ‘es gibt’, ‘it gives’. Within the limits of technological understanding (modern scientific and philosophic understanding) little or nothing can be said about the ultimate cause of being and certainly not enough to affirm its goodness. Nor does modern science hold out any promise that we will discover the right use of our power of choice by extending the frontiers of scientific knowledge; the power of choice is limited to the empowerment of reason itself through its results i.e. there is no real ‘choice’ within this box. To affirm that our height as human beings is somehow our knowledge of goodness and that the absence of such knowledge is not ignorance but madness as Socrates said, or the loss of our distinctive nature, is to put oneself altogether outside modern assumptions. One of the great questions, and a question that has almost disappeared for us, is whether or not we are our own as human beings. In today’s world, the answers to this question are not distinguishable whether one is listening to the thoughts of atheists or of religious thinkers.

Although many have felt the power of emotions in shaping thoughts and influencing behaviour, there are those who believe that emotions are an obstacle in the pursuit of knowledge (while failing to understand that at the root of their seeing is an ’emotion’ and a pre-determined framing that shapes how they view the world i.e. that at the bottom of reason as a way of knowing or the principle of reason is a prior emotional response to how they, as human beings, experience their world). While emotions may be a key to self-understanding and to understanding the world, the extent to which emotions contribute to both can and should be explored and examined. Through this exploration and examining, an understanding that the confusion and detachment from emotion is something that is given to us in the arts and sciences through the technological world-view. This confusion is illustrated in our ethics, the confusion of our actions in the world and how we should act.

Emotion as a WOK: Being-in-the-world as Care (Concern):

The first Learner Outcome of the IB Learner Profile that will be discussed is that the IB Learner should exhibit “caring” in their being-in-the-world.  Here, “being-in-the-world” is hyphenated to indicate that it is a “process”, not a static state of “being”. As can be seen from the introductory remarks to the writing (and to the blog overall), contemplation and charity as ends for human beings have been considered for many centuries in both the West and the East; and these ends have been seen to be in conflict with other ends throughout these centuries. This conflict can best be presented as the conflict between the life of theoria or ‘the seeing’ that manifests itself in contemplation (the life of philosophy as it was known to the ancients), and the life of praxis– the life of practical activity that manifests itself in caritas or charity or what we have come to call ethics. Discussions of this conflict are present in all the world’s great religions as part of their “religious knowledge systems”. It should be remembered that one of the primary reasons for the coming into being of the technological world-view was to make the practical activity of charity possible: that is, to give substance to our ideas of justice. If, as is stated in the writing Technology as a Way of Knowing,  poiesis may help and empower us to confront the unfolding of technology in its essence through our thinking by its being beyond or beneath the distinction of theory and praxis, is our thinking also untouched by the apparent split between poiesis and praxis or ethics?

What is Care? (Caring, Concern):

In thinking and reflecting on emotion as a way of knowing (and here we must try to make the vague term ‘emotion’ a little clearer), it is essential to understand the thinking that is present in the modern movement of thought known as existentialism. When one discusses “existentialism”, one must try to address the thought of Martin Heidegger, the German philosopher who died in 1976. Why Heidegger? Because Heidegger is the modern philosopher who has thought most pro-foundly (the looking-forward that establishes the ‘ground’ or foundation), most deeply, and most completely about the whole; and thinking about the whole is what “philosophy” is and what the aim of the TOK course is. TOK is a philosophy course; in fact it is the only philosophy course in the IB curriculum. What is called “philosophy” is the history of philosophy…and the history of philosophy is not philosophy itself.

Human being in the world depends on the relation between care, reality, and truth and how these are understood and have come to be understood. When we think of emotion as a way of knowing in relation to human being in the world, it is necessary to enter into a discussion of this way of knowing by thinking about the modern movement of philosophy called existentialism.

Heidegger uncovers the Being of Human Being (the living-human-being) as “care” [Sorge]: “Ahead-of-itself-Being- already-in-(the world) as Being-alongside (entities encountered within the world).”  The hyphens are used to indicate that this “care” is an essential unity that constitutes human being. Through his analysis of anxiety (angst) as a state-of-mind (comportment or emotion) which provides the phenomenal basis for explicitly grasping the whole of human being, Heidegger reveals Human Being’s Being to itself as care. Care is the response to anxiety.

