23 April 2007
‘World-Openness’ as Constitutive of Man as Person
The constitutive characteristic of man as a personal being is his ability to relate unlimitedly to all that exists. This capacity distinguishes the nature of man from vegetative and animal beings. I will argue that man’s ability to relate to the world in its entirety is what constitutes his being as spiritual or personal subject. Pragmatists, such as James and Dewey, deny man’s world-openness by approaching man practically and positing an evolutionary anthropology explaining man and his faculties entirely in terms adaptation to the environment. While it cannot be denied that man does have a practical dimension to his existence, man’s restless wondering indicates a dimension in which he transcends the practical. We see and observe that men are not ultimately content with knowing the significance of things in their consequences for him, but wonders about how things are in themselves. The consideration of a being as a being for itself and in itself requires as a necessary precondition that he be open to all that exists. Our analysis of man will hinge on this peculiar act of distancing himself from the considered object and simultaneously putting himself in relation to it. I will attempt to show that this act requires man to be open to the world and that it must be grounded in personal subjectivity.
My thesis that world-openness is constitutive of man as person has import for every man because it sheds light on the purpose of human existence. Since in order to answer the question ‘why am I here at all?’, the “here” or the human situation must first be understood, yet we must go further to answer this question by first asking what man is. I will assert in this paper that world-openness tells us that man is essentially a person. When the nature of man’s personhood is seen the human situation becomes manifest and consequently illumines his purpose in that situation. While it is not my immediate concern how my thesis specifically relates to the purpose of human existence, it is enough to note that it is important in that regard.
In order to demonstrate how world-openness is constitutive of man as person, I will proceed by outlining the metaphysical character of living material beings such as plants and animals so as to compare them to man’s nature. Subsequently, I will examine a peculiarity about man in that he manifests evidence for existence in a dimension transcendent to that of plants and animals. We will then see why this transcendence must be open to all that exists and how that openness has to be grounded in personal subjectivity. In order to draw out the precise nature of man’s world-openness, however, we must first examine the nature of life and the situation of the organism and its relation to its environment.
Life and Interiority
Traditionally, the power for self-movement was seen as the most evident characteristic of what we call “life”. Self-movement defies a purely physical explanation and goes beyond the blind causality of action and reaction of inanimate matter. The principle that accounts for autonomous movement of living beings we will refer to as the ‘vital principle’. The vital principle seems to be immaterial in itself such that organizes and structures the material components from ‘within’. Accelerated video footage of the growth of plants is helpful in conceptualizing what I mean by the ‘vital principle’ because it is evident there is some dynamic principle that actively takes up nutrients from the soil and organizes and integrates them into the visibly growing plant. We can observe the external activities of the plant’s life processes, but the vital principle itself escapes physical observation and thus is immaterial.
The ‘vital principle’ constitutes an “inner-side” or a “center” of the living being from which the individual organism senses and responds to the surrounding world of things, which touch upon the drives, and aims of life. The “center” of which we speak in this context is not a geometrical center as an inorganic being such as a stone might have an innermost point in its space designated as its “center”. The vital principle or the ‘life’ in the organism unites all the parts into a true unity. If the organism is dissected into its constitutive material parts, the life ceases to exist in it. There is no real unity, however, found in inorganic beings because the matter of which it is solely composed is really only “one” in the sense that it is an aggregate, much in the same way a pile of hay is “one”. There is, however, a stronger unity in the case of an atom or a molecule in that their components are held together by chemical bonds, but even this is does not approach upon the unity we find in a living organism.
The interiority manifested in all organic beings is inconceivable without a corresponding “exterior”. As the interior of the living being is not a physical inside likewise the “exterior” of the living being is not merely physical objects around it. The whole range of things to which the living being relates constitutes the 'exterior'. In other words, every organism can be said to have its own exterior environment in which it acts and to which it reacts. Josef Pieper calls this sense of ‘environment’ a “field of relations” (82) which the organism possesses. The German word “umwelt” captures well the sense of ‘environment’ that I intend here. Literally translated, umwelt means ‘a world around’. The exterior environment of the living individual consists of those things around it that pertain to its vital center; the umwelt is not the world, but its “world”. Here we come to a dimension of life that is particularly relevant for our present discussion, namely that a living being has a real relation to a world.
