Sunday, December 02, 2007

What von Hildebrand captures in his analysis, is affectivity as a “form” of Jasper’s “non-rational”

In what may be at first glance a seeming turbid assertion, the great German philosopher Karl Jaspers provides a line whose rich insight is yielded only before the affectively awakened spirit: “The rational is not thinkable without its other, the non-rational, and it never appears in reality without it. The only question is, in what form the other appears, how it remains in spite of all, and how it is to be grasped.” Taking a moment to lay-out only a few implements of this philosophical copia, I find the following at hand: the “non-rational” that “appears” in some “form” that perhaps can be “grasped.” By Jaspers’ lights, the non-rational has some discernible form that may be “thinkable” if we can determine, in whatever measure, how it is that the non-rational can be grasped. What Jaspers is not suggesting is that the non-rational can somehow be reduced to brute fact, accessible to full rational scrutiny and analytic dissection. Rather, I take Jaspers to posit a non-rational that is not itself made into an object of reason, but rather is an embracing companion of the rational that, while occasionally glimpsed fleetingly in the spotlight of reason, prefers the recesses of reason’s shadow.
But does not “form” carry with it the sense of rational intelligibility? It can. But if we recall that the Latin forma does not merely mean “shape” or “contour” and that it irreducibly carries with it the connotation of “beauty,” perhaps we may permit ourselves to be taken with Jasper’s “non-rational.” Indeed, if we may appeal momentarily to medieval Christian thought, we represent to ourselves that oft cited, yet oft underdeveloped transcendental known as beauty which is never lags far behind truth and goodness.
I pause to remind myself that this notion of the presence of beauty may well be far from what Jaspers detected within himself as he penned his line on the “non-rational.” But the immediate sense he invokes in me refers me to the experience of beauty as spiritual bedazzlement, enrapturing and trepidation that pronounces its distinctiveness from reason and rational appetite. While it may court reason for a time, it never permits reason to have the last word. I think here especially of the encompassing title of William Barrett’s standard study of existentialism, Irrational Man. While some thinkers have described the non-rational as a mood or an ontological condition—and I find theses descriptions and elucidations not only helpful but intuitively appealing—Dietrich von Hildebrand’s description of the affective sphere comes immediately to mind each time I encounter Jasper’s “non-rational.” Perhaps it is no accident that Jasper’s connection to Martin Heidegger links him to the same phenomenological tradition out of which von Hildebrand emerged. Edmund Husserl himself, the founder of the phenomenological movement, gave little time in his published works to the “non-rational,” yet his most apt pupils (Von Hildebrand and Heidegger) were led to explore its horizons through the phenomenological method.
Lamenting the rather squalid adornment bestowed on affectivity in the history of philosophy, von Hildebrand sought to illume the dignity and value of the “non-rational.” He held that the denial to the “heart” of the spiritual character accorded to the intellect and will was tantamount to the dis-integrating of the human condition. At the center of Von Hildebrand’s analysis of affectivity is his concept of affective response, which entails the intentionality of consciousness, but involves the non-rational. He adopts Husserl’s understanding of “intentionality” from the latter’s Logical Investigations as consciousness in directed orientation to an object. The person and the object enact a rational and meaningful relation through intentional experience in contrast to unintentional experiences, which include all pure states, such as fatigue or irritation, and do not have reference to a known or perceived object. Of these two spheres, the intentional is the higher due to its capacity for spiritual response, since this perception of the object is a transcending experience. There is an intentional partaking and penetration into this object that remains extraneous to me. Correspondingly, as it confronts me, my response to it is directed toward it as I embrace and incorporate it. Affective responses always entail an intentional relation between the intellect and the object, which bespeaks of their spiritual and transcendent quality. Here von Hildebrand keeps the dialectic of the rational and non-relational in sync. Logically following this intention is the fourfold moment of affection: 1. the initial capacity to be affected; 2. the actual act of being affected; 3. the affective response; 4. a new state of affectability whereby the capacity to be affected is vivified. There results from this affective response a new fructification of affectivity from which further affective consciousness my stem. The fourth moment becomes the first in cyclical fashion as affective spontaneity is achieved.
Hence, there is an axiological relation between the actual affective response and the particular event or object which engenders it. The value of an object or event calls for an adequate and proper response that can only proceed from the affective sphere of the human person. It is a response endowed with intentionality and motivation, but also entails what Von Hildebrand calls a “meaningful concerting.” In essence, the response is a giving the object its due in a non-rational way. Here I prefer Jasper’s “non-rational” to Barrett’s “irrational.”
What von Hildebrand captures in his analysis, in my opinion, is affectivity as a “form” of Jasper’s “non-rational.” It need not be the only form, but it is sufficient in itself to convince us that there is, indeed, a non-rational at the heart of human existing that is no less important in giving name to this existing than the so-called “rational.” And on account of this, I cannot but embrace Jaspers’ axiom: “The rational is not thinkable without its other.”
This entry was posted on December 1, 2007 at 10:07 pm and is filed under Culture, Philosophy, Policraticus. trackback One Response to “Jaspers, von Hildebrand and the “non-rational””
Victor Says: December 2, 2007 at 12:11 am
It strikes me that a great deal of what is at issue in the ‘rational/non-rational (irrational?)’ dialectic is, in part, the gradual rise to dominance, at least within post-modern thought, of ‘identity and difference.’ Something cannot attain to its own self-identity with asserting its difference–think for instance of how, on the Aristotelian-Thomistic view, the soul comes to know itself–from the other. Here, Heidegger’s short work on this very subject_Identitat und Differenz_comes to mind, but so does Michel Foucault’s work _Madness and Civilization_, where he notes that madness or irrationality gradually come to be “defined” or thrown into greater resolution through reason’s own concentration upon itself in self-identity and coming to regard madness as l’autre, “the other.”
This is a slightly different analysis than provided above with respect to von Hildebrand, yet I think it one that moves along the same byways to arrive at the same conclusion. I agree then that “The rational is not thinkable without its other,” which is simply to say that identity is not thinkable without the other. In fact, otherness, like beauty mentioned above, seems to be a transcendental itself. At least such is Thomas’s position when, in the opening article of the De veritate, in addition to thing (res), good (bonum), truth (verum), one (unum), being (ens) is understood as aliquid–other. (It is interesting of course that ‘pulchrum’ or ‘formosa’ isn’t mentioned in this text.) It seems to me somewhat legerdemain when Aquinas’s translators substitute ’something’ for ‘aliquid,’ and then put a period at the end of the sentence as if that were the end of the story, for Thomas seems to be suggesting that even being cannot be understood without its other…

No comments:

Post a Comment