Man is a being who can not only give to others an accounting for what he does to them, but also ask others to give to him an accounting for what they do to him.
Before I start here, I wish to note that so long as a person's basic human needs for food, shelter, safety, and more are not satisfied, philosophy and other forms of "culture" and "civilization" may be of no value to the person, and unable to be enjoyed. After needs have been met, the person may still be unable to enjoy "culture" and "civilization" due to the wounds they suffered not having healed, and/or their not being aware that there could be anything in life beyond those basic needs being met. They may not even be fully aware of what their basic needs were. "Culture" and "civilization" may just be perceived as more traffic noise. Humanistic education and psychotherapy may help here. Again, I recommend the website "kitten is a Life" (do a Google search for it).
For the spirit alone lives; all else dies
This is my watchword. It has two derivations, neither probably "correct":
(1) The ending of Edmund Husserl's Vienna lecture, "Philosophy and the Crisis of European Humanity" (1935), which reads: "for the spirit alone is immortal" (this is an exact quote from the English translation). Obviously my dictum is not that. Equally obvious, I think, is that Husserl's profundity of philosophical thought may have inbued his phrase with more/different meaning than may come to mind for a less educated reader.
(2) My recollection of the ending of the film "The Return of Martin Guerre" is that the report of the case by the judge Jean de Coras ends with something like: "for the spirit alone is immortal", but I don't remember exactly (and I don't have the book or the film at hand to check it). The Wikipedia article says: "A voiceover closes the historical framework by mentioning that de Coras was executed some years later for his Protestant beliefs." An interesting counterpoint to the spirit's immortality?
Note: I think I have some justification for mis-trasnslating things. I once asked Hermann Broch's son about an important sentence in "The Death of Virgil". I said I thought the English translation was not right, and that it should be something else, which I proposed to him. He agreed I was right.
"Whatever"; I have adopted the dictum: "For the spirit alone lives; all else dies." Here I do some investigating what I understand by that statement, and share this with you, my reader, and you may respond.
What do I mean by "living"?
By "living", I do not just mean metabolizing. I don't just mean that an organism has not "flatlined". I am not interested here in investigating to what extent Heidegger's das Man qualifies. For me, the word "living", as I wish to understand it, leads me to another question: What is the lived eperience of a cat [dog?]? To quote from Claude Levi-Strauss:
"Man is not alone in the universe, any more than the individual is alone in the group, or any one society among other societies. Even if the rainbow of human cultures should go down for ever into the abyss which we are so insanely creating, there will still remain open to us -- provided we are alive and the world is in existence -- a precarious arch that points toward the inaccessible. The road which it indicates to us is the one that leads directly away from our present serfdom: and even if we cannot set off along it, merely to contemplate it will procure us the only grace that we know how to deserve. The grace to call a halt, that is to say: to check the impulse which prompts Man always to block up, one after another, such fissures as may open up in the blank wall of necessity and to round off his achievement by slamming shut the doors of his own prison. This is the grace for which every society longs, irrespective of its beliefs, its political regime, its level of civilization. It stands, in every case, for leisure, and recreation, and freedom, and peace of body and mind. On this opportunity, the chance of for once detaching oneself from the implacable process, life itself depends.
Farewell to savages, then, farewell to journeying! And instead, during the brief intervals in which humanity can bear to interrupt its hive-like labours, let us grasp the essence of what our species has been and still is, beyond thought and beneath society: an essence that may be vouchsafed to us in a mineral more beautiful than any work of Man: in the scent, more subtly evolved than our books, that lingers in the heart of a lily; or in the wink of an eye, heavy with patience, serenity, and mutual forgiveness, that sometimes, through an involuntary understanding, one can exchange with a cat."
(Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, p.398)
That "exchange with a cat" may be living in my sense. When a master potter takes a piece out of the kiln and sees that it is good and reflects that he is making this appreciation, that is living. When a philosopher reflects on the destiny of The West as self-reflective constitution of self-accountable community and how in thinking that he or she is accomplishing that [or at least endeavoring to do so], that is living.
Reflection. Reflection. Reflection. And communication and/as bearing witness. Lighthouses seem to me evocative symbols here. Somehow I found a quote in Google Books: "Wittgenstein puts it in his provocative and oracular way: 'The ether was filled with vibrations, but the world was dark. Then man opened his seeing eye and there was light' (1953, 184)". Without man were there even an ether or vibrations? And what about a cat's[dog's?] eyes? [If I undertood correctly that Descartes thought animals were mechanisms, as opposed to teachers who did not understand passing on their lack of undertanding to me, then Descartes was an a--hole; watch the videos on the website "kitten is a Life"!] Having brought these animals into our "world", do we have a [geistige?] obligation to them here? (I currently have 2 cats, one seems sensitive or at least tolerates me treating her as if she is, the other seems to care mainly about more food and, sometimes, returning to mommy (me).) [What I am writing here is fragmented, but I think better fragments than nothing.]
The foregoing, to me is "living". It also must include the thought, from The Tale of Genji, that "nothing lasts forever in this world where one season changes into another", and -- a tragedy that is not just a result of persons not communicating (ref.: Œdipus, a certain O'Henry story, etc.) → "we were not meant to survive" (Audre Lorde). Living is an endeavor which must ever again renew itself, an endeavor which is always at risk [at least for a person like myself who is not "enlightened" if that is a word with any possibility of having an object]. Living, as I understand it, is something "inner", awareness of being, inside itself. But when you (I!) forget....
What do I mean by "dying"?