The relation of an organism to a world is possible because as a living being, the vital principle constitutes a dynamic center from which a relation exists between that center and everything outside and touching upon that center. This metaphysical ‘interior-exterior’ dialect makes relationship possible. Josef Pieper remarks on this point saying, “relationship can only exist, where there is an “inside,” a dynamic center, from which all operation has its source and to which all that is received, all that is experienced, is brought” (81). Without the interiority proper to living beings, there can only be blind causality and random correlation as there is between rocks drifting in outer space. Even operations according to the physical laws of the universe are “blind” in that they are not teleological; only in the case of a living being do actions become teleological. This point is very important for our present discussion because we will be examining what man’s relation to the world is.
We know empirically that life has its own drives and aims. These “directions”, as we might call them, are the “channels” in which life moves. The most fundamental drive of life is towards satisfaction. The nature of this satisfaction is twofold. The satisfaction of the condition within elements of the organism itself and its adjustment to its environment.
Since the aim of this paper is to point to the character that constitutes man as a person, essentially different from plants and animals, we must first briefly investigate some essential characteristics of vegetable being and animal being and the relation they have to their environments. Vegetative life makes up the lowest form of life because its independence from the environment is severely limited, both in its physical immobility and also sensibly in its lack of a central nervous system. Consequently, the plant’s world is the smallest in scope as Pieper notes, “The lowest world is that of the plant, which does not reach beyond what it touches in its own vicinity” (82). The lack of a central nervous system required for sense perception restricts its “world” only to what touches its vicinity. We may say because of these limitations, the plant cannot relate to its “world”; it is utterly immersed in its environment.
Animals possess a radically higher interiority because of their ability to perceive things in its environment. Its central nervous system allows it to distance itself to a greater degree than the plant, yet even the animal possessed of sensation is unable to objectify things. Scheler also remarks on this point and says, “The animal has no “object.” It lives, as it were, ecstatically immersed in its environment which it carries along as a snail carries it shell” (39). The work of the biologist Jakob von Uexküll also bears this fact out. He notes, “The environments of animals are not at all the whole expanse of nature, but resemble a narrow, furnished apartment” (40). Von Uexküll goes on to explain that crows for instance do not perceive a motionless grasshopper in front of it until the grasshopper moves because only then does the grasshopper enter into its practical range of relations. The nature of the animal is marked by its ability to sense and perceive things around it, but we see that these abilities do not establish a true distance between the animal and its environment that would open it to the world. The animal is always limited to its particular environment composed of the complex of things which have a practical aspect for the animals vital impulse toward satisfaction.
We now come to our consideration of man and his relation to his world as essentially distinct from plants and animals. At first glance, we see that man too has the nutritive and biochemical elements that characterize plant life and the centralized psychic consciousness of animals. Being possessed of such vegetative and animal principles, man likewise has a practical dimension to his nature due to the drive for ‘vital’ satisfaction. Upon deeper scrutiny, however, man manifests a peculiar behavior in that he restlessly wonders about things.
It has been said that when an animal satisfies all its needs it goes to sleep and when man has satisfied all his needs he asks a question. Man wonders why a thing exists such as it is and not differently. He also wonders why anything exists at all instead of nothing. This sort of questioning completely leaves the practical domain of usefulness. Crosby shows that this putting things in question indicates a step outside of the scope of practical needs and throws the ipseity of the thing in question into relief (161). In other words we see that man makes the thing in question an object seen in its own right by wondering about it as it is in itself and not under any practical aspect.
