Monday, February 18, 2013

Crisis of Spirit

I think we can learn from Husserl. I always have, and yet I want to borrow the German term "Geist." Geist signifies the irreducibly qualitative feature of human experience understood through the humanities. By the humanities, I mean the spirit-driven sciences called Geisteswissenschaften. They include: philosophy, history, philology, and the social-sciences. As French postmodernism has continually denigrated the possibility of achieving knowledge of transcendence, I want to re-inscribe the problem of spirit back into philosophical reflection in relation to the current crisis . The purpose of philosophy is nothing other than the clarification of human spirit, and the ontological basis from which spirit can be understood.

It is not enough to assume that this level of irreducibly-basic feature of human experience as a subject to be a hallmark of the late 18th and whole 19th century. One could basically read my commitment as a philosophical antique, and yet when the humanities adopted French postmodernism, what we found is a legacy of irrelevance. The humanities no longer tied their fate to the pursuit of truth. Truth belonged to science, and if there is something like "truth" in the human condition, then that truth originating in qualitative study could only be gleaned by remaining forever open to the various phenomena in the spirit sciences following postmodernism's commitment to an inability to arrive at knowledge of transcendent phenomena, though we can speak about phenomena forever delimited to certain domains. There could never be a trans-contextual domain of knowledge that applied universally to the spirit of humanity. From the standpoint of postmodernism, culture either reflected the postmodern condition or the popularity of postmodernism outstrips our ability to know its wrongness.

However, I want to resist the pull of postmodernism. The spirit-sciences have no basis now, and with the success of scientific inquiry, if we are to privilege spirit after its eclipse, we must do so bravely and without reservation. Following Scheler, it is possible to talk about the triumph of the phenomenological subject as a point of disclosure of spirit, and to re-align our philosophical understanding of human experience with the universal movement of spirit. However, I will also not be dragged down the bias of humanism as well. For Scheler understood the person to be of spirit, and in being part of spirit, the person was radically unique. Only a personalism that preserves singularity of spirit can fend off how metaphysics is used as a point of preventing difference to emerge in metaphysical discourses. Metaphysics need not be a form of violence, and the unfortunate resistance of Levinas and Derrida have convinced generations of Continental philosophers to forego an attempt at discerning the rational truths of humanity.

Thus, I think we are faced with a crisis of spirit, and I do not suspect this is the same creature as Husserl articulated. What Husserl first observed has never been solved, but diagnosed. The cancer of a de-personalizing worldview - mostly in the name of capitalism - has overtaken the liberal order, and the philosopher now finds himself in the unique position of re-addressing the tumor so long ago identified by Husserl but given new life in its current form at the beginning of the 21st century. For the very same crisis that occurs within philosophy and the spirit-sciences occurs as a crystallization and instantiation of this cultural problems in the very institutions charged with preserving and transmitting culture: the university. The university is so co-opted for purposes other than the pursuit of truth we are lucky that any work in the humanities gets done, and again, the cultural appreciation for the different kinds of research that gets done in the humanities is lost on a culture that cannot stand to be questioned. Instead, the university is only for the instrumental purpose of getting a job, and even in that function, the language of efficiency, of cost-benefit analysis conceals the movement of spirit at work in the spirit-sciences. In the university, the humanities are incidental to the economic considerations of university education in which those that judge the worth of an education cannot judge the enterprise valuable except in the form of the very sterile utility that stands as the lowest form of value in Scheler's thinking.

Hence, the culture is in crisis not only in the sense that culture does not listen to its philosophers, but that the populace at large has become culturally illiterate to the very sources of formation that motivate scholarship in the humanities. The rich cultural life of humankind that fostered ideas of democracy, rights, art, beauty and the like no longer sway the average American, much less the global abject poverty of the global South. A culture insensitive to art, let alone philosophy, cannot experience the very reflective moment when we -- as rationally reflective beings - come aware of the very forces of cultural formation that inform us as human beings. When and if we do become aware of it, we tap into the spirit of humanity, and it is only in philosophical and aesthetic reflection that we become aware of ourselves-as-ourselves in the larger world. I make the claim that only art, philosophy and religion can facilitate the aim of acquiring the depth and movement of spirit, and this facilitation is only potential. Many forms of philosophy and art are constrained as the universal restriction in other forms of the humanities, e.g. English literature.

Some humanities follow the postmodern model. I am committed to the thesis that this is a mistake. In their attempt to resist metanarratives, postmodernists eschewed the very spirit in which we are all motivated to learn about the spirit of humanity. For the spirit that moves and is revealed in these various cultural objects in a postmodern lens is restricted by the substituting spirit with a concept of self-identity.  Becoming reflective of the hardships an identity faces in the culture at large is not an expression of insight into a common spirit that could appeal to justice of why a group was wronged. Instead, the self-identity becomes a limit, a point where reflection cannot surpass, and it breeds an implicit narcissism in which the scholars projects the desire to understand their own identity as a basis from which no universal cognition of humanity's spirit could take place. There are many forms of philosophizing incapable of knowing the movement of spirit: hermeneutic phenomenology, post-structuralism, psychoanalysis, British empiricism, reductionistic materialism projects to name a few.

The only remedy is to capture the motivations of Husserl and replace the Husserlian rubric with a Schelerian one. The purpose of metaphysics is to acquire knowledge of spirit, and only a phenomenological ontology of spirit can achieve the basis from which all other humanities should be based. The purpose first and foremost of the spirit-sciences is to render regional domains as a participation in the lifeworld of spirit. No other form of humanistic inquiry can render spirit clearer than phenomenological philosophy.

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