Funda Time !

( The following is an excerpt from my term paper in the humanities (Ethics and Society) course.Waiting for the mood to build up to write a new post is a tad too boring.Of course,some would argue that copy-pasting your project report as a blog is no less irksome,but humor me.Till the time I gear up for something more colorful,bite on some philosophical fundae.Bon voyage! )

Ethics of societal behaviour-an endo-existential investigation

We all grow up around people .From time immemorial ,man has chosen his evolutionary instincts to be in accordance with a collocation of people, a society to share common interests with, and be bound by the regulations of .It is no new-fangled concept, therefore, that man is indeed a social being. What is interesting, however, is observing the influence this “survival-in-a –society” necessity has on the actions and thoughts of a person. When some situation throws up a conflict between the inherent feelings and the social-bound expressions, it makes up for a fascinating analysis, made more so since it is something which engulfs us all in its domain. From prominent existential philosophers like Heidegger to some layman like your wife, each person tries to explore the relationship of an individual with his surroundings, and the repercussions thereof. It is that basic an attribute.

The analysis I intend to present here stems from my personal reflections of the discrepancy I have noticed in the behavior of people in different social groups, and in their personal space (or with people close to them).Indeed, such is the universality of this discrepancy that a majority of the investigations put forward in this paper have been framed keeping or imagining myself as the subject. It would do well to view this paper more as a work of psychoanalysis than a discussion. Having said that ,the topic raises certain very relevant ethical issues, which I do plan to take up in the course of this analysis.

It would be pertinent here to define and discuss Existentialism before we take up a full-fledged study of how surroundings interact with people viz-a-viz their behavioral aspects. Existentialism is a school of philosophy that tries to explore human “existence” and how he tries “to project meaning in a disinterested world of in-itselfs”. Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, considered the forerunners of existentialism, focused on subjective human experiences rather than the objective Axioms that philosophers generally discussed. Later existentialists like Franz Kafka and Martin Buber followed the thought, laying stress on the individual and the circumstances around him. Existential philosophers generally believed that life is meaningless and empty, and that the character of the individual existence is to fill that empty canvas of life with the colors available to him-the primary motif the human existence strives to achieve is to make that empty life meaningful by their own specific needs, virtues and priorities. Early existentialist principles gave rise to intellectual thoughts such as existential nihilism, which denies life of any meaning, virtue or purpose, and moral nihilism, which asserts that there are no absolute moral values in this world which can be perfectly assessed on the basis of rationale and logic. As such, existentialists assert that a person is the master of his own creativity.This concept of individual freedom is central to existentialist thought. Existentialists maintain that the human existence must always be defined as the individual person combined with the concrete circumstances of his life.("Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia"-I am myself and my circumstances-José Ortega y Gasset,1914). Sartre likewise believed that human existence is not an abstract matter, but is always situated ("en situación").A person’s life and works are based solely upon how he views the world (essentially) outside him,a world whose meaning exists in the relative sense only,and through the interaction of our “being” with it.This idea was picked up and developed in great detail by Martin Heidegger(1889-1976),a renowned German philosopher considered by many as one of the most authentic authorities on existentialism.

Heidegger published his cornerstone work entitled Sein und Zeit in German in 1927.Translated,it means Being and Time. Although Heidegger was never able to finish the original project he set out to publish, the book remains one of the most celebrated works of philosophy of the 20th century. The ideas discussed in this book have greatly influenced 20th century philosophy, particularly existentialism, hermeneutics and deconstruction.

“For manifestly you have long been aware of what you mean when you use the expression "being". We, however, who used to think we understood it have now become perplexed” (Plato).

