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Monday, 21 June 2010



Philosophical Anthropology is a branch of philosophy concerned to show that, owing to his preponderantly underdetermined nature, man is that animal who must, in large part, determine himself. Although its roots are diffuse and its boundaries fuzzy, in its modern form philosophical anthropology got its beginnings in the 1920s and was especially prevalent in German philosophy. It has ties with existentialism, phenomenology, and Dilthey's "philosophy of life" (in which consciousness is understood in terms of lived or immediate experience). In its development it has drawn on a number of outstanding thinkers, including Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Pascal, Herder, Goethe, Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, and von Humboldt. Recent prominent scholars who may be associated with philosophical anthropology include Max Scheler, Adolf Portmann, Helmuth Plessner, Arnold Gehlen, F. J. J. Buytendijk, Medard Boss, Ludwig Binswanger, Erwin Straus, and Michael Landmann.

Why philosophical anthropology?

What distinguishes philosophical anthropology is its ontological focus on man as the mediator of his own nature. According to Herder, in whose ideas philosophical anthropology is rooted, in man instinct is replaced by freedom; the deficit of specific determinations becomes a condition for the emergence of reason, understanding, and reflection. "No longer an infallible machine in the hands of nature, [man] becomes a purpose unto himself." In effect, a qualitative leap is postulated by philosophical anthropology: " in man something is not simply added to the animal . . . [rather] he is fundamentally based on a completely different principle of organization . . . he is the only one who has an open world" (quoted in Landmann 1982).

The critical problem of philosophical anthropology is, then, how man's creaturely limitations lead to their own transcendence. As a result, an outstanding element of philosophical anthropology concerns itself with the meaningful, rather than simply physical, character of human biology. For example, in his study of upright posture, Erwin Straus (1966) argued that man's moral capacity is tied to this posture, not causally, but immanently. Again for example, according to Plessner (1970) man's position in the world may be distinguished as "eccentric," since, unlike the other animals, man always stands to some significant degree outside his own center which is to say, outside his given nature. In light of this distinction, Plessner interpreted both laughter and crying as singularly human responses to situations in which man's (mediatory) capacity for eccentricity is stultified. As these examples suggest, one outstanding preoccupation of philosophical anthropology is the study of the dynamic of human creativity by virtue of which body and mind may be regarded as both different from and identical to each other.

Each branch of philosophy has its unique effect on anthropological theory and practices. It is an impossibility to single out each of them. Only major perspectives are discussed here.

Constructivism in philosophical pragmatism: our creation of our worlds.

In the second lecture of Pragmatism (Broadly means to act according to the situation), William James (1907, p. 37) metaphorically remarked that "the trail of the human serpent is [...] over everything". For James, the world was essentially a human world, structured through human life, through human experience and practices. Many other pragmatists, early and late, have held more or less similar humanistic conceptions of reality. If we attempt to understand our human life in this human world, we should inquire into the ways in which our life itself affects the world within which it takes place. Broadly speaking, pragmatism is the doctrine that practice and theory are inextricably entangled in human affairs. We cannot neatly separate our theoretical concerns [not even ontological (/ prior position) ones] from the practical interests and values that guide whatever we, as women and men, do. The pragmatist's philosophical point of departure is the undeniable fact that we are human beings acting in a more or less problematic environment. In our various limited ways, we try to solve our practical problems—in a very broad sense of "practical". The world does not come "ready made" to us; we regard it as our environment, as our world, that is, as the world in which we live and act.

Constructivists dwell on the the idea that the world is a human world, made or constructed by human beings, through practical and conceptual activities. It seems to be a natural conclusion invited by James's pragmatism. If the way the world is depends upon our choices of ways of describing or "structuring" it—choices based on our practical purposes—it might seem that these purposes in effect constitute reality. Whatever is real must be relevant to our practical interests. Human beings create reality by choosing to consider some aspects of it relevant to some particular purposes, that is, by choosing to see it under a certain aspect. As purposes change, reality is, in a sense, re-created.

