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Exam 2 Instructions Phil 100, Winter 2021 Roholt

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Due Date: 1/15, 10PM

You will upload your written-exam document to Canvas. To submit, click “Assignments.” The assignment will be processed through Turnitin, which is cloud-based, originality-checking software. Make sure that you understand plagiarism and its repercussions.1

The exam is worth up to 400 points.

Mechanics The length must be between 900–1,100 words. Double-spaced, size 12 font, one-inch margins on all sides. The top left of the first page of your paper should include the following heading, which should not be double-spaced: — Your name 
 — “Exam 2”
 — Title and section number of the course 
 — Name of the instructor 
 — Date — Word count of your paper

MSU “University Writing Standards” [The following is quoted from the MSU Student Handbook]

Standard English, Grammar, Style
 Your papers should be written in formal, standard English. They should be free of nonstandard constructions (such as double negatives) and of informal usage (such as “The experiment went O.K.”).

Your sentence structure should be free of major grammatical problems, such as sentence fragments, subject-verb disagreement, inconsistent verb tenses, unclear pronoun reference, and misplaced modifiers.

Your sentences should be clear and concise, showing capable use of the tools necessary to a mature writing style, such as coordination, subordination, parallelism, and transitional devices. Your choice of words should be precise and appropriate to your subject. You may sometimes find it essential to use technical terms, but you should always avoid unnecessary jargon. [In this course, when you use technical terms, you must explain them.]



Mechanics And Appearance
 Your papers should contain no errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, or typing. You should show careful attention to matters of appearance, including legibility, neat corrections, and suitable presentation.

[Handbook quotation end]

Additional Instructions Begin the process early. Begin by jotting down the main themes, arguments, or concepts that you think the exam requires. What are the sub-themes? What is required in order to thoroughly present these themes? (You can ascertain much of this by reviewing lecture notes and by skimming the text—which you have already read carefully and marked strategically.) From these initial notes you can construct a working outline.

Concision will be a factor in your grade; avoid verbiage. Avoid grandiose introductory comments. Do not include, for example, a philosophers’ biographical information or an evaluation of his or her importance. Get right down to business.

Philosophical writing should be focused on concepts, claims, and arguments; this dictates the order of presentation. Typically, you must take information from different parts of the text and present it in the best order for making the claims and their justifications clear and effective. Do not present information in the order given in the text, as you might in a book report (unless this order just happens to be effective).

Give reasons (justification) for all positions you set out, and for evaluative comments you make, thereby making your comments more than mere opinions.

Your imaginary reader is not someone who has read the text you are writing about; she does not already understand the claims and arguments. You must explain the positions and criticisms. You might imagine yourself (before you read the text) as your reader, or a reasonably intelligent friend or family member. Relatedly, in grading your exam, I shouldn’t have to read the exam sympathetically; what you have to offer should be clearly on the page. When you use terms that have a special meaning for an author (e.g. “substructure” “a good life”), you must give that meaning.

Your exam should contain no quotations from the text; describe the author’s ideas in your own words. Be sure to use very plain language. You ought to strive to breakdown the ideas into the simplest, most straightforward terms possible; this involves thoughtful word-choice and uncomplicated sentence structure (but of course, you don’t want to simplify expression at the expense of accurately representing the details and subtleties of the concepts and arguments). 

To find an objective perspective on a draft, write an outline from it.

Do not use secondary sources; do not use internet sources. This is an exercise in working with the assigned texts, lecture notes, and discussing the issues in the discussion group, with me and others.


Feel free to ask me any questions that might occur to you during the writing process.

Exam Instructions This exam has three parts. Number the parts of your exam as below.

1. Sartre offers an example of a young man who is attempting to make a particularly difficult decision. Examining why his decision is difficult enables Sartre to explain the important elements of his existentialism. Come up with your own example in which a similarly difficult decision has to be made. Describe your example, but use most of the space to explain the main components of existentialism through the example. It’s important that your writing demonstrate that you understand the main elements of existentialism which Sartre sets out. (If, instead, you choose to use the example of the young man, your grade for this portion of the exam will be capped at B. But even in this case, you will need to invest most of the space in explaining the main components of existentialism through the example.) This part of the exam should be approximately 350 words.

2. Describe (a) a focal thing and a related focal practice (e.g. a musical instrument, playing music with friends) which (b) has been commonly replaced in our culture by a device (e.g. listening to music on a smartphone). Come up with your own example of a focal thing, practice, and device not discussed in the text. Note that the thing, practice, and device are related, as the example above shows. (If, instead, you use an example from the text, your grade for this portion of the exam will be capped at B.) Explain enough of Borgmann’s theory so that your reader will understand these concepts (focal thing, focal practice, device). Finally, why are focal practices relevant to living a good life? This part of the exam should be approximately 350 words.

3. This is a question about Charles Mills’s The Racial Contract. This question has two parts. (a) What is the racial contract (itself [not the theory])? What reasons does Mills provide to support his account of the racial contract (itself)? In other words, what does he say to convince us that he is correct? (b) Describe the impact the Mills reading has upon your understanding of recent social-justice issues or events. (By “recent social-justice issues or events,” I mean the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, and so on.) Does the Mills reading improve your understanding of these issues and events? If so, in what way? If not, explain why, and explain your reasoning. Answer number three should be approximately 350 words.

Grading Criteria • Does your exam have a proper heading, including the word count? And is your paper the proper length? • Is your exam written grammatically, clearly, concisely, and do you avoid quotations? • Do you unpack, flesh-out the claims and terminology sufficiently by using plain language, rather than merely paraphrasing the philosopher’s statements? (In other words, is the proper imaginary reader taken into account?) • Do you demonstrate that you have read the texts carefully, and have invested time in attempting to answer the questions? • Are most of the relevant and important issues addressed? • Do you accurately explain the claims and reasoning of these theories?



instrumental and non-cognitive (e.g., immediate perceptions, pleasures, and pains). The boundaries between the technological and the technical, the cognitive and the non-cognitive are, of course, blurry. But for Dewey, technology means only activity that involves the cognitive use and production of new artifacts. It involves all of the intelligent techniques, tools, and social practices that humans have evolved to use to accommodate themselves to their environments. One of the advantages of Dewey’s theory of technology, according to Hickman, is the enormous “ecological power” gained by “naturalizing” technological activity. Humans are technological animals who use a variety of mental and physical tools to adjust to their natural and social environments. We come to see technological activity as continuous with the other activities of natural organisms geared toward adapting to their environments. Another advantage is that Dewey undercuts a number of traditional philosophical problems of the alleged gulf between subjectivity and objectivity, individual and community, the natural and the social. Dewey’s original theory of technology gives us some powerful tools for understanding and improving our technological culture. Albert Borgmann’s “Focal Things and Practices,” excerpted from his Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life (1984), develops Heidegger’s analysis by specifying in greater detail what it would mean to launch a “reform of technology.” Borgmann’s key distinction is between “focal things” and “devices.” A focal thing involves people, technologies, and places. It engages users with things, with each other, and with their environments. Focal things “gather us,” as Heidegger would say. By contrast, a device is merely an instrument for producing whatever the device is for. It produces a commodity (e.g., furnaces make heat, dishwashers make clean dishes). The device functions inconspicuously by disburdening us and making a commodity readily available. The “promise of modern technology,” Borgmann explains, is that the use of devices will free us from the misery and toil imposed by nature thereby enriching our lives. But, as Borgmann points out, technology has failed to live up to its promise because it is silent as to the ends, purposes, and goods that make up an enriched, fulfilled life. To reform technology we need to revive focal things and practices, not simply make better devices. Focal things and practices contain within them a vision of the good life missing from the device paradigm. We need to become more not less engaged; our technologies need to become more not less conspicuous. Borgmann’s examples of focal practices include performing music (rather

This pdf consists of excerpts from Albert Borgmann’s book, “Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life” (1984). This excerpt comes from David M. Kaplan’s “Readings in the Philosophy of Technology.” Second Edition. Rowman and Littlefield, 2009. ——Just below is Kaplan’s introduction to Borgmann’s theory.


than listening to it on a device), jogging outside (rather than working out at a gym), and enjoying a traditional home- cooked meal with friends and family (rather than consuming fast food alone). These activities combine humans and technologies, means and ends in a more engaging and satisfying way than the mere use of devices. Like Heidegger, Borgmann invites us to question technology and become free from our traditional notions of it. But he moves beyond Heidegger by suggesting more specific and practical ways to reform technology. Don Ihde, in “A Phenomenology of Technics,” excerpted from Technology and the Life-world: From Garden to Earth (1990), makes no sweeping claims about technology as such. Instead he provides a framework to analyze patterns of our experience of technology. The method he uses is phenomenology, a descriptive approach premised on the idea that experience is always relational. The core principle of phenomenology is the doctrine of “intentionality.” Every experience, every act of consciousness (seeing, hearing, smelling, remembering, etc.) is intentional: it is always an “experience of” or “consciousness of” something. All awareness is directed toward objects in the world. The “intentionality analysis,” of which Ihde writes, aims to identify the essential or invariant features of experienced phenomena. According to this analysis, we never experience technological objects in themselves, but rather objects in relation to us. Furthermore, our experience of technological objects is ambiguous; their meaning is never fixed but flexible and relative to use and context. Idhe describes several unique sets of human-technology relations, each positioning us in a slightly different relation to things. “Embodiment relations” describe our experience of devices we use to encounter and manipulate things. (These include devices like reading glasses, hearing aids, writing implements, and handheld tools.) “Hermeneutic relations” describe our experience of instruments that we read rather than use as tools. (These include devices like clocks, thermometers, spectrographic devices, and other technologies with visual displays that must be interpreted to be understood.) “Alterity relations” describe how technologies appear as “other” to us, possessing a kind of independence. (These include things like robots, ATM machines, and video games that we interact with as if they were autonomous beings.) Finally, “background relations” describe our experience of technologies that form the context of our lives in a way that is seldom consciously perceived. (This set of devices includes things like the lighting, air conditioning, clothing, and automatic machines that operate in the background, subtly affecting


