Catholic author, musician, philosopher: Gabriel Marcel in postmodern dialogue.
One cannot help being impressed with Marcel's familiarity with the history of philosophy, especially with philosophy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with a special reference to French philosophy dominated by idealism in the early part of the twentieth century. To some extent, it is precisely his struggle with this form of idealism that makes his work, even his earliest work, especially relevant at the beginning of the new millennium. His book on Coleridge and Schelling puts him at the center of the recent postmodern dialogue, since the romantics and idealists between Kant and Hegel, with special reference to Schelling, serve as the grist for much thinking today. Likewise, Marcel's presentation of Royce's metaphysics can serve to put him at the core of the postmodern situation, even though Josiah Royce is little known among scholars of continental philosophy in America. Marcel's works, then, can provide an opportunity and appropriate time or propitious moment [Kairos [KAPPA][alpha][iota][rho][omicron][zeta]], for the retrieval of the mystery of being and a reorientation of philosophy, not as a return to the historical beginnings of existential thinking as such, but rather, as a reawakening of human creativity.
As a Catholic philosopher who began publishing in the early twentieth century, Marcel was one of the first, with his article in 1925, "Existence et Objectivite" (2) to bring forth the contributions of existential philosophy as a serious and positive movement in continental philosophy, even before Heidegger's ontological focus on human existence. Although many of his early works were published or produced before his conversion to Catholicism, he always considered these works to be compatible with his work after his conversion. As a matter of fact, he considered his conversion to be a logical step in a long progression in his life and work. Thus his entire work expresses and reveals a view of human existence compatible with and appropriate for a Catholic philosopher.
In this context, Marcel attributes special importance to The Broken World and the conference bearing the title "Concrete Approaches to Investigating the Ontological Mystery," which he published as an appendix to the play. The plays from the early thirties mark the beginning of the period that follows Marcel's conversion to Catholicism in 1929. It is in this context that Marcel begins reflecting on his experience of conversion to Catholicism, and the role of mediator that Francois Mauriac played by writing a note to Marcel that gave him peace. "It seemed to me that Mauriac simply played the role of mediator between myself and an invisible power which, certainly, was not unknown to me but, on the contrary, I would say, using the words of Saint Augustine, more interior than myself" (137). This letter of Mauriac led Marcel to make his actions and explicit commitment conform to his thoughts and writings, ending up in an explicit faith commitment. This entailed what he considered to be a commitment to the fullness of the Christian message embraced by Catholicism. He then sought out Fr. Jean-Pierre Alterman, who had been the spiritual director of his good friend, Charles Du Bos, who had spoken well of the priest. The fact that this priest was born into a Jewish family predisposed Marcel's favorable response to him (138).
Marcel gives a significant place of importance to the role of the broken world in the experience of the living, concrete, existential subject, in strong contrast to the subject for idealism. He himself was quite aware of living in a broken world. Marcel indicates that the play, Le Monde casse, especially the last two scenes of Act IV, allows one to see what was going on inside himself at a level that philosophical reflection can reach only with great difficulty (154). Setting the stage for explicating these last two scenes of this play, Marcel shows an important connection of the characters of this play with individuals whom he knew, giving rise to the characters of Christiane and Laurent. The lady of his acquaintance was an intelligent beautiful young lady much appreciated by all of her friends, while her husband received little attention. He was a self-effacing and good man, but one more involved with his own self-love than in his love for her. It is she who proclaims that they exist in a "broken world." She is intensely conscious of the separation that results from a world that does not touch the heart. But at the end of the play, all of this disappears and is replaced by a light leading to unity and life. Marcel puts the best twist on this ending and on his experience at this time: "It is certain that, if I had not already, as I said earlier, acquired through my own experience the certainty that there exists a dimension at the heart of which separation disappears, I would not have been able to write the last two scenes of Le Monde casse." (3) It is this attunement to the concrete, lived, singular experience that makes Marcel's recollection so relevant today.
His constant concern for the singular, for the other, and for moving away from the dominance of the products of first reflection mark Gabriel Marcel as a philosopher attuned to the issues of a postmodern era without succumbing to its negative and regressive reductionism. This is obvious from his treatment of the present in relation to lived time and from his view on language, both of which mark deconstruction as reductive and regressive. (4) Rather, Marcel's constant concern to focus on lived time and lived personal relations in the intersubjective situation, and his preoccupation with the singular and concrete situation prevent him from losing the gains of twentieth century philosophy for the popularity of passing fads. Thus, there is a sense in which Marcel's philosophy is perennial. Hence, his gains should not ever be lost. These gains are the subtle products of the development of contemporary philosophy out of the contrast between and interarticulation of ancient and modern philosophy, both of which emerge, transformed, in the twentieth century as a gigantic gain not to be lost in the postmodern era. Such contemporary thinking moves forward, but precisely as rooted in a situation that emerges from its past, yet gains new vistas for thinking from the present latent with its own future. Such contemporary thinking can profit greatly from those gains of Gabriel Marcel. It remains for us to investigate further some of Marcel's central themes before turning more explicitly to his viability in the contemporary world.
