Monday, September 10, 2007

"Without prejudice"

15. Conclusion: Linking the Humanities ( "Contents"/title page.)
Chapter 15 of Experiencing the Humanities by Richard Jewell
Phenomenology was first developed by early-twentieth century German philosopher Edmund Husserl, and what arguably constitutes a religious version of it was developed by Martin Buber in his book I and Thou. Phenomenology suggests that the most basic experience common to human beings is composed of three basic parts: our own consciousness or awareness, the contents of our consciousness--everything that is "out there" for us to sense; and our memories, thoughts, and reflections about what we have seen and done. A fourth and equally important basic element is that we discover, early in life as children, that there are other "consciousnesses"--other beings--outside of ourselves who seem to be just like us. They have a consciousness like we do, and they have experiences and memories like we do.
According to phenomenology, the most important attitude we can have for viewing these basics of life is to start by being "without prejudice." "Without prejudice" means that in our most basic views or understandings--the part of ourselves we consider the most central to our self identity--we set aside a part of our time each day or week and simply watch the flux of life--observe what we see and hear, observe what we think and feel, and even observe our observing--without yet making decisions about it. After we have made a number of unprejudiced observations about life--what Husserl calls a "scientific" method of viewing life--we can then begin to fit its parts together with fewer prejudgments and more accuracy. Nonreligious phenomenologists such as Husserl claim that by using this process of pure observation, we will have a much clearer and stronger understanding of our and other lives. Religious phenomenologists such as Buber say that this process of pure observation will lead us back to essentially the same religious foundation we have developed, but with a much clearer sense of what our belief means and what it can do.
It is just such a phenomenological attitude--one of pure "scientific" observation--that can help us unite the disciplines of the humanities. One of the most important themes common to the humanities disciplines is that of oserving and understanding human life and meaning. A purer phenomenological stance regarding human experience can help us see how and what the humanities mean to so many different types of people.
Process Theory: A third field theory that has gained some followers is that of process philosophy and psychology. This theory is a mixture of principles from philosophy, society and culture, history, and methods used in the arts. They state that the world and human beings always are processing life.
Some of the proponents of process types of theories include philosophers such as British-American philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, American pragmatists John Dewey and William James, French existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus and the French philosopher of time, Henri Bergson, South American educational theorist Paolo Freire, theologians Martin Buber (Jewish) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Protestant), psychologists such as Jewish German Victor Frankl and Briton R.D. Laing, and many others.
The theory of process states, in its many forms, that everything is in a state of flux and movement. This includes human institutions--all thinking, belief, and action. Whole parts of history, movements of philosophy, social and cultural events, and schools and styles in art all are a constantly intertwining, intermixing series of actions, reactions, and more reactions.
And within this intermixing flux, there is movement. Some of the movement is backward, some forward; but in general we move forward in the very process of trying out more things, reacting to old things, and synthesizing new things.
Any two things that seem opposite will help us discover a better way of dealing with both things, both issues, as we try to choose which one is best. Then, once we have chosen, other opposites come along, and we must rethink our way through these new opposites--learning something from both sides of the coin, both issues, both sides--as we try to reach a new conclusion or choice.

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