5 Focal Things and Practices Albert Borgmann THE DEVICE PARADIGM We must now provide an explicit account of the pattern or paradigm of technology. I begin with two clear cases and analyze them in an intuitive way to bring out the major features of the paradigm. And I attempt to raise those features into sharper relief against the sketch of a pretechnological setting and through the consideration of objections that may be advanced against the distinctiveness of the pattern. Technology, as we have seen, promises to bring the forces of nature and culture under control, to liberate us from misery and toil, and to enrich our lives. To speak of technology making promises suggests a substantive view of technology and is misleading. But the parlance is convenient and can always be reconstructed to mean that implied in the technological mode of taking up with the world there is a promise that this approach to reality will, by way of the domination of nature, yield liberation and enrichment. Who issues the promise to whom is a question of political responsibility; and who the beneficiaries of the promise are is a question of social justice. These questions are taken up in later chapters. What we must answer first is the question of how the promise of liberty and prosperity was specified and given a definite pattern of implementation. As a first let us note that the notions of liberation and enrichment are joined in that of availability. Goods that are available to us enrich our lives and, if they are technologically available, they do so without imposing burdens on us. Something is available in this sense if it has been rendered instantaneous, ubiquitous, safe, and easy.1 Warmth, for example, is now available. We get a first glimpse of the distinctiveness of availability when we remind ourselves that warmth was not available, for example, in Montana a hundred years ago. It was not instantaneous because in the morning a fire first had to be built in the stove or the fireplace. And before it could be built, trees had to be felled, logs had to be sawed and split, the


wood had to be hauled and stacked. Warmth was not ubiquitous because some rooms remained unheated, and none was heated evenly. The coaches and sleighs were not heated, nor were the boardwalks or all of the shops and stores. It was not entirely safe because one could get burned or set the house on fire. It was not easy because work, some skills, and attention were constantly required to build and sustain a fire. Such observations, however, are not sufficient to establish the distinctiveness of availability. In the common view, technological progress is seen as a more or less gradual and straightforward succession of lesser by better implements.2 The wood- burning stove yields to the coal-fired central plant with heat distribution by convection, which in turn gives way to a plant fueled by natural gas and heating through forced air, and so on.3 To bring the distinctiveness of availability into relief we must turn to the distinction between things and devices. A thing, in the sense in which I want to use the word here, is inseparable from its context, namely, its world, and from our commerce with the thing and its world, namely, engagement. The experience of a thing is always and also a bodily and social engagement with the thing’s world. In calling forth a manifold engagement, a thing necessarily provides more than one commodity. Thus a stove used to furnish more than mere warmth. It was a focus, a hearth, a place that gathered the work and leisure of a family and gave the house a center. Its coldness marked the morning, and the spreading of its warmth the beginning of the day. It assigned to the different family members tasks that defined their place in the household. The mother built the fire, the children kept the firebox filled, and the father cut the firewood. It provided for the entire family a regular and bodily engagement with the rhythm of the seasons that was woven together of the threat of cold and the solace of warmth, the smell of wood smoke, the exertion of sawing and of carrying, the teaching of skills, and the fidelity to daily tasks. These features of physical engagement and of family relations are only first indications of the full dimensions of a thing’s world. Physical engagement is not simply physical contact but the experience of the world through the manifold sensibility of the body. That sensibility is sharpened and strengthened in skill. Skill is intensive and refined world engagement. Skill, in turn, is bound up with social engagement. It molds the person and gives the person character.4 Limitations of skill confine any one person’s primary engagement with the world to a small area. With the other areas one is immediately engaged through one’s acquaintance with the characteristic demeanor and habits of the practitioners of the other skills. That acquaintance is importantly enriched through one’s use of their products and the


observation of their working. Work again is only one example of the social context that sustains and comes to be focused in a thing. If we broaden our focus to include other practices, we can see similar social contexts in entertainment, in meals, in the celebration of the great events of birth, marriage, and death. And in these wider horizons of social engagement we can see how the cultural and natural dimensions of the world open up. We have now sketched a background against which we can outline a specific notion of the device. We have seen that a thing such as a fireplace provides warmth, but it inevitably provides those many other elements that compose the world of the fireplace. We are inclined to think of these additional elements as burdensome, and they were undoubtedly often so experienced. A device such as a central heating plant procures mere warmth and disburdens us of all other elements. These are taken over by the machinery of the device. The machinery makes no demands on our skill, strength, or attention, and it is less demanding the less it makes its presence felt. In the progress of technology, the machinery of a device has therefore a tendency to become concealed or to shrink. Of all the physical properties of a device, those alone are crucial and prominent which constitute the commodity that the device procures. Informally speaking, the commodity of a device is “what a device is there for.” In the case of a central heating plant it is warmth, with a telephone it is communication, a car provides transportation, frozen food makes up a meal, a stereo set furnishes music. “Commodity” for the time being is to be taken flexibly. The emphasis lies on the commodious way in which devices make goods and services available. There are at first unavoidable ambiguities in the notion of the device and the commodity; they can gradually be resolved through substantive analyses and methodological reflections.5 Tentatively, then, those aspects or properties of a device that provide the answer to “What is the device for?” constitute its commodity, and they remain relatively fixed. The other properties are changeable and are changed, normally on the basis of scientific insight and engineering ingenuity, to make the commodity still more available. Hence every device has functional equivalents, and equivalent devices may be physically and structurally very dissimilar from one another. The development of television provides an illustration of these points. The bulky machinery of the first sets was obtrusive in relation to the commodity it procured, namely, the moving two-dimensional picture which appeared in fuzzy black and white on a screen with the size and shape of a bull’s-eye. Gradually the screens became larger, more rectangular; the picture became sharper and eventually


colored. The sets became relatively smaller and less conspicuous in their machinery. And this development continues and has its limit in match-box-sized sets which provide arbitrarily large and most finely grained moving and colored pictures. The example also shows how radical changes in the machinery amounted to continuous improvements of the function as tubes gave way to transistors and these yielded to silicon chips. Cables and satellites were introduced as communication links. Pictures could be had in recorded rather than transmitted form, and recordings can be had on tapes or discs. These considerations in turn show how the technical development of a device increases availability. Increasingly, video programs can be seen nearly everywhere—in bars, cars, in every room of a home. Every conceivable film can be had. A program broadcast at an inconvenient time can be recorded and played later. The constraints of time and place are more and more dissolved. It is an instructive exercise to see how in the implements that surround us daily the machinery becomes less conspicuous, the function more prominent, how radical technical changes in the machinery are but degrees of advancement in the commodity, and how the availability of the commodities increases all the while. The distinction in the device between its machinery and its function is a specific instance of the means-ends distinction. In agreement with the general distinction, the machinery or the means is subservient to and validated by the function or the end. The technological distinction of means and ends differs from the general notion in two respects. In the general case, it is very questionable how clearly and radically means and ends can be distinguished without doing violence to the phenomena.6 In the case of the technological device, however, the machinery can be changed radically without threat to the identity and familiarity of the function of the device. No one is confused when one is invited to replace one’s watch, powered by a spring, regulated by a balance wheel, displaying time with a dial and pointers, with a watch that is powered electrically, is regulated by a quartz crystal, and displays time digitally. This concomitance of radical variability of means and relative stability of ends is the first distinguishing feature. The second, closely tied to the first, is the concealment and unfamiliarity of the means and the simultaneous prominence and availability of the ends.7 The concealment of the machinery and the disburdening character of the device go hand in hand. If the machinery were forcefully present, it would eo ipso make claims on our faculties. If claims are felt to be onerous and are therefore removed, then so is the machinery. A commodity is truly available when it can be


enjoyed as a mere end, unencumbered by means. It must be noted that the disburdenment resting on a feudal household is ever incomplete. The lord and the lady must always reckon with the moods, the insubordination, and the frailty of the servants.8 The device provides social disburdenment, i.e., anonymity. The absence of the master-servant relation is of course only one instance of social anonymity. The starkness of social anonymity in the technological universe can be gauged only against a picture of the social relations in a world of things. Such a picture will also show that social anonymity necessarily shades off into one of nature, culture, and history. FOCAL THINGS AND PRACTICES To see that the force of nature can be encountered analogously in many other places, we must develop the general notions of focal things and practices. This is the first point of this chapter. The Latin word focus, its meaning and etymology, are our best guides to this task. But once we have learned tentatively to recognize the instances of focal things and practices in our midst, we must acknowledge their scattered and inconspicuous character too. Their hidden splendor comes to light when we consider Heidegger’s reflections on simple and eminent things. But an inappropriate nostalgia clings to Heidegger’s account. It can be dispelled, so I will argue, when we remember and realize more fully that the technological environment heightens rather than denies the radiance of genuine focal things and when we learn to understand that focal things require a practice to prosper within. These points I will try to give substance in the subsequent parts of this chapter by calling attention to the focal concerns of running and of the culture of the table. The Latin word focus means hearth. We came upon it earlier where the device paradigm was first delineated and where the hearth or fireplace, a thing, was seen as the counterpart to the central heating plant, a device. It was pointed out that in a pretechnological house the fireplace constituted a center of warmth, of light, and of daily practices. For the Romans the focus was holy, the place where the housegods resided. In ancient Greece, a baby was truly joined to the family and household when it was carried about the hearth and placed before it. The union of a Roman marriage was sanctified at the hearth. And at least in the early periods the dead were buried by the hearth. The family ate by the hearth and made sacrifices to the housegods before and after the meal. The hearth sustained, ordered, and centered house and