THE central theme of Marcel, secondary reflection, which will be discussed shortly, is in some sense at the heart of philosophical issues intensely discussed today, thus showing a continued point of relevance of Marcel's thought. In showing the place within secondary reflection of such an interpretation, and even of narrative in general and of art, a place is made for his works of drama and philosophy within recent philosophical movements. In this context the place of the productive imagination in second reflection emerges, just as it does in much recent contemporary thinking, but without the balance of Marcel. (5)
Second reflection, belonging to methodology, is a recovery guided by a quasi intuition, distinguishing it from first reflection. First reflection is focused on problems and is objective and theoretical, while second reflection is recollective, focused on the mystery of Being in which we as humans participate. For Marcel, participation cannot be an object of thought. With this move in second reflection to existence as mystery, Marcel has turned toward the fullness of existence which eludes first reflection and which is irreducible to it. This concretely situated being cannot be approached in a philosophical reflection which is detached and epistemologically oriented rather than involved and immersed in the concrete situation. Thus, in this critique of the primacy of objectivity, Marcel has overcome the primacy of epistemology, and at once, found its source: "... But what is more important for me is the affirmation that existence is not only given, but it is also giving--however paradoxical that sounds. That is, existence is the very condition of any thinking whatsoever." (6) Existence as giving encompasses creativity. This giving as creative is the central motif of Marcel's whole philosophy, as he himself says, in agreeing with Gallagher's interpretation: "... as soon as there is creation, in whatever degree, we are in the realm of being. But the converse is equally true: that is to say, there is doubtless no sense in using the word 'being' except where creation, in some form or other, is in view." (7) This insight regarding creativity grew as he concentrated more on the relations among his philosophical thought, his dramatic work, and his musical compositions.
This secondary reflection is an immediate but blind intuition on the part of humans, reminding us of Kant's third Critique, in that this activity is not mediated by thought or conceptual knowledge. However, this intuition can be made the focus of conceptual analysis, which is where reflection begins, but not without a loss of immediacy. This is the precise place of interpretative and / or narrative dimensions, thus allowing to emerge the positive construction operating in drama and in narrative through the imaginative presentation. It is clear that art, narrative, and especially drama have a role to play, because in these areas we can almost recreate complex experiences in which the audience can be participants and not simply spectators. In some sense, art, narrative, and drama come closest to bridging the gap between experience and thought. The bridging of this gap reveals the central importance in the relation between literature or drama and philosophical reflection, which today has been so badly treated in the postmodern situation. Philosophy in this context is too often reduced to literature, thus reducing truth and insight. The healthy mindedness of Marcel is manifest in the fact that the relation between philosophy and literature is kept alive and active, but also distinct, so that one does not dissolve and absorb the other. Rather, they are two activities that can feed one another, and that can help in closing the gap between experience and thought. This insight thus reveals a central positive role and relevance of Marcel's writings as we move into the new millennium. His works can be seen to thwart the regressive direction of much recent postmodern thought. For, in a special way today, when the emphasis on the end of metaphysics puts the very possibility of philosophy into question, these philosophical reflections of Marcel can shed light on the philosophical enterprise for the future. It is precisely the positive role of limit in the concrete philosophy of Marcel that can serve as a response to the recent challenge from postmodern deconstructive thinkers, a response which must be made for the redirection of continental philosophy in this country.
The existential turn of much twentieth century philosophy, including phenomenology, has revealed the richness, fullness, and ambiguity of human existence. This focus upon existence entails at its heart the mystery of being, as seen above. In turning to lived existence in the break-away from the dominance of the modern Cartesian world view, these philosophies rediscover the richness of lived existence underlying any scientific model which is found only to schematize the concrete, allowing the human gaze to become blinded by the clarity and assurance of these derived and second level accounts. Thus it is in this return to the fullness of concrete existence, following the turn of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and even of Jaspers, that leads to the focus and emphasis on the depth of mystery at the heart of human existence, especially in those philosophies in which there is a religious dimension. The philosophy of Gabriel Marcel explicitly develops human existence in terms of the mystery of Being and at once addresses the question of the limits of reflection upon it. And this question of limit and boundary of philosophical reflection has emerged as central to contemporary thinking and philosophy.