The ability to see things as they are in themselves requires as a condition that man be a world-open being. When we say that man is being open to the world, we first need to clarify what we mean by ‘the world’ how it is distinct from a surrounding environment or an umwelt. As we said earlier, every living being has a “world” understood as its own surrounding environment, but when we speak of the world, we are referring to the sum total of being, everything that exists. Understood thus, the human world is the world. This transcendent dimension of human nature above the ‘life’ dimension we will call the “spiritual”. On account of his spiritual nature, man can philosophize or intuit essences. When man takes a step beyond the practical dimension, he does something uniquely human. Pieper notes this saying, “By its nature, spirit (or intellection) is not so much distinguished by its immateriality, as by something more primary: its ability to be in relation to the totality of being” (85). The ability to know things in themselves requires that man be open to the world and we can see this clearly elucidated and demonstrated in Karl Rahner’s theory of the Vorgriff auf das Sein.
Vorgriff is a German word that is some times translated into English as ‘preapprehension’ and is meant by Rahner to indicate an a priori condition for all human “innerworldy knowing and acting” (Rahner, 54). The nature of the Vorgriff becomes clear in the context of human abstraction and knowledge. For instance, when we know an object in itself, we grasp the intelligible quiddity or “whatness” of the object as a limitless possible determination for any number of individual objects. This process of deriving a universal concept from a singular object is basically the process of abstraction. The importance of the Vorgriff for our discussion on world-openness is that it is the necessary condition for the possibility of this abstraction.
In affirming the limitless quality of the quiddity from our encounter with the individual object, we experience and are aware of the limitation found in the individual object itself. Rahner points out that in experiencing the “thisness” of the particular object as a limitation we presuppose a ‘reaching out for more’ that comes against the limit and therefore experiences it as such, as an obstacle. It is precisely this restless ‘reaching for more’ that is the Vorgriff. The “more” that is being aimed at in the Vorgriff “can only be the absolute range of all knowable objects as such” (54) according to Rahner. The significance of the Vorgriff is that it opens up to us the “horizon”, so to speak, in which we place the singular objects of our human knowledge. As such, then, the Vorgriff and its range cannot be an act of knowledge and an object properly speaking because this horizon is the very condition that makes “objectification” possible. When we put a thing in question we are trying to grasp with our intellect its essence, what it is in itself. Rahner’s theory shows how this intellectual act must be open to everything that is. The “horizon” or “range” of the Vorgriff cannot be anything but what we have called the world as a whole.
Max Scheler takes up this theme of objectification and its implications for man as a spiritual or personal being. He says, “Man alone—in so far as he is a person—is able to go beyond himself as an organism and to transform, from a center beyond the spatiotemporal world, everything (himself included) in to an object of knowledge. Thus man as a spiritual being is a being that surpasses himself in the world” (Scheler, 46). Man’s openness to the world allows him this unique act of objectifying a thing by putting it in question. While some may be wary of such a seemingly far fetched conclusion, Crosby points out that by the very act of understanding our environment as a mere environment “we have already reached beyond it, taken a position above it, situated it in the world, in a sense relativized it, and so transcended it as no animal can transcend its environment” (167). In pointing out that man indeed takes a position as a world-open spirit above his environment is not to say that he does not have an environment. Man lives so to speak with a foot in the world and in his environment.
In order to elucidate this phenomenon of man living in an “overlapping” of world and environment, Crosby offers a helpful concrete analogy of the hiker (Crosby, 166-167). While climbing to a peak, the hiker has many practical consideration that occupy his mind such as what route he will take, what the weather conditions are, and even something as simple as where to place his foot on the path. All these practical concerns narrow his world to his pragmatic environment. The hiker, however, can stop and take a look around him and place his whole environment as an object in front of him and admire its beauty. In doing so, man leaves for moment the world of his practical concerns and opens himself to the world.
