- Paperback: 358 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (May 12, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521717663
- ISBN-13: 978-0521717663
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,044,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Phenomenology of the Human Person 1st Edition
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"This rich metaphysical text is heavy indebted to Aristotle and Husserl, but at the same time refreshing only novel in its approach to such traditional philosophical topics as language, truth, knowledge, and selves...Though challenging at time, this work is not to be missed by those hungering for new insight into some of the most traditional issues in philosophy. Summing up: Recommended."
- H. Storl, Choice
"In Phenomenology of the Human Person, Sokolowski, a philosophy professor at the Catholic University of America, tackles an astonishing range of questions and resolves a number of intellectual confusions without sinking beneath the weight of conceptual complexity.
Claremont Review of Books, Robert Royal
In this book Robert Sokolowski argues that being a person means to be involved with truth. He shows that human reason is established by syntactic composition in language, pictures, and actions and that we understand things when they are presented to us through syntax.
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Sokolowski discusses human language in terms of names and syntax. As he writes on page 167: names "present a thing as to be thoughtfully unfolded." The thing may be either an individual (proper noun, "John Smith") or a universal (common noun, "human being"), and the unfolding takes place by way of syntax, because syntax is the means we have contrived in order to be able to "say something about something." That is, syntax is the means by which we engage in predication. The doctrine of mental representations comes in two forms. In its "innocent" form, our thinking concerns, not things in the world, but the "copies" or "ideas" of them that, supposedly, we have in our minds. In its radicalized form, which is the form Hume gives it, our thinking concerns, not "copy-ideas," but "fictional ideas" that we first construct in our imagination, and then impose on "the world" conceived as "modern science" conceives it, which is, as composed of nothing but matter or body "moving" in conformity with "natural laws." Hume's contention, then, is that, without these "fictions" (e.g., the fiction of "substantial identity"), we would literally have no "things" about which to think. Hence, Hume would have us regard ourselves as, essentially, constructors and deconstructors of fictions.
Turning now to speakers and listeners, on page 63, Sokolowski cites the psychologist Paul Bloom as arguing against a "widely held theory of how children learn names," according to which, "the child gets used to hearing a particular sound when a particular object appears, and suddenly or gradually the sound becomes the name of the object." But, "according to Bloom," as reported by Sokolowski, "[names] ... are not learned in this way; rather, the child must experience the sound as being used by someone else to name the object." Then, putting Bloom's claim in his own words, Sokolowski remarks: "The child does not just experience the word and the thing; he experiences another person using the word to signify the thing. Without this mediation of another person, sounds would not be taken as words." Picking up the thread of speakers and listeners on page169, Sokolowski observes: "One mind by itself is, effectively, no mind. One mind cannot be actualized as a mind without the stimulus of speech with others." Now, as I understand it, these sentences take what was said on page 63 about the child's acquisition of names, and generalize it to cover how we acquire a mind and learn how to think. That is, just as the child acquires a language through the mediation of others acting as speakers, so we (strange as it sounds) acquire a mind and learn how to think in the same way. That is, mind and thinking are not automatically ours; we have to acquire the one, and learn how to do the other. And the place in which we make the acquisition and do the learning is "the human conversation."
Sokolowski borrows the term "the human conversation" from the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott. Both would, I think, understand the human conversation in some such terms as these. It includes everyone who has ever thought and spoken, on any subject whatever, and who has had his or her thought and speech entered into the record, whether oral or written, where it waits for us to take it up, reflect on it, respond to it, and, by so doing, enter into the conversation ourselves. At the same time, however, Sokolowski sees the end or objective of the human conversation differently from the way Oakeshott sees it. For Oakeshott, the human conversation is an "inconsequent adventure." For Sokolowski it is, in all its departments, aimed at truth. These departments comprise the various ways in which we speak about things, e.g., morally, politically, scientifically, and philosophically. Sokolowski suggests that in each of these departments, we are motivated by a desire for truth; he calls this desire "veracity"; he defines it as "the eros involved with reason"; and, more broadly, he says of it: "[This] desire is" very deep in us, more basic than any particular desire or emotion, more elemental than any particular attempt to find things out, and more fundamental than any act of telling the truth to others. We are made human by it, and it is there in us to be developed well or badly." (p. 21).
The threads of speakers, listeners, and the human conversation converge on page 217, and their convergence results in a philosophical clarification of what human beings or persons are. Sokolowski writes: "The persons recognized as speakers and listeners may be deemed more or less successful in their speaking and listening, but they are engaged in the activity in a way that animals and plants are not ... It is philosophically notable that not all entities in the world can be taken as interlocutors. Some but not all are admissible to this status. Only those who are admissible are characterized as persons."
I end with this piece of dogmatism. Today, we are invited to think of ourselves either "scientifically" as, like everything else in "nature," the behavior of our matter (e.g., neurons); or "humansitically," as the constructors and deconstructors of fictions. Or, finally, we are invited to think of ourselves as (the term is Sokolowski's) "agents of truth." For myself, I prefer the third alternative, mainly because I do not see how I can claim that I deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, just because of what I am--if all I am is neurons or a constructor and deconstructor of fictions.
But to get to the core of the text: To be a person is to be animated by concerns with truth. This is the thesis of the noted author. And why shouldn't this be the best available way of approaching the meaning of personhood: we are inescapably involved in matters of truth and falsity.
I have always found Sokolowski's reflections cautious, analytically precise, and balanced. It is a rewarding read for those of us who which to know why being a person is a full time job, possibly the only truly serious full time job.