Marcel's philosophical reflection on the mystery of existence and being expresses the question of limit or end only obliquely. In this context of limit Marcel considers the objectivity and characterizablity of the problematic to be surpassed in the notion of mystery. Access to mystery is gained in a second reflection that is attuned to existence in such a way as to bring it to thought. For Marcel, existence as mystery eludes any problematical treatment, for it is irreducible to that tendency to characterize. It is not a problem before me, but one which involves me, if it can be spoken of at all in terms of problem, as he does in saying: "A mystery is a problem which encroaches" upon itself. (8) I cannot abstract myself from the mystery of my own being. Thus, this dimension of mystery cannot be a problem to be solved. Rather, "I" am precisely what (who) is being reflected upon. On this level there is an ontological exigency at the heart of human existence which should prevent me from closing myself off into the problematic and the objective. And it is on this personal level that the "thou" is encountered in presence. If second reflection is allowed to begin other than with this realization, i.e, the presence of the other, it would not be possible to get the "other" precisely as person back into reflection. This presence is closely linked to availability or readiness for the other (disponibilite). The unavailable person is not really there for the other, but maintains a certain closedness and distraction toward something else.
Thus, Marcel has turned in this second reflection to the concrete fullness of lived human existence. As such, it is different from and goes beyond that of first reflection. It is on this level of second reflection that all of his celebrated themes: mystery, participation, presence, communion, fidelity, creativity, charity, faith, and hope, must be interpreted. For first reflection, oblivious to this level, would reduce them to an abstraction or objectivity. By focusing on mystery, Marcel attempts to think, beyond the boundaries of knowledge, the wholeness of existence in the questions that most vitally concern human life, interest, and heart. It is an attempt to reach the ineffable in a reflection which will never be adequate because of the richness of existence and of being. In this attempt he invokes faith. This faith, intimately related to hope and charity, is not exclusive of a philosophical faith in God. And it does not exclude the possibility and actuality of Christian Faith, but rather, uncovers the place in experience that is its condition of possibility.
It is precisely this natural faith in human reflection to arrive at meaning and interpretation that is a substrate both to philosophy and to Christian faith that must be investigated further. For this is the level at which the very possibility of philosophy is established, for which there must be a certain faith in reason to arrive at truth. And it is this very possibility of philosophical thinking that postmodernity has recently challenged. Our investigation will show the relevance of Marcel's faith in reason to the issues raised today. Yet, his way of incorporating second reflection can be interpreted as adequately providing for the positive issues required by the postmodern situation. It is to this recent challenge to philosophy itself that we must now turn.
The possibility of philosophy today has been seriously challenged by a widespread postmodern deconstruction. (9) This brand of postmodernism contends that the era of philosophy is at its end, since the very quest of philosophy has reached the limit of its possibilities. This is an effort to replace philosophy with a thinking that is considered non-philosophy. In contrast to this tendency on the part of deconstruction, philosophy has always been a quest to make sense of reality and of our knowledge of it. Thus, to defend the very possibility of philosophy is to defend the priority of sense, logos, meaning and truth. Postmodern deconstruction calls such an attempt on the part of philosophy "logocentrism," the attempt to make logos central. One of the positive achievements of such postmodernism is to continue the effort of existential and hermeneutic thinking that decentralizes the Cartesian Cogito and intuition. Yet, postmodernism's anti-logocentrism goes too far in subverting a priority of sense that should be maintained even in such decentralizing efforts. In doing so, it accepts a view of the semantic which, as deriving sense from a unique view of syntax, reduces any usual sense of the semantic. This anti-logocentrism is itself parasitical in that it requires the prior position of a semantic priority as its own starting point and host for deconstruction. Since this is the case, a subtle common denominator can be found for so-called logocentrism and anti-logocentrism. This common affirmation must be further explored by reflection on an extension of what William James calls "the will to believe." (10)
Reason's ability to make sense in arriving at truth, knowledge, and philosophy springs from a "will to believe"--a certain human faith that we can arrive at logos / unconcealment / sense. In fact, the critical philosophy of modernity arose in the attempt to check and limit reason's self-assurance, especially in the context of the success of science. Once logos, truth, and values have attained some degree of sophistication (e.g., in science or in philosophy), we can be thrown back to reflect on the precognitive and pre-philosophical level, discovering and accounting more explicitly for that very level within the scope of the enlightening process itself. At this point, deconstruction and its opponents are within the same commitment of belief and are on the same level of discourse, for both admit this coming to knowledge and its claims and a certain priority of sense. In dismantling logos and intuitive presence as absolute, it goes too far in disavowing the priority of sense, without which it could not even communicate its own position. Thus it can be seen that, in spite of this shared basic belief in the human ability to make sense of reality, to arrive at meaning and value, deconstructionists immediately take a negative attitude toward this very outcome. Let us make this point more explicit.