Pragmatism is a school thought that seeks to approach reality, including man, from a practical or “realistic” point of view. In this paper, I will take John Dewey as my primary point of reference for my thesis’ pragmatic counterpoint. In approaching man practically, pragmatists take seriously the value of consequences for understanding reality. Dewey says, “The doctrine of the value of consequences leads us to take the future into consideration. And this taking into consideration of the future takes us to the conception of a universe whose evolution is not finished” (Thayer, 33). This pragmatic doctrine leads us to consider things in their relation to the future toward which they are in a trajectory towards. I shall outline what this means for our understanding of man and subsequently its implication for our consideration of man as a world-open being.
Adhering to an evolutionary worldview, Pragmatism interprets all of man’s faculties and actions in terms of adaptation to the environment. While it may be easy to see how eating, drinking, and sleeping function as adaptive mechanisms, Dewey explains even human intelligence in terms of its adaptive function. In his chapter titled, “Habit and Intelligence” (172-180), Dewey gives us an illustration of the origin of thought and its place in the life of man. Thought is “provoked” by the conflict between “habit” and “impulse” as a sort of reconciler of the disturbed situation. In order to more clearly illustrate Dewey’s conception of human intelligence and its function I will employ a metaphor of human life as a game.
The usefulness of the ‘life-game’ metaphor comes from the fact that Dewey sees all of man’s faculties and actions in terms of their practical relation to the objective of adaptation to the environment. When some one really “gets into” a game such as soccer or even a war, everything is seen and considered practically according to its relation to the goal of the game. Dewey might not exactly say life is a game, because a game always has a definite objective and outcome. In another sense, however, I think he would agree. The ‘life-game’, however, should be understood as a type of game where there is not one set objective, but objectives that are always changing from moment to moment with the development of conflicts between our environment and our habits. What “adaptation” concretely means for man varies according to the given situation he finds himself in.
As we said before, the pragmatist holds that thought is provoked by the conflict between habit and impulse. Keeping with our metaphor of the ‘life-game’, impulse is understood to be the drive to win the game, to achieve the objective and our habits are the strategies we have developed over the course of our past experience. As often happens, our strategies sometimes prove to be inadequate in a new situation and thus come into conflict with our impulse to reach the goal. We constantly need to update our strategies to take into account new information and new circumstances. For example, when a military general is about to begin his assault on the enemy and receives a piece of intelligence that thwarts his plan and any backup plans he may have, he is forced to reconsider how to achieve his objective, winning the battle. This is the point where thought is provoked and human intelligence functions according to Dewey.
Without some disturbance between our habits and impulse we would not think because our habits operate routinely and take place absentmindedly (Dewey 173). We do not think about tying our shoes because our habits are so adept at it. Likewise, the more adapted we are to the given environment the less thought is required. When, however, our habits turn out to be ineffective or inadequate for the environment, it is like coming up to a dead end in a maze. Our impulse is to reach the exit but our chosen path (habit) conflicts with it. This conflict is the point at which thought is provoked. As a man needs to reconsider and adjust his route in the maze as he has come upon an obstacle, thinking is the process whereby he takes a view from above the maze and sees how he might adjust his route (habit) and thus bring it into harmony with his impulse again. This process of “clearing up” the disturbance between habit and impulse is the “essential function” (180) of intelligence according to Dewey.