Contemporary Constructivism (Neo pragmatism?):

Jamesian-Schillerian constructivism is, therefore, well alive in Nelson Goodman's theory of "woridmaking" and also to some extent in Putnam's internal realism. Some sociologists of science, who speak about scientists’ "constructing" scientific objects in the laboratory, come also quite close to this view, at least according to the standard interpretation. Furthermore, one could interpret the views of postmodernists and deconstructionists, for whom reality has become internal to language or "text", as forms of constructivism (even though pragmatists usually prefer reconstructions to Reconstructions). As the famous slogan by Jacques Derrida says, "il n'y a pas de hors-texte". These ideas were ridiculed by the physicist Alan Sokal in his controversial "scientific parody" in the journal Social Text in 1996, and Sokal is not the only one who thinks that postmodern views about the textuality of reality are just crazy.

The basic idea of Nelson Goodman's theory of worldmaking is that there is no single ready-made reality, but plurality of worlds (or "world-versions") constructed for different purposes, possibly conflicting with each other. According to Goodman, the multiple worlds there are do not exist independently of our "making" of them by means of our systems of symbols. We are, hence, worldmakers.

In Goodman's (1978, p. 4) view, "many different world-versions are of independent interest and importance, without any requirement or presumption of reducibility to a single base". Thus, "the movement is from unique truth and a world fixed and found to a diversity of right and even conflicting versions or worlds in the making" (ibid., p. x). Goodman endorses a radically relativist and pluralist ontology: there is no unconstructed world "in itself" which we could just describe and represent; instead, there are many versions or, equivalently, many worlds. Physics, everyday experience, art, and other symbol systems we use produce several different versions, none of which is the absolutely true or right one. We cannot make sense of an absolute reality.

[[[[ explanation: Why do not find any ready-made stars or constellations of them up there on the sky, even though it seems quite natural to think that stars (like dinosaurs) existed long before the emergence of human beings on the earth. Stars seem to be causally unaffected by our use of concepts and symbols; yet, we have to use those concepts and symbols in order to make, and to live within, a worldversion in which there are stars or constellations of stars. "We have to make what we find, be it the Great Dipper, Sirius, food, fuel, or a stereo system." We are both worldmakers and "starmakers". As James (1907, p. 121) puts it, we, making a human "addition" to "some sensible reality", "carve out groups of stars in the heavens, and call them constellations, and the stars patiently suffer us to do so". Stars do not themselves decide, let alone inform us, that they are stars or that they are arranged in constellations. Both stars and constellations of stars exist only in a humanly structured world. ]]]]

For yet another, quite different example of contructivism, we may note that constructivism is a fashionable cultural phenomenon in the age of virtual reality and "media philosophy". This is what Mark C. Taylor and Esa Saarinen teach us in their postmodern "anti-book" Imagologies (1994). "With the inexorable expansion of the mediascape, all reality is mediaized and thus becomes virtual", we are told (ibid., 'Virtuality', p. 6). "In virtual worlds, thought becomes reality and reality becomes imaginary" (ibid., p. 9). "Insofar as the real is figural the figural is, in some sense, real" (ibid., 'Electronomics', p. 4). Is this anything but constructivism or anti-realism (or perhaps Schopenhauerian quasitranscendental idealism) all over again, in new "mediaized" clothes metaphysical idealism, paradoxically, in a postmodern media culture in which metaphysical worries should not be taken seriously any longer? Taylor and Saarinen seem to think that the world-wide network of electric communication has so profoundly altered our reality that there is no "real world" beyond the media any longer. The media, originally human constructions, now create reality; hence, we ourselves create reality.

However, more recently, Putnam suggests that [o]ne might say, not that we make the world, but that we help to define the world. The rich and ever-growing collection of truths about the world is the joint product of the world and language users. Or better (since language users are part of the world), it is the product of the world, with language-users playing a creative role in the process of production. (Putnam 1991, pp. 422-423; cf. 1994a, p. 265.)