The deconstructionists at this point undergo what might be called a quasi conversion, a complete change-over in their way of looking at the whole enterprise. This quasi conversion entails a complete about-face or transformation in attitude toward the initial faith in obtaining any sense or logos. This basic reorientation of attitude gives rise to a further interpretation according to which the logos is considered to be incapable of doing justice to the excess or fullness of sense or to the abyss from which all sense arises. In this new attitude, any arrival at logos, even after the work of the hermeneutic of suspicion of such a thinker as Paul Ricoeur, is considered inadequate to the fullness of its source; thus logos and philosophy distort this source by what they exclude. Rather than maintain a need for constant renewal from that source for every new expression of sense, knowledge, and truth as many in the recent past have done, and a further need for working beyond the hermeneutic of suspicion, the deconstructionist considers any arrival at meaning to be a closure from, and exclusion of, its source. It is considered to be an effect that loses the underlying richness. While deconstruction does not disavow sense or cognition, it simply reinterprets their sense and value. Deconstruction as anti-logocentrism and logocentrism both operate within the same basic will to believe in meaning. Yet, they differ in their respective interpretations of the basic sense of this will to believe. This deconstructive attitude interprets the attempt to reach sense or logos as a subversive closure rather than openness and a "making sense." Hence, while it is true that deconstruction recognizes that logos brings something to light, it interprets logos and cognition, once attained, in a negative way--i.e., as closure from the fullness and richness from which logos emerges. It gapes at this openness to the richness of the abyss, subordinates that very openness to the priority of the flux in such a way as to see only a closure that belongs precisely to the sense and thus leads to the so-called overturning of any semantic priority in its opposition to the extremes of logocentrism.
Thus, deconstruction does not attempt totally to abrogate philosophy, for it allows first and foremost the move to and from meaning in order for the deconstructive process subsequently to take place by opening the closure of philosophy. It understands philosophy and any logos to entail a concomitant closure. The element of truth in this deconstructive claim is the fact that every meaning, expression, and cognition is limited and thus does not "say it all." Indeed, this fact has been promoted for some time now by all existential philosophy even prior to that of Marcel, and by many other philosophical positions as their essential legacy. Limit bespeaks the need for constant openness to renewal from the fullness of existence. I believe that the requirement on the part of deconstruction of a closedness of every meaning constitutes an "over-belief" (11) that we need not accept. Thus, the pivotal focus in the contrast between these two positions lies in the differing priorities latent within an initial belief. On the one hand, the priority rests in meaning, admitting at once that it has openness--closure as an aspect, i.e., an openness to and, precisely as such, a closure from. This closure demands constant attunement to the source of meaning and sense. On the other hand, the priority is attributed to the anti-logocentric, so that the closure is pervasive, and must be transgressed in a deconstructive process that cuts beneath any meaning and extreme logos, and aims at the process alone, thus fixating upon the tension between the openness and closure.
The ultimate issue, then, is that the will to believe of deconstructionists, while seeming to affirm the meaning through which one must pass to reach closure, is basically a belief in the priority of closure and the priority of the abyss that does not allow for any semantic priority. The very protestations of the deconstructionists, that their opponents have not grasped their thinking, reveal an underlying prejudice, as adamant in its claim as it is illusive and unattainable: a belief in the undecidable and the inexpressible of the abyss. (12) To this it is best to reply with an alternate belief, one which makes sense out of sense, while at once seeing and admitting its limit. This limit, however, while initially a certain kind of closure in the openness of logos, is likewise an openness to its source for constant renewal from that origin in an ongoing process of interpretation. Thus, its openness consists in bringing to light in the effort toward meaningful understanding and meaningful expressing. This process, however, entails an ongoing need for renewal, even though there is a certain element of closure as a limitation in any effort to arrive at sense. And this is precisely the position of Gabriel Marcel as can be further seen now.