Heidegger shares a sentiment similar to that of Plato from the beginning of the book. According to him, our concept of “being” is one which is overtly vestigial, even though the term is so fundamental to our sense and understanding of everything else. We easily say, ”The cat is on the mat” without understanding the proper concept of the “isness” implied in the sentence. Even then, this lack of understanding is not the source of any disconcertion for us, since the meaning has been taken in its rudimentary sense from time immemorial. Heidegger places the blame of this ignorance squarely on the shoulders of philosophy, stating that the latter has been responsible for camouflaging and ignoring the details in regards to being. It's actions: "not only declares the question about the meaning of Being to be superfluous, but sanctions its complete neglect"... Being, according to this dogmatic philosophical view, "is the most universal and yet emptiest of concepts... one that resists all attempts at definition." As such, Heidegger proposes to seek out the diligence in the concept of existence, of being, without taking any help from the existing “overshoots” of being, or beings, since he clearly maintains that “Being” is very different in its context to “Beings”. Being, Heidegger claims, is "what determines beings as beings, that in terms of which beings are already understood.” Heidegger seeks to identify the criteria or conditions by which any specific entity can be at all. Once we are able to comprehend the meaning of being, Heidegger asserts, we can begin to grasp the sense of being, namely, the manner in which any being or beings exist.However,a problem exists.We do not have the sources to understand being different from those provided by beings themselves,by their very act of being.Hence,Heidegger suggests we go in a kind of hermeneutic circle, with each repetitive act taking us further in the interpretation of that which we set out to seek.

In order to facilitate this act of interpretation, Heidegger coined a term, namely Dasein, which he proposed as the essentially temporary identity observing which we can try to understand the concept of being in its domain. Roughly translated, Dasein means “being-there”. The method pursued in Being and Time consists in the attempt to delimit the characteristics of Dasein, in order thereby to approach the meaning of being itself through an interpretation of the temporality of Dasein. It is an attempt to comprehend Being in general (the concept of human existence) as active or passive participation in the world. As such, existence is also determinative for Dasein. (plus Dasein understands the being of all other entities, and this understanding is actually constitutive of Dasein's own being).

This active (taking hold of situations) or passive (going with the flow) participation in the world is what changes Dasein through time, and one which also constitutes it. The progressive outcomes of Heidegger’s thoughts constitute the fact that this change in Dasein itself is what constitutes the sense of Being. This conclusion is particularly relevant to the scenario we are discussing, since the conclusion of Heidegger’s discussions can be stretched to form the argument that everything is connected to their importance and relationship to everything else. Counter-arguing, we continually define ourselves, and in the process, we also change the way we regard the world. And that in turn redefines us. In particular, an inherent relationship between the actions of an individual resting upon the concerns of his surrounding society is inevitable. This understanding helps us to discuss societal ethics in terms of causes and repercussions.
We can now begin to look at some common societal behavioural attributes, and try to investigate them with psychoanalytical detailing. As suggested by existentialism, the analysis would be most fruitful when viewed with a perspective that we as human beings continuously interact with the society, and this continuously modifies our behavior, our very being. Hence, we would concentrate particularly on causes and effects influencing some particular social mannerisms.However,another (and equally valid) case in point here is that while discussing the ethics of societal behaviour in light of existentialism, a conflict is more likely than not to ensue. According to many scholars,existentialists are nihilists who denounce the validity of morals.Ethics,on the other hand,is greatly similar in its scope to moral discussions.However,a subtle difference exists. In existential works, ethics generally refers to a system, much like computer programming logic — a formalized method of determining “right” and “wrong” in any situation based upon set formulas. Morals are practices dictated by probability, producing a conformity of behavior among a community. In other words, what might be moral in a situation is not necessarily ethical behavior in the view of an existentialist. The use of these terms interchangeably in normal discourse presents a problem.Also,existentialist theories tend to picture the individual as struggling against everything else. His decisions influence everything that goes on in his life.As such,extending this to our scenario,the behavioural discrepancies outline above all fit in if we allow ourselves to be analysed within an existential framework.It is our decisions,our insecurities,our egoism,that casues us to behave differently when with different sets of people.It is indeed a struggle to be recognized as an individual being-part of a society,but with a distinct individual existence nonetheless.

In defense of the discussion outline above and for the sake of clarity,the author would like to re-emphasise that this analysis is merely an attempt to study the vast array of mannerisms through which we interact every day with different people.The aim is to try and pick up some common thread so as to explain these interactions while remaining essentially neutral ; and keep in mind on one hand,the framework of existential ethics,and on the other,the day-to-day experiences we all have.

(for those of you who actually survived this rant,this is the first part.A complete report would get too long and boring for a blog anyway.(as if this was thrilling).Oh wait.Did I mention that I loved philosophy? ;)

0 people decided to speak up:

Post a Comment

Everyone has an opinion.Your take on this would interest me!

Opinions add.Opinions are valued.Constructive criticism is welcome.Insipid narcissism is not.