Knowledge and action perspective:

The intrinsic connection between knowledge and action is one of the basic insights of Dewey's pragmatism (which he also called "experimentalism" and "instrumentalism"). In traditional epistemology, which is characterized by its "quest for certainty", knowledge and action—or theory and practice—have, mistakenly, been sharply distinguished from each other. According to Dewey, knowledge is action and theory is practice. This simple statement can more generally be regarded as the core of the pragmatists' teaching. The openness and undefinability flowing from the link between knowledge and practice can also be illuminated on the basis of the "classical" concept of knowledge: if by knowledge we mean "justified true belief", and if beliefs are (as Peirce, the founder of pragmatism, insisted) "habits of action", our notion of knowledge must reflect the plurality of our ways of acting.

The transcendental perspectives:

In the Kantian tradition, transcendental philosophy deals with those "epistemic conditions" that alone render human cognitive experience of the world (that is, representation of objects or objective reality) possible (see, e.g., Allison 1983, Leppakoski 1993). These conditions must obtain in order for us to experience any world whatsoever—an objective world with a certain order. They are, indeed, transcendental conditions of there being a world (for us), and they are conditions that we ourselves—or rather our transcendental subjectivity—impose on the world of which we have experience. For other kinds of beings, these conditions might be different; a being with an intellectual intuition (i.e., God) would not need any such conditions but might be able to comprehend things directly as they are in themselves, without any intermediaries.

In order to be both a pragmatist and, in a sense, a Kantian, the crucial point that the present-day pragmatist-Kantian philosopher should make is that the transcendental conditions for there being a world as the object of our experience and representation can, and should, be understood as dynamical, that is, as socially and historically relative and mutable—as themselves always already "conditioned" in many ways. For us humans, who lack the "God's-Eye View", there are no absolute, ahistorically given conditions of experience, no conditions that could be recognized as necessary sub specie aeternitatis. This view is characteristic of modern naturalism, which emphasizes the continuity between philosophy and empirical science.

In any event, transcendental reflection or transcendental philosophy in a quasi-Kantian (pragmatically historicized and relativized or, perhaps, to some extent de-transcendentalized) sense is, for the pragmatist, an essential element of philosophical reflection on human nature. In pursuing such issues, we are trying to find out, by philosophical means, what it is like to be a human being in the natural world—a being for whom there exists an objective reality (from the point of view of both ordinary experience and science).

The post-modern age:

We arrive at some nagging questions. Is there any serious role for the philosopher, or academic intellectual in general, to play in the 21st century? Aren't we now in a postmodern condition, in which all we have got is a hopeless mixture of incommensurable language-games, frameworks, and styles of cultural conversation a la Rorty? Should the philosopher, especially if she or he is a pragmatist, therefore go into the media and discuss the "concrete" problems people are facing in our (post)modern world instead of reflecting on dry, unnecessarily complicated academic puzzles? What about the role of philosophy in such enormous global issues as the ecological crisis, with which all humans should be concerned?

Even though our (post)modern media culture is first and foremost an American phenomenon, to be found everywhere in the almost completely Americanized world, what has been called "media philosophy" is not. There are few public intellectuals in the United States—at least fewer than in countries like France and Germany. Everyone knew who Jean-Paul Sartre was; outside academic circles, virtually no one knows who W.V. Quine is.

Let us take a look at "media philosophy", as it is defended in Mark C. Taylor's and Esa Saarinen's Imagologies (1994), a book (or anti-book) dealing with the postmodern information society and media culture.4 Taylor and Saarinen tell us, among other things, that the "simcult" (their term for the culture of postmodern, Baudrillardian "simulations" or "simulacra" which the media construct) is a culture of pure instrumentality, in which there are no "ends-in-themselves": "the essential is nothing, and nothing is essential" Generally speaking, there are no deep cultural ends any longer; in our media age, there is no time for anything like that. Following pragmatists, the media philosopher, or "imagologist", observes that she or he has to act in an uncertain world without any given, secure foundations (ibid. 'Superficiality', pp. 10-11). Thus, the media philosopher attacks "the institutions of rational, systematic, uncommercial, analytic, supposedly valuefree, unmediated, objective thought" and urges that in the media, "one-liners are everything" (ibid., 'Media Philosophy', p. 5). She or he has to know how to be naive and superficial (ibid., 'Naivete', p. 3). The public philosopher E. Saarinen certainly knows this, or so many people think. Taylor and Saarinen show us a way of approaching philosophy. It is compatible with this attitude to admit, as they do, that it is merely one way among many, albeit a way which should be given priority in contemporary media culture. Saarinen's argument here—implicit in all of his public activity— is simple: the justification of media philosophy lies in the fact that it is his, Saarinen's, particular way of philosophizing right now, at this particular historical moment in this particular social, political, economic (etc.) context.