family.9 Reflections of the hearth’s significance can yet be seen in the fireplace of many American homes. The fireplace often has a central location in the house. Its fire is now symbolical since it rarely furnishes sufficient warmth. But the radiance, the sounds, and the fragrance of living fire consuming logs that are split, stacked, and felt in their grain have retained their force. There are no longer images of the ancestral gods placed by the fire; but there often are pictures of loved ones on or above the mantel, precious things of the family’s history, or a clock, measuring time.10 The symbolical center of the house, the living room with the fireplace, often seems forbidding in comparison with the real center, the kitchen with its inviting smells and sounds. Accordingly, the architect Jeremiah Eck has rearranged homes to give them back a hearth, “a place of warmth and activity” that encompasses cooking, eating, and living and so is central to the house whether it literally has a fireplace or not.11 Thus we can satisfy, he says, “the need for a place of focus in our family lives.”12 “Focus,” in English, is now a technical term of geometry and optics. Johannes Kepler was the first to use it, and he probably drew on the then already current sense of focus as the “burning point of lens or mirror.”13 Correspondingly, an optic or geometric focus is a point where lines or rays converge or from which they diverge in a regular or lawful way. Hence “focus” is used as a verb in optics to denote moving an object in relation to a lens or modifying a combination of lenses in relation to an object so that a clear and well-defined image is produced. These technical senses of “focus” have happily converged with the original one in ordinary language. Figuratively they suggest that a focus gathers the relations of its context and radiates into its surroundings and informs them. To focus on something or to bring it into focus is to make it central, clear, and articulate. It is in the context of these historical and living senses of “focus” that I want to speak of focal things and practices. Wilderness on this continent, it now appears, is a focal thing. It provides a center of orientation; when we bring the surrounding technology into it, our relations to technology become clarified and well-defined. But just how strong its gathering and radiating force is requires further reflection. And surely there will be other focal things and practices: music, gardening, the culture of the table, or running. We might in a tentative way be able to see these things as focal; what we see more clearly and readily is how inconspicuous, homely, and dispersed they are. This


is in stark contrast to the focal things of pretechnological times, the Greek temple or the medieval cathedral that we have mentioned before. Martin Heidegger was deeply impressed by the orienting force of the Greek temple. For him, the temple not only gave a center of meaning to its world but had orienting power in the strong sense of first originating or establishing the world, of disclosing the world’s essential dimensions and criteria.14 Whether the thesis so extremely put is defensible or not, the Greek temple was certainly more than a self-sufficient architectural sculpture, more than a jewel of well-articulated and harmoniously balanced elements, more, even, than a shrine for the image of the goddess or the god. As Vincent Scully has shown, a temple or a temple precinct gathered and disclosed the land in which it was situated. The divinity of land and sea was focused in the temple.15 To see the work of art as the focus and origin of the world’s meaning was a pivotal discovery for Heidegger. He had begun in the modern tradition of Western philosophy where, the sense of reality is to be grasped by determining the antecedent and controlling conditions of all there is (the Bedingungen der Möglichkeit as Immanuel Kant has it). Heidegger wanted to outdo this tradition in the radicality of his search for the fundamental conditions of being. Perhaps it was the relentlessness of his pursuit that disclosed the ultimate futility of it. At any rate, when the universal conditions are explicated in a suitably general and encompassing way, what truly matters still hangs in the balance because everything depends on how the conditions come to be actualized and instantiated.16 The preoccupation with antecedent conditions not only leaves this question unanswered; it may even make it inaccessible by leaving the impression that, once the general and fundamental matters are determined, nothing of consequence remains to be considered. Heidegger’s early work, however, already contained the seeds of its overcoming. In his determination to grasp reality in its concreteness, Heidegger had found and stressed the inexorable and unsurpassable givenness of human existence, and he had provided analyses of its pretechnological wholeness and its technological distraction though the significance of these descriptions for technology had remained concealed to him.17 And then he discovered that the unique event of significance in the singular work of art, in the prophet’s proclamation, and in the political deed was crucial. This insight was worked out in detail with regard to the artwork. But in an epilogue to the essay that develops this point, Heidegger recognized that the insight comes too late. To be sure, our time has brought forth admirable works of art. “But,” Heidegger insists, “the question remains: is art still an essential and necessary way in which


that truth happens which is decisive for historical existence, or is art no longer of this character?”18 Heidegger began to see technology (in his more or less substantive sense) as the force that has eclipsed the focusing powers of pretechnological times. Technology becomes for him the final phase of a long metaphysical development. The philosophical concern with the conditions of the possibility of whatever is now itself seen as a move into the oblivion of what finally matters. But how are we to recover orientation in the oblivious and distracted era of technology when the great embodiments of meaning, the works of art, have lost their focusing power? Amidst the complication of conditions, of the Bedingungen, we must uncover the simplicity of things, of the Dinge.19 A jug, an earthen vessel from which we pour wine, is such a thing. It teaches us what it is to hold, to offer, to pour, and to give. In its clay, it gathers for us the earth as it does in containing the wine that has grown from the soil. It gathers the sky whose rain and sun are present in the wine. It refreshes and animates us in our mortality. And in the libation it acknowledges and calls on the divinities. In these ways the thing (in agreement with its etymologically original meaning) gathers and discloses what Heidegger calls the fourfold, the interplay of the crucial dimensions of earth and sky, mortals and divinities.20 A thing, in Heidegger’s eminent sense, is a focus; to speak of focal things is to emphasize the central point twice. Still, Heidegger’s account is but a suggestion fraught with difficulties. When Heidegger described the focusing power of the jug, he might have been thinking of a rural setting where wine jugs embody in their material, form, and craft a long and local tradition; where at noon one goes down to the cellar to draw a jug of table wine whose vintage one knows well; where at the noon meal the wine is thoughtfully poured and gratefully received.21 Under such circumstances, there might be a gathering and disclosure of the fourfold, one that is for the most part understood and in the background and may come to the fore on festive occasions. But all of this seems as remote to most of us and as muted in its focusing power as the Parthenon or the Cathedral of Chartres. How can so simple a thing as a jug provide that turning point in our relation to technology to which Heidegger is looking forward? Heidegger’s proposal for a reform of technology is even more pro-grammatic and terse than his analysis of technology.22 Both, however, are capable of fruitful development.23 Two points in Heidegger’s consideration of the turn of technology must particularly be noted. The first serves to remind us of arguments already


developed which must be kept in mind if we are to make room for focal things and practices. Heidegger says, broadly paraphrased, that the orienting force of simple things will come to the fore only as the rule of technology is raised from its anonymity, is disclosed as the orthodoxy that heretofore has been taken for granted and allowed to remain invisible.24 As long as we overlook the tightly patterned character of technology and believe that we live in a world of endlessly open and rich opportunities, as long as we ignore the definite ways in which we, acting technologically, have worked out the promise of technology and remain vaguely enthralled by that promise, so long simple things and practices will seem burdensome, confining, and drab. But if we recognize the central vacuity of advanced technology, that emptiness can become the opening for focal things. It works both ways, of course. When we see a focal concern of ours threatened by technology, our sight for the liabilities of mature technology is sharpened. A second point of Heidegger’s is one that we must develop now. The things that gather the fourfold, Heidegger says, are inconspicuous and humble. And when we look at his litany of things, we also see that they are scattered and of yesterday: jug and bench, footbridge and plow, tree and pond, brook and hill, heron and deer, horse and bull, mirror and clasp, book and picture, crown and cross.25 That focal things and practices are inconspicuous is certainly true; they flourish at the margins of public attention. And they have suffered a diaspora; this too must be accepted, at least for now. That is not to say that a hidden center of these dispersed focuses may not emerge some day to unite them and bring them home. But it would clearly be a forced growth to proclaim such a unity now. A reform of technology that issues from focal concerns will be radical not in imposing a new and unified master plan on the technological universe but in discovering those sources of strength that will nourish principled and confident beginnings, measures, i.e., which will neither rival nor deny technology. But there are two ways in which we must go beyond Heidegger. One step in the first direction has already been taken. It led us to see that the simple things of yesterday attain a new splendor in today’s technological context. The suggestion in Heidegger’s reflections that we have to seek out pretechnological enclaves to encounter focal things is misleading and dispiriting. Rather we must see any such enclave itself as a focal thing heightened by its technological context. The turn to things cannot be a setting aside and even less an escape from technology but a kind of affirmation of it. The second move beyond Heidegger is in the direction of