Pragmatism and World-Openness
It may be asked if the position of thought above the rut of habits according to the pragmatic theory of human intelligence outlined above is basically another way of articulating man’s openness to the world. We must first recall that we said it is the consideration of things as they are in themselves that requires man to be open to the world. Dewey could be seen to come close to positing a kind of world-openness when he speaks of the relation of habits to thought. He says, “[Habits] prevent thought from straying away from its imminent occupation to a landscape more varied and picturesque but irrelevant to practice” (172). Dewey goes on to say that habits never fully prevent thought from “straying” to its “landscape” (172). The question for us is whether this “landscape” is basically the world as the ‘horizon’ of Rahner’s Vorgriff is. If I read Dewey correctly, this “landscape” of thought is what man falls back upon when habits fail in order to search out an alternative means of adjusting to the environment. For Dewey, this “landscape”, however, is not the world of being but an imaginary and fanciful landscape for the most part irrelevant to man. Like the military general from our previous example who must reconsider his strategy and imagine all possibilities, thought, considered thus, does not really break free from the game and open man to the world. Intelligence is no more than a special tool for producing or adjusting new habits or strategies in the ‘life-game’ when the current complex of habits fails. In order for man to be really world-open he must be able to recognize that he is in fact in this ‘life-game’ of adjusting to the environment. When he can recognize that he is in a game, he takes a position open to the world above the game. If I am successful in showing that in objectifying the “game” man must be open to the world, it is ironic to note that this transcendence of the “game” would be exactly what Dewey does in even speaking of man as an exclusively practical being.
We have said that considering a thing as it is itself places man in a position open to the world, but might we say that even this act is not truly open to the world, but a very indirect way of seeking desirable consequences? Scheler tried to refute the pragmatic anthropology on this issue by pointing to instances of “pure cognition” by which he means knowledge sought for its own sake and not for any consequences it may have for man. Scheler uses the example of a researcher who conducts an experiment not to any specific end or with any knowledge of possible future usefulness his research may have (Frings 215). Here he simply wishes to know, just to know. This example, however, does not exclude for me the objection that the researcher need not be aware of the consequences of his work even at a general level. It may seem that he simply wishes to know, but that may be because at some level he is dissatisfied with his current situation and is exploring possibilities that may lead to a greater control of the environment. Since the more that is known, the more effectively man can adapt whether by changing his behavior or the conditions of his environment.
This objection, however, has more to do with the example itself than Scheler’s premise and so it remains to be seen whether we might find a better instance of “pure cognition”. Though I agree that Scheler’s instance can be in fact an act of “pure cognition”, I do not think it can be denied that any use of the scientific method seems to be eminently practical and thus open the pragmatist’s critique. I propose that an instance of pure cognition less susceptible to a pragmatic approach is that of a lover cognizing a personality trait of his beloved. In this case it seems obvious that the lover wishes to know his beloved better because of his love for her, assuming a pure love. I should also remark that it does not follow that simply because an act may have a practical aspect, that it must have been performed for that intention. I think that this instance of the lover and the beloved succeeds in completely escaping the practical and thus defies a pragmatist explanation.
World-Openness and Personal Subjectivity
We have seen how a common experience of considering a thing in itself points to a transcendent dimension of man’s existence that is open to the world. Our task now is to show how openness to the world can only be had by a person and to see the nature of the relation of man to objects in the world and to other persons. Martin Buber’s account of the “principle of man” as a twofold movement of ‘distance’ and ‘relation’ is a very useful insight, which we will take as our starting point. From here I will show how only a personal subject can put objects in the world at a distance and have an experience of the world. Furthermore, we will see how this recognition of the ‘other’ at a distance is not only the presupposition of entry into relation, but is also the origin of our awareness of ourselves as a ‘self’. Finally, we will conclude our investigation in discussing how the metaphysical distance between two selves or persons is not only overcome by relation, but how the very foundation of their self-possession and self-realization is had through mutual affirmation in the gift of self.
Appealing to our experience of the world, we cannot help but recognize a metaphysical distance between ourselves and the rest of the world. Everything outside of myself is seen as ‘other’, an independent opposite over against me. This primal movement of ‘setting at a distance’ is none other than what makes the consideration of a thing in itself possible. We detach an object from the sheer presence of its place in our complex of practical needs and wants when we put the object in question. For example, walking through a zoo, a man might be passing all kinds of animals in their habitats on his way to some particular exhibit. It may happen that on his way over there a certain peculiar animal catches his attention and he stops to observe and marvel at it. His fascination for this animal is completely irrelevant to his way to his destination. If he had not stopped, he still would have seen the same animal in passing, but his relation to it would be little more than an image in the peripheral of his consciousness. However, his stopping to consider the animal is a moment of setting the animal before him that he may contemplate it. Buber says, “’what is’ (das Seiende) becomes detached from him, and recognized for itself” (51). This detachment from practicality and setting at a distance is no more than what we said before was the indication of man’s world-openness. Furthermore, in our experience of the world as an independent opposite over against me, I am able to be aware of myself as present to myself as a self. Since everything is placed at a distance, I cannot help but be aware of myself as distanced from the world. Being self-aware, however, is not to say that the state of being distant from the world is what realizes our selfhood, it is only the origin of our self-consciousness.