The post philosophy: reflexivity concerns

Self-referentiality, or reflexivity, is the trademark of fully developed pragmatism and naturalism as well, we may analogically express my main metaphilosophical conclusion as the thesis that pragmatism establishes its own pragmatic acceptability through the process of showing how all philosophical positions should be pragmatically evaluated. Insofar as the assessment of philosophical views in terms of the human practices (and practice-involving temperaments) they are based on is itself a human practice, pragmatism also "shows that it itself makes sense".31 Hence the relevance of Kant and Wittgenstein from the pragmatist's point of view. Hence also the relevance of James's reflexive notion of a philosophical temperament.

Reflexivity and philosophical self-consciousness can also be accommodated by thinkers who do not sympathize with transcendental philosophy—for example, by Quinean and Rortyan philosophers, as we have seen. However, the pragmatist recognizing the transcendental background of the pragmatic tradition need not accept these radical pragmatists' and naturalists' views. Apart from a few critical remarks, I have not seriously tried to refute those views here. On the basis of my philosophical temperament, which differs substantively from Quine's and Rorty's but is in rather substantial agreement with some other philosophers' temperaments (in particular, Putnam's), I have tried to make that

effort in the chapters above—admitting, though, consistently with my own view, that such an effort will always remain seriously inconclusive.33 Putnam's alternative to Quinean and Rortyan positions is, I believe, (meta)philosophically more plausible, even though it is not unproblematic, either.

We can, and should, actively learn something by studying reflexive but insufficiently transcendental philosophers like Quine and Rorty. Refusing to listen to them would be refusing to wake up from a dogmatic slumber. After their critique of traditional philosophy, there is no innocence left. The philosopher in these confusing days should acknowledge this situation. As Prado (1987, p. 24) has put it, following Rorty and giving up "Truth" with a capital 'T' is like losing one's belief in God. Following the postmodern and postanalytic turns in philosophy is like losing one's religion. Quine and Rorty have given us valuable material to contrast our less radical philosophical temperaments with. Therefore, I have claimed that by studying their work we can study the limits of philosophical argumentation. But we— even those of us who are tempted to agree with these thinkers' radicalism- should be equally prepared to learn from James and Putnam, or, for that matter, from Plato, Kant, or von Wright. To understand that we should try to learn from highly different philosophers manifesting highly different temperaments is to understand that we must work hard in order to avoid the metaphilosophical relativism of clashing temperaments briefly described in section 10.3 above. We should, if our temperament allows, accept the challenge of making critical philosophy pragmatically reflexive. As human beings, we reflect on our own lives anyway—more or less philosophically. That is a most pragmatic thing to do.

Finally, this demand of reflexivity must be applied to my own metaphilosophical discussion of that very demand itself, that is, to this metaphilosophical chapter and this work as a whole. I ought to recognize that my pragmatistic point of view, as well as my insistence on the reconciliation of pragmatism and transcendental philosophy culminating in the notion of reflexivity, lies also, in the last analysis, beyond argumentation. But this ultimate reflexive reflection—a reflection on my practice of being philosophically reflexive with regard to the notion of reflexivity—does not lead to a sigh of relief. If I am honest to myself as a philosopher, I must find the need to engage in such a reflection a deeply problematic fact of my philosophical life. Yet, it is a fact which invites me (and, I hope, some others as well) to go on with that kind of life, to continue our human dialogues on topics of vital importance.

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