Care is a word that has multiple meanings and possible emotional dispositions. All of these meanings are taken into account in Heidegger’s understanding of “care” as the Being of Human Being. One notices from the myth in the heading for this writing that Care is a thoughtful, meditative figure. It is not sufficient to think of ‘care’ as simply ‘worry’ or the ‘cares of the world’, etc. “Care” is also concerned with the “thoughtful, mindful” tending of the ‘other’ as it is experienced by human beings, whether this ‘other’ is other human beings or the environment and world about us.

“Falling”, explains Heidegger, is a turning-away or fleeing of Human Being into its “they-self.” This turning-away is grounded in anxiety (angst). Anxiety is what makes fear possible. Yet, unlike fear, in which that which threatens is other than Human Being, anxiety (angst) is characterized by the fact that what threatens is nowhere and nothing. In anxiety, Human Being is not threatened by a particular thing or a collection of objects present-at-hand. Being-in-the-world itself is that in the face of which anxiety is anxious. In anxiety, first and foremost, the world as world is disclosed as that which one can fall into. This ‘falling’ is experienced as “thrownness”.

Heidegger defined Being-in as “residing alongside” and “Being-familiar with.” This Being-in is understood in the everyday publicness of the “they” as a ‘Being-at-home,” a tranquillized self-assurance. However, as Human Being falls, anxiety brings it back from its absorption in the ‘world’ and “everyday familiarity collapses.” Thus, Human Being is individualized as Being-in-the-world; it is “my Human Being”. Being-in enters into the existential mode of the “not-at-home”, of uncanniness. “Being-not-at-home” is the basic kind of Being of Human Being, even though in an everyday way Human Being flees from this understanding in the tranquillized “at-homeness” of das Man, or the “publicness” of everydayness (think of our social networks, as an example). Yet, what is the nature of this uncanniness which pursues Human Being as the “they”?  Human Being, writes Heidegger, is uncanny in that uncanniness “lies in Human Being as thrown Being-in-the-world, which has been delivered over to itself in its Being.”

Human Being is tempted into the lostness of das Man (the “they”) by the tranquility which disburdens Human Being from having to face its own potentiality-for-Being, its empowering of itself. In its inauthentic tranquility, Human Being compares itself with everything and thereby drifts along towards an alienation in which its own potentiality-for-Being is hidden from it; we do not know who we are. Human Being engages in a downward plunge in which it becomes closed off from its authenticity and possibility. Human Being, as fallen, is characterized by idle talk, curiosity, and ambiguity which involve a leveling down of all possibilities of Being. In idle talk, the “they” closes off the meaning and ground of what is talked about” (not getting into the “heaviness” of any interactions) so that discourse or the logos remains “concealed”. In curiosity, Human Being is constantly uprooting itself and concerned with the constant possibility of distraction. Our desire for novelty in our engagements with the world characterizes this state. As ambiguity, the “they” acts as though it “knows everything,” yet, at bottom, this understanding is superficial in that nothing is genuinely understood (this could be an analysis of the knowledge issues/questions which are present throughout the current structure of the TOK course and its assessments). The “they” is essentially death-evasive in that it conceals Human Being as Being-towards-death; as well as being evasive of the ‘good’, which in its recognition, places limits on our realization of our appetites and desires. Whether human beings in their essence are beings-toward-death as Heidegger would say or beings-toward-the-good as Socrates would say is a very difficult, problematic question.

Existentialism as Emotion as a Way of Knowing: Historical Background

What knowledge questions and knowledge issues does existentialism present to us when we try to think about emotion as a way of knowing? Existentialism, through the thinking of Heidegger, has reminded many people that thinking is incomplete and defective if the thinking being, the thinking individual, forgets himself as what he is. It is the old Socratic warning: know thyself. One might say that even Heidegger himself forgot this Socratic warning in 1933 when he aligned himself with the movement of National Socialism in Nazi Germany.

We can compare Theodorus in Plato’s Theatetus, (from where the definition of knowledge as ‘justified true belief’ derives) the purely theoretic, purely objective man who loses himself completely in the contemplation of mathematical objects, who knows nothing about himself and his fellow human beings, and in particular about his own defects. Blake’s painting of Newton is also an illustration of this purely theoretic man. In existentialism, the thinking or contemplative man is not a ‘pure mind’ (as in Descartes’ view), or a ‘pointer-reading’, ‘sign reading’ observer (as in the Aristotelian view), for instance. The question ‘what am I’ or ‘who am I’ cannot be answered by science, for this would mean that there are some self-forgetting Theodoruses and Newtons out there who have gotten hold of the limits of the human soul by means of the scientific method. For if they have not done so, if their scientific results are necessarily provisional, hypothetical, it may be possible that what we can find out by examining ourselves and our situation honestly, without the pride and the pretense of scientific knowledge given to us in the natural and human sciences, that this means and approach to Being (that is found in existentialism) is more helpful than science. In many cases science as we know it simply dismisses any notion of “soul”.