Before proceeding to discuss man’s relation to the world, we should consider an objection, which our pragmatist adversary might offer regarding this act of ‘setting at a distance’ that we have taken as the basis of our understanding of world-openness. The objection here is not a denial of man’s world-openness, but that world-openness is basically a means of adapting to an environment. Buber himself touches upon this possible objection saying, “The view could be put forward that this giving of independence to a world is the result of agelong development of mankind, and that it can therefore not be constitutive of man as such” (52). Buber does not concern himself with this objection at this point, but I think it merits serious consideration in this paper, given our thesis. If giving an independence to the world developed in response to a practical need at some point in human history we may indeed conclude that it could not be constitutive of man because what is essentially human is valid not for a particular time or place, but as long as being is, eternally. The objection seems to be based on the notion that world-openness is an accidental characteristic of man’s that has arisen in response to a need. My answer to this objection is that if world-openness is constitutively human as I hope to demonstrate sufficiently in this paper, then it goes to follow that world-openness could never be an accidental characteristic as another degree in an evolutionary process. As world-openness is the metaphysical ground of a kind of being, without that ground a being would not be human, whatever else it might be. It still remains, however, to be shown how exactly world-openness is grounded in personal subjectivity, so let us continue.
Having briefly considered the implications of man’s primal movement of distancing himself from a object put in question, we need to consider the relation present between the two in order to come to some conclusion about the significance of world-openness for man. In the course of our investigation of world-openness, we remarked on two modes under which man relates. He relates to things practically and also to things in themselves. Buber names these two modes respectively as ‘I-It’ relationship and ‘I-Thou’ relationship. An ‘I-Thou’ relation, however, is most truly a relation because an ‘I-It’ relation is only a relation inasmuch as the ‘It’ is only significant for the ‘I’. The ‘I-It’ relation is more of link between two beings found in connection the to the purpose the ‘It’ has for the ‘I’ as we examined in our ‘life-game’ metaphor. The ‘I-Thou’ relation is the relation we are particularly concerned with because it is this kind of relating that is constitutively human. The ‘Thou’ in the ‘I-Thou’ relation, it should be noted, is not restricted to personal beings; ‘Thou’ indicates the position of an object being considered in its self by an ‘I’.
We must be careful not to see man’s entry into relation as something separate or subsequent to the movement of ‘setting at a distance’; man can only enter into the ‘I-Thou’ relation when he sets the ‘Thou’ at a distance. We have said much of how distance is necessary for man to be open to the world, but the ‘I-Thou’ relation really makes man world-open. It is not the distance that gives man a world, but his connection to it that establishes a world as a world. Here we come to a crucial point for our thesis because man’s relation to the world is not one as to an aggregate of objects or parts that make up the world, but the world as a whole. In fact, the world would simply be an aggregate or a sum of its parts without a person to establish it as a wholeness. The power of man to say ‘Thou’ to the world as a whole is an act that necessarily involves his entire being. The ability to gather or recollect one’s entire being is uniquely personal because only a person can have themselves as a self.