In this context of thinking beyond the boundaries of knowledge and of problematic reflection, Marcel seems to admit or to hint at the need for an indirect access to the question of the whole or completion of thought. This can be seen as a continuation of his efforts to address the same issues raised by postmodernity seen above. In fact, most of his reflection on the mystery of being takes place within a certain domain going beyond the boundaries of the Kantian limit--i.e., the total and full existence beneath and beyond the realm of primary reflection. This is the domain of existence which for Kant must remain unknowable. In certain contexts, Marcel speaks of the need for images, for myth, in order to prevent making an idol out of that which is reflected upon here. Concerning knowledge of the historically human, he says, this is a thought that "cannot be embodied without the help of myth--the price we have to pay for our own condition which is that of incarnate beings." (13) Marcel refers to the need for images which really serve as symbols of something richer, with two levels of meaning for the one for whom they speak in a certain way:
Must not the philosopher admit that we cannot really free ourselves from some key-images--for example that of heaven as the abode of the blessed--provided that he shows that these images are bound up with the conditions of existence which belong to a wayfaring creature, and that they cannot accordingly be considered as literally true. In this sense I would say, for example, that heaven can hardly appear to us, who are of the earth, as other than the sky above; but in so far as the bond which holds us to the earth is relaxed or changes its nature, it will be bound to present a different aspect to us. We are fated to undergo a metamorphosis whose nature we can foresee only very imperfectly, and it is just on the idea of this metamorphosis that rests the revival of orphism whose imperious demands must be familiar to many of us today. Hence again it follows that salvation can also be better conceived by us as a road rather than a state; and this links up again with some profound views of the Greek Fathers, in particular St. Gregory of Nyssa. (14)
MARCEL'S philosophy is quite relevant today for all who, following his lead, appropriate the philosophy of mystery and incorporate it into a concrete reflection as a hermeneutic of existence, thus well responding to the challenges from recent movements of continental thinking. His philosophical "elan" gives an indirect access to concrete existence in its mysterious fullness in its elusiveness. Such treatments of philosophy, initiated in intimation by Marcel, and explicated further and more explicitly by one of his own best disciples, Paul Ricoeur, allow for continual and ongoing reflection on the mystery of existence in spite of the challenge from recent philosophies. But, due to the limit of human experience, and to the quest for the totality in thinking (and in action), philosophy will never be completed. Thus, one could perhaps say that philosophy culminates precisely in its attempt to stay attuned, and to "see" or to interpret, at the limit, the ultimate significance of the mystery of being. With all this in mind, we can now expand our consideration of the relevance of his thought and life to the postmodern situation today by reflecting on the direction that his thought takes with his friend and disciple, Paul Ricoeur.
Ricoeur expands on the philosophical treatment of concrete reflection so that it becomes an explicit hermeneutic of existence, in the process of which he gently critiques Marcel's "experiential thinking," (15) while responding to the challenge of deconstruction in a Marcelian style of concrete philosophy. It is Ricoeur's view of the central role of productive imagination, rooted in his interpretation of the priority of the semantic in language and the unity of language in the sentence, which pulls the props out from under Derrida's postmodern reduction of the imagination and which at once offers a richer and more viable view of language and semantic innovation at the center of his hermeneutic. Ricoeur's development emerges directly from Marcel's fundamental orientation.
In his critical remarks to Marcel, however, Ricoeur points out the need for critique in the manner of a first Copernican revolution, and the further need for a second naivete after that revolution. Thus, his own addition to Marcel's doctrine is twofold: first, in the direction of the Copernican revolution, he is not adverse to engaging in reflections on human being of an abstract and pure kind, one instance of which he develops as eidetic phenomenology, a legacy which he accepts from Husserl (the other great teacher of his intellectual youth); and second, his insistence on a philosophy of limit--i.e., one which moves to the reflection on totality and on full concreteness in terms of a revamped Kantian limit, which path was already begun by Marcel. And it is here that we can return to the dialogue with deconstruction, after a few words about Ricoeur's hermeneutics of existence as a philosophy of limit, in response to the question of how to think beyond the limit or boundary.
Ricoeur's concrete reflection, in contrast to that of Marcel, takes place as a hermeneutics of existence, a hermeneutics which gives an indirect access to concrete existence in its fullness and to the totality in its elusiveness. Ricoeur, appropriating Kant's doctrine of the limit concept imposed by reason on knowledge, contends that objective knowledge is the labor of understanding (Verstand), but that understanding does not exhaust the power of reason (Vernunft), which remains the function of the unconditioned. This distance and this tension between reason and understanding find an expression in the notion of limit which for Kant is not to be identified with boundary. The concept of "limit" does not primarily imply that our knowledge is limited, but, rather, that the quest for the unconditioned puts limits on the claim of objective knowledge. "'Limit' is not a fact, but an act," (16) meaning that in its quest for the unconditioned, reason actively puts limits to the claim of objective knowledge to become absolute in a way parallel to Marcel's critique of the Hegelian absolute. Ricoeur, however, wants to give to the limit-concept of Kant a less negative function than the prohibition addressed by reason to the claim of objective knowledge to absolutize itself. Rather, for Ricoeur, the "empty" requirement of an unconditioned finds a certain fulfillment in indirect language such as metaphorical language, which says what things are like rather than what things are, and that the "is like" implies an "is not." (17) In the present context, however, the philosophy of limits dwells primarily on the limits which are essential to the philosophy of human existence within reason's quest for totality and for completeness. As Ricoeur says: "I think everything and I demand everything, but I am never able to know it. Kant only applied to cosmology his golden rule of the limiting function of the concept of the thing-in-itself." (18) Ricoeur wants to extend this application to apply, in the present context, to the totality of man (19) and to the totality of history, (20) thus using the limiting concept as regulative in such a way as to demand that reason think such totalities from indirect expressions. For, it is only as a regulative idea that the totality and the unity of man, along with the indirectly accessible Sacred, are given to thought. Here the imagination serves a central role, for it is the imagination which is intimately involved in the semantic innovation leading to the culmination of Ricoeur's reflection on human being. This role, however, does not hedge the role of reason (spirit) which gives to the imagination the ideas which stimulate it to creative thought, which, in the thinking more, cannot ever be adequate to the ideas. Thus, the demand for totality within the context of a bond to existence, through desire and spirit, allows a glimpse again at the infinite human quest within a finite human situation. Such treatments of philosophy, initiated by Marcel and explicated further by Ricoeur, allow for continual and ongoing reflection on the mystery of existence in spite of the challenge from deconstruction.
