Saturday, December 15, 2012

65. Otherhumanism

Traditional western humanism is focused on the self. I turn to another humanism that is oriented more towards the other, which I call otherhumanism. In this blog I developed arguments for it and I now bring them together.

In item 49 on freedom I argued that the self needs others to achieve the highest possible level of freedom: the freedom to escape from the prejudices of the self about what it should want.

In item 57 I argued that there is more or less cognitive distance between people, and that this difference yields a problem, in lack of mutual understanding, but also an opportunity for learning. If objective knowledge is impossible then testing our insights on what ‘others have made of it’ is the only chance we have to correct our errors.

In item 31 I summarized a cycle of invention in which application of existing knowledge and competence to novel contexts, with new challenges and opportunities, can lead to new knowledge and competence. In item 58 that insight was applied for a deeper insight into how communication, by fitting each other’s different insights into each other’s cognitive structures can lead to their transformation. That yields deeper insight into the importance of the other for learning by the self.

In language, there is Wittgenstein’s argument of the impossibility of a private language. The self needs the other to establish meaning and for making sense. In item 37 on the change of meaning I applied the theory of invention to change of meaning. Universals derive their meaning from specific cases and as abstractions from them are only temporary, forming a platform for application in novel contexts by which universals and their meanings shift.

In item 60 I discussed Nietzsche’s (mostly implicit) assumption that the self can rise above itself without the need for any other. In item 61 I discussed Levinas, as a polar opposite to Nietzsche, in recognition of the need of the self to open up to the other as a source of transcendence.

In sum, my argument for otherhumanism is as follows. Any hereafter as life after death is an illusion. The hereafter is not you yourself but the people and their environment that you leave behind. If you want to make your life worthwhile and dedicate yourself to the hereafter then the only way is dedication to others and to the society of the future. Dedication to others is not at the expense of yourself and life. The self needs others to escape from illusory certainties as well as doubt, to achieve the highest possible level of freedom, to achieve its potential, to develop and transcend itself, and thereby to utilize the unique gift of life.

This leads to a notion of the flourishing of life that goes beyond the life of the self, not in a claim to any absolute, universal good beyond the world, but in participation and contribution to the flourishing of others, during and after our life. 

The views and analyses that I present in this blog are perhaps more congenial with Eastern, in particular Chinese, philosophy than with Western philosophy. Later, in a sequel to the present blog, I will consider that in some detail. For the moment, let me just give a few indications. My otherhumanism seems close to the social humanism of Confucius, with its perspective of benevolence (although I do not much like the importance assigned to propriety, ritual and respect for authority). In Buddhism and in Chinese philosophy I find interest in change and impermanence, in different ways, which is congenial to my imperfection on the move. The Chinese notions of yin and yang, and later developments in neo-Confucianism (e.g. in the notions of opening and closing in the philosophy of Xiang Shili) seem to have some resemblance to my cycle of invention. There is a strong tradition of integrating thought and action, which is congenial to the pragmatism that I preach and practice.   

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