practice, into the social and, later, the political situation of focal things.26 Though Heidegger assigns humans their place in the fourfold when he depicts the jug in which the fourfold is focused, we scarcely see the hand that holds the jug, and far less do we see of the social setting in which the pouring of the wine comes to pass. In his consideration of another thing, a bridge, Heidegger notes the human ways and works that are gathered and directed by the bridge.27 But these remarks too present practices from the viewpoint of the focal thing. What must be shown is that focal things can prosper in human practices only. Before we can build a bridge, Heidegger suggests, we must be able to dwell.28 But what does that mean concretely? The consideration of the wilderness has disclosed a center that stands in a fruitful counterposition to technology. The wilderness is beyond the procurement of technology, and our response to it takes us past consumption. But it also teaches us to accept and to appropriate technology. We must now try to discover if such centers of orientation can be found in greater proximity and intimacy to the technological everyday life. And I believe they can be found if we follow up the hints that we have gathered from and against Heidegger, the suggestions that focal things seem humble and scattered but attain splendor in technology if we grasp technology properly, and that focal things require a practice for their welfare. Running and the culture of the table are such focal things and practices. We have all been touched by them in one way or another. If we have not participated in a vigorous or competitive run, we have certainly taken walks; we have felt with surprise, perhaps, the pleasure of touching the earth, of feeling the wind, smelling the rain, of having the blood course through our bodies more steadily. In the preparation of a meal we have enjoyed the simple tasks of washing leaves and cutting bread; we have felt the force and generosity of being served a good wine and homemade bread. Such experiences have been particularly vivid when we came upon them after much sitting and watching indoors, after a surfeit of readily available snacks and drinks. To encounter a few simple things was liberating and invigorating. The normal clutter and distraction fall away when, as the poet says,

there, in limpid brightness shine, on the table, bread and wine.29 If such experiences are deeply touching, they are fleeting as well. There seems to be no thought or discourse that would shelter and nurture such events; not in


politics certainly, nor in philosophy where the prevailing idiom sanctions and applies equally to lounging and walking, to Twinkies, and to bread, the staff of life. But the reflective care of the good life has not withered away. It has left the profession of philosophy and sprung up among practical people. In fact, there is a tradition in this country of persons who are engaged by life in its concreteness and simplicity and who are so filled with this engagement that they have reached for the pen to become witnesses and teachers, speakers of deictic discourse. Melville and Thoreau are among the great prophets of this tradition. Its present health and extent are evident from the fact that it now has no overpowering heroes but many and various more or less eminent practitioners. Their work embraces a spectrum between down-to-earth instruction and soaring speculation. The span and center of their concerns vary greatly. But they all have their mooring in the attention to tangible and bodily things and practices, and they speak with an enthusiasm that is nourished by these focal concerns. Pirsig’s book is an impressive and troubling monument in this tradition, impressive in the freshness of its observations and its pedagogical skill, troubling in its ambitious and failing efforts to deal with the large philosophical issues. Norman Maclean’s A River Runs through It can be taken as a fly-fishing manual, a virtue that pleases its author.30 But it is a literary work of art most of all and a reflection on technology inasmuch as it presents the engaging life, both dark and bright, from which we have so recently emerged. Colin Fletcher’s treatise of The Complete Walker is most narrowly a book of instruction about hiking and backpacking.31 The focal significance of these things is found in the interstices of equipment and technique; and when the author explicitly engages in deictic discourse he has “an unholy awful time” with it.32 Roger B. Swain’s contemplation of gardening in Earthly Pleasures enlightens us in cool and graceful prose about the scientific basis and background of what we witness and undertake in our gardens.33 Philosophical significance enters unbidden and easily in the reflections on time, purposiveness, and the familiar. Looking at these books, I see a stretch of water that extends beyond my vision, disappearing in the distance. But I can see that it is a strong and steady stream, and it may well have parts that are more magnificent than the ones I know.34 To discover more clearly the currents and features of this, the other and more concealed, American mainstream, I take as witnesses two books where enthusiasm suffuses instruction vigorously, Robert Farrar Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb and George Sheehan’s Running and Being.35 Both are centered on focal events, the great run and the great meal. The great run, where one exults in the strength of one’s body,


in the ease and the length of the stride, where nature speaks powerfully in the hills, the wind, the heat, where one takes endurance to the breaking point, and where one is finally engulfed by the goodwill of the spectators and the fellow runners.36 The great meal, the long session as Capon calls it, where the guests are thoughtfully invited, the table has been carefully set, where the food is the culmination of tradition, patience, and skill and the presence of the earth’s most delectable textures and tastes, where there is an invocation of divinity at the beginning and memorable conversation throughout.37 Such focal events are compact, and if seen only in their immediate temporal and spatial extent they are easily mistaken. They are more mistakable still when they are thought of as experiences in the subjective sense, events that have their real meaning in transporting a person into a certain mental or emotional state. Focal events, so conceived, fall under the rule of technology. For when a subjective state becomes decisive, the search for a machinery that is functionally equivalent to the traditional enactment of that state begins, and it is spurred by endeavors to find machineries that will procure the state more instantaneously, ubiquitously, more assuredly and easily. If, on the other hand, we guard focal things in their depth and integrity, then, to see them fully and truly, we must see them in context. Things that are deprived of their context become ambiguous.38 The letter “a” by itself means nothing in particular. In the context of “table” it conveys or helps to convey a more definite meaning. But “table” in turn can mean many things. It means something more powerful in the text of Capon’s book where he speaks of “The Vesting of the Table.”39 But that text must finally be seen in the context and texture of the world. To say that something becomes ambiguous is to say that it is made to say less, little, or nothing. Thus to elaborate the context of focal events is to grant them their proper eloquence. “The distance runner,” Sheehan says, “is the least of all athletes. His sport the least of all sports.”40 Running is simply to move through time and space, step-by- step. But there is splendor in that simplicity. In a car we move of course much faster, farther, and more comfortably. But we are not moving on our own power and in our own right. We cash in prior labor for present motion. Being beneficiaries of science and engineering and having worked to be able to pay for a car, gasoline, and roads, we now release what has been earned and stored and use it for transportation. But when these past efforts are consumed and consummated in my driving, I can at best take credit for what I have done. What I am doing now, driving, requires no effort,


and little or no skill or discipline. I am a divided person; my achievement lies in the past, my enjoyment in the present. But in the runner, effort and joy are one; the split between means and ends, labor and leisure is healed.41 To be sure, if I have trained conscientiously, my past efforts will bear fruit in a race. But they are not just cashed in. My strength must be risked and enacted in the race which is itself a supreme effort and an occasion to expand my skill. This unity of achievement and enjoyment, of competence and consummation, is just one aspect of a central wholeness to which running restores us. Good running engages mind and body. Here the mind is more than an intelligence that happens to be housed in a body. Rather the mind is the sensitivity and the endurance of the body.42 Hence running in its fullness, as Sheehan stresses over and over again, is in principle different from exercise designed to procure physical health. The difference between running and physical exercise is strikingly exhibited in one and the same issue of the New York Times Magazine. It contains an account by Peter Wood of how, running the New York City Marathon, he took in the city with body and mind, and it has an account by Alexandra Penney of corporate fitness programs where executives, concerned about their Coronary Risk Factor Profile, run nowhere on treadmills or ride stationary bicycles.43 In another issue, the Magazine shows executives exercising their bodies while busying their dissociated minds with reading.44 To be sure, unless a runner concentrates on bodily performance, often in an effort to run the best possible race, the mind wanders as the body runs. But as in free association we range about the future and the past, the actual and the possible, our mind, like our breathing, rhythmically gathers itself to the here and now, having spread itself to distant times and faraway places. It is clear from these reflections that the runner is mindful of the body because the body is intimate with the world. The mind becomes relatively disembodied when the body is severed from the depth of the world, i.e., when the world is split into commodious surfaces and inaccessible machineries. Thus the unity of ends and means, of mind and body, and of body and world is one and the same. It makes itself felt in the vividness with which the runner experiences reality. “Somehow you feel more in touch,” Wood says, “with the realities of a massive inner-city housing problem when you are running through it slowly enough to take in the grim details, and, surprisingly, cheered on by the remaining occupants.”45 As this last remark suggests, the wholeness that running establishes embraces the human family too. The experience of that simple event releases an equally simple and profound


sympathy. It is a natural goodwill, not in need of drugs nor dependent on a common enemy. It wells up from depths that have been forgotten, and it overwhelms the runners ever and again.46 As Wood recounts his running through streets normally besieged by crime and violence, he remarks: “But we can only be amazed today at the warmth that emanates from streets usually better known for violent crime.” And his response to the spectators’ enthusiasm is this: “I feel a great proximity to the crowd, rushing past at all of nine miles per hour; a great affection for them individually; a commitment to run as well as I possibly can, to acknowledge their support.”47 For George Sheehan, finally, running discloses the divine. When he runs, he wrestles with God.48 Serious running takes us to the limits of our being. We run into threatening and seemingly unbearable pain. Sometimes, of course, the plunge into that experience gets arrested in ambition and vanity. But it can take us further to the point where in suffering our limits we experience our greatness too. This, surely, is a hopeful place to escape technology, metaphysics, and the God of the philosophers and reach out to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.49 If running allows us to center our lives by taking in the world through vigor and simplicity, the culture of the table does so by joining simplicity with cosmic wealth. Humans are such complex and capable beings that they can fairly comprehend the world and, containing it, constitute a cosmos in their own right. Because we are standing so eminently over against the world, to come in touch with the world becomes for us a challenge and a momentous event. In one sense, of course, we are always already in the world, breathing the air, touching the ground, feeling the sun. But as we can in another sense withdraw from the actual and present world, contemplating what is past and to come, what is possible and remote, we celebrate correspondingly our intimacy with the world. This we do most fundamentally when in eating we take in the world in its palpable, colorful, nourishing immediacy. Truly human eating is the union of the primal and the cosmic. In the simplicity of bread and wine, of meat and vegetable, the world is gathered. The great meal of the day, be it at noon or in the evening, is a focal event par excellence. It gathers the scattered family around the table. And on the table it gathers the most delectable things nature has brought forth. But it also recollects and presents a tradition, the immemorial experiences of the race in identifying and cultivating edible plants, in domesticating and butchering animals; it brings into focus closer relations of national or regional customs, and more intimate traditions still of family recipes and dishes. This living texture is being rent through the