In order to get a more concrete understanding of what we are trying to say here, let me offer an illustration of this manifestly personal dimension of man’s being. A businessman walking down a crowded street sees the people around him as little more than peripheral images as he makes his way to his destination. His relation to the others around him is what we have called with Buber an ‘I-It’ relation. His only relation to them is according to their usefulness, which in this specific case they are obstacles in his path. If all of sudden the man recognizes the face of an old friend walking the opposite direction, the man “comes to himself” and immediately is cast in a different mode of relating to this person than he had been but a moment before. In this moment of recognition, the man transcends his ‘I-It’ mode of relating to his surroundings by stopping and recollecting himself—gathering his entire being—by distancing himself from everything that is not himself and putting himself in relation with the friend (considered for himself) in his surprised greeting. The reason I think this illustration is effective in showing the essentially different characters of the modes of relating is because the transition from the one to the other is so abrupt and is a fairly common human experience. Before recognizing the friend, he is not really present to any of those around him; he is absorbed in his purpose. In greeting his friend, a excellent instance of an ‘I-Thou’ relation, he makes himself entirely present to him.
The power to “gather” one’s being is indeed uniquely personal, but in itself is not yet a complete act of relation. Man enters into relation and completes distance in making himself present to another ‘I’ through the gift of self. Self-donation here requires the self-possession inherent in recollection since one cannot give what he does not have. The significance of this self-donation is found in the affirmation of the self by the other. When a man makes himself present to another, the other’s affirmation and confirmation of his being is a reciprocal gift of actualizing that given ‘self’ that completes the gift. This is precisely what Buber means when he says:
For the inmost growth of the self is […] accomplished […] in the relation between the one and the other, between men, that is, pre-eminently in the mutuality of the making present—in the making present of another self and in the knowledge that one is made present in his own self by the other—together with the mutuality of acceptance, of affirmation and confirmation. (61)
So while world-openness as such is what constitutes man as person, the actualization of man’s personhood only occurs in the act of the gift of self and the reception and reciprocal gift by the other.
We can also infer something about man’s personal interiority not only from his relation to the world, but from the quality of the world as an absolute. Since man is able to relate to an absolute world and not merely a subjective and particular environment, that must presuppose an absolute, yet contingent, interiority. Pieper notes this same thing saying, “to have a world, to be related to the totality of existing things – that can occur only in a being that is “established in itself”: not a “what,” but a “who” – an “I,” a person” (90). The necessary correspondence of the kind of interiority with the kind of exteriority cannot lead us to conclude anything but that man must be a personal subject. Consequently we are justified in making our thesis statement that ‘world-openness’ constitutes man as a personal being.
In coming to a conclusion, we should note first the import of our thesis. It is not enough to say that man has a world; we need to recognize that this openness to the world constitutes man as a person because world-openness is grounded in personal subjectivity. World-openness shows man to be a person, a category of being radically higher than that of plants and animals. This is significant for men and women today because world-openness shows what the characteristically human situation is. The human situation is the possibility to find actualization through the gift of self. This is the same truth affirmed by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church in the document Gaudium et Spes, where she says, “[Man] cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes, 24).
So we have seen in the course of this paper that our thesis that world-openness is the constitutive character of man as person does not abolish the pragmatic anthropology, but incorporates its view of man as a practical being as one dimension of human existence into a fuller vision of man. We saw how man as a living bodily being exists, like plants and animals, in a concrete spatiotemporal environment. The ability of man to “objectify” things by putting them in question, however, is evidence that he exists in a transcendent dimension. This transcendence necessarily consists in being open to the world since the philosophical act, which is nothing more than putting a thing in question, requires as a necessary condition that the known object be placed against the “background” of all that exists and thus seen as this being.
As man has such a capacity for unlimited relation to all that exists, this power requires a corresponding absolute interiority. An interiority where the being is so ‘in itself’ that it actually has a ‘self’, is a person. This correspondence is necessary because the power to enter into relation is in direct proportion to a being’s power over itself. Recognizing man’s power to relate to the absolute world of all that exists, he must be a being that can gather his entire being and possess himself fully. Self-possession is exclusively characteristic of a personal subject and therefore we may conclude that world openness is what constitutes man as a person.
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