Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

Reply to “Making Yourself Indispensable”

In Friendship on August 12, 2018 at 2:17 pm

German Philosopher Josef Pieper, photo: Voegelin ViewIt seems prudent enough that we should seek to make ourselves “indispensable” in our workplace if we are leaders or aspiring to be. However, this type of prudence is the Modern sense of the word, a sort of fierce Machiavellian self-interest in one’s own good. Such a prudence is erroneous. Although in their article from Harvard Business Review On Point, authors John H. Zenger, Joseph R. Folkman and Scott K. Edinger articulate mellifluously the leadership qualities of outstanding leaders, the article only lightly discusses an essential behavior to “develop others,” which they disappointingly term as a “complementary behavior.”

Develop Others

Leadership is taking the time to specifically mentor, person by person, the next generation of future leaders. Developing others is the most important trait of any leader, making him – you guessed it – dispensable. Dispensable, for the good of those who have to follow him and the organization itself. That is prudence. According to the late professor of the University of Munster in Germany, Josef Pieper, “Only by means of this perfected ability to make good choices are instinctive inclinations toward goodness exalted into the spiritual core of man’s decisions, from which truly human acts arise.”(The Four Cardinal Virtues. p.7) Erroneously, the “prudent” corporate leader might think that what makes him indispensable is his instinctual ability to survive the storms at the top. However, what the proper, prudent leader has done, over the years, is to actively train his subordinates in his multifarious tasks. The truly prudent leader’s survival at the top would not be the result of his dogged self-interested positioning, but rather he would be sustained by the very subordinates he so loyally developed to move up to the next level; from them would come that continued support for his continued leadership.

Become an Expert

We’ve all heard the aphorism, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” What the article’s authors clearly point out is that you have to be extremely good, not just at something, but at some things. The authors say, “What makes leaders indispensable to their organizations…is not being good at many things but being uniquely outstanding at a few.”(p.31) The indispensable leader goes from “good to great” by raising his competency levels in several core leadership categories rather than many. The way one does this is by identifying one’s strengths and then “focus on a competency that matters to the organization and about which they feel some passion…”(p.32) Everyone can get passionate about the good qualities of other people.

It is the role of the leader, the executive, the manager, “to know his self,” his strengths and weaknesses very well. But it is equally important that he also reach out to others helping them identify and develop their own strengths. The biggest take away of the article is that “…Assertiveness is among the behaviors that when paired with honesty and integrity correlate most strongly with high levels of overall leadership effectiveness.””We don’t mean to imply a causal relationship here: Assertiveness doesn’t make someone honest, and integrity doesn’t produce assertiveness.”(p.32) Only the truly prudent leader who seeks to develop others so they can reach their maximum potential will be heard, effective and remembered.

True Prudence Is Necessary for Success

It is wise to be prudent. As Pieper says, “Prudence is needed if man is to carry through his impulses and instincts for right acting, if he is to purify his naturally good predispositions and make them into real virtue, that is, into the truly human mode of “perfected ability.” (p.7) The self-forgetful person is the prudent leader who privately works with many people to build them up, helping them to find their passion in their work and in their life outside of work. As the authors say, “…if a highly principled leader learned to become more assertive, he might be more likely to speak up and act with the courage of his convictions, thus applying his strength more widely or frequently to become a more effective leader.”(p. 30) Assertiveness, yes, but coupled with humility, this is the foundation an emotionally intelligent person needs for success with others. As one great philosopher said, “Prudence is the “measure” of justice, of fortitude, of temperance.” (p.7) The truly prudent leader knows the truth, that he is not indispensable, and the mark of his leadership is revealed by the success of those who succeed him.


“Love Builds Up”​ from Soren Kierkegaard

In Friendship on November 12, 2017 at 8:06 am
We’ve all had experiences of getting annoyed by people around us, whether at home or at work. And, we’ve probably come across some of the popular leadership notions that if we claim to be an “emotionally intelligent” leader, then we have to have a “positive attitude.” Well, Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, had a jump start on emotional intelligence theory when he philosophized that the real source of a “positive attitude” is an ethic of love taken personally in our everyday dealings with other people, in his Works of Love (Trans. by Howard and Edna Hong, Harper Perennial:New York. 2009).

Love Builds Up

If we find ourselves annoyed by a co-worker or a family member, first we should look at ourselves and ponder it. By contrast, Kierkegaard says, “If any person has ever spoken to you in such a way or acted toward you in such a way that you really felt yourself built up, it was because you quite vividly perceived that he presupposed love to be present in you.”(p.210) Perhaps that annoying family member or colleague is the very person that needs your mentorship. Perhaps, their annoyance is really a cry for help or friendship from you or others you can put them in touch with. Kierkegaard continues, “Love builds up by presupposing that love is fundamentally present”(p.208). If we do as Kierkegaard suggests, and assume some level of love for my co-worker or my family member, then it is that very assumption, that very ‘leap of love,’ which now becomes the basis for a relationship in the first place. However, what if we don’t care about that relationship or we’ve come to just plain distrust another’s motives? Then, Kierkegaard says, “Mistrust takes the very ground-level away by presupposing that love is not present; therefore mistrust cannot build up.” (p.209) We are at our worst, even unbalanced, when we are critical of others or purposefully annoying them. Kierkegaard advises, “To tear down is the opposite of building up…Only too easily does tearing down satisfy the sensual man.”(p.208) We cannot help someone we don’t trust or don’t forgive;we certainly cannot lead them, because it would be very hard to have a “positive attitude” with someone whom we have no basis for a relationship.


The Emotionally Intelligent Person “Builds Up”

We can make a connection from Kierkegaard’s thought to modern leadership theory. According to Dr Travis Bradberry, author of Leadership 2.0 (TalentSmart:San Diego, 2012) he says, “Self-awareness is a foundational skill: when you have it, self-awareness makes the other emotional intelligence skills much easier…as self-awareness increases, people’s satisfaction with life–defined as their ability to reach their goals at work and at home–skyrockets.”(p. 135) Bradberry says, if we have personal competence, then we’ll have the social competence necessary to improve relationships. Why do we need to improve relationships? If we are annoyed by someone at home or at work, that should be a pretty good indicator that that relationship needs some work. According to Peter F. Drucker, in his “Managing Yourself” article from Harvard Business Review (Harvard Business Review Press.:Boston, Massachusetts. 2010), he says, “Managing yourself requires taking responsibility for relationships…the first [responsibility] is to accept the fact that other people are as much individuals as you yourself are…”and, “the second part of relationship responsibility is taking responsibility for communication.”(p.27) All individuals are unique. As the German philosopher Max Scheler says, “Humans are ‘world-open'” and not simply “beings-in-the-world,” but spiritual beings who can make their own judgements, even beyond the cosmos and themselves (The Human Place in the Cosmos. Trans. by Manfred S. Frings. Northwestern University Press: Evanston, Illinois. 2009). Scheler says, “…only the human being is able to soar far above his status as a living entity and, from a center beyond the spatio-temporal world, make everything the object of his knowledge, including himself.”(p.33) Given this perspective, we should have some pause if we have a tendency to stereotype others, at home or at work, and realize their individuality is as profound as ours. Given what Drucker said earlier, “taking responsibility for communication,” can be seen as building others up as well. We need to communicate our intentions frequently and that will convey our genuine concern for them. As Dr. Bradberry says, “Let your people know that you are looking to help them advance their careers by fully capitalizing on their strengths and stretching their knowledge and skills.”(p.246) Love builds up by communicating.