procurement of food as a commodity and the replacement of the culture of the table by the food industry. Once food has become freely available, it is only consistent that the gathering of the meal is shattered and disinte-grates into snacks, T.V. dinners, bites that are grabbed to be eaten; and eating itself is scattered around television shows, late and early meetings, activities, overtime work, and other business. This is increasingly the normal condition of technological eating. But it is within our power to clear a central space amid the clutter and distraction. We can begin with the simplicity of a meal that has a beginning, a middle, and an end and that breaks through the superficiality of convenience food in the simple steps of beginning with raw ingredients, preparing and transforming them, and bringing them to the table. In this way we can again become freeholders of our culture. We are disfranchised from world citizenship when the foods we eat are mere commodities. Being essentially opaque surfaces, they repel all efforts at extending our sensibility and competence into the deeper reaches of the world. A Big Mac and a Coke can overwhelm our tastebuds and accommodate our hunger. Technology is not, after all, a children’s crusade but a principled and skillful enterprise of defining and satisfying human needs. Through the diversion and busyness of consumption we may have unlearned to feel constrained by the shallowness of commodities. But having gotten along for a time and quite well, it seemed, on institutional or convenience food, scales fall from our eyes when we step up to a festively set family table. The foods stand out more clearly, the fragrances are stronger, eating has once more become an occasion that engages and accepts us fully. To understand the radiance and wealth of a festive meal we must be alive to the interplay of things and humans, of ends and means. At first a meal, once it is on the table, appears to have commodity character since it is now available before us, ready to be consumed without effort or merit. But though there is of course in any eating a moment of mere consuming, in a festive meal eating is one with an order and discipline that challenges and ennobles the participants. The great meal has its structure. It begins with a moment of reflection in which we place ourselves in the presence of the first and last things. It has a sequence of courses; it requires and sponsors memorable conversation; and all this is enacted in the discipline called table manners. They are warranted when they constitute the respectful and skilled response to the great things that are coming to pass in the meal. We can see how order and discipline have collapsed when we eat a Big Mac. In consumption there is the pointlike and inconsequential conflation of a sharply delimited human need with


an equally contextless and closely fitting commodity. In a Big Mac the sequence of courses has been compacted into one object and the discipline of table manners has been reduced to grabbing and eating. The social context reaches no further than the pleasant faces and quick hands of the people who run the fast-food outlet. In a festive meal, however, the food is served, one of the most generous gestures human beings are capable of. The serving is of a piece with garnishing; garnishing is the final phase of cooking, and cooking is one with preparing the food. And if we are blessed with rural circumstances, the preparation of food draws near the harvesting and the raising of the vegetables in the garden close by. This context of activities is embodied in persons. The dish and the cook, the vegetable and the gardener tell of one another. Especially when we are guests, much of the meal’s deeper context is socially and conversationally mediated. But that mediation has translucence and intelligibility because it extends into the farther and deeper recesses without break and with a bodily immediacy that we too have enacted or at least witnessed firsthand. And what seems to be a mere receiving and consuming of food is in fact the enactment of generosity and gratitude, the affirmation of mutual and perhaps religious obligations. Thus eating in a focal setting differs sharply from the social and cultural anonymity of a fast-food outlet. The pretechnological world was engaging through and through, and not always positively. There also was ignorance, to be sure, of the final workings of God and king; but even the unknown engaged one through mystery and awe. In this web of engagement, meals already had focal character, certainly as soon as there was anything like a culture of the table.50 Today, however, the great meal does not gather and order a web of thoroughgoing relations of engagement; within the technological setting it stands out as a place of profound calm, one in which we can leave behind the narrow concentration and one-sided strain of labor and the tiring and elusive diversity of consumption. In the technological setting, the culture of the table not only focuses our life; it is also distinguished as a place of healing, one that restores us to the depth of the world and to the wholeness of our being. As said before, we all have had occasion to experience the profound pleasure of an invigorating walk or a festive meal. And on such occasions we may have regretted the scarcity of such events; we might have been ready to allow such events a more regular and central place in our lives. But for the most part these events remain occasional, and indeed the ones that still grace us may be slipping from our grasp. We have seen various aspects of this malaise, especially its connection with


television. But why are we acting against our better insights and aspirations? This at first seems all the more puzzling as the engagement in a focal activity is for most citizens of the technological society an instantaneous and ubiquitous possibility. On any day I can decide to run or to prepare a meal after work. Everyone has some sort of suitable equipment. At worst one has to stop on the way home to pick up this or that. It is of course technology that has opened up these very possibilities. But why are they lying fallow for the most part? There is a convergence of several factors. Labor is exhausting, especially when it is divided. When we come home, we often feel drained and crippled. Diversion and pleasurable consumption appear to be consonant with this sort of disability. They promise to untie the knots and to soothe the aches. And so they do at a shallow level of our existence. At any rate, the call for exertion and engagement seems like a cruel and unjust demand. We have sat in the easy chair, beer at hand and television before us; when we felt stirrings of ambition, we found it easy to ignore our superego.51 But we also may have had our alibi refuted on occasion when someone to whom we could not say no prevailed on us to put on our coat and to step out into cold and windy weather to take a walk. At first our indignation grew. The discomfort was worse than we had thought. But gradually a transformation set in. Our gait became steady, our blood began to flow vigorously and wash away our tension, we smelled the rain, began thoughtfully to speak with our companion, and finally returned home settled, alert, and with a fatigue that was capable of restful sleep. But why did such occurrences remain episodes also? The reason lies in the mistaken assumption that the shaping of our lives can be left to a series of individual decisions. Whatever goal in life we entrust to this kind of implementation we in fact surrender to erosion. Such a policy ignores both the frailty and strength of human nature. On the spur of the moment, we normally act out what has been nurtured in our daily practices as they have been shaped by the norms of our time. When we sit in our easy chair and contemplate what to do, we are firmly enmeshed in the framework of technology with our labor behind us and the blessings of our labor about us, the diversions and enrichments of consumption. This arrangement has had our lifelong allegiance, and we know it to have the approval and support of our fellows. It would take superhuman strength to stand up to this order ever and again. If we are to challenge the rule of technology, we can do so only through the practice of engagement. The human ability to establish and commit oneself to a practice reflects our


capacity to comprehend the world, to harbor it in its expanse as a context that is oriented by its focal points. To found a practice is to guard a focal concern, to shelter it against the vicissitudes of fate and our frailty. John Rawls has pointed out that there is decisive difference between the justification of a practice and of a particular action falling under it.52 Analogously, it is one thing to decide for a focal practice and quite another to decide for a particular action that appears to have focal character.53 Putting the matter more clearly, we must say that without a practice an engaging action or event can momentarily light up our life, but it cannot order and orient it focally. Competence, excellence, or virtue, as Aristotle first saw, come into being as an éthos, a settled disposition and a way of life.54 Through a practice, Alasdaire MacIntyre says accordingly, “human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended.”55 Through a practice we are able to accomplish what remains unattainable when aimed at in a series of individual decisions and acts. How can a practice be established today? Here, as in the case of focal things, it is helpful to consider the foundation of pretechnological practices. In mythic times the latter were often established through the founding and consecrating act of a divine power or mythic ancestor. Such an act set up a sacred precinct and center that gave order to a violent and hostile world. A sacred practice, then, consisted in the regular reenactment of the founding act, and so it renewed and sustained the order of the world. Christianity came into being this way; the eucharistic meal, the Supper of the Lamb, is its central event, established with the instruction that it be reenacted. Clearly a focal practice today should have centering and orienting force as well. But it differs in important regards from its grand precursors. A mythic focal practice derived much force from the power of its opposition. The alternative to the preservation of the cosmos was chaos, social and physical disorder and collapse. It is a reduction to see mythic practices merely as coping behavior of high survival value. A myth does not just aid survival; it defines what truly human life is. Still, as in the case of pretechnological morality, economic and social factors were interwoven with mythic practices. Thus the force of brute necessity supported, though it did not define, mythic focal practices. Since a mythic focal practice united in itself the social, the economic, and the cosmic, it was naturally a prominent and public affair. It rested securely in collective memory and in the mutual expectations of the people. This sketch, of course, fails to consider many other kinds of pretechnological


