Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Gabriel Marcel: A Philosopher for all Seasons

Our present society, much like the world of antiquity, has succumbed to an anxiety and a sense of meaningless, both of which are symptoms of its flight from God. What is the task of the Christian philosopher or theologian in such a troubled climate, a climate pervaded by relativism and despair? In the words of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger:

"..sooner or later, the professional philosopher and the professional theologian will be forced to realize what it is that people expect of them. This expectation far surpasses the external trappings of scholarship. People expect answers to the great questions of life: deep down, what does it mean to be a human being?" (Faith, Philosophy and Theology, p.10).

Modern man is hungry for absolute truth. The truth about God and the truth about what it means to be a human being. It was Jacques Maritain who wrote that, "The great danger which threatens modern societies is a weakening of the sense of Truth. On the one hand men become so accustomed to thinking in terms of stimuli and responses, and adjustment to environment; on the other hand they are so bewildered by the manner in which the political techniques of advertising and propaganda use the words of the language that they are tempted finally to give up any interest in truth: only practical results, or sheer material verification of facts and figures, matter for them, without internal adherence to any truth really grasped. The philosopher who in pursuing his speculative task pays no attention to the interests of men, or of the social group, or of the state, reminds society of the absolute and unbending character of Truth." (On the Use of Philosophy, Atheneum, pp. 8-9).

But for Ratzinger, it is only by keeping his appeal in mind that we will be able to fully understand the rational claims of both philosophy and theology, and their mutual relationship. Enter Gabriel Marcel: Philosopher of Communion. A man whose philosophy has influenced my own so profoundly. In the words of Fr. Vincent P. Miceli:

"Perhaps this era’s outstanding philosopher, who worked hard for more than fifty years unmasking the hidden prevarications that have produced our ‘broken world’ and revealed the transcendent values that can yet save it from utter ruin, was Gabriel Marcel, a truly remarkable man. Wherever he went - and he traveled the whole world, except those regions walled against freedom which feared his presence - his delight was to be known as a neo-Socratic, not as an existentialist, a label he detested for its vulgar connotations.

Just as Socrates in Fifth Century Athens played the gadfly to his fellow Athenians, stinging them into an awareness of their ignorance and into an alertness to their sacredness, so Marcel has been raising difficulties these many years for the easy conscience of an age which is secure in the possession of its material progress and smug in the splendor of its intellectual learning.

Marcel’s excavations into lived experience represents in modern philosophy a break with the myopic dogmatism of natural science which affirms that the transcendent can never be encountered within the confines of experience. Moreover, these same probings run counter to the empty sophistries of the abstractionist philosophers who drain reality of its mysteries and desecrate it with techniques of degradation. Marcel’s kind of philosophy probes the mystery and meaning of existence, of the human person; he refers to this kind of thought as a ‘concrete philosophy, a philosophy of existence.’

The main elements of this concrete philosophy may be summed up under three headings: 1) The main truth in philosophy is: the doctrine of participation; 2) The main question for philosophers should be: how to think participation; 3) The main answer to that question is: participation is thought through a secondary reflection that is creative and free. The ascent to the plenitude of being, i.e., to communion is achieved mainly through the activities of fidelity, hope, love...

Basic to the thought of Gabriel Marcel is the need to break out of the barriers of monadic immanence. Trained in German-constructed philosophic systems, Marcel as a youth experienced the bitter loneliness of a man who is stranded and cut off in a desert universe, furrowed with moral imperatives and darkened with clouds of invincible despair. On the brink of a complete breakdown, he rejected idealism irrevocably, throwing off its mental straight jacket and plunging deeply into that current of personal and passionate research known as lived or concrete experience. There, in exhilarating wonderment, he discovered the physical tensions among cosmic creatures, the gravitational sociality of truth between human intelligences and the magnetic attractions of presences towards each other and beyond to the plenitude of the Absolute Presence.

Marcel’s principal insight was uttered superbly long before by St. Augustine: ‘To know the truth we must be in the truth.’ Another shorthand expression of this intuition might be: to philosophize is to invoke the being which is present unsummoned, to love the being which is present unloved. The last word in the philosophic quest is not expressed with the detached mind but with the whole person freely committed to a love for truth. Man must freely attest to the indubitable presence of being. The knower to whom being is present must become the lover by whom being is embraced, otherwise the knower maintains the sterile position of being an isolated, insularized ego. The fact is that the experience of being arises in participation; even more strictly, it is an experience of communion: esse est co-esse, to be is to-be-with. There can be no I, no knower except in so far as there is communion. A self segregated, sealed off from other selves, quite simply is not. The self surges into being within communion. To be a creature is to be related, to be co-present to others. The continuing existence of the self is a gift from a transcendent generosity. Nay more, the most intimate and refined treasures of the self are created within the reciprocal generosity of other selves." (Women Priests and Other Fantasies," Roman Catholic Books, pp. 314-315).

Gabriel Marcel proposes a concrete philosophy which is determined by the "bite of reality." His philosophy anticipates the appeal of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and provides answers to the great questions of life through lived experience and participation. What does it mean to be a human being? "To be a creature is to be related, to be co-present to others." To be a human being is to live in communion.

God love you Gabriel Marcel.


jackbarberi said...

I know that as far as I am concerned Gabriel Marcel is the greatest philosopher I have ever read.

Anonymous said...

I have read Marcel's Philoophy and I enjoyed it a of this moment I am making my thesis regarding Marcel's Creative Fidelity.. The thing is I dont know how to connect it to Post modernity situation...

the title of my thesis is:
The Relevance of Gabriel Marcel's Creative Fidelity in the Post Modernity...

Can you help me this topic?

I'll Wait

Paul Anthony Melanson said...

I would recommend Man Against Mass Society, especially chapter IV: Technical progress and Sin. I would also point you to Lemoyne University. Visit the following link:

Hope this helps.

God bless,

slab said...

i also read marcel's philosophy and i enjoyed it. i am currently making a thesis proposal entitled the relavance of Gabriel Marcel's concept of Participation and the Church involvement in Politics.,,
can you help me in this topic.?

slab said...

can you please help in my topic.

The relevance of Gabriel Marcel's concept of Participation and the Church Involvement in POlitics..

Anonymous said...

My topic is all about Marcel's esse est co esse. I want to point out the relationship between the universe to the people. And i'm kind of confuse on how could I make an outline about this. Can I ask help? Thanks a lot :)

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