As we have seen in our other ways of knowing, our primary understanding of the world in the thinking of ‘existentialism’ is not an understanding of things as objects but of what the Greeks indicated by pragmata, things which we handle and use, or the ready-to-hand.

Knowledge Problems and Questions Arising From Existentialism:

Existentialism appeals to a certain experience or emotion (anxiety/dread) as the basic experience in the light of which everything must be understood. Having this experience is one thing; regarding it as the basic experience of human being is another thing. It is to say that doubt is the primary experience of human being. This experience’s basic character is not guaranteed by the experience itself. It can only be guaranteed by argument.  This argument may be invisible because it is implied in what is generally admitted in our time. What is generally admitted may imply, but only imply, a fundamental uneasiness which is vaguely felt but not faced. Given this context, the experience to which Existentialism refers will appear as a revelation (the moment-of-vision), as the revelation, as the authentic interpretation of the fundamental uneasiness.

But something more is required which, however, is equally generally admitted in our time: the vaguely felt uneasiness must be regarded as essential to man, and not only to present day man. Yet this vaguely felt uneasiness is distinctly a present day phenomenon which appears to have arisen from human beings’ basic experience of ‘rootlessness’ or ‘homelessness’. Let us assume however that this uneasiness embodies what all earlier ages have thought, and is the result of what earlier ages have thought; in that case the vaguely felt uneasiness is the mature fruit of all earlier human efforts: no return to an older interpretation of that uneasiness is possible. Now this is a second view generally accepted today (apart from the fundamental uneasiness which is vaguely felt but not faced); this second element is the belief in progress through the technological will to power. This fundamental uneasiness is projected in the attempts to secure human being in its beingness; it the root of technology and of technology as the highest form of will to power. It is experienced as the eternal recurrence of the Same.

You all know the assertion that value-judgments are impermissible to the scientist in general and to the social scientist in particular. This means certainly that while science has increased man’s power in ways that former human beings never dreamt of, it is absolutely incapable of telling human beings how to use that power. Science cannot tell us whether it is wiser to use that power wisely and beneficently or foolishly and devilishly. From this it follows that science is unable to establish its own meaningfulness or to answer the question whether and in what sense science is good. Science is only capable of finding its purpose in its applications or its ‘usefulness’.

We are then confronted with the enormous apparatus of the technological whose bulk is ever increasing, but which in itself has no meaning. Nietzsche defined this as the nihilism which is at the ground of modern science. If a scientist would say as Goethe’s Mephisto still said that science and reason is man’s highest power, he would be told that he was not talking as a scientist but was making a value judgment which from the point of view of science is altogether unwarranted. Einstein, in his debates with Heisenberg and Bohr,  had spoken of a flight from scientific reason. This flight is not due to any perversity but to science itself. I dimly remember the time when people argued as follows: to deny the possibility of science or rational value judgments means to admit that all values are of equal rank; and this means that respect for all values, universal tolerance, is the dictate of scientific reason. But this time has gone. Today we hear that no conclusion whatever can be drawn from the equality of all values; that science does not legitimate/legitimize nor indeed forbid that we should draw rational conclusions from scientific findings. The assumption that we should act rationally and therefore turn to science for reliable information is wholly outside of the purview and interest of science proper. The consequences of this thinking may account for the recent rise in populism and fascism in many countries in the world.

The flight from scientific reason is the consequence of the flight of science from reason, from the notion that man is a rational being who perverts his being if he does not act rationally. It goes without saying that a science which does not allow of value judgments has no longer any possibility of speaking of progress except in the humanly irrelevant sense of scientific progress: the concept of progress has accordingly been replaced by the concept of change or modification. If science or reason cannot answer the question of why science is good, of why sufficiently gifted and otherwise able people fulfill a duty in devoting themselves to science, science says in effect that the choice of science is not rational: one may choose with equal right other pleasing and satisfying myths. The primary difference is that studying science pays well.