Love As The Foundation of Everything Good

Kierkegaard’s philosophy of love draws from 1 Corinthians 8-13. He comments on the famous 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient,” by this it builds up, for patience specifically means perseverance in presupposing that love is fundamentally present.”(p.208) Patience with someone who annoys you at work or at home is to think continually the best about that person, to not give up on them, to persevere in seeking and finding their good qualities, as difficult as that may seem sometimes. Perhaps one may even, at some point tell them, at the right time, those qualities that you appreciate about them. Kierkegaard continues, “Love bears all things,” for what is it to bear all things but in the long run to find in everything the love which is fundamentally presupposed.”(p.209) As a leader, at home or at work, according to Dr Bradberry, “You become the mechanism by which your organization [or family] breathes life and connects with its people.””Every day you balance being human (talented and flawed) with serving as the most visible vessel for the organization.”(p.205) Leaders have to sacrifice and bear all things.

Kierkegaard regards the penultimate example of this “building up” to be the father of the prodigal son. He says, “In spite of the son’s misguided conduct there was no break on the father’s side…; he hoped all things; therefore he, in truth, built up through his fatherly forgiveness, since the son vividly grasped the fact that fatherly love had carried through with him and that there had been no break.”(p.209) Kierkegaard concludes that to love and to “build up” are essentially the same, if you love, you “build up” the other person; if you “build up” that other person, it is because you love them. He continues, “Love believes all things,” for to believe all things means precisely, even though love is not apparent, even though the opposite is seen, to presuppose that love is nevertheless present fundamentally, even in the misguided, even in the corrupt, even in the hateful.”(p.209) Acting this way is the foundation of trust, the foundation of love, the foundation to build upon. Kierkegaard, in his very Existentialist way, then says, “But what, then, is love?” “Love means to presuppose love; to have love means to presuppose love in others; to be loving means to presuppose that others are loving…Let us understand each other.” (p.211) Who will seek to understand the other if the leader does not?

Whomever seeks understanding is a leader, because he first “builds up.”

On Vocation from Emmauel Mounier

In Friendship on May 18, 2016 at 10:48 pm

mounier pic


Emmanuel Mounier, a famous French personalist philosopher of the early 20th century, declares that everyone can discover themselves anew, everyday if we would only take time to examine our lives.  Mounier shows that the discovery of one’s vocation is a daily effort and will continue for the rest of our lives.  He tells us that our lives are extremely unique, well worth living, and that its value grows as we concentrate our minds and contemplate in order to find, what he calls, that “secret voice” to guide our lives.  In his book, Personalism (University of Notre Dame Press. Notre Dame, Indiana. 1952) Emmanuel Mounier elaborates on how man’s search for meaning is unique for every person.

Our Vocation is Simple and Complex 

Mounier is very practical and real in his approach to self-discovery and one’s vocation. He says, “Surprises innumerable arise out of the abysses of the unconscious, out of the abysses of the super-conscious and out of the spontaneity of freedom, incessantly renewing the question of my identity.”  As a quintessential personalist, Mounier keeps the metaphysical questions personal, asking: Who am I? What am I doing? Where am I going?  How did I get here? In other words, it is good for us to reflect on our being as a person, and shed light on the reasons for our behavior and ideas.  Later, Mounier discusses how we might find ourselves getting all complicated about our vocation, “A person’s continual re-interpretation of his vocation is so incessantly disruptive of every short-term objective–his own interest, adaptation or success–that in this respect one might regard the person as arbitrariness itself, even though his ever action were one of commitment or devotion.”(p.42)

As an aside, here, we might think of the Existentialist Simone de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity, and how, in a certain sense Mounier similarly seems to be complaining about the seemingly ambiguous or seemingly arbitrariness of the circumstances of life.  Even though we might not know or understand the meaning of a moment or circumstance of our lives, it doesn’t mean that we will never know.  We don’t know in advance when we will know. So, we can hope that one day, if today we don’t understand something, we might be on the verge of knowing its meaning or it may be much later off, when we have the aid of other experiences in mind.  When Mounier points out the burden of the “continual re-interpretation of his vocation,” one might suppose that a consolation of this hardship might be the fact that everyone is regularly going through a process of self-discovery throughout life and we are the one’s to appreciate and sympathize with where our neighbor on her journey.  But, perhaps Mounier’s larger point is that our mind, our spirit, our heart, our soul, they are dynamic, they don’t rest, they’re not static and we should face that fact.  The question of our personal identity is continually carved out like a fine sculpture with all of our life’s experiences.  Yet, in spite of all of this unknowing, we can be sure of the reality that Mounier points out:  “But a personalist standpoint is sufficiently defined even in this thought–that the significance of every person is such that he is irreplaceable in the position he occupies in the world of persons.”(p.41)  We are where we are for a reason, and even though we might not immediately understand the immediate reason for where we are, we can take consolation in knowing that where we are no one else can be or would be if we weren’t there immediately, and that’s important.  So, the person checking out our groceries at the store, the fireman saving someone’s life, or the mother helping a child, everyone where ever they are can discover his vocation in exactly that spot-that brings meaning out of what appears arbitrary and ambiguous.

Mounier asks us to cherish the value of all persons.  He says, “Such is the majestic status of the person, endowing it with the dignity of a universe; and yet also its humility, for in this dignity each person is equivalent to every other, and persons are more numerous than the stars.” (p. 41)  According to the UCSB Science Line, there are billion trillion stars in the universe.  According to the BBC, about 107 Billion people have ever lived on earth.  One  might suppose that since both numbers are in the billions, Mounier is exaggerating and meaning to say, these figures are much more than any one person could ever count.As a personalist he is preferencing the importance of persons, who are the only beings who can give meaning to things in the first place.  Just as French philosopher Jacques Maritain says about the person, that he is a universe unto himself, here too similarly, Mounier reverences the value of the person as a “universe,” and the value of human life, its dignity. This value Christians too give the person because they “believe in the all-embracing appeal of one Person.”(p.41)  Even though the number of persons are numerous, in the world and throughout history, each person’s life is a separate history, a separate world with a universe of meaning that its each person freedom and duty to discover her ultimate meaning, her divine meaning, her greatest dignity, her vocation in life.

Mounier concludes appealing to the role of one’s vocation as manifested in the public realm.  He says, “Therefore, in questions of the collective life, personalism always gives the techniques of education and persuasion priority over the techniques of enforcement, diplomacy or deception; for man only works well when he is working with the whole of himself.””Unity in a world of persons cannot be obtained without diversity of vocations and authenticity of membership.”(p.42)  Here, Mounier is speaking for the whole school of personalism arguing that, institutionally, any collective body should use education and persuasion to aid individuals in the discovery of their vocation.  Their life’s vocation has to be freely chosen, in other words.  Here, Mounier encourages diversity and sincerity for those in public life, in their professional work and in their participation in civil society. In this way, he says, even though “It is approached by a long and difficult road…it should at least control our general directives for action.”(p.42)  We can see here that Mounier suggests that peace in the public realm comes from the internal peace in individuals through their ability to freely achieve her vocation personally and publicly.