Dying, for me anything that is not radically/honorifically inner/living. [If you find the word "anything" questionable here, I agree with you; I do not mean it to imply any ontological determination, just set-theoretic partitioning]. Martin Heidegger said that a stone is "worldless"; it has no inner [whatever that word may mean by itself' -- Are there degrees of innerness? Heidegger says the animal is "world poor" -- what might that mean? is it imaginable? and, of course, in what way/measure does "world poor"ness apply to cats [dogs]?]. I want to say that all that which lacks reflective self-appropriation of itself [as inside itself] [more problematic words!], insofar as it is not dead, is dying. Again, to use Heideggerean terms, whether Heidegger himself would agree with me or not: it is not opening clearing in the density of being.
By "I want to say" I mean: I want to indict. I expect that stones will be worldless, although I have, at times, placed individual cobblestones in my home (see above) as if they were "local spirits", and felt that, even if they had no empathy, they had more of it than some persons I have had the less-than-pleasure to have had to deal with, or better: who have jerked me around, etc. So those persons, alas they had ever been born, are dying and they would still be dying if they were empirically immortal (and their outside is, unwelcomedly, affecting my inside). Whether or not the appellation applies to animals, those anthropoid bipeds are "world poor", their "inside" defective, always on the way to self-forgetting and density. "Forgive them, Lord, for they know now what they do."?
All that anything has to do to be dying, as I am meaning that word, is simply not to be honorifically living, or, to now bring in another word from the dictum: not the spirit. Another example: I once worked in a place where there was an employee who occupied a seat behind a desk [aka space and time] but seemed to not be doing anything: Mr. Dialtone, myself and a friend, rightly or wrongly, labelled him.
What do I mean by "the spirit"?
I certainly do not mean anything "spiritual" or empirically immortal. Although I am open to experiences which might change my views, I think that the dead are ?nowhere?(sic), like the unborn [unconceived? unquickened?], and I think that subject is literally unthinkable -- to approach it is to approach a "ne plus ultra" -- because I believe thinking, including language, can only deal with what can enter into thought, e.g., the living and the dying. The dead can participate in "the world" only as remembrances. (Aside: Professor Louis Forsdale was an atheist.) Another aside: The dead are one reason to remember ("Je me souviens"). So, for me, "the spirit" is simply what lives.
The phrase, with its third-personality, also, I think, reminds of Schiller's dictum (as cited by George Steiner in "After Babel") that no one knows from where the words come (i.e. words expressing new ideas, as opposed to re-repeated/perhaps re-arranged commonplace phoneme string formulae). Maybe Alan Turing was pointing to something similar when he said that if ever we make a computing machine that really thinks -- i.e., that has an inside -- "We shan't know how it does it". Not: I have a new idea. Rather: A new idea comes into being through me.
Aside: What do I think about death?
As said above, I think death is beyond thought -- on the other side of a "ne plus ultra". Hermann Broch's great novel "The Death of Virgil" describes a transcendent dying, but not death (i.e., death from within; from without, philosophically, death is "easy": corpses and those of whom nothing remains, e.g., some victims of Hiroshima). I do not believe in an afterlife; if there is one, I will find out.) [Aside: I do believe in "the right to postnatal life".] From my philosophical training I cannot simply imagine from an observer position that "when I am dead the world goes on without me", which I think many less philosophically trained persons do imagine they imagine. If questioned under oath about it, I cannot, at least without serious reservations, say I believe in a clock-time when I myself am, dead, but the astrophysical/social universe goes on as when I was alive just without me. I simply cannot think anything like this. So what I think about death is: if I do not wake tomorrow morning cannot be thought, although I have wished for it. Man [also, cat? dog?] is immortal in the sense that "the present moment" includes all time and all space and all souls (is that what Husserl meant?). But that's not the kind of immortality that interests those who want to go to heaven and/or fear going to hell -- it is not the payoff of winning the Metapyhsical Lottery. I do not want to suffer(dying), and I find that all too thinkable. "Them's" my thought on death and, my reader, read Broch's "The Death of Virgil" if you want to learn what a really good dying might be like, or hope for one of Levi-Strauss's "involuntary understanding"s. Remember Kaspar Hauser.... (And, as I re-read this, also remember those who initially survived the explosion that sank the Russian Kursk submarine and all the heros, Russian and other, who have suffered and died trying to prevent us from experiencing the worst consequences of nuclear accidents.)
"WOULDST KNOW THE WHENCE THE WHY AND THE WITHER FOLLOW ME" (Albert A. Volk)
For the spirit alone lives; all else dies
This, for me, is both a statement of fact, but also a perhaps vain (i.e., hopeless) hope. May there come a time, and may we live in it!, when all human "existence" is honorifically Existenz (remember existentialism?), but all else will have died as certifiably as a vampire with a stake thru his heart ("Did somebody mention vampires? There are no vampires. That's superstition. And surely you weren't referring to me, how dare you!" thus speak those whom the shoe fits but don't have the decency to try it on to show us).
"For the spirit alone lives; all else dies" -- Rabelais' Abbey of Theleme. Jan Szczepanski's (essay). My Uncle Isadore inventing the United States military aircraft insignia (see below). Maybe Robbie's "Commons"? At least, as I have journeyed thru life, through a variety of experiences including learning of fine hand-crafts as Museum Shop Manager at The Baltimore Museum of Art, thru my Teachers College studies, and now thru Covid-19 [so far, fortunate for me, by proxy, in The New York Times...], I have learned what this would be and how to speak of it. But I have also seen ever more clearly what all the "dying" around me is, from melanomas to hubcaps (the dying that derives from "nature" and the dying that derives from "man"). As Senator Joseph R. McCarthy said, in a different context, one of them would already be one too many. L'chaim!
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (1 Thes. 5:21)
Thank you for
reading thinking (comments are welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org)