Towards a spiritualized psychoanalysis
1992, p. 68). As a result, the transformed participants engage the mystery of being with an upsurge of spiritual energy, always in relation to a human, nonhuman, or divine Thou.
Following Buber and Marcel, who as I have said were not systematic in their philosophies, I offer some initial comments that point in a direction I think would be helpful to making psychoanalysis a spiritual discipline. I will do this by organizing my comments based on three questions that every version of psychoanalysis explicitly or implicitly attempts to answer.
- (1) What is the Buberian/Marcelian version of the world, their spiritual conception of the human condition? What are the central problematics that the individual struggles with within a larger social context?
- (2) In light of this conception of the human condition, how is individual psychopathology' (or problems in living) understood?
- (3) How does this conception of the human condition inform this type of clinical psychoanalysis as it attempts to alleviate individual psychopathology?
Buber and Marcel on the human condition
While Buber and Marcel differ in aspects of their accounts on a number of points, especially in the mind of the specialist, there is astonishing similarity in terms of the main thrust of their thought: Buber and Marcel “together have walked a remarkably similar path,” largely because they were both profoundly religious scholars (Wood, 1999, pp. 83, 94). In fact, Wood reports that Marcel told Paul Ricoeur that his entire oeuvre was a “generalization of his Christian faith,” that his views on Christian existence and human existence were not plausibly separated as they reflected his perspective on artful living. Buber famously drew from Hassidic intraworldly mysticism, hallowing the everyday, as one of the touchstones of his general philosophy (ibid., p. 83). In fact, Buber noted that what was Jewish and most profoundly human were the same: “The most deep-seated humanity of our soul and its most deep-seated Judaism mean and desire the same thing” (1967a, p. 55). While my intention is not to convert the reader into a Judeo-Christian outlook and way of being-in-the-world, I do want to characterize the philosophical anthropology of these two dialogical personalist philosophers, for they have a version of the human condition, or at least a sensibility, that strikes me as not only summoning to the believer and non-believer, but possibly useful to psychoanalysis conceived as a spiritual discipline. While there have been some laudable attempts to mainly correlate (and compare and contrast) Jewish philosophy and Christian narrative into contemporary relational psychoanalysis (Hoffman, 2011; Oppenheim, 2017), my effort is focused more on how to integrate into mainstream psychoanalysis some of the insights of Buber and Marcel, one a Jewish and the other a Christian believing humanist (Ricoeur called Marcel’s outlook “biblical” (Sweetman, 201 l,p. 155)), such that a spiritual dimension of psychoanalysis can be nurtured and put into sharper focus. It is up to the reader to decide if any of these insights are theoretically and clinically useful.
A philosophical anthropology has been defined by a Buberian scholar as “the study of man’s essential nature” (Wheelwright, 1967, p. 70) and by a Marcelian scholar as “what being human means” (O’Malley, 1984, p. 275). Both of these near-identical definitions assume that “wholeness and uniqueness” as they are manifested in participation in the immediacy of experience are central to understanding what being human means, that is, when later reflected upon once one has some critical distance (Friedman, 1996, p. 16). In fact, both Buber and Marcel recognize that we can only know the human and divine other through encounter, the immediacy of the present, though we are also geared to critically interpret the experience after (e.g., Marcel’s primary and secondary reflection, problem solving and engaged encounter respectively). “Wholeness and uniqueness” for Buber is viewed in terms of the I-Thou relation as the gateway to the Eternal Thou, while for Marcel it is linked to the mystery of being, in contrast to the idea of problem (Wood, 1999, p. 83). Of course, while the claim that there is an “essential nature” of “what being human means” is a debatable one—given Foucault and other postmodern arguments that what constitutes “essential” and “human” has varied over time depending on who is making the judgment, that is, it depends on the episteme one is lodged in, the socio-intellectual reality,2—the fact is that Buber and Marcel do put forth in a highly sophisticated manner a narrative of the human condition that they believe is phenomenologically compelling and provides insights into what many believe “really matters” as one attempts to fashion a flourishing life in our “broken world,” as Marcel called it (2008)3—that is, our world, where one’s autonomy, integration, and humanity are blunted if not subverted by a society that is characterized by technomania, atomization, collectivization, pervasive anonymous bureaucracy, overreliance on so-called experts, a totalitarian potential, and the nuclear self-destructive possibility. Buber too decried the hierarchic and instrumental character of contemporary economic and political systems. For example, capitalist individualism potentiated egoism and narcissism and diminished collective solidarity, while bureaucratic state socialism diminished individual freedom and autonomy in favor of state power. In both instances, Buber saw the personification of I-It relationships, such that citizens were taken advantage of as a way to enhance individual and governmental wealth and power. Moreover, neither system cultivated the spiritual yearnings of individuals to hallow their everyday encounters with theThou’s who composed their communities (Baron, 1996, pp. 249, 250).