On Autonomy, from Yves Simon

In Friendship on May 5, 2016 at 12:28 am


The latest ideas in the tech world involve autonomous gadgets.  If we think of self-driving cars, software that “learns,” et cetera, more and more, this trend of “autonomous technology” gives rise to the question: What is autonomy?  Before we consider the autonomy and rights of gadgets, it might help if we review what personal autonomy is itself, with the help of the French philosopher Yves Simon.  In his book, A General Theory of Authority, Simon analyzes what makes personal autonomy so valuable to us.  Interestingly, Simon concludes that friendship is one of the main examples of personal autonomy, very ungadgetty.

In describing the qualities of the human person, Simon explains that there are some traits of persons that are distinct to the human person qua person.  For example, he says, “Yet certain features of sociability belong to the human person qua person, and in all the system of human relations, nothing is more determining, more decisive, more distinguishing and more final than the acts traceable to the sociability of the person considered as such.”(p.74)  Take dating for example.  Although there may be a number of qualities that originally attracted one person to another, which causes them to agree to go on a date, for most people, it is the virtues of each individual person which ultimately attract one person to the other person.  Our personal decision to agree to continue onto another date and continue the relationship is an example of a very decisive, very impactful autonomous act of the human person.

Simon doesn’t doubt that there is a certain degree of disinterestedness in the care of animals for their kin, for survival, which is part of their nature.  But also, it is part of the nature of the person to care for their kin, however,  the person takes this to another level: not only does a loving person have to oppose his natural desire to participate in the whole, in the greater community, but he also opposes that inclination for the sake of the individual, sacrificing that sociability to address the individual needs of that person’s necessary care – that is what is something very distinct of the person, so it seems that this is what Simon is implying.  He says, “Disinterestedness and other-centeredness are contributed by nature; in other words, they are caused by a dynamism antecedent to individual activity.””The experience of human disorder shows that a tendency which, by nature, is disinterested and which, in fact involves another subject, may involve no generosity on the part of the agent.”(p.74)  In other words, for something to be “generous,” there is a certain level of conscious ‘gift-of-self’ involved in the doing of the action.  Disinterested action, though very human, it seems that, Simon is claiming, that it is more akin to human nature than something that exemplifies the individual.  Whereas, when we do something very particular to help someone, helping them exactly as they need to be helped and it requires us to use our talents and skills and other good human qualities or virtues, then this generosity, this ‘gift-of-self’ characterizes us as autonomous individuals, persons who act as free agents helping another, a friend.

Simon expands on this notion of autonomy and friendship.  He says, “It is only where reason, voluntariness, and free choice are at work that the subject takes care of transcending its subjectivity: then actions that are gifts also proceed by way of gift.“…”In short, it is traceable to personality.”(p.75)  When we do acts that are generous, not only are we showing our personal uniqueness in our ability to give in this way, but according to Simon, in that moment we rise above our own individualism to a new level of human perfection, to friendship.  He says, “Qualities are transcended and the relation of friendship is established on its true basis.””As long as it is directed to quantities, friendship remains uncertain: it achieves complete genuineness only when it exists between person and person, regardless of what happens to the qualities of the the beloved.”(p.76)  Here, Simon gets caught up in technical Aristotelian language, differentiating between the categories of quality and quantity.  But, in other words, when we do something generous for someone, we are seeking to care for them in such a genuine way that what had formerly made them different from us now disappears.  No longer are we friends with that person for the quantity of qualities they have (be it humorousness, kindness, attraction) which originally interested us in them, but now since we’ve behaved with genuine generosity toward them autonomously, we actually are unable to explain the why of our friendship but instead we know that it is a relationship that is unique, unrepeatable and “unutterable.”(p.76)  When the virtue of generosity is part of someone’s character, and they gift someone else with that power, friendship is spawned.

Now, Simon discusses some differences in the perspectives of the perceptions of what is actually loved in a friendship.  In analyzing Blaise Pascal’s thoughts on the subject, Simon says, “Pascal knows that the object of genuine love cannot be anything else than the self.””In order to be an object for the love of a creature, a thing must already be good: in that sense it is true that no one is loved or liked by his fellow men except for his qualities.”(p.77)  Simon says the Divine Being puts the goodness into the creatures that have good qualities that become the object of our love and friendship.  Simon discusses a problem of Pascal’s placement of love on the proper object of love, as he helps us understand that Pascal was somewhat pessimistic about the fact that people often are indeed superficially in love with others because of their perishable qualities, such as their beauty, instead of who they are as a person, their Self. Simon explains that although Pascal is pessimistic, he knows that people will always have some qualities that make them good, therefore, they will always be lovable for those good qualities.

Love and friendship are quintessential marks of the freedom of the person.  Simon elucidates that these characteristics of persons require a wholeness, a sort of completeness of person, of a person’s character with that of the other in the relationship.  This mutual relationship abides in autonomy, and creativity as a consequence, because of the conscious effort on behalf of each person in the relationship to gift themselves to the other, in whatever circumstances that may arrive, even the most dire of circumstances, this love will show its supreme value, according to Simon.  He says, “It is the excellence of autonomy which vindicates the particularity of the subject and whatever forms of authority are needed for the preservation of this particularity.”(p.79)  In other words,  when we give ourselves generously, we transcend our limitations,the personal qualities that make us unique. But, it seems that Simon is saying that because we know ourselves so well, our autonomy, literally, “self-rule,” allows us to know how and when to use our unique traits when they apply to the situation at hand.  In other words, autonomy is a certain self-possession, a self-mastery that allows such penetrating insight into knowing who we are in humility, while also allowing us to know clearly how we can be available to help, care for and love our friend in the most generous way we can at exactly the right time.  Simon says, “Autonomy implies the interiority of the law, a condition which, for human agents at least, is not native, but has to be achieved through arduous progress.”(p.79)  As Yves Simon says, it takes time, work, communication, love and generosity for people to achieve this type of relationship.  As Simon says, “the interiority of the law,” meaning that, first of all that the subjects agree that that there is a moral law to follow, and that they know this law so well that it is memorized, and written into their heart, into their wills, into their minds: that is autonomy. Autonomy allows the person to produce within themselves a countervailing force over our natural sociological tendencies toward a group mentality.  Autonomy is best exemplified when one loves and appreciates a person both for their qualities and for their self, for the “who they are,” in spite of their limitations and because of their limitations.

“We-ness,” from Martin Buber and Richard Rorty

In Friendship on April 18, 2016 at 11:39 pm

Martin Buber

Richard Rorty

Richard Rorty (image from







In his book, The Way of Response (ed. N.N. Glatzer. Schocken Books:NY, 1966), Martin Buber urges us to be more careful, considerate and contemplative of how we use the word “we.” Also, the late Richard Rorty, American pragmatist philosopher, has a relevant notion of “we-ness” for us to consider and compare with Buber.