Furthermore, science no longer conceives itself as the perfection of the human understanding; it admits that it is based on fundamental hypotheses which will always remain hypotheses (Popper, et. al.). The whole structure of science does not rest on evident necessities. If this is so, the choice of the scientific orientation is as groundless as the choice of any alternative orientation. But what else does this mean except that the reflective scientist discovers as the ground of his science and his choice of science a groundless choice, an abyss. For a scientific interpretation of the choice of the scientific orientation, on the one hand, and the choice of alternative orientations, on the other, presupposes already the acceptance of the scientific orientation, the technological world-view. The fundamental freedom is the only non-hypothetical phenomenon. Everything else rests on that fundamental freedom. With this, we are already in the midst of Existentialism, and the next step is decisionism. 

The uneasiness which today is felt but not faced can be expressed by a single word: relativism. Existentialism admits the truth of relativism but it realizes that relativism, so far from being a solution or even a relief, is deadly. Friedrich Nietzsche said of Darwin that his thinking was “true but deadly”.  Existentialism is the reaction of serious men to their own relativism.

Existentialism begins then with the realization that at the ground of all objective, rational knowledge we discover an abyss. This is found most clearly and most profoundly in Nietzsche’s writings. All truth, all meaning is seen in the last analysis to have no support except man’s freedom. Objectively, there is in the last analysis only meaninglessness, nothingness. This nothingness can be experienced in anguish or angst, but this experience cannot find an objective expression because it cannot be made in detachment from human being-in-the-world.

Human Being freely originates meaning; he originates the horizon, the absolute presupposition, the ideal, the projection and project within which understanding and life are possible. Man is man by virtue of such a horizon-forming project, of an unsupported project, of a thrown project. More precisely man always lives already within such a horizon without being aware of its character; he takes his world as simply given; i.e. he has lost himself; but he can call himself back from his lostness and take the responsibility for what he was in a lost, inauthentic way. Man is essentially a social being: to be a human being means to be with other human beings. To be in an authentic way means to be in an authentic way with others: to be true to oneself is incompatible with being false to others. Thus, there would seem to exist the possibility of an existentialist ethics which would have to be, however, a strictly formal ethics. However this may be, Heidegger never believed in the possibility of an ethics.

It becomes necessary to make as fully explicit as possible the character of human existence; to raise the question what is human existence; and to bring to light the essential structures of human existence. This inquiry is called by Heidegger analytics of Existenz. Heidegger conceived of the analytics of Existenz from the outset as the fundamental ontology. This means he took up again Plato’s and Aristotle’s question ‘what is being?’  ‘What is that by virtue of which any being is said to be?’ Heidegger agreed with Plato and Aristotle not only as to this, that the question of what is to be is the fundamental question; he also agreed with Plato and Aristotle that the fundamental question must be primarily addressed to that being which is in the most emphatic or the most authoritative way i.e. the human being. Yet, while according to Plato and Aristotle to be in the highest sense means to be always (or, later in Nietzsche, the eternal recurrence of the same), Heidegger contends that to be in the highest sense means to exist, that is to say, to be in the manner in which man is: to be in the highest sense is constituted by mortality.

[1] The reason for the incompleteness of this unit is that it is the most difficult to write, perhaps because it is the most important and in it one has to confront the most important and profound questions. In attempting to look at Emotion as a way of knowing and the grounding of it in the IB Learner Profile and to make connections to the thinking that goes on elsewhere in the course materials is a challenge that still lies ahead. For now, this constitutes ‘rough notes’ towards an understanding of emotion as a way of knowing.

[2]  The classic paper is Paul Ekman and Wallace V. Friesen, “Constants across Cultures in  the Face and Emotion,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 17(2) (1971), pp. 124–39.  For a recent reaffirmation, see Marc D. Pell et al., “Recognizing Emotions in a Foreign Language,” Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 33(2) (2009), pp. 107–120: “Expressions of basic emotions (joy, sadness, fear, disgust) can be recognized pan-culturally for the face.” (from the article Abstract, p. 107). For a recent critique, see Ruth Leys, “How Did Fear Become a Scientific Entity and What Kind of Entity Is It?” Representations no. 110 (2010): 66-104.


Author: theoryofknowledgeanalternativeapproach


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Theory of Knowledge: An Alternative Approach

Why is an alternative approach necessary?

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