It is precisely here that a positive message can be gleaned from deconstruction's subversion of language and philosophy. Taking the example of lived time and cosmic time, the notion of the "other" need not be interpreted in terms of the deconstructionist's extremes. In a sense lived time cannot be separated from cosmic time, because it is cosmic time in the lived experience of a cosmic human being. What is clear is that the self-comprehension of lived time is at once a self-comprehension of cosmic time in that instance of the lived. Here, the "other" is nothing but the cosmic in the lived, which is mediated or expressed in the lived, which itself is experienced only in a quasi unity of precomprehension. We can see by a certain extrapolation the characteristics of that other as cosmic. This positive element fosters a move beyond a limited hermeneutic phenomenology of existence, a move which the philosophy of Marcel fosters in its manner of concrete reflection. Furthermore, a parallel analysis holds true of language as that to which humans are receptive, and in terms of which they become decentered. In this way, deconstruction opens up for a philosophy at the limit of reason a possible path for further inquiry that is more viable than deconstruction itself.
What does this say about philosophy at its end? That its end as boundary is transgressed and therefore philosophy becomes thinking in its context of the whole or of completion. But, due to the limit of human experience, and to the quest for the total in thinking (and in action), philosophy will never be completed. Consequently, one could perhaps say that philosophy culminates precisely in its attempt to stay attuned to its limited access to the total--to completion, and to "see" or to interpret, at this point, its ultimate significance. And is this not what Marcel and Ricoeur are doing? Marcel has led the way in requiring that philosophical reflection as recollection be adequately attuned to the concrete mystery of our existence and being. This preserves the positive element of recent concerns of postmodernity, while not succumbing to the pitfalls of this new tad.
Thus, as an alternative to Derrida's semiological reductionism, the concrete ontology of Marcel and Ricoeur provides a philosophy which does not displace the imagination in its role in thinking, subvert the semantic as the essential dimension of language, or reduce the living present to an abstract discreteness. Rather, their philosophy of existence, with its essential relation to language, prevents the reduction of language to sterile and empty signs and existence to some "other," while preserving a certain positive element of the mystery within and beyond existence. The deconstructive inversions of these make a mockery of meaning, distort language, and render philosophy meaningless, while the philosophy of Marcel reestablishes some faith in philosophical analysis as having something worthwhile to say, especially when it interprets existence and language.
I would like to make one brief and concluding remark about the relevance of Marcel's thought to Catholic higher education today. Marcel's central role in philosophy and in Catholic culture gives his work a unique place in the present situation of philosophy and in relation to the recent crises of religious identity in Catholic colleges and universities in the United States. Within the effort to preserve and express their identity as Catholic, the recent fostering of interdisciplinary programs of Catholic Studies pushes some scholars to focus anew on Catholic authors who can speak to the present generation. In this context the literature, philosophy, and life of Gabriel Marcel enjoy a special place. (21)
This is not to reduce his philosophy to theology, nor does it require Christian belief in order to make sense out of his philosophy. For, although some of his philosophical terms are illuminated for the believer, such as presence in relation to Eucharist, creative fidelity in terms of Church, and recollection in relation to prayer, these terms stand alone and are illuminative, independent of such Christian belief. Thus, even though their intelligibility can be clarified by the Christian terms, they are strictly philosophical insights that are intelligible as such. They are conducive to real human commitment, while also possibly leading to and deepening Christian commitment. Although much of his philosophy may be occasioned by Christian belief and life, it does not require them and can stand alone as philosophy. By the same token, he seriously wants to maintain the distinction between the natural and supernatural, showing clearly that no amount of reflection can allow us to attain the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption. His point is that such "supernatural life has to find some connections and points of insertion in natural life--which in no way means to imply that supernatural life is merely the flowering of natural life ..." (22)
This concluding point of relevance for Marcel's work reveals yet another way in which it can be corrective. For a recent trend in theology has been to turn to postmodern deconstruction, the positive contribution of which Marcel has clearly surpassed. Thus the turn to his works can again be a move in the right direction in the postmodern situation of our Catholic universities.
