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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

JPII vs. Solipsism

Much like the Divine Physician, John Paul II could diagnose world culture on epidemic proportions. His wise influence helped to topple the iron curtain, calm the storm of feminism and reconcile Jewish/Christian grievances. Like a good doctor, John Paul II had an effective remedy for major societal hurts.

A warning he gave to future generations of thinkers, moralists, and policy makers was the danger of solipsism in philosophy. Solipsism falls under two extremes: subjectivism and objectivism. Currently, our culture subscribes to the former version of solipsism, to such a degree that we are willing to redefine human constants to suit the moods of select individual's emotions. Things like abortion, euthanasia, and same sex marriage come to mind as extreme measures of subjective reasoning:

"Wojtyła pointedly asserts this danger: 'Failure to recognize this fundamental difference [between cognition as a guide to willing and consciousness as subjectively self-constituting willing] leads inevitably to solipsism, subjectivism and idealism, that is, to a situation in which the subject seems lost in its own specific reality or objectiveness.[1]'"

People are willing to passionately defend their "own specific reality" up against the natural law, up against tradition, and up against the dignity of personhood for the sake of both money and a false sense of justice. In the event that they succeed, their influence suggests to others that they are on the side of right reason, judgment, and legality. In all actuality, they have simply made solipsism a popular mode of thinking, but not the true reality.

What is the 'true reality' that John Paul II asserts as unchanging, reliable, and in accord with natural law? Personalim. It is important to note that John Paul II invented a philosophical system based on the human person's God-given dignity, called Personalism. Having experienced atrocities committed against the human person first-hand, Karol Wojtyla synthesized his experience and study of phenomenology to apply to society in such a way totally opposed to the atheistic communism he first encountered in Poland. Therefore, his theory of Personalism is holistic, touching on all aspects of God-given dignity in society: economic, moral, political, social, etc.

On the other hand, John Paul II warns against a strict objectivism as well--making sure to guard against instances where individual's rights are not recognized as crucial to public policy. A summary of his warning consists in the following:

"The person then apprehends the truth objectively and understands it subjectively, objectivity and subjectivity being necessary epistemological compliments of one another. Thus, objectivity is protected from the danger of objectivism wherein fact alone is accepted and value is given no more meaning. Such a truncated objectivity results in the denial of value, tending solipsistically to negate the interior personal reality. At the same time, its complimentarity with subjectivity prevents the latter from degenerating into a subjectivism whereby fact and value take on a radically individualistic sense and devolve into solipsism. Ultimately, both objectivism and subjectivism trap the person in epistemological isolation. This deprives the individual of the full sense of his/her subjectivity and personhood and breaks the community bonds of shared value and meaning which arise from the spirit of the constituent persons[2]".

Again, being careful to guard against one extreme of subjectivism to another extreme of objectivism, JPII emphasizes the value of the human person in decision-making. It is a balanced approach, which gives weight to both interior personality and exterior absolutes of morality. Practical examples of such an approach to decision-making include: not resorting to 'mercy killing' out of a request for pain relief, not taking the life of a fetus because of financial hardship, or teaching someone with SSA about the value of abstinence in life-choices.

But to stop with just the human being in philosophy is not sufficient to create an enduring and realistic system of thought. John Paul II includes and credits God as the source of human dignity and personhood:

"Both objective and subjective reality are perfectly and eternally communicated by God because the uncreated Being is both knowing and communicative. As self-consciousness which is pure existence, the perfect act knows itself absolutely and communicates goodness, truth and love. Hence, it does not grow in self-knowledge which is already perfect; it does not become more from creation, because it is the fullness of being; existence is not indifference or randomness. Rather, from its source all being is purposeful, creative and intelligent; this is the key to subjectivity and personhood, and the foundation of its being relational and loving[3]".

Without God, as in communism, man has no lasting reference point and purpose for his existence. Yes, he can take a lifetime of dignified personhood to discover this truth, but the sooner he realizes it and applies it, the sooner that he becomes more just, in touch with reality, and capable of authentic love. To persist in atheism, while at the same time insisting on human dignity, is secular humanism. The unfortunate end to such a philosophy is, as JPII asserts, solipsism:

"Wojtyla argued that atheism, whether existential or Marxist, is inherently solipsistic, and is, therefore, unable to achieve a proper notion of intersubjectivity.[4]"

By ruling out the existence of God as Himself Personal, man has no basis for what his own personhood entails. Additionally, man has no moral compass for the conscience rights he so deserves in relating to government, labor, and free market capitalism, since he originally attributes his conscience to the voice of God within him--as formed by his moral formation. Therefore, along with JPII, I argue that God is crucial for determining the "intersubjectivity" of persons, that is, the common experience of God speaking through conscience to inform persons of their moral dignity.

It is no coincidence that the events Karol Wojtyla lived through in his lifetime would so influence his interpretation of those events for the glory of God and benefit of mankind. His philosophy of Personalism lines up beautifully with his work in Love and Responsibility and the Theology of the Body to create a consistent testament to the fact that man is made in the image and likeness of his Creator. Man's development depends substantially on the implementation of JPII's thinking, especially in the face of the threat of solipsism on modern thought.



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[1] Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. The Acting Person. Andrzej Potocki, Translator. A.-T. Tymieniecka, Collaborator on the Definitive Text. Boston: D. Reidel, 1979

[2] http://www.crvp.org/book/Series03/III-16/chapter_x.htm) (LOIACONO: THE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON AS THE BASIS FOR COMMUNITY)

[3] (http://www.crvp.org/book/Series03/III-16/chapter_x.htm) (LOIACONO: THE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON AS THE BASIS FOR COMMUNITY)

[4] (http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/11/001-before-the-papacy-25)
See also Schindler's commentary on objective/subjective reality vs. ideas in Communio Magazine: http://www.communio-icr.com/files/DLS_Winter2014_final.pdf