practices. But it does present one important aspect of them and more particularly one that serves well as a backdrop for focal practices in a technological setting. It is evident that technology is itself a sort of practice, and it procures its own kind of order and security. Its history contains great moments of innovation, but it did not arise out of a founding event that would have focal character; nor has it produced focal things. Thus it is not a focal practice, and it has indeed, so I have urged, a debilitating tendency to scatter our attention and to clutter our surroundings. A focal practice today, then, meets no tangible or overtly hostile opposition from its context and is so deprived of the wholesome vigor that derives from such opposition. But there is of course an opposition at a more profound and more subtle level. To feel the support of that opposing force one must have experienced the subtly debilitating character of technology, and above all one must understand, explicitly or implicitly, that the peril of technology lies not in this or that of its manifestations but in the pervasiveness and consistency of its pattern. There are always occasions where a Big Mac, an exercycle, or a television program are unobjectionable and truly helpful answers to human needs. This makes a case-by-case appraisal of technology so inconclusive. It is when we attempt to take the measure of technological life in its normal totality that we are distressed by its shallowness. And I believe that the more strongly we sense and the more clearly we understand the coherence and the character of technology, the more evident it becomes to us that technology must be countered by an equally patterned and social commitment, that is, by a practice. At this level the opposition of technology does become fruitful to focal practices. They can now be seen as restoring a depth and integrity to our lives that are in principle excluded within the paradigm of technology. MacIntyre, though his foil is the Enlightenment more than technology, captures this point by including in his definition of practice the notion of “goods internal to a practice.”56 These are one with the practice and can only be obtained through that practice. The split between means and ends is healed. In contrast “there are those goods externally and contingently attached” to a practice; and in that case there “are always alternative ways for achieving such goods, and their achievement is never to be had only by engaging in some particular kind of practice.”57 Thus practices (in a looser sense) that serve external goods are subvertible by technology. But MacIntyre’s point needs to be clarified and extended to include or emphasize not only the essential unity of human being and a particular sort of doing but also the tangible things in which the world comes to be focused. The importance of this point has been suggested by the


consideration of running and the culture of the table. There are objections to this suggestion. Here I want to advance the thesis by considering Rawls’s contention that a practice is defined by rules. We can take a rule as an instruction for a particular domain of life to act in a certain way under specified circumstances. How important is the particular character of the tangible setting of the rules? Though Rawls does not address this question directly he suggests in using baseball for illustration that “a peculiarly shaped piece of wood” and a kind of bag become a bat and base only within the confines defined by the rules of baseball.58 Rules and the practice they define, we might argue in analogy to what Rawls says about their relation to particular cases, are logically prior to their tangible setting. But the opposite contention seems stronger to me. Clearly the possibilities and challenges of baseball are crucially determined by the layout and the surface of the field, the weight and resilience of the ball, the shape and size of the bat, etc. One might of course reply that there are rules that define the physical circumstances of the game. But this is to take “rule” in broader sense. Moreover it would be more accurate to say that the rules of this latter sort reflect and protect the identity of the original tangible circumstances in which the game grew up. The rules, too, that circumscribe the actions of the players can be taken as ways of securing and ordering the playful challenges that arise in the human interplay with reality. To be sure there are developments and innovations in sporting equipment. But either they quite change the nature of the sport as in pole vaulting, or they are restrained to preserve the identity of the game as in baseball. It is certainly the purpose of a focal practice to guard in its undiminished depth and identity the thing that is central to the practice, to shield it against the technological diremption into means and end. Like values, rules and practices are recollections, anticipations, and, we can now say, guardians of the concrete things and events that finally matter. Practices protect focal things not only from technological subversion but also against human frailty. It was emphasized that the ultimately significant things to which we respond in deictic discourse cannot be possessed or controlled. Hence when we reach out for them, we miss them occasionally and sometimes for quite some time. Running becomes unrelieved pain and cooking a thankless chore. If in the technological mode we insisted on assured results or if more generally we estimated the value of future efforts on the basis of recent experience, focal things would vanish from our lives. A practice keeps faith with focal things and saves for them an opening in our lives. To be sure, eventually


the practice needs to be empowered again by the reemergence of the great thing in its splendor. A practice that is not so revived degenerates into an empty and perhaps deadening ritual. We can now summarize the significance of a focal practice and say that such a practice is required to counter technology in its patterned pervasiveness and to guard focal things in their depth and integrity. Countering technology through a practice is to take account of our susceptibility to technological distraction, and it is also to engage the peculiarly human strength of comprehension, i.e., the power to take in the world in its extent and significance and to respond through an enduring commitment. Practically a focal practice comes into being through resoluteness, either an explicit resolution where one vows regularly to engage in a focal activity from this day on or in a more implicit resolve that is nurtured by a focal thing in favorable circumstances and matures into a settled custom. In considering these practical circumstances we must acknowledge final difference between focal practices today and their eminent pretechnological predecessors. The latter, being public and prominent, commanded elaborate social and physical settings: hierarchies, offices, ceremonies, and choirs; edifices, altars, implements, and vestments. In comparison our focal practices are humble and scattered. Sometimes they can hardly be called practices, being private and limited. Often they begin as a personal regimen and mature into a routine without ever attaining the social richness that distinguishes a practice. Given the often precarious and inchoate nature of focal practices, evidently focal things and practices, for all the splendor of their simplicity and their fruitful opposition to technology, must be further clarified in their relation to our everyday world if they are to be seen as a foundation for the reform of technology. WEALTH AND THE GOOD LIFE Strong claims have been made for focal things and practices. Focal concerns supposedly allow us to center our lives and to launch a reform of technology and so


to usher in the good life that has eluded technology. We have seen that focal practices today tend to be isolated and rudimentary. But these are marginal deficiencies, due to unfavorable circumstances. Surely there are central problems as well that pertain to focal practices no matter how well developed. Before we can proceed to suggestions about how technology may be reformed to make room for the good life, the most important objections regarding focal practices, the pivots of that reform, must be considered and, if possible, refuted. These disputations are not intended to furnish the impregnable defense of focal concerns which is neither possible nor to be wished for. The deliberations of this chapter are rather efforts to connect the notion of a focal practice more closely with the prevailing conceptual and social situation and so to advance the standing of focal concerns in our midst. To make the technological universe hospitable to focal things turns out to be the heart of the reform of technology. Let me now draw out the concrete consequences of this kind of reform. I begin with particular illustrations and proceed to broader observations. Sheehan’s focal concern is running, but he does not run everywhere he wants to go. To get to work he drives a car. He depends on that technological device and its entire associated machinery of production, service, resources, and roads. Clearly, one in Sheehan’s position would want the car to be as perfect a technological device as possible: safe, reliable, easy to operate, free of maintenance. Since runners deeply enjoy the air, the trees, and the open spaces that grace their running, and since human vigor and health are essential to their enterprise, it would be consistent of them to want an environmentally benign car, one that is free of pollution and requires a minimum of resources for its production and operation. Since runners express themselves through running, they would not need to do so through the glitter, size, and newness of their vehicles.59 At the threshold of their focal concern, runners leave technology behind, technology, i.e., as a way of taking up with the world. The products of technology remain ubiquitous, of course: clothing, shoes, watches, and the roads. But technology can produce instruments as well as devices, objects that call forth engagement and allow for a more skilled and intimate contact with the world.60 Runners appreciate shoes that are light, firm, and shock absorbing. They allow one to move faster, farther, and more fluidly. But runners would not want to have such movement procured by a motorcycle, nor would they, on the other side, want to obtain merely the physiological benefit of such bodily movement from a treadmill.


A focal practice engenders an intelligent and selective attitude toward technology. It leads to a simplification and perfection of technology in the background of one’s focal concern and to a discerning use of technological products at the center of one’s practice. I am not, of course, describing an evident development or state of affairs. It does appear from what little we know statistically of the runners in this country, for instance, that they lead a more engaged, discriminating, and a socially more profound life.61 I am rather concerned to draw out the consequences that naturally follow for technology from a focal commitment and from a recognition of the device pattern. There is much diffidence, I suspect, among people whose life is centered, even in their work, around a great concern. Music is surely one of these. But at times, it seems to me, musicians confine the radiance, the rhythm, and the order of music and the ennobling competence that it requires to the hours and places of performance. The entrenchment of technology may make it seem quixotic to want to lead a fully musical life or to change the larger technological setting so that it would be more hospitable and attentive to music. Moreover, as social creatures we seek the approval of our fellows according to the prevailing standards. One may be a runner first and most of all; but one wants to prove too that one has been successful in the received sense. Proof requires at least the display, if not the consumption, of expensive commodities. Such inconsistency is regrettable, not because we just have to have reform of technology but because it is a partial disavowal of one’s central concern. To have a focal thing radiate transformatively into its environment is not to exact some kind of service from it but to grant it its proper eloquence. There is of course intuitive evidence for the thesis that a focal commitment leads to an intelligent limitation of technology. There are people who, struck by a focal concern, remove much technological clutter from their lives. In happy situations, the personal and private reforms take three directions. The first is of course to clear a central space for the focal thing, to establish an inviolate time for running, or to establish a hearth in one’s home for the culture of the table. And this central clearing goes hand in hand, as just suggested, with a newly discriminating use of technology.62 The second direction of reform is the simplification of the context that surrounds and supports the focal area. And then there is a third endeavor, that of extending the sphere of engagement as far as possible. Having experienced the depth of things and the pleasure of full-bodied competence at the center, one seeks to extend such excellence to the margins of life. “Do it yourself” is the maxim of this tendency and “self-sufficiency” its goal. But the tendencies for which these