(1) The relation of his autobiography to his productive projects is clearly tied to the unifying thread of creativity. And this autobiography has just been published in English translation: Gabriel Marcel, Awakenings, translated by Peter S. Rogers (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2003). This is a translation of Marcel's autobiography, En Chemin. vers quell eveil? The pages quoted in Awakenings will henceforth be referred to within the text enclosed by parenthesis.
(2) Gabriel Marcel, "Existence et objectivite," Revue de metaphysique et de morale, XXXII (1925), 175-195. (Appended to Journal metaphysique, 309-329).
(3) Gabriel Marcel, Awakenings, 95.
(4) Although it is not possible to thoroughly treat these issues here (I have treated them fully in Philosophy at the Boundary of Reason: Ethics and Postmodernity [New York: SUNY Press, 2001] and in several articles), it is helpful to be aware of Marcel's affinity to the phenomenological movement. Although he was not explicitly or formally affiliated with this movement, his positions are compatible and similar. He is totally attuned to the issues addressed by Edmund Husserl and the later phenomenology of lived time, which overcomes the reductionistic treatment of time by Hume, a position of which deconstructive (Derrida) treatments remind us. And Marcel is equally attuned to the recent renditions of lived language, which overcomes the tendencies to reduce language to a diacritical system of signs in the tradition of structuralism and followed by the deconstruction of Derrida. Thus, one must conclude that Marcel does not ever lose phenomenological primordiality.
(5) Marcel's treatment of this question ultimately led to the well-developed position of one of his faithful followers, Paul Ricoeur. I am following here some points I made by way of summary of the paper read to the Gabriel Marcel Society in March of 1997 by Thomas Busch, and the summary and commentary by Brendan Sweetman. See: Gabriel Marcel Society Newsletter, March, 1997, edited by Robert Lechner. For the full text of the paper by Thomas Busch, see: Thomas W. Busch "Secondary Reflection as Interpretation," Bulletin de la Societe Americaine de Philosophie de Langue Francaise, Vol. VII, 2995, 183.
(6) Gabriel Marcel, Tragic Wisdom and Beyond: Including Conversations Between Paul Ricoeur and Gabriel Marcel, translated by Stephen Joln and Peter McCormick (Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1973), 221 (in conversation 1).
(7) Kenneth T. Gallagher, The Philosophy of Gabriel Marcel, foreword by Gabriel Marcel (New York: Fordham University Press, 1962). See Marcel's foreword to Gallagher's book, vii, and referring to page 84 of the Gallagher text.
(8) Katherine Rose Hanley, Gabriel Marcel's Perspectives on The Broken World, translated by Katharine Rose Hanley, introduced by Ralph McInerny (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1998), 178.
(9) Postmodern deconstruction has become such a popular fad in continental philosophy, literary criticism, theology, interpretation theory, language studies, and many other cognitive enterprises that it cannot be avoided in any intelligent discourse today on the relation between philosophy and Christian faith. For it has touched both of these enterprises, and not in a positive way.
(10) This treatment of the will to believe is close to that developed by William James in "The Will to Believe," in The Will to Believe: Human Immortality and Other Essays on Popular Philosophy (New York: Dover, 1956), 1-31. In "The Will to Believe," James distinguishes the basis from the truth of beliefs that he refers to as emerging from a genuine option. And the two instances of a genuine option are the choice to believe in God or not, and the choice to believe in a moral universe or a non-moral universe. Such options are genuine if they are significant, cannot be avoided, and at least minimally tempt our wills for belief. At this stage, this option to believe is based on the volitional and passional dimension of our personalities, and not on cognitive evidence for objective truth. The cognitive and its justification for truth come later, so that the justification is post-belief. James is trying to explain that the basis of such beliefs, since they are forced and cannot be avoided, is not the cognitive evidence which would make them true, but in the lack of such evidence, the "will to believe." And, as already mentioned, James only allows for two instances of such beliefs, the religious belief in God or no God, and the belief in freedom or no freedom in a universe. It must be emphasized that, for James, this does not preclude the question of truth and evidence. The belief is true or false based on evidence that supports it, while the basis of the belief is the will to believe, understood as the passional and volitional dimensions of our nature. For James as a pragmatist, this means that the true belief is the one that makes the most sense out of the whole picture of reality, the one that is rationally satisfying. Thus, this is not an appeal to merely subjective evidence, but is a claim based on objective evidence.
While these are the only two instances of a genuine option to believe for which James explicitly allows, throughout his essay a third type of option is latent and fully operative even though he does not advert to it in his treatise. James assumes a certain option to believe in the power of reason to arrive at truth based on evidence in knowledge, in science, and in philosophy. This option to believe has come to be referred to today as logocentrism, especially by those who are opposed to it in their own anti-logocentrism. We must focus now on logocentrism and anti-logocentrism in order to understand a fundamental challenge today that cuts beneath and against philosophy itself. This reflection is required today before attempting to discuss the relation between reason and supernatural faith. If this challenge from anti-logocentrism is not met, the discussion regarding faith and reason must take an entirely different direction than that proposed in this article, since reason, truth, and the process of making sense itself will have been deposed.
