Cambridge Catalogue  
  • Help
Home > Catalogue > Phenomenology of the Human Person
Phenomenology of the Human Person


  • Page extent: 360 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.61 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 128
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: BD450 .S5645 2008
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Human beings
    • Philosophical anthropology
    • Phenomenology

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521888912)

Phenomenology of the Human Person
Cambridge University Press
9780521888912 - Phenomenology of the Human Person - Edited by Robert Sokolowski


The theme of this book is the human person. To make this subject more visible and easier to name, I wish to introduce the term “the agent of truth” as a synonym for “the human person.” The phrase is also meant to be a paraphrase of the term “rational animal,” the classical Latinate definition of human being. The book is an inquiry concerning the agent of truth.

The new term has two advantages over the old. First, it expands the meaning of thinking and truth. The word rational seems to limit thinking to calculation and inference, but the new phrase does not connote such a restriction. It encompasses all the forms of understanding, including those that go beyond language. Second, the term shows that attaining truth is an accomplishment and not merely passive reception. It speaks not just about reasoning but about success in reasoning, and so designates human being in terms of its highest achievement: the human person is defined by being engaged in truth, and human action is based on truth. I do not intend to prove that human beings are specified in this way (what sort of premises could I use?), but rather to describe, analytically, what our engagement in truth means. I hope to show, not to demonstrate, what we are as human persons.

We cannot help but take ourselves and one another as involved in truth, but what it means to be so implicated remains obscure to us. The aim of the book is to clarify what we all know is true.

The major inspirations for this book are Husserl and Aristotle. The study will emphasize the role of syntax in language and thinking. Human voicing becomes speech, and it becomes able to serve as a vehicle for thinking and the attainment of truth, when syntax is introduced into it. Syntax is a plain word for Husserl’s technical term, categoriality.

My study of syntax and thinking will lead me to focus on predication, on “saying something about something,” as the central activity in thinking, and it will also lead me to discuss the nature of definitions, in which we give the genus and specifying difference of things when we wish to show what those things are. I will also discuss accidents and properties. These are ancient philosophical issues, but I will not treat them in an antiquated way. I will claim that predication and definition take place, not simply in “the mind,” but in human conversation. I will show that logical forms are the residue of public, conversational activity. The form of predication, for example, comes about when a speaker brings an entity into a conversation and states something about it. Likewise, definitions occur when a speaker makes a specifying distinction and explains what it is that he has introduced into the conversation. I would like to think of this book as a recapitulation of Porphyry and Boethius as well as Aristotle. I take into account the modern turn to the subject, but I consider this subject as a participant in the human conversation and not a solitary self. Many conundrums of modern philosophy are dissolved by this simple expedient.

A central topic in the book is the issue of mental representation. When we know things, do we in some way assimilate copies, forms, likenesses, or images of them? What can such representations be, and how do they work? To avoid the difficulties associated with mental representation, I have tried to reformulate the problem. I claim that when we speak about things we take in their intelligibility, which we capture and carry in the names that we use, and that when we picture things we embody their intelligibility in the images that we compose. When we make distinctions, the intelligibility and necessity, the substance of things, shows up to us, and this disclosure occurs within the framework set by syntax.

Although logical, linguistic, and pictorial syntax are the major themes in this book, I also explore the kind of syntax that occurs in human action, when one thing is done in view of another, when ends are distinguished from purposes, and when my good and the goods of others are brought into syntactical reciprocity in such phenomena as acts of justice and friendship. I hope to show that the ends of things, their being at their best, is part of what they are and part of their meaning. When things are given names and thus entered into syntax and enlisted into language, what they should be is part of what their names signify.

Since the study of the brain has become so prominent in contemporary theories of mind, it seemed necessary to say something about the neurophysiology that underlies thinking and truth. I have, therefore, included some brief chapters on the involvement of the human body, especially the brain and nervous system, in human experience and understanding. I try to show that human perception can be seen as the transformation of many different kinds of ambient energy into the one kind of electrochemical energy that is found in the activity of the nervous system and brain. The energy activated in our neural networks is not just input; it can also become output generated by the nervous system itself, and when this occurs in certain ways it allows us to reactivate earlier experiences in imagination and memory and to project ourselves into new situations. In connection with this topic, I take the rather bold step of proposing an alternative way of thinking about mental imagery. I suggest that, instead of saying that the nervous system and brain construct internal images of things that are “out there,” we think of the nervous system and brain as functioning like a lens. The neural activity involved in experiencing can be considered as “lensing” and not as imaging or picturing. The advantage of this change is that it counters our tendency to think of mental images or ideas as intervening between our minds and the things that we know. I hope to provide an alternative to representationalism in sensibility as well as in thinking.

The role of syntax in our experience, activity, and speech is the central theme in my analysis, but I begin the book with a particular syntactic form, which I call the “declarative” use of the first--person pronoun. It is the use we make of the word I and its analogues when we endorse or appropriate a particular exercise of our rational, syntactic powers, when, for example, we say, “I know she is coming,” or “I promise I will be there.” Such declaratives could not be used except on the foundation of another syntactic articulation, and they mention us precisely as actively engaged as agents of syntax or agents of truth. They designate us as persons in action, as acting rationally even as we utter the words. A topic associated with declaratives is what I call “veracity,” which I define as the inclination toward truthfulness that defines us as human beings or persons and establishes us as responsible agents.

The issue of philosophical language is treated episodically at various stages in the book. I try to describe what is distinctive about philosophical speech. The study of philosophical discourse is my way of speaking about what Husserl calls the “transcendental, phenomenological attitude,” the point of view that we adopt when we enter into philosophical reflection. Husserl has made an important contribution to philosophy by showing how the philosophical standpoint is different from the stance we take in pre-philosophical experience and speech, in what he calls the “natural attitude.” I have tried to amplify and concretize some of his ideas by formulating them in terms of philosophical speech instead of philosophical attitudes and reflection. I distinguish philosophical speech from other levels of speech (from standard language, scientific language, and declaratives); I describe it as the theorizing of the human conversation in all its amplitude, with the inclusion of the things that are brought into the conversation and correlated with it; I differentiate it from scientific discourse; and I treat it at greatest length in the last chapter of the book, where I distinguish the philosophical voice from the voice of the omniscient narrator in a work of fiction, and where I discuss how words have to be troped when they are brought into philosophical discourse. The distinctiveness of philosophical speech is especially important in the study of human knowledge, because the claim that we have mental images and mental representations is stated from the philosophical viewpoint. The terms used in such claims need to be taken philosophically, but they are often given meanings taken from the pre-philosophical attitude, with the consequence that a radical disjunction is introduced between what is “inside” our minds and what is “outside” them.

I wish to describe the human person philosophically by clarifying what it means to be involved with truth. We enter into rationality when we introduce syntactic composition, whether verbal, pictorial, or practical, into experience. Such articulation allows us to converse with others and to reason with them, instead of resorting to violence or disengagement; it allows us to appropriate, by the use of declaratives, what we have articulated, and to raise questions not only about facts and about our purposes, but also about the ends that are inscribed in things. The use of words reveals the good and the best in what we name. Our philosophical exercise is itself a culmination of our rationality, not something alien to it. It brings to a kind of completion the truthfulness we enter into when we begin speaking with others.

© Cambridge University Press
printer iconPrinter friendly version AddThis