For Buber and Marcel, man is not conceptualized as a material entity or substance, but always in relation (i.e., a self-in-relation), and what characterizes this relation is an issue that both have tried to describe from a variety of points of view. Moreover, while both Buber and Marcel valued the rational faculty, they did not make this feature what defines the main thrust of human existence, for both philosophers were interested in man as he resides in the specific totality of circumstances, “the wholeness of man” (Buber, 1965, p. 123) and “being-in-a-situation” (Marcel, 2001, p. 139), as Buber and Marcel respectively described it. Clarifying some of these dynamic interactions was what mattered most to them, for it pointed to something “more,” “higher,” and “better” that could facilitate the best of human moral/ethical potential. It should also be mentioned that both Buber and Marcel’s philosophical anthropology can be bracketed from their philosophy of religion, at least technically speaking (Friedman, 1986, p. 52). However, they both were believers (especially in their believing openness), and the eternal and Absolute Thou are embedded in their accounts of what it means to be a “whole, real man” and “homo viator” (itinerant being), as Buber (1965, p. 123) and Marcel (1965b) respectively characterized it. I will also treat this so-called religious/spiritual dimension as crucial to grasping their version of the human condition, and what it may usefully suggest to psychoanalysis.
Buber’s philosophical anthropology hinges on his supposition of there being a “twofold principle of human life” (1998, p. 54), two movements between people, distance/detachment and relation/encounter. “The primal setting at a distance” (ibid., p. 50), as Buber calls it, refers to the individualized human capacity to view the other from afar as an independent, separate entity (unlike instinct-driven animals): “Distance provides the human situation” (ibid., p. 54). The second movement is “entering into relation” (ibid., p. 50): “Relation provides man’s becoming in that situation” (ibid., 54).The I-It relation emanates from distance: it is one that is never spoken with the whole being, it is the relation of experiencing/using/knowing, it is situated in space/time, it is singular/one-sided (monological), it is controlling and affirms the subject-object duality. The I-Thou relation emanates from the relation: It is spoken solely with the whole being, it is an event/happening, it is spaceless/timeless, it is mutual/ two-sided (dialogical), yielding and affirms interhuman betweenness (Kramer & Gawlick, 2003,p. 18). Buber also believed in“human nature”as characterized by “goodness” and “badness,” conceived as directions not substances, what he called “polar reality” (Anderson & Cissna, 1997, p. 82). Such a polarity is characterized by “direction-aimlessness, yes-no, acceptance-refusal,” the therapeutic goal being to strengthen the goodness and diminish the badness: “Man as man can be redeemed,” said Buber (ibid.), for evil is a function of estrangement from the realm of I-Thou as a not-yet actualized possibility (“not-yet-being into being” (Buber, 1964, p. 85)).
For Buber, what constitutes the best of being human (what analysts might think of as requiring, for example, robust autonomy, integration, and humanity) is actualizing the innate capacity (the “inborn Thou,” the drive for relation) to confirm a fellow person. Remember that for Buber only a “person” can enter into an I-Thou relation (whole, unique, and unified subject-to-subject), while an “individual” resides in an I-It relation (subject to object).4 Confirmation means assuming a particular kind of existential orientation when face-to-face with another person, affirming, accepting, and supporting his wholeness and uniqueness, including challenging him when required. As Buber noted, “Man wishes to be confirmed in his being by man, and wishes to have a presence in the being of the other. The human person needs confirmation because man as man needs it” (Agassi, 1999, p. 16). “Making present” is Bubers evocative phrase for such mutual confirmation. It has been defined as concretely imagining what another person is wishing, feeling, perceiving, and thinking. In this form of engagement, each person perceives the other as an independent self, one who was once distant “from me” but cannot be dissociated from my distance “from him,” and whose specific experience I am now willing and able to actualize, that is, make present. Such an event is only ontologically culminated when both persons intuit their inmost development of the self, a kind of self-becoming that has been potentiated through I-Thou dialogue (Friedman, 1986, p. 55).
As Buber and Marcel have noted, when such a meeting between two persons happens, they reside in a common existential realm that also is beyond their personal realm, what they call the “between,” the interhuman (Buber) or intersubjective (Marcel). For Buber and Marcel, the between denotes the realm where real meeting occurs, primary togetherness, vital reciprocity, unforgettable common potentiation, and mutual bonding (Kramer & Gawlick, 2003, p. 24).5 While it is tempting to reduce such meeting to mere psychological categories, both Buber and Marcel emphasize that the psychological or subjective experience does not constitute the I-Thou dialogue (whether spoken in words or silence), rather, it is correlated with it, or attends it. Buber calls this genuine dialogue “experiencing the other side” and “imagining the real” (different than psychoanalytic empathy, as I pointed out elsewhere), to emphasize that it is “making the other present” that is its ontological culmination. It is characterized by implementing “inclusion,” imagining and embracing what the other person is feeling, thinking, and experiencing without relinquishing one’s felt reality regarding what one is doing, actualizing the others wholeness and uniqueness and regarding the other person as completely meaningful on his own terms (ibid., pp. 194—195).
Such a way of being-in-the-world demands responsibility and conscience. Friedman defines Buberian responsibility as “the response of the whole person to what addresses her in the lived concrete. The ‘ought’ must be bought back to lived life ... from where it swings in the empty air” (i.e.,no moral code can be judged credible prior to specific circumstances (1992, p. 47)). Like Levinas (and Marcel), for Buber egoism and altruism are comparable acts of the ego, self, or soul that arise “posterior to responsibility and the call of the other or the Thou-saying to the other”6; that is, the ethical relation is not simply a question of being selfcentric or selfless, rather it arises “in the presence of the other” (Lipari, 2004, p. 130). In fact, Buber describes a responsible person as “one who addresses me primarily, that is, from a realm independent of myself, and to whom I am answerable” (1965, p. 45).7
An evolved conscience “is the voice which calls one to fulfill the personal intention of being for which he was created” (Friedman, 1986, p. 57), that is, what he judges to be the “core” or “essential” beliefs and values of what he is as a whole, unique, and ethically inspired person. As Buber notes:
The finger I speak of is just that of the “conscience,” but not of the routine conscience, which is to be used, is being used and worn out, the play-on-the-surface conscience [the super-ego?], with whose discrediting they thought to have abolished the actuality of man’s positive answer.
Rather, says Buber, “I point to the unknown conscience in the ground of being, which needs to be discovered ever anew, the conscience of the ‘spark,’ for the genuine spark is effective also in the single composure of each genuine decision” (1965, p. 69). Such a view of conscience means that the person has to choose “to be true to himself,” in his wholeness, uniqueness, and ethicality, or he is susceptible to guilt, or even worse, a sense of humiliation that he is not the person he thought he was. Moreover, this process occurs not so much in oneself but through the other, in a manner that points to God.This is the moment when Buber’s philosophical anthropology and philosophical theology (his philosophy of religion) are “mutually implicative” (Wheelwright, 1967, p. 86). As Friedman notes, “Ethical decision, for Buber, is thus both the current decision about the immediate situation that confronts one and, through this, the decision with one’s whole being for God” (1986, p. 57). Exactly how one knows what one’s destiny is, how one will authentically8 fulfill the goal of creation in the direction of God, is not known by reference to an abstract, universal ethical system—and there, of course, lies the rub. For a person can engage in what some may judge as evil actions and still judge himself to be “true to himself,” whole and unique and God-animated (e.g., Islamic terrorists).Thus,Buber (and Marcel) suggests that any concretely workable philosophical anthropology has to reference descriptive and positive normative considerations about what man is and “ought” to become. Both Buber and Marcel were not relativists (or skeptics) as usually understood. Marcel, for example, showed that secondary reflection (engaged participation in thought) permitted a modicum of rational, objective accessibility to the domain of personal experience, and he asserted that these deep experiences like faith, fidelity, hope, and love are objective in the sense they were the same for all human beings, and therefore he (like Buber) rejected relativism and subjectivism regarding experience (Sweetman, 2008). As I have said, both Buber and Marcel are allied with a believing humanism (“the humanism of the life of dialogue” (Friedman, 1967, p. 23)) lodged in a Judeo-Christian outlook and ethics, the latter being similar (despite obvious differences) to the morally and ethically “best” of all of the major religions and spiritualities associated with the Axial Age (a broadly described virtue ethics that emphasizes moral character) (Marcus, 2019).
Marcel’s version of the human condition, “man as he really is” (O’Malley, 1984 p. 276), is encapsulated in his notion of man as homo viator. A homo viator, a spiritual wanderer, is someone who is mindfully open to the mysterious in himself and in others—ready, receptive, responsive, and responsible— to participate in the variety of enigmatic, transgressive, and transfiguring sacred presences in the world. At the center of the human condition is an “ontological exigence,” a yearning for transcendence, which is manifest in all authentic living. This is “the exigence to penetrate to a level saturated with meaning and value,” such as through faith, fidelity, hope, joy, and love (when phenomenologically grasped from within the present), that points to an “eternal fulfilling Presence,” the empirical and Absolute Thou (Keen, 1967b, p. 155). As Marcel says,“We do not belong to ourselves: this is certainly the sum and substance, if not wisdom, of any spirituality worthy of the name” (1962, p. xiv). In other words, for Marcel, the soul or spirit of a person searches for those sacred presences that animate the world, but only if he is open to them with the fullness of his whole being: “All spiritual life is essentially dialogue,” where the self and other meet in intimacy and involvement (1952, p. 137) That is, “The relationship that can be said to be spiritual is that of being with being ... What really matters is spiritual commerce between beings, and that involves not respect but love” (ibid., p. 211). What Marcel seems to be implying is that he is less a philosopher of the person or the personality as conventionally understood than of the personal; that is, the person is always in a shared situation, one of freedom to engage (i.e., “availability,” Bubers relation) or disengage (i.e., “unavailability,” Bubers distance) (O’Malley, 1984, p. 279).
Marcels version of the human condition includes, for example, the key concepts of being and having, mystery and problem, primary and secondary reflection, and his phenomenological investigation of the concrete experiences that access being, that of faith, fidelity, hope, and love. While I have detailed these concepts in previous chapters, I do want to briefly remind the reader how these notions are interrelated, interdependent, and interactive, and point to what characterizes the homo viator, the human condition as Marcel describes it.
Being and having are philosophical clarifications that have bearing on a range of everyday human experiences, such as incarnation or human embodiment, intersubjectivity (Bubers interhuman),and what constitutes the person as uniquely human.'1 Marcel claimed that a persons connection to his own body is not one of common “possession,” as if he owns his body the way he owns, for example, an inanimate object. Rather than say “I have a body,” it is more correct or at least plausible to say, “I am my body.” Freud famously said that “the ego is first and foremost a bodily ego” (1923, p. 26), that the ego originally emanates from bodily sensations, including, as others have pointed out, nursing and the avoidance of hunger, leading Freud to assume that bodily tension was the central motivational principle (although relational analysts have reinterpreted the aforementioned in terms of object-related fantasies). Marcel’s point about the original, admittedly ambiguous connection to the body is that one cannot view one’s body as a mere object, as if it were a problem to be solved, since the logical and emotional detachment that is necessary to do so cannot be easily accomplished (think of the difference between the way a surgeon relates to your extreme abdominal pain and you do). Indeed, the instant I judge my body as an object, it ceases being experienced as “my body,” because the character of conceptual thought necessitates detachment from the object under investigation. That is, at the moment my body becomes “a body,” it is viewed instrumentally and functionally. A body can be viewed both ways: as “my body” and as “a body.” For example, although a leg may have been amputated, I am still “me,” but “my body” qua object is different. Moreover, when my body is related to as “a body,” I am unable to judge my bodily experiences as the totality of circumstances of my life (something personal, “me,” is missing).
It is within this context that Marcel distinguishes having and being, two modes of relating to things and people (similar to Buber’s I-It and I-Thou). “Having” occurs when we possess objects, it demands analysis and detachment from the self (e.g., Freuds “blank screen” so-called objective/neutral listening orientation), and aims for conceptual, abstract, and intellectual mastery and universal solutions (similar to Bubers I-It attitude). “Having” typically pertains to utterly external matters, and it suggests that one can dispose of things and assimilate otherness into its preexistent, familiar categories (we are “unavailable” in Marcel’s language). Marcel is aware that such an attitude has its constructive role in how one relates to human beings, at least in certain instrumental contexts (e.g., the aforementioned surgeon operating on a patient), but it is, in general, fundamentally a degradation of the character of the aspiring self, and to the extent that one relates to humans as possessions, one faces catastrophic ramifications (e.g., “I have a wife whom I inadvertently treat like an object” versus “I cherish my wife whom I love”). In contrast, the realm ofbeing is one in which experience is unified/integrated prior to conceptual analysis, in which the person engages reality in terms of presence and participation and has access to experiences that are subsequently diminished, if not misrepresented in terms of abstract thought. As we have seen in the last chapter, a simple example of the difference between having something and being something concerns an issue of great significance when it comes to say effectively responding to suffering; that is, one does not “have” hope or a redemptive belief amidst captivity, one “is” hope or such a belief. The mode of self-relation distinguishing these two attitudes prompts one to act less versus more active in terms of motivation and praxis.
In an attempt to further elaborate having and being, Marcel provides another seminal distinction, that of problem (the having mode, calling to mind I-It) and mystery (the being mode, calling to mind I-Thou), which are accessed through two kinds of critical reflection, primary and secondary. Primary reflection is problem-solving cognition, using “abstraction, objectification and verification,” whereas secondary reflection seeks a broader, deeper, and altogether richer comprehension of the meaning and value of human existence “by a return to the unity of experience” (Keen, 1967a, pp. 18,22). As Marcel points out, secondary reflection is not focused on things but on presences, and its contemplation does not start “with curiosity or doubt” as does primary reflection, but rather with “wonder and astonishment”; therefore,“it is humble in its willingness to be conformed to categories crafted that on which it is focused. It remains open to its object as a lover does to his beloved—not as a specimen of a class but as a unique being” (Keen, 2006, p. 701).
In other words, secondary reflection is the best way to illuminate the inner depths of personal experience, to access the self when it is approached as mystery. A mystery, says Marcel, “is something in which I am myself involved, and it can therefore only be thought of as a sphere where the distinction between what is in me and what is before me loses its meaning and its initial validity” (Marcel, 1965a, p. 117). Marcel’s claim, which I still think is extremely relevant, is that most of the time we are lodged in primary reflection (e.g., Buber’s I-It) and miss out on the existential benefits of secondary reflection (Buber’s I-Thou), which refers to what is best about being uniquely human, such as faith, fidelity, hope, and love. For example, what philosophers of religion call the problem of evil, reconciling the omnipotent God with the existence of evil, relies on primary reflection and is thus geared to providing a universal objective solution; the question of how people make their personal suffering sufferable (how it deeply “cuts” into them and they still press forward) requires secondary reflection. Put succinctly, for Marcel and other existential thinkers, experience is both temporally and ontologically prior to reflection, though it is secondary reflection that follows primary reflection, such as in making suffering sufferable and the problem of evil. This being said, what Marcel was aiming for was an objective (or quasi-objective) rendering of the structures of human existence by describing common existentially compelling personal experiences accessed through secondary reflection.
As Marcel states, his “concrete” philosophy was aimed at “restoring the ontological weight to human experience” (1965a, p. 103), to encourage people to engage their personal existence as they relate to being at large, a form of life that honors both the visible and invisible presences in the world. For example, “availability,” when manifested as fidelity, is a total commitment to the best interests of the other, implying a downward modification of one’s narcissism (e.g., a self without an ego). In relationship to God, it transforms into faith; and availability in the face of suffering can become hope. For Marcel, one becomes most fully an authentic “I,” most compassionately human (serving/ sacrificing) through one’s loving relationship with a Thou. Thus, intersubjectivity personifies Marcel’s outlook on the human condition, it is the “realm of existence to which the preposition with properly applies,” a relation that “really does bind” and brings “us together to the ontological level, that is qua beings” (2001a,pp. 178,180—181). Marcel thus mainly understands and describes being in terms of intersubjectivity, the opposite of self-centeredness, such as faith, fidelity, hope, and love, the capacity for “openness to others,” and “to welcome them without being effaced by them” (Marcel, 1973, p. 39). In his view, intersubjectivity is the prerequisite of human awareness, while communion, that mode of engagement that facilitates a sense of deep emotional and spiritual closeness, that is also profoundly creative (as it demands emotional/intellectual engagement) and transforms and enhances both people, is the form that an authentic life takes (Keen, 1967a, pp. 28—29).
Finally, like Buber, Marcel had significant religious aspect to his philosophical anthropology that affirmed the experience of the Absolute Thou (again for Marcel, experience, secondary reflection trumps primary reflection, intel-lectualizing, in matters of faith). Whether it is faith, fidelity, hope, or love, these ways of accessing being are best grasped by referencing a transcendent reality, an infinite being. The Absolute Thou (of which God is the symbol, as is Buber’s eternal Thou) is the transcendent reality' that the spiritual aspirant makes an unconditional promise to, an existential commitment that apprehends and intuits that while it includes his own personal efforts, it ultimately emanates from and is affirmed through the Absolute Thou. In this context, life is regarded as a “gift” of divine grace (a “blessing,” as the believer might say), one that one is dutybound to uphold through striving for holiness, especially' in being other-directed, other-regarding, and other-serving in the deepest and most expansive manner possible. This is opposite, says Marcel, to viewing life through the lens of the broken world, where pessimism, cynicism, and nihilism make it feel like a “dirty'joke” (Sweetman, 2011, p. 119).
To summarize, both Buber and Marcel, qua dialogical personalist philosophers, appear to be emphasizing some of the following features of the human condition as they conceive it.
- 1. Both philosophers believe that the human cast of the mind is fundamentally' spiritual. That is, it aspires to “something more,” “something higher,” and “something better,” what can be called transcendence, which references a transcendent realm and/or infinite being, the intuitively felt presence of the eternal or Absolute Thou. The essential aspect of the eternal/Absolute Thou (and of others and the world) cannot be known, it is inexpressible, and what matters most is He can be addressed in dialogue. In this process, human subjectivity, or at least a particular form of subjectivity, is transcended.
- 2. Both philosophers focus on “the wholeness of one’s being and the wholeness of what is,” that is, it is the “lived sense of the whole itself” as opposed to the abstract, fragmentary conceptual conundrums of conventional philosophy (and, in some instances, psychoanalysis) that matters most (Wood, 1999, p. 83).Their focus was more on praxis or practical wisdom for life and less on a philosophical superstructure to buttress it.
- 3. Both philosophers emphasize the centrality of dialogue with the Thou, whether formulated in terms of Buber’s 1-Thou or Marcel’s mystery' of being, which occurs in relation to a Thou. I—It relations are analogous to Marcel’s problem, while I-Thou is analogous to his mystery (though Marcel used I-It, that is “I and a he,” and I-Thou terms (Keen, 1967a, p. 29)); they represent two way's of relating to others and the world and imply a non-self-centric mode of self-relation. The overarching goal of the Thou relation is the transformation of one’s entire outlook and behavior, one’s way of being-in-the-world. It requires will, that is, openness and intention, and grace, the uncoerced openness of the other. This is an improvised openness that can be described as mysteriously divinely inspired (Buber) and availability (Marcel), for “Thou-ism” to become dispositional. Feelings always attend to or accompany every Thou but do not define or constitute the meeting. Feelings are ways of participating with and in the other. They accompany faith, fidelity, hope, and love, as well as uplifting responses to the beauty' and power of nature that Buber and Marcel appreciated and described in their writings on “Thou-ism.” “Love,” say's Buber, is “responsibility of an I for a Thou” (1958, pp. 14-15); it always occurs between an I and a Thou and is not something that one simply' feels in one’s mind. For Marcel, “To say that one loves a being ... means ... Thou, at least, thou shalt not die,” and “I love less for my own sake, than for what I can hope to obtain from another, and more for the sake of the other” (Marcel, 2001a, pp. 98,61).
- 4. Both philosophers were worried that the “It” mode has become the dominating way of relation, in part, potentiated by' the hyper-scientific/techno-logical world we reside in, that while having its helpful and necessary role in everyday existence, has brought on extreme alienation, dis-ease, and contributed to the general sense of being “under siege.” As Buber noted, “Without It man cannot live. But he who lives with It alone is not a man” (1958, p. 34).
- 5. Both philosophers emphasize the intuitively felt presence of mystery. Any Thou, including the eternal and Absolute Thou, is a sensed Presence in the here-and-now and not content or substance, analogous to listening to music or, metaphorically, perceiving a light that becomes more intense and radiant. For the homo viator, transcendence pursues hope and rebirth as it intuits mystery', something eternal, some infinite dimension, below the surface of everyday' reality, that becomes the existential basis for justifying his way of being-in-the-world (i.e., a life devoted to holiness, as Buber and Marcel would describe it).
- 6. Both philosophers are deeply committed to a set of valuative attachments as manifesting what they regard as the “best” of being human. Put differently, they believe there is a perpetual and everlasting structure of value intrinsic in the universe, which has an objective presence if accessed using secondary reflection, as Marcel called it. Buber and Marcel emphasize the acknowledgment of radical alterity, or otherness, as a prerequisite of any Thou-ism. What sounds obvious to most thoughtful people today, that notwithstanding differences in individual outlook, beliefs and values, and historical situatedness, Buber and Marcel (and of course Levinas) affirm the significance of the existential reality that the other, qua other, is not me. In other words, for Buber and Marcel, any dialogue between two people, or with an inanimate object, animal, and with God, must recognize in what manner the otherness of the other is manifested. The goal is simply to appreciate the unique otherness of the other without assigning our own meaning/understanding onto and into them and never to strive in other ways to assimilate or appropriate the other into ourselves (Lipari, 2004, p. 128). A lot easier said than done!10
- 7. As the aforementioned quotations from Buber and Marcel on love indicate, the emphasis in their outlooks is on recognizing and affirming the others otherness, and thus they both imply that a downward modification of individual narcissism and egocentricity is a prerequisite for autonomous, integrated, and humane existence (ibid., p. 129). In fact, Buber and Marcel suggest that the I become a whole, unique, and unified self only in relation to the other. “All real living is meeting,” Buber says (1958, p. 11), while Marcel declares,“All spiritual life is essentially dialogue” (1952, p. 137).
- 8. As the aforementioned quotations on love as responsibility suggest, Buber and Marcel put an emphasis on ethical obligation to the other (Lipari, 2004, p. 129). As Wood noted, for Buber (but also for Marcel), ethics was situational, though both thinkers make references to an “absolute principle”: “The principle is the integrity, i.e., the undividedness, both the self and the Other, which must be established and preserved in every situation” (and this means being attuned to manifestations of the Thou) (Wood, 1969, p. 103). Buber claimed that the “task of human life is not to become ‘good’ but to become ‘holy,’ i.e., really related to the transcendent Thou,” which implies living the good (ibid., p. 104). Marcel concurs; he believed that man was created in the image of God (hence, our duty is to imitate God), and this means he has an essential dignity, that is, the sacred is “the mysterious principle at the heart of human dignity” (1963, p. 128). Indeed, “integrity and dignity are terms which, though not identical, are indissolubly linked” (ibid., p. 162). Both Buber and Marcel were devoted in their own unique ways to strongly felt, flexibly and creatively applied, transcendentpointing moral beliefs and values that are primarily other-directed, other-regarding, and other-serving, as the “royal road” to holiness. Such an outlook and behavior is not only a conscious valuative commitment, but it always emerges within the intersubjective realm, a situation that demands context-dependent, setting-specific, attuned responsivity to the other’s otherness. Probably before Levinas, Marcel declared that the other’s death matters more than his own: “[T|he consideration of one’s own death is surpassed by the consideration of the death of a loved one ... the only thing worth preoccupying either one of us was the death of someone we loved” (1973, p. 131)/
- 9. Both Buber and Marcel describe language not so much in instrumental, pragmatic, communicative terms, but, says Buber, “The mystery of the coming-to-be of language and that of the coming-to-be of man are one” (Agassi, 1999, p. 154). In other words, communication via language is responsible responding, Marcelian availability to presence, a worldconstruction with the other (the “between”), one that tends to be affectintegrating, meaning-giving, and action-guiding. The act of speaking, of opening oneself to the others otherness (to address God/man, which is presence-animated), is different than the instrumental, pragmatic substance of speech (to express, which is content-animated).Thus, self-becoming and world-construction occur to the extent that one is ready, reactive, responsive, and responsible with the fullness of one’s whole being to the others otherness (Lipari, 2004, p. 131).
Put succinctly, for Buber and Marcel, their roughly similar concept of the person is that he is a homo viator, a spiritual wanderer or itinerant being who longs for the immanent, unique, unprecedented, and singular Thou. He engages in a groping, ambiguous search towards the light. Moreover, every particular I-Thou encounter points to an all-embracing transcendence (a transsubjective reality that is discovered/encountered, not created), an ineffable, inexhaustible, glimpsed Presence (the eternal/Absolute Thou) apprehended and intuited with our being, not our mind’s eye (a “blinded intuition” says Marcel), which completes, consummates, and existentially grounds the specific I-Thou encounter (Kaufman, 1992, p. 68). Thus, for Buber and Marcel, the most impressive instantiation of “Thou-ism” as dispositional, as a way of being-in-the-world, is holiness (the restoration of the sacred in everyday life in harmony with the lived Presence, in affinity with eternity). That is, an orientation towards life that is infused with a form of ethicality, an outlook and behavior that are centrally animated by other-directed, other-regarding, and other-serving considerations as well as praiseworthy virtue ethics.11 As Marcel noted, “Philosophically, the road to the other leads through the depths within myself” (O’Malley, 1984, p. 281), and amidst this self-exploration and lived existence much can go painfully astray, our next topic.