(11) William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Collier Books, 1961), 397-401.
(12) It might be objected that the mystics have often spoken in such a way as seemingly to support such views of deconstruction. The remarks of mystics are not, however, meant to be normative for all discourse and meaning, as is the claim of deconstruction. Also, mystical discourse can be accounted for logocentrically; deconstruction as anti-logocentric has no exclusive claim on it.
(13) Gabriel Marcel, The Mystery, of Being, translated by G.S. Fraser (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1960), Vol. II, ix. "The Hegelian idea of history, which is the source of the vilest idolatries of our time, is only a counterfeit or a perversion of a much more profound thought, a thought which cannot be embodied without the help of myth--the price we have to pay for our own condition which is that of incarnate beings. Here it is that philosophy reaches it boundaries, and awaits the first glimmers of the fires of revelation."
(14) Ibid., Vol. II, 204-205.
(15) Gabriel Marcel, Tragic Wisdom and Beyond, "Conversation 2," 229.
(16) Paul Ricouer, "Biblical Hermeneutics," Semeia IV, 1975), 142.
(18) Paul Ricoeur, "What does Humanism Mean?" in Political and Social Essays, edited by David Steward and Joseph Bien (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1974), 86.
(19) Paul Ricoeur, Fallible Man (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1965), 75.
(20) Paul Ricoeur, "What does Humanism Mean'?" 86. "But it is necessary to apply to the totality of history this limiting role of the ideal of its total meaning and to raise it up against all pretensions that would say what this total meaning is" 3.
(21) In addition, with more of his plays now translated into English, the students in Catholic studies programs can read and study his provocative plays and incorporate their dramatic dialogues and relations into a philosophical reflection with Marcel. One such work that comes to mind is the ensemble of The Broken World (Le Mond case) and the philosophical reflection to which it gave rise, "Concrete Approaches to Investigating the Ontological Mystery" ("Position et approches concrete du mystere") formerly translated as "Ontological Mystery." These two works, the play and the philosophical essay, form a very good ensemble for such a Catholic Studies program. The play raises certain fundamental religious and personal questions about human existence, upon which the philosophical essay reflects. They have recently been translated and published under one cover. See Katherine Rose Hanley, Gabriel Marcel's Perspectives on The Broken World. This volume includes Marcel's The Broken World, followed by Concrete Approaches to Investigating the Ontological Mystery.
(22) K. R. Hanley, Gabriel Marcel's Perspectives on the Broken World, 196.
Bourgeois, Patrick L. Philosophy at the Boundary, of Reason: Ethics and Postmodernity. New York: SUNY P, 2001.
Busch, Thomas W. "Secondary Reflection as Interpretation." Bulletin de la Societe Americaine de Philosophie de Langue Francaise, Vol. VII, 1995.
Gallagher, Kenneth T. The Philosophy of Gabriel Marcel. Foreword by Gabriel Marcel. New York: Fordham UP, 1962.
Hanley, Katherine Rose. Gabriel Marcel's Perspectives on The Broken World. Trans. Katharine Rose Hanley. Intro. Ralph McInerny. Milwaukee: Marquette UP, 1998.
James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Collier Books, 1961.
--. "The Will to Believe." The Will to Believe: Human Immortality and Other Essays on Popular Philosophy. New York: Dover, 1956.
Marcel, Gabriel Awakenings, Trans. Peter S. Rogers. Milwaukee: Marquette UP, 2003.
--. "Existence et objectivite," Revue de metaphysique et de morale, XXXII. 1925, 175195. (Appended to Journal metaphysique, 309-329).
--. The Mystery of Being. Trans. G. S. Fraser. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1960.
--. Tragic Wisdom and Beyond: Including Conversations Between Paul Ricoeur and Gabriel Marcel. Trans. Stephen John and Peter McCormick. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1973.
Ricouer, Paul. "Biblical Hermeneutics." Semeia IV. 1975.
--. Fallible Man. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1965.
--. "What does Humanism Mean?" Political and Social Essays. Ed. David Steward and Joseph Bien. Athens, Ohio: Ohio UP, 1974.
Patrick Bourgeois, the William and Audrey Hutchinson Distinguished Professor at Loyola University, New Orleans, received a PhD in philosophy from Duquesne University, an MA in liturgical theology from Notre Dame University, and an MA in Religion from Notre Dame Seminary. He has authored or co-authored eight books and nearly one hundred articles, and done much editing work. He has been President of the American Catholic Philosophical Association: President of the Societe Americaine de Philosophie de Langue Francaise (2000-2002) and past President of the Gabriel Marcel Society
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|Publication:||Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2003|
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