titles stand also exhibit the dangers of this third direction of reform. Engagement, however skilled and disciplined, becomes disoriented when it exhausts itself in the building, rebuilding, refinement, and maintenance of stages on which nothing is ever enacted. People finish their basements, fertilize their lawns, fix their cars. What for? The peripheral engagement suffocates the center, and festivity, joy, and humor disappear. Similarly, the striving for self-sufficiency may open up a world of close and intimate relations with things and people. But the demands of the goal draw a narrow and impermeable boundary about that world. There is no time to be a citizen of the cultural and political world at large and no possibility of assuming one’s responsibility in it. The antidote to such disorientation and constriction is the appropriate acceptance of technology. In one or another area of one’s life one should gratefully accept the disburdenment from daily and time-consuming chores and allow celebration and world citizenship to prosper in the time that has been gained. What emerges here is a distinct notion of the good life or more precisely the private or personal side of one. Clearly, it will remain crippled if it cannot unfold into the world of labor and the public realm. To begin on the side of leisure and privacy is to acknowledge the presently dispersed and limited standing of focal powers. It is also to avail oneself of the immediate and undeniably large discretion one has in shaping one’s free time and private sphere.63 Even within these boundaries the good life that is centered on focal concerns is distinctive enough. Evidently, it is a favored and prosperous life. It possesses the time and the implements that are needed to devote oneself to a great calling. Technology provides us with the leisure, the space, the books, the instruments, the equipment, and the instruction that allow us to become equal to some great thing that has beckoned us from afar or that has come to us through a tradition. The citizen of the technological society has been spared the abysmal bitterness of knowing himself or herself to be capable of some excellence or achievement and of being at the same time worn-out by poor and endless work, with no time to spare and no possibility of acquiring the implements of one’s desire. That bitterness is aggravated when one has a gifted child that is similarly deprived, and is exacerbated further through class distinctions where one sees richer but less gifted and dedicated persons showered with opportunities of excellence. There is prosperity also in knowing that one is able to engage in a focal practice with a great certainty of physical health and economic security. One can be relatively sure that the joy that one receives from a focal thing will not be overshadowed by the sudden loss of a loved one with whom that joy is shared. And


one prospers not only in being engaged in a profound and living center but also in having a view of the world at large in its essential political, cultural, and scientific dimensions. Such a life is centrally prosperous, of course, in opening up a familiar world where things stand out clearly and steadily, where life has a rhythm and depth, where we encounter our fellow human beings in the fullness of their capacities, and where we know ourselves to be equal to that world in depth and strength. This kind of prosperity is made possible by technology, and it is centered in a focal concern. Let us call it wealth to distinguish it from the prosperity that is confined to technology and that I want to call affluence. Affluence consists in the possession and consumption of the most numerous, refined, and varied commodities. This superlative formulation betrays its relative character. “Really” to be affluent is to live now and to rank close to the top of the hierarchy of inequality. All of the citizens of a typical technological society are more affluent than anyone in the Middle Ages. But this affluence, astounding when seen over time, is dimmed or even insensible at any one time for all but those who have a disproportionately large share of it. Affluence, strictly defined, has an undeniable glamour. It is the embodiment of the free, rich, and imperial life that technology has promised. So at least it appears from below whence it is seen by most people. Wealth in comparison is homely, homely in the sense of being plain and simple but homely also in allowing us to be at home in our world, intimate with its great things, and familiar with our fellow human beings. This simplicity, as said before, has its own splendor that is more sustaining than the glamour of affluence which leaves its beneficiaries, so we hear, sad and bored.64 Wealth is a romantic notion also in that it continues and develops a tradition of concerns and of excellence that is rooted on the other side of the modern divide, i.e., of the Enlightenment. A life of wealth is certainly not romantic in the sense of constituting an uncomprehending rejection of the modern era and a utopian reform proposal.65 I will conclude by considering the narrower sphere of wealth and by connecting it with the traditional notions of excellence and of the family. The virtues of world citizenship, of gallantry, musicianship, and charity still command an uneasy sort of allegiance and it is natural, therefore, to measure the technological culture by these standards. Perhaps people are ready to accept the distressing results of such measurement with a rueful sort of agreement. But obviously the acceptance of the standards, if there is one, is not strong enough to engender the reforms that the pursuit of traditional excellence would demand. This, I believe, is due to the fact that


the traditional virtues have for too long been uprooted from the soil that used to nourish them. Values, standards, and rules, I have urged repeatedly, are recollections and anticipations of great things and events. They provide bonds of continuity with past greatness and allow us to ready ourselves and our children for the great things we look forward to. Rules and values inform and are acted out in practices. A virtue is the practiced and accomplished faculty that makes one equal to a great event. From such considerations it is evident that the real circumstances and forces to which the traditional values, virtues, and rules used to answer are all but beyond recollection, and there is little in the technological universe that they can anticipate and ready us for. The peculiar character of technological reality has escaped the attention of the modern students of ethics. To sketch a notion of excellence that is appropriate to technology is, in one sense, simply to present another version of the reform of technology that has been developed so far. But it is also to uncover and to strengthen ties to a tradition that the modern era has neglected to its peril. As regards world citizenship today, the problem is not confinement but the proliferation of channels of communication and of information. From the mass of available information we select by the criteria of utility and entertainment. We pay attention to information that is useful to the maintenance and advancement of technology, and we consume those news items that divert us. In the latter case the world is shredded into colorful bits of entertainment, and the distracted kind of knowledge that corresponds to that sort of information is the very opposite of the principled appropriation of the world that is meant by world citizenship.66 The realm of technically useful information does not provide access to world citizenship either. Technical information is taken up primarily in one’s work. Since most work in technology is unskilled, the demands on technical knowledge are low, and most people know little of science, engineering, economics, and politics. The people at the leading edge of technology have difficulty in absorbing and integrating the information that pertains to their field.67 But even if the flood of technical information is appropriately channeled, as I think it can be, its mastery still constitutes knowledge of the social machinery, of the means rather than the ends of life. What is needed if we are to make the world truly and finally ours again is the recovery of a center and a standpoint from which one can tell what matters in the world and what merely clutters it up. A focal concern is that center of orientation. What is at issue here comes to the fore when we compare the simple and authentic world appropriation of someone like Mother Teresa with the shallow and vagrant


omniscience of a technocrat. Gallantry in a life of wealth is the fitness of the human body for the greatness and the playfulness of the world. Thus it has a grounding and a dignity that are lost in traditional gallantry, a loss that leaves the latter open to the technological concept of the perfect body where the body is narcissistically stylized into a glamorous something by whatever scientific means and according to the prevailing fashion. In the case of musicianship the tradition of excellence is unbroken and has expanded into jazz and popular music. What the notion of wealth can contribute to the central splendor and competence of music is to make us sensible to the confinement and the procurement of music. Confinement and procurement are aspects of the same phenomenon. The discipline and the rhythmic grace and order that characterize music are often confined, as said above, to the performance proper and are not allowed to inform the broader environment. This is because the unreformed structure of the technological universe leaves no room for such forces. Accordingly, music is allowed to conform to technology and is procured as a commodity that is widely and inconsequentially consumed. A focal concern for musicianship, then, will curtail the consumption of music and secure a more influential position for the authentic devotion to music. Finally, one may hope that focal practices will lead to a deepening of charity and compassion. Focal practices provide a profounder commerce with reality and bring us closer to that intensity of experience where the world engages one painfully in hunger, disease, and confinement. A focal practice also discloses fellow human beings more fully and may make us more sensitive to the plight of those persons whose integrity is violated or suppressed. In short, a life of engagement may dispel the astounding callousness that insulates the citizens of the technological societies from the well-known misery in much of the world. The crucial point has been well made by Duane Elgin: When people deliberately choose to live closer to the level of material sufficiency, they are brought closer to the reality of material existence for a majority of persons on this planet. There is not the day-to-day insulation from material poverty that accompanies the hypnosis of a culture of affluence.68 The plight of the family, finally, consists in the absorption of its tasks and substance by technology. The reduction of the household to the family and the growing emptiness of family life leave the parents bewildered and the children without guidance. Since less and less of vital significance remains entrusted to the


family, the parents have ceased to embody rightful authority and a tradition of competence, and correspondingly there is less and less legitimate reason to hold children to any kind of discipline. Parental love is deprived of tangible and serious circumstances in which to realize itself. Focal practices naturally reside in the family, and the parents are the ones who should initiate and train their children in them. Surely parental love is one of the deepest forms of sympathy. But sympathy needs enthusiasm to have substance. Families, I have found, that we are willing to call healthy, close, or warm turn out, on closer inspection, to be centered on a focal concern. And even in families that exhibit the typical looseness of structure, the diffidence of parents, and the impertinence of children, we can often discover a bond of respect and deep affection between parent and youngster, one that is secured in a common concern such as a sport and keeps the family from being scattered to the winds. NOTES 1. Earlier versions of this notion of technology can be found in “Technology and Reality,” Man and World 4 (1971): 59–69; “Orientation in Technology,” Philosophy Today 16 (1972): 135–47; “The Explanation of Technology,” Research in Philosophy and Technology 1 (1978): 99–118. Daniel J. Boorstin similarly describes the character of everyday America in terms of availability and its constituents. See his Democracy and Its Discontents (New York: Random House, 1974). 2. See Emmanuel G. Mesthene, Technological Change (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1970), p. 28. 3. See Melvin M. Rotsch, “The Home Environment,” in Technology in Western Civilization, ed. Melvin Kranzberg and Carroll W. Pursell, Jr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 2: 226–28. For the development of the kitchen stove (the other branch into which the original fireplace or stove developed), see Siegfried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command (New York: Norton, 1969 [first published in 1948]), pp. 527–47. 4. See George Sturt’s description of the sawyers in The Wheelwright’s Shop (London: Cambridge University Press, 1974 [first published in 1923]), pp. 32–40. 5. In economics, “commodity” is a technical term for a tradable (and usually movable) economic good. In social science, it has become a technical term as a