Buber goes right to the point and says there are two main types of attitudes that some people have that create hurdles for achieving “we-ness.”  Firstly, there are people who do not take personal responsibility for their own existence and resort to the collective, society, for protection from the consequences of their irresponsibility.  Secondly, there are other people with self-absorbed attitudes, individuals who consider themselves autonomous and answerable only to themselves.  Both attitudes shun one aspect of the person in society, the former is dishonest to himself and the latter is dishonest to society.  Buber says, “The clearest mark of this kind of man is that he cannot really listen to the voice of another; in all his hearing, as in all his seeing, he mixes observation. The other is not the man whose claim stands over against his own in equal right; the other is only his object.”(p.86) When a person treats another person as an object, he discriminates against him. Here, Buber alludes to a subject he has written extensively about in his book I and Thou. In that book, he analyzes and discusses the notion that every person, an “I” or subject, has a relationship to all things that is an “I – It” relationship, a relationship of a person to an object.  However, every person finds meaningfulness in life in “I-Thou” relationships.  All of our relationships with other persons are bringing us closer to God, the Eternal Thou, and every person’s relationship with every other person is of spirit and mind, shared experiences of each other and an encounter with God.

We might think of a similar notion of “we-ness” espoused by Richard Rorty in his book Contingency, Irony and Solidarity.  Rorty says that people tend to create a stark juxtaposition of subjects, a comparison of “we” versus “them.”   He says, the “them” group is easier to be cruel to, to appear sub-human.  This is an obstacle to social peace.  So, Rorty suggests that the word “we” should include more and more subsets of the human population until everyone is appreciated and identified as part of “we.”  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Rorty suggests the following: Rorty’s metaphilosophical critique, then, is directed not at particular techniques or styles or vocabularies, but toward the idea that philosophical problems are anything other than transient tensions in the dynamics of evolving, contingent vocabularies.”(Ramberg, Bjørn, “Richard Rorty”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <;.)  Here, we could include the word “we” as a word that in fact is subject to a huge variety of interpretations and transient tensions and is evolving, and not part of the “perrenial” philosophical problems of which Rorty’s criticizes.

Similarly, Martin Buber is critical of the contemporary and loose usage of words, especially loaded words such as “we.”  He says, “In our age, in which the true meaning of every word is encompassed by delusion and falsehood, and the original intention of the human glance is stifled by tenacious mistrust, it is of decisive importance to find again the genuineness of speech and existence as We.”(p. 86) Sometimes, one can be so accustomed to falsehood in speech, whether from political figures, from marketers, television commercials, pharmaceutical advertisements, etc., that one might become cynical or suspicious of others whom we actually know.  It sounds like Buber is calling on every person to be genuine, to be responsible for himself and his duty to contribute to the community.  He continues, “This is no longer a matter which concerns the small circles that have been so important in the essential history of man; this is a matter of leavening the human race in all places with genuine We-ness.”(p.86)  In other words, Buber seems to be suggesting that we cannot wait for a political or social elite class to do this, a sort of “trickle-down we-ness.”  Rather, he implies, that all persons, today, are responsible for sharing and educating others about this attitude of “we-ness,” extending it to every person, in all places, in all societies.  However, Buber warns, “Man will not persist in existence if he does not learn anew to persist in it as a genuine We.”(p.86)  In other words, humanity’s continued existence must include inclusiveness, extending kindness, genuineness, openness and hospitality to all persons, thus assuring the survival of humanity.

In conclusion, Buber reminds us of the importance of the hierarchy of being.  He says, “But he who existentially knows no Thou will never succeed in knowing a We.”(p. 86)  In other words, paraphrasing Buber, who is implicitly referring back to the “I-Thou” versus “I-It” juxtaposition: if a we want to succeed in creating a society of “we,” we should first re-cognize our relationship with God, in order not to fall into an “I-It” relationship with others, objectifying “them” as Rorty would say.


Review of Max Scheler’s Essay “On the Rehabilitation of Virtue”

In Friendship on March 8, 2014 at 6:52 pm


A “must read” is the brief philosophical essay by Max Scheler, a masterpiece entitled “On the Rehabilitation of Virtue” (from  the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol.79 No.1, 2005, Translated by Eugene Kelly).  His sleepy essay title does no justice to the importance of the content, and instead, you might as well rewrite it as “How to Live Well” or “The Meaning of Life in a Nutshell.”  Scheler dusts off critical values for our reconsideration and does so with transcendental clarity: first, on the importance of virtue, then on humility and finally, reverence.

At the beginning of the essay, Scheler right away corrects peoples mistaken notions of the value of virtue as plain ignorance.  First, he says, “Virtue has become so intolerable to us most of all because we no longer understand it as an enduring, living, joyful consciousness of one’s capacity and power to desire and to act for what is right and good in itself and, simultaneously, to desire and to act for one’s own individual self, as a consciousness of power that flows out from one’s very being.” “We understand it rather as a mere dark unfathomable “disposition” and as a natural ability to act according to some prescribed rules.” (p.22)  Scheler understands human nature very well here because, he brings to light the idea that we innately all want to express ourselves freely, to achieve our identity freely, but we don’t’ want them just based upon some norms exterior to ourselves which appear to inhibit our own self-expression.

But, what Scheler states is that our Modern cultural predisposition to reject “virtue” and prefer “rebelling” or “resistance,” or “resentment” is a cataclysmic personal mistake because virtue is the power to desire and to act for the sake of what is objectively good, not only for ourselves but for others. This is a big deal, a big mistake to make.  However, for those who get it right, Scheler says, “With the growth of virtue the effort becomes less, and with that it loses the ugliness lying in strenuous effort.  Goodness becomes beautiful by becoming easy.”(p.23) People are often initially put off by the effort required to achieve a virtue and even they’re sometimes uncomfortable around virtuous people because they  misperceive or distrust their intentions. But, the virtuous person is quite simple and humble because he knows his limitations and yet desires to do what is good.  As Scheler says, the virtuous person has power to do the hard, good thing–and as a consequence he is joyful, and free and loves life because he personally contributes to giving justice its best shot in the world whether he’s successful or not, while at the same time, the more he tries, the easier it becomes.

When discussing humility, Scheler eradicates erroneous preconceptions of humility and shows that being humble, as a mode of living, is a vital consciousness to possess in order to discover the truth at every moment and in every circumstance of our lives.  He says, “Humility is the most tender, the most concealed, and the most beautiful of Christian virtues…As we co-execute this movement and let go entirely of our ego, of all its possible value and its respectability and dignity, to which the proud man clings tightly, we truly “lose” ourselves, “abandon” ourselves–without fear of what may then happen to us but dimly confident that the co-execution of that divine stirring as “divine” may also serve our salvation–then we are “humble.”(p.24)  The humble man lives with an ever-present cognizance of his own personal salvation, and with that of those around him.  With this great mission always at the forefront of his mind and with this grand perspective he interprets all things of life–good or “bad”– as “gift.”  Whatever diminishes his personal ego is an invaluable aid to his knowledge of truth which he cherishes more than himself.  Scheler says the humble man “…seeks them in the mistaken orientations of his interests, in the hastiness of his drives, and in the muscle tone of his flesh and spirit, that is, in his ‘attentiveness,’ which makes the world a poorer place.”(p.29) For Scheler, it is the prideful man who seeks, with great impatience, to insert himself as the solution to whatever circumstance he finds himself involved.  Whereas, he says, it is the humble man knows himself so well, with all his defects and faults, that he seeks to remove himself from situations, not to hide his faults but to prevent others from suffering from his imperfections or the degradation of circumstances as a consequence of his very involvement.  Scheler says that to be humble is an act of boldness “as it becomes the very being of the soul.”(p.29)  Scheler says that the humble man exposes his soul because he has chosen to lose himself for the sake of “winning oneself anew in God…”(p.29)  It is this very identity exchange that is the paramount goal of humility.

As a consequence, humility is precisely not found in big things. Rather, it is small things that aid the growth of this power.  Scheler says, “Accept all forms of happiness, even the least, the smallest joy that affects your senses, just as you accept the deepest blessedness that flows over you and leads you and all things into the light…”(p. 25)  Here, we might think about what Scheler may mean for us today, and consider something like, “How many little small joys have I experienced just today?  Waking up this morning, my health, my family, my friends, my job, my faith, my intellect, clean air, clean water, someone greeted me whom I didn’t previously know, perhaps a stranger held a door open for me or let me go through first, happily, someone who loves me called me, or texted or emailed me concerned about how I am doing, I ate all three meals today, I had a safe commute to work and back.”  Over a lifetime, these small things taken together, in reality are a great multitude of acts of goodness and should give us pause and a sense of gratitude, that all of life is very very good.  We can think of the tremendous gratitude of Saint Augustine in his Confessions, in Chapter One, where he recounts all of the goodness he received throughout his life, mostly unawares, especially when he was a boy, saying “Thanks be to Thee, my joy and my glory and my confidence, my God, thanks be to Thee for Thy gifts; but do Thou preserve them to me. For so wilt Thou preserve me, and those things shall be enlarged and perfected which Thou hast given me, and I myself shall be with Thee, since even to be Thou hast given me.”(  Italics added.)  As Augustine, we should be grateful for our very own existence to God, and especially to our parents.  Then we can embrace the future fearlessly, as Scheler exclaims, with great confidence, “Be humble, and straightaway you will be rich and powerful! For humility is the virtue of the rich, as pride is that of the poor.”(p.27 )  We can insert the word “spiritually” in front of “rich and powerful” and not take away a materialistic misunderstanding of Scheler, but interpret what he probably means instead “Be humble, and straightaway you will be spiritually rich and spiritually powerful!  For humility is the virtue of the spiritually rich, as pride is that of the spiritually poor.”  By implication, it is quite possible, to be both materially rich and materially powerful while also spiritually rich and spiritually powerful, if one is humble.

Finally, Scheler shows us that “reverence” is that vital ability which is available to all persons but not everyone has it: to identify and to respect the profundity of divine operation in the ordinary things of the world and situations in life.  How does he define it?  Well, the closest he comes is in the following, “Reverence, is a kind of shame that becomes spiritual.  In it we become immediately aware of the insufficiency of the categories of our understanding when standing before the world and before our soul…”(p.34)  In other words, reverence is a conscious awareness, an attitude of shame about our genuine insufficiency regarding our real personal ignorance and impotence as beings, coupled by our limitations of time and space as well.  We don’t like to discuss shame, nobody nowadays wants to admit of “being ashamed.”  But this is not Scheler’s point, reverence is a positive reaction to this negative reality of our insufficiency.  Reverence is a positive affirmation that in spite of our multi-tiered inadequacy, materially, intellectually and spiritually, I will actively seek out the awesomeness of all beings, of all persons and of God.  Scheler says, “Reverence gives us the sense of the treasures in our existence and of the powers that are ours and unalienable from us in this early term of life.” (p. 34) Scheler says, “in this early term of life,” probably meaning that, as persons with spiritual souls, we can perceive, in a veiled way, the deep value of things and person if we are spiritually aware here on earth, and in Heaven, we will know their eternal meaning and their complete essence, eventually, in the later term of life, we might say.  Scheler says, “It [reverence] alone gives us the awareness of the depth and the fullness of the world and of ourselves, and it makes clear to us that the world and our nature bear within themselves an inexhaustible wealth of value, that each step we take can reveal to us what is eternally new and young, amazing and unseen.”  Life is boring and routine to the spiritually uncreative, Scheler says that this type of person “does not care to tread the path needed to make visible his own depth of being.”(p.33)  Martin Heidegger also discusses as a central theme of his philosophy this necessity of discovering, unveiling the depth of being.  We can heed both philosophers advice.

Scheler closes the essay with an equally profound thought, “Not only God and the world, but, even more: our own self and that of our loved ones first appear in their deepest dimensions in the act of reverence.”(p.33)  Scheler concurs with the religious metaphysical starting point of being which affirms that all persons are made in the image and likeness of God, or as Saint Gregory of Nyssa says, “microcosmos.”  And, it seems that Scheler is making a further point, maybe a question: Have I really taken the time to discover my true self, who I really am at the core of my being, in an act of reverence, or what we might say, in prayer?  Have I considered my spouse and family in the deepest dimensions of their being in an act of reverence? In this way, we can see it seems that Scheler is pointing out our own personal insufficiency to judge another person is quite obvious when we consider the entirety of their being.  In his brilliant essay, Scheler shows that with reverence, humility, and buttressed by virtue, we can suspend our judgement of others and our own self, because we honestly don’t know our own destiny nor that of the lives of others, of their being.  Instead, with reverence and humility, we can put our time to good use in the active contemplation God who has mysteriously instantiated in all being, in all persons the infinite mystery of His Being.

Kierkegaard On “Loving the Person You See”

In Friendship on December 1, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Soren Kierkegaard

It would seem that the most obvious thing in the world is to do what Kierkegaard suggests, “to love the person you see.”  But how is it that we should have to remind ourselves about such an obvious thing to do at all?  Well, take smartphones for example, so often we are near completely distracted from many opportunities for charity and loving the people we do see around us because we are chatting with people we can’t see, or worse, we’re distracted by texting or using an app or game instead of engaging the people really present around us.  So, we probably should reconsider this “most obvious” precept of Kierkegaard from his Works of Love (edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton UP: Princeton, NY. 1995).

Kierkegaard, who is often considered the first Existentialist philosopher and important for personalist philosophy as well, stresses the importance of being present to one another in order to love and care for each other, in order to be available for another person.  He says, “The Christian point of view…is that to love is to love precisely the person one sees.  The emphasis is not on loving the perfections one sees in a person, but the emphasis is on loving the person one sees, whether one sees perfections or imperfections in this person, yes, however distressingly this person has changed, inasmuch as he has not ceased to be the same person.”(p.173)  These are difficult words but true.  Kierkegaard makes an appropriate distinction between “loving the person” and “loving a quality of a person.”  It is more important and more difficult to love the whole person unconditionally, than to love a person based upon a condition or quality.  Take beauty, one may fall in love with someone because of a person’s beauty, which is a quality of the person though passing, while one may marry another person not because of the beauty but because of who the person is, the whole person, unconditionally, with perfections and imperfections.  He continues, “So deeply is love rooted in human nature, so essentially does it belong to a human being, and yet people very often hit upon escapes in order to deprive themselves of this blessing…People bemoan humanity and its unhappiness, bemoan finding no one whom they can love, because to bemoan the world and its unhappiness is always easier than to beat one’s breast and bemoan oneself. “(p.157)  Take a child for example, a child usually finds it quite easy to love others and make new friends right away.   Does a mature person lose this capacity as he or she gets older?  No, of course not, yet why does it seem to become more difficult to make friends and love others as we grow older?  Well, it seems, from what Kierkegaard is saying here, that as a child, we were largely unaware of other persons faults and imperfections and even our own, but as we grow older, we not only become increasingly aware of others imperfections but our own limitations as well, and we lose that openness to “loving the persons we see” because we fail to see beyond their imperfections and then we lose sight of the person himself.  And maybe we want to avoid others from knowing our own imperfections too, so we avoid them altogether, “not seeing them.”

Kierkegaard persists in this examination.  He says, “Sometimes the self-deception is the proud self-satisfaction that considers it futile to seek what could be worthy of himself–since it is always easier to demonstrate one’s superiority by being fastidious about everyone else than to demonstrate it by being rigorous with oneself.” (p.157)  It is much easier and more comfortable to avoid “seeing others” if it causes us unwanted or inconvenient introspection of our defects, which we are unwilling or even unable to correct on our own.  But Kierkegaard doesn’t let us off easy if we are going to be the person who decides to love whom he sees, saying “…on must first and foremost give up all imaginary and exaggerated ideas about a dreamworld where the object of love should be sought and found–that is, one must become sober, gain actuality and truth by finding and remaining in the world of actuality as the task assigned to one.”(p.161)  As a famous theologian once said, “When we put love where there is no love, we will find love.”  Well, Kierkegaard, with his existentialist mind, points out that our actual reality is the reality to which we have a duty and an opportunity to bring love at every moment and under all circumstances.  He explains, “…if a person is to fulfill the duty in loving, to love the people he sees, then he must not only find among actual people those he loves, but he must root out all equivocation and fastidiousness in loving them so that in earnestness and truth he loves them as they are and in earnestness and truth takes hold of the task: to find the once given or chosen object lovable.”(p.166)  In other words, we need to be humble when loving others in order to be truly open and objective, so that we in fact discover what is truly lovable about the other persons we see, instead of preferencing their lovability on our own self-interests or motivations.

What does Kierkegaard recommend for people to truly love the person they see?  He says, “The matter is quite simple.  A person should begin with loving the unseen, God, because then he himself will learn what it is to love.” (p.160)  How does this connect to others?  He states, “If you want to show that your life is intended to serve God, then let it serve people, yet continually with the thought of God. “(p.161)  Here we see that Kierkegaard is a personalist, whereby the meaning of life and love derive from love and service to God and one another, loving unconditionally through helping people, beginning with the very people we see before us.  He says, “When it is a duty, in loving, to love the people we see, there is no limit to love; if the duty is to be fulfilled, love must be limitless, it is unchanged, no matter how the object becomes changed.”(p.167) He continues, “Christ’s love was boundless, as it must be if it is to be fulfilled: in loving, to love the person one sees…alas, but we human beings speak about finding the perfect person in order to love him, whereas Christianity speaks about being the perfect person who boundlessly loves the person he sees.”(p.174)  In our modern world, with all of our handheld gadgets, it seems like it might be becoming more difficult “to love the person one sees” because we are so distracted from our loved ones and the persons around us, maybe we can remember what Kierkegaard suggests: that the beginning point of all love, is to love the person we see, here and now.  He concludes saying, “Therefore, if you want to be perfect in love, strive to fulfill this duty, in loving, to love the person one sees, to love him just as you see him, with all his imperfections and weaknesses, to love him as you see him when he has changed completely, when he no longer loves you but perhaps turns away indifferent or turns away to love another, to love him as you see him when he betrays and denies you.”(p.174)  If we live what Kierkegaard suggests, surely we will find love and happiness in this life and the next.

Family is Beautiful

In Friendship on June 2, 2013 at 10:46 pm
Karol Wojtyla as a child with his mother Emilia Wojtyla and his father Karol Wojtla Sr.

Emilia Wojtyla, Karol Wojtyla’s mother, Karol Wojtyla, as a child  in the arms of his father, Karol Wojtyla Sr.

It would seem that just as some people are confused about the meaning of marriage, so it follows that some people are now confused about the meaning of family.  Consequently, it seems like a good time to think about the obvious beauty and the importance of our family with insights from a man who was a world-class personalist phenomenologist philosopher, a man who lost his mother and father early in his life, this is Karol Wojtyla, the late pope John Paul II.  In a book on the early lectures of Wojtyla, there is an important essay entitled “The Family as a Community of Persons” where he emphasizes the notion that if we want to really understand what the family actually is, we must first understand what it means to be a person, and secondly, what the true meaning of marriage is, and only then, will we appreciate the extraordinary beauty of this highly complex “communio personarum,” this community of persons, that we simply call, “family.”

The Person

What does Karol Wojtyla say that a person is? Firstly, he wrote extensively on the person, (even an entire philosophical treatise on the person in the book The Acting Person).  However, in the book Karol Wojtyla: Person and Community Selected Essays (Trans. Theresa Sandok, OSM.  Peter Lang Publishing: NY. 2008) Wojtyla says the anthropology of the person “is characterized by this fundamental truth about the human being, a truth we find in the very first pages of the Book of Genesis–the truth concerning the human being’s likeness to God.  This likeness is based not only on having a rational and free nature…but also on being a person, a personal being.”(p. 317)  This personal being, the human being, or “the person”  Wojtyla calls “autoteleological,” meaning one who seeks to achieve self-fulfillment, self-possession and self-governance, all of which are proper to the person.(p.321) The freedom to live out one’s destiny as a complete person is fundamental to our human nature, which is why human rights, such as the right to life and the right to religious freedom are inalienable rights.  He says, “the human being is a being capable of existing and acting ‘for itself’…determining its own ends but also of becoming and end for itself…In a certain sense, every human being is a “world”–a microcosm–unto himself or herself…”(p.317)  What does all of this mean?  Well, since the person can seek out her own goals and meaning in her own life, she does so socially, in the context of the existence of other persons.  So, there is an essential link between the individual person’s Self-fulfillment in relationship to the Other’s self-fulfillment and personhood.  Wojtyla says, that “In interhuman relationships, therefore, the disinterested gift of self (of the person) stands at the basis of the whole order of love and the whole authenticity of love.” (p. 322)  Authentic personhood intimately involves “the gift of self,” the self-donation of one’s time, talents, skills, et cetera, even one’s own person (such as, in martyrdom) and it is this “gift of self,” or self-sacrifice that gives meaning to one’s own life as an individual person and meaning to others lives as well.  By contrast, the selfish person not only chooses to disassociate himself from others, but also others often react in revulsion away from this impersonal, unnatural disposition of that person.  Wojtyla says the Other also has to be generous in receiving the gift of others, “In every case, however, if this disinterested gift of self is to be a gift and is to be realized as a gift in an interpersonal relationship or many such relationships, the nature of a community of persons demands that this gift be not only given but also received in the whole of its truth and authenticity.”(p. 322)  It takes generosity on the part of the receiver to receive another person’s gift and this is why the family is the best learning place, the “practice zone” for such a giving and receiving because everyone is appreciated for who they are as they are in the family.  Family is different from practically all other social relationships in the world.  It is in the family that there is this “safe zone,” an environment full of love and play, where we are free to express ourselves to the fullest, trying out new identities and ideas.  Just as Jacques Maritain describes each person as a “universe unto himself” in his book The Person and the Common Good, we can think that indeed every family is a “universe” of its own as well, with all of the rules, rights and obligations it entails as specified by the parents.  But family is founded upon marriage.

What About Marriage?

What does Wojtyla say about marriage? Wojtyla says, “The basis of the family is marriage.  Marriage is not just a partnership but it is–and ought to be–a real communio personarum…[community of persons]”(p.323)  In other words, marriage is the one social relationship where a man and a woman together strive to achieve this “gift of self” for the entirety of their lives.  This selfless love for the Other is sustained and affirmed in marriage because the spouse is the one person who sees the entirety of the other spouse’s vocation and life in every act which gives rise to forgiveness, mercy, empathy and compassion.  Wojtyla says, “This ‘gift of self’ lies at the basis of the marriage covenant, bringing to it the special dimension of love that we find in the concept of married love.  The husband and the wife are mutually each other’s beloved when they enter into the marriage covenant, and this covenant-also a legal act–testifies that they have both made a mutual gift of themselves.”(p.323) Marriage is an eminently positive relationship between mature persons which is the perfect loving setting for inviting new persons, new life, family, into the world.  Wojtyla says, “The mutual bestowal of themselves, the category of gift, was inscribed in the human existence of man and woman from the very beginning.  The body belongs to this system, and so it falls within the category of gift and within the relationship of mutual bestowal–the body as an expression of a distinctiveness that is not just sexual but wholistic, and therefore personal as well. (p.326)  Wojtyla, as a phenomenologist, emphasizes the importance of the reality of the body and that it is in and through the body that the totality of manifestations of the “gift of self” is lived.  It follows that such a total self-giving of one’s entire body and therefore, one’s person, be directed only toward another person who can equally, though differently, complement this gift, receiving it totally and returning himself or herself totally, which he or she is free to do safely and confidently, without reservation or resentment, who is a spouse in marriage.

Family is the microcosm of society where the child is trained to appreciate the differences and the complementarity between the different genders from a loving mother and father, brothers and sisters.  In the family, the child learns to treat Others as persons and she enters society ready to act with this respect, understanding, right and duty of selfless love due to persons as with oneself, between all men and women in the world, as learned in her own family.  Wojtyla consoles us when there are imperfections in marriage and in society’s understanding of it, saying “Errors in realization, distortions in practice, do not dim the divine light, but allow it in some sense to shine forth even more brightly in human minds and consciences.” (p.315)  A good marriage between a man and woman is noticeable by all, everyone perceives when a husband and wife joyfully interact with each other lovingly, caringly, thoughtfully, actively acting to achieve the ideal of selfless love, which is naturally something extremely attractive, even charming.  Wojtyla calls the married to conquer evil with an abundance of good, recommending that all distortions of this divine good will be conquered by ordinary people living marriage heroically well.  He says, “…spouses mutually give themselves to and accept each other in a manner proper to the marriage covenant, a manner that presupposes their difference in body and sex and, at the same time, their union in and through this difference…[and] the category of gift, however, has a key meaning here.  Without it, there would be no way to properly understand and interpret either the marriage relationship as a whole or the acts of conjugal intercourse that are part of this relationship and have a strict causal connection to the emergence of the family.”(p.324)  Marriage is the calling to live the “gift of self” in all things, body, mind and soul, for the sake of one’s beloved spouse, forgetting oneself but paradoxically, in doing so, achieving  one’s own self-fulfillment in life. When married couples live the “gift of self,” open to life, God often gifts that couple with children, creating a new and even stronger bond between the spouses.  Wojtyla says, “We all know that the family is based on procreation, that it is a community of persons connected in an active or passive way with the reality of human procreation as the elementary bond of this community. Procreation in the active sense occurs on the side of the parents, the spouses who transmit life to their children; procreation in the passive sense occurs on the side of the children, for they are born and thereby give new meaning to the marital bond itself; the marital bond then becomes a parental bond.”(p.324)  When a married couple is open to new life in their marriage, they experience a more expansive love not only for each other, but materially manifested in the new life of a new person, a new child, a baby.  Wojtyla says, “…the fact that the marital bond becomes– and properly ought to become–a parental bond has fundamental significance for the bring to light the true dimensions of this community of persons, this communio personarum, which must first be a marriage so that it might later also be a family.”(p. 325) In other words, mature persons understand the powerful meaning of conjugal love and desire to express their sincerity to each other, their families and society by first committing themselves before God in marriage, thus upholding the vital social contract that their future children will be taught to live the “gift of self” due to all persons, in spite of their differences, as modeled in their marriage.  In this way, the “I” truly becomes a “We” and the “We” are strengthened anew through the parental bond with each child.

Community Life Depends Upon the Family

A community might appear to be a simple a social contract, a consent of the governed by the “general will” of the people or by any type of government structure over the governed.  But, no matter what the political organization of any society, consistently throughout world history, it is that the family that is the most fundamental, the a priori basis of all other subsequent social units in society and political structures. Persons live first in families and the vast majority are born into a married household of a mother and father in all major civilizations throughout history.  This is not a blind, strict, ignorant adherence to a cultural tradition from one the generation to the next but rather a concrete, personal affirmation that actively confirms the goodness of the value of marriage as an institution that teaches authentic personhood, wisely constituting the basis of all enduring civilizations.  Wojtyla says that these “are objective laws, deeper than the whole somatic or emotional reality, laws that have their basis and justification in the very being and value of the person.” (p. 327) The child-person needs to personally witness, through the lifelong loving relationship of married parents, their interaction through good times and bad, as mother and father, as male and female, in order for him to envision with hope and with self-confidence in his own ability (and his future spouse’s ability) to succeed at living the “gift of self” in marriage and in family life.  Wojtyla says that, “We know, too, that the marital bond is brought to fruition by parenthood…  In this way, a child, children, come into the two-person community of a man and a woman.  Marriage as a communio personarum is…not just in the biological or sociological sense, but precisely as a community with a truly communal character, a community that exists and acts on the basis of the bestowal of humanity and the mutual exchange of gifts.(p.327)  The communal character of the family models the “order of love” due to all persons to be expressed not only in the family but with all others in society.  Knowing the contingencies of communal life, war and peace, love and strife, one can always depend on the social affirmation that comes from one’s family who loves and values each person for whom he is, as he is, because he is, which is beautiful.

Celebrating Marriage, Friendship and Love from Jacques Maritain

In Friendship on May 4, 2013 at 11:53 pm
Philosopher Jacques Maritain and his wife Raissa

Philosopher Jacques Maritain and his wife Raissa

It would seem that not everyone understands the meaning of marriage.  Given this situation, it would seem that now would be a good time to consider the philosophy of one of the primary authors of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, Jacques Maritain.  In his little known work, Notebooks, (Translated by Joseph W. Evans. AGI Books: Albany, NY.1984) Maritain reminisces about the wisdom he gained from his life with his wife.

Maritain describes two reasons for the uniqueness of the relationship between the husband and wife, as persons, in marriage.   He says, “The love of which I am speaking here is above all a disinterested love.  It is not necessarily mad, boundless love; but it is necessarily and primordially a love of devotion and of friendship–that entirely unique friendship between spouses one of whose essential ends is the spiritual companionship between the man and the woman in order to help each other accomplish their destiny here on earth, and it is thus a love …which is truly in the measure of man, and in which the soul as well as the senses are involved, so that in this love, in which desire is there with all its power, disinterestedness really takes precedence over covetousness.”(p.243) At first, Maritain’s idea of “disinterested love” sounds uninteresting, a sort of cold Kantian altruistic duty to any person, not the profound warmth of spousal love of a married couple.  However, with a second look, with a more complete common sense view of what he is saying, we can see that it is entirely natural for spouses to be truly devoted friends in love even to the point of disinterested loyalty (perhaps an example may be, how a wife may watch a ball game with her husband, or how a husband may go shopping with his wife).  And for what purpose are they so devoted to each other?  He says, spouses are “spiritual companions” who willingly sacrifice themselves for the sake of their “spouse-friend” and his or her achievement of his or her vocation in life.

Maritain says the second purpose of marriage is procreation, to bring life into the world with children.  He continues saying that “… the other essential end of marriage is the perpetuation of the human species; this is why each spouse has a right over the body of the other.”(p.244)  This is an important point which is very different from other philosophers, such as Karl Marx’s degrading utilitarian view of marriage or Simone de Beauvoir’s conception of marriage as male enslavement of the female.  Here we see a truly equal view of the Other gender in marriage between a man and a woman as each having a “right” over the body of the other.  Maritain dispels the confusion about inequality by stating “each spouse has a right over the body of the other” because in married conjugal love they become “a single spirit with her or him, [which] is the summit and the perfection of love between Man and Woman…[that] is the glory and the heaven of the here-below, in which a dream from the depths of the ages consubstantial with human nature assumes reality…”(p.245)  In this way, each person in marriage, the wife and the husband, individually and each gender of the human species, male and female, is at the loving service of the Other as Self, equally, in and through love for the entirety of their lives together, in everything as publicly promised and promulgated on their wedding day.

Marriage between a man and a woman is the foundation of all social life.  Maritain says that, “It is through it [conjugal love] that marriage can be between man and woman a true community of love, built not on sand, but on rock, because it is built on genuinely human, not animal, and genuinely spiritual, genuinely personal love-through the hard discipline of self-sacrifice and by dint of renouncements and purifications.  Then in a free and unceasing ebb and flow of emotion, feeling and thought, each one really participates, by virtue of love, in that personal life of the other which is, by nature, the other’s incommunicable possession.”(p.244)  Husband and wife share everything together, body, mind and soul.  Each spouse’s mindfulness of the needs and desires of the other in everything, gives rise to a spirit of willful mortification for the good of the other, and as Aquinas says in his Commentaries on the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, that true friends improve the other person.

Finally, in this way, Maritain shares a most beautiful insight of this mutual self-giving in marriage, saying, “And then each one may become a sort of guardian Angel for the other–prepared, as guardian angels have to be, to forgive the other a great deal, in short, a being really dedicated to the good and salvation of the other, and consenting to be entrusted with the revelation of, and the care for, all that the other is in his or her deepest human depths.”(p.244) There is no more profound human community than that of the reality of the sacred union of a husband and wife, and when virtuously lived, marriage is the basis for peace in the family, in the world and in eternity, as Jacques and Raissa so thoughtfully understood.

First Things First, from Blaise Pascal

In Friendship on March 7, 2013 at 7:30 am


It would seem that all goods are interdependent, in relationship with the good of other things, and that no one good in life or in the world is “sovereign.”  It would seem that if we could just continue those things that are pleasant in life, while mitigating the painful, as much possible, then we’ll be happy.  Well, it is ironic, that the very rational, Blaise Pascal, the famous 17th Century French mathematician, physicist and inventor, would show his very heart-felt common sense ideas about life in his Pensées (Penguin Classics: New York. 1966.) or book on “thoughts.”

Pascal is bold, forthright and very rational throughout his Pensées but especially in the chapter entitled, “The Sovereign Good.”  He says, “Man without faith can know neither true good nor justice.”(p.45)  Here, Pascal reminds us of Saint Anselm’s statement “I believe, so that I may understand.”  It can be said, that if one starts with faith, there is an openness of the will to accept revealed knowledge, knowledge from faith.  A closer look at Pascal’s statement reveals that he is not excluding reason, but rather he is including faith as another reliable source of available knowledge, in addition to reason, so one to come to a complete understanding of what is the “true good” and “justice.”  He continues, “All men seek happiness. There are no exceptions…the reason why some go to war and some do not is the same desire in both, but interpreted in two different ways.”(p.45)  The notion that “there are no exceptions” also rings true as a universal statement, an obvious reminder that everyone seeks happiness, just not by the same means or by the same ends.  Like Aristotle says in the very first phrase of the Nicomachean Ethics, so too does Pascal bring up this truth, that all people desire to be happy.  We can see this commonality as a source of unity for everyone, and we can see here that Pascal points to the idea that its the interpretation of what will actually bring true happiness, the difference between what will actually bring happiness and a misperception of an end that will bring true happiness.

Pascal touches on another truism.  The present is fleeting and elusive, he says, “So, while the present never satisfies us, experience deceives us, and leads us on from one misfortune to another until death comes as the ultimate and eternal climax.” (p.45)  As he mentioned earlier, that “all men want to be happy,” we can think here of the idea that the difference between pleasure, delight, play and joy–these are all fleeting, short-lived not constantly sustainable, so we are unsatisfied with them because we know very well that that experience will come to an end.  He says “experiences decieves us.” This sort of doubt sounds quite Cartesian, but we can look at it maybe from another point of view, in that, all of these momentary joys of the present disappoint us as “deceptions” because maybe we think that in the moment that the joy will continue forever, ad infinitum but, of course, we find that they do not or maybe in the moment we also anticipate their end.  Therefore, we can be decieved in the moment when we forget about the temporality of joys, of pleasures and of delights, because we desire true happiness, true joy, true delight, not fleeting, not ending, not deceptive by its short-livedness, rather we desire everlasting joy, everlasting delight, everlasting happiness.

Pascal acknowledges the existence of the soul with our body, and we are certain that the soul is the part that purdures, that part lives beyond death, that part of us that is our deep-seated interior, our true identity as persons which is unique and unrepeatable, which is seeks unity but so often finds individuation.  So what do we do?  Pascal has some ideas, saying, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?”  Here, we can see that Pascal believes in the a priori existence of the soul, and that our hearts, our will, our person, our being, has a logic of love oriented away from that which is temporal toward that which is eternal which we somehow foreknow.  He says, “This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” (p.45)  In other words, there is an exact fit to this longing in our heart, in our soul, in our life, and we know it exists to be filled, we want to be completed, but there is no thing that can do it no matter how long and hard we search.  Pascal says, “God alone is man’s true good, and since man abandoned him it is a strange fact that nothing in nature has been found to take his place: stars, sky, earth, elements, plants, cabbages, leeks, animals, insects, calves, serpents fever, plague, war, vice, adultery, incest. Since losing his true good, man is capable of seeing it in anything, even his own destruction, although it is so contrary at once to God, to reason and to nature. (p.46)  One might be reminded here of Saint Augustine’s famous quote, “My soul does not rest, until it rests in you O Lord” from his Confessions.  This “confession” of Pascal reminds us that “yes,” we desire happiness, and “yes,” we desire what is good for ourselves and for others, but first we should be careful that we constantly seek, in our “heart of hearts,” exclusively the “Sovereign Good” who can truly satisfy this infinite desire of ours, as Pascal says, this is only God Himself.