translation of Marx’s Ware (merchandise). Marx’s use and the use here suggested and to be developed agree inasmuch as both are intended to capture a novel and ultimately detrimental transformation of a traditional (pretechnological) phenomenon. For Marx, a commodity of the negative sort is the result of the reification of social relations, in particular of the reification of the workers’ labor power, into something tradable and exchangeable which is then wrongfully appropriated by the capitalists and used against the workers. This constitutes the exploitation of the workers and their alienation from their work. It finally leads to their pauperization. I disagree that this transformation is at the center of gravity of the modern social order. The crucial change is rather the splitting of the pretechnological fabric of life into machinery and commodity according to the device paradigm. Though I concede and stress the tradable and exchangeable character of commodities, as I use the term, their primary character, here intended, is their commodious and consumable availability with the technological machinery as their basis and with disengagement and distraction as their recent consequences. On Marx’s notion of commodity and commodity fetishism, see Paul M. Sweezy, The Theory of Capitalist Development (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1968), pp. 34–40. 6. See Morton Kaplan, “Means/Ends Rationality,” Ethics 87 (1976): 61–65. 7. Martin Heidegger gives a careful account of the interpenetration of means and ends in the pretechnological disclosure of reality. But when he turns to the technological disclosure of being (das Gestell) and to the device in particular (das Gerät), he never points out the peculiar technological diremption of means and ends though he does mention the instability of the machine within technology. Heidegger’s emphasis is perhaps due to his concern to show that technology as a whole is not a means or an instrument. See his “The Question Concerning Technology,” in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977). 8. It also turns out that a generally rising standard of living makes personal services disproportionately expensive. See Staffan B. Linder, The Harried Leisure Class (New York: Columbia University, 1970), pp. 34–37. 9. See Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (Stuttgart: Druckenmuller, 1893– 1963), 15: 615–17; See also Fustel de Coulanges, “The Sacred Fire,” in The Ancient City, trans. Willard Small (Garden City, N.Y., n.d. [first published in 1864]), pp. 25–33.


10. See Kent C. Bloomer and Charles W. Moore, Body, Memory, and Architecture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), pp. 2–3 and 50–51. 11. See Jeremiah Eck, “Home Is Where the Hearth Is,” Quest 3 (April 1979): 12. 12. Ibid., p. 11. 13. See The Oxford English Dictionary.14. See Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” in Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pp. 15–87. 15. See Vincent Scully, The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962). 16. See my The Philosophy of Language (The Hague: Nijoff, 1974), pp. 126– 31. 17. See Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper, 1962), pp. 95–107, 163–68, 210–24. 18. See Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” p. 80. 19. See Heidegger, “The Thing,” in Poetry, Language, Thought, pp. 163–82. Heidegger alludes to the turn from the Bedingungen to the Dinge on p. 179 of the original, “Das Ding,” in Vorträge und Aufsätze (Pfullingen, 1959). He alludes to the turn from technology to (focal) things in “The Question Concerning Technology.” 20. See Heidegger, “The Thing.” 21. See M. F. K. Fisher, The Cooking of Provincial France (New York: Time- Life Books, 1968), p. 50. 22. Though there are seeds for a reform of technology to be found in Heidegger as I want to show, Heidegger insists that “philosophy will not be able to effect an immediate transformation of the present condition of the world. Only a god can save us.” See “Only a God Can Save Us: Der Spiegel’s Interview with Martin Heidegger,” trans. Maria P. Alter and John D. Caputo, Philosophy Today 20 (1976): 277. 23. I am not concerned to establish or defend the claim that my account of Heidegger or my development of his views is authoritative. It is merely a matter here of acknowledging a debt. 24. See Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”; Langdon Winner makes a similar point in “The Political Philosophy of Alternative Technology,” in Technology and Man’s Future, ed. Albert H. Teich, 3d ed. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981), pp. 369–73.


25. See Heidegger, “The Thing,” pp. 180–82. 26. The need of complementing Heidegger’s notion of the thing with the notion of practice was brought home to me by Hubert L. Dreyfus’s essay, “Holism and Hermeneutics,” Review of Metaphysics 34 (1980): 22–23. 27. See Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking,” in Poetry, Language, Thought, pp. 152–53. 28. Ibid., pp. 148–49. 29. Georg Trakl, quoted by Heidegger in “Language,” in Poetry, Language, Thought, pp. 194–95 (I have taken some liberty with Hofstadter’s translation). 30. See Normal Maclean, A River Runs through It and Other Stories (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976). Only the first of the three stories instructs the reader about fly fishing. 31. See Colin Fletcher, The Complete Walker (New York: Knopf, 1971). 32. Ibid., p. 9. 33. See Roger B. Swain, Earthly Pleasures: Tales from a Biologist’s Garden (New York: Scribner, 1981). 34. Here are a few more: Wendell Berry, Farming: A Handbook (New York, 1970); Stephen Kiesling, The Shell Game: Reflections on Rowing and the Pursuit of Excellence (New York: Morrow, 1982); John Richard Young, Schooling for Young Riders (Norman: University of Oklahoma Pres, 1970); W. Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis (New York: Random House, 1974); Ruedi Bear, Pianta Su: Ski Like the Best (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976). Such books must be sharply distinguished from those that promise to teach accomplishments without effort and in no time. The latter kind of book is technolgical in intent and fraudulent in fact. 35. See Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969); and George Sheehan, Running and Being: The Total Experience (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978). 36. See Sheehan, pp. 211–20 and elsewhere. 37. See Capon, pp. 167–181. 38. See my “Mind, Body, and World,” Philosophical Forum 8 (1976): 76–79. 39. See Capon, pp. 176–77. 40. See Sheehan, p. 127. 41. On the unity of achievement and enjoyment, see Alasdair Maclntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), p. 184. 42. See my “Mind, Body, and World,” pp. 68–86.


43. See Peter Wood, “Seeing New York on the Run,” New York Times Magazine, 7 October 1979; Alexandra Penney, “Health and Grooming: Shaping Up the Corporate Image,” ibid. 44. See New York Times Magazine, 3 August 1980, pp. 20–21. 45. See Wood, p. 112. 46. See Sheehan, pp. 211–17. 47. See Wood, p. 116. 48. See Sheehan, pp. 221–31 and passim. 49. There is substantial anthropological evidence to show that running has been a profound focal practice in certain pretechnological cultures. I am unable to discuss it here. Nor have I discussed the problem, here and elsewhere touched upon, of technology and religion. The present study, I believe, has important implications for that issue, but to draw them out would require more space and circumspection than are available now. I have made attempts to provide an explication in “Christianity and the Cultural Center of Gravity,” Listening 18 (1983): 93–102; and in “Prospects for the Theology of Technology,” Theology and Technology, ed. Carl Mitcham and Jim Grote (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1984), pp. 305–22. 50. See M. F. K. Fisher, pp. 9–31. 51. Some therapists advise lying down till these stirrings go away. 52. See John Rawls, “Two Concepts of Rules,” Philosophical Review 64 (1955): 3–32. 53. Conversely, it is one thing to break a practice and quite another to omit a particular action. For we define ourselves and our lives in our practices; hence to break a practice is to jeopardize one’s identity while omitting a particular action is relatively inconsequential. 54. See Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, the beginning of Book Two in particular. 55. See MacIntyre, p. 175. 56. Ibid., pp. 175–77. 57. Ibid., p. 176. 58. See Rawls, p. 25. 59. On the general rise and decline of the car as a symbol of success, see Daniel Yankelovich, New Rules: Searching for Self-Fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down (Toronto: Bantam Books, 1982), pp. 36–39.


60. Although these technological instruments are translucent relative to the world and so permit engagement with the world, they still possess an opaque machinery that mediates engagement but is not itself experienced either directly or through social mediation. See also the remarks in n. 12 above. 61. See “Who Is the American Runner?” Runner’s World 15 (December 1980): 36–42. 62. Capon’s book is the most impressive document of such discriminating use of technology. 63. A point that is emphatically made by E. F. Schumacher in Small Is Beautiful (New York: Harper & Row, 1973) and in Good Work (New York, 1979); by Duane Elgin in Voluntary Simplicity (New York: Morrow, 1981); and by Yankelovich in New Rules. 64. See Roger Rosenblatt, “The Sad Truth about Big Spenders,” Time, 8 December 1980, pp. 84 and 89. 65. On the confusions that beset romanticism in its opposition to technology, see Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (New York: Harcouort, Brace, and World, 1963), pp. 285–303. 66. See Daniel J. Boorstin, Democracy and Its Discontents (New York: Random House, 1975), pp. 12–25. 67. See Elgin, pp. 251–71. In believing that the mass of complex technical information poses a mortal threat to bureaucracies, Elgin, it seems to me, indulges in the unwarranted pessimism of the optimists. 68. Ibid., p. 71. ____________________ Albert Borgmann, Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984, pp. 40–44, 196– 210, 221–226. Copyright 1984 by the University of Chicago Press. Reprinted by permission of the University of Chicago Press.

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    • Borgmann. Page 104
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\: ,,i;


The Humanism of Existentialism

I should like on this occasion to defend existentialism against some charges which have been brought against it.

First, it has been charged wi~ inviting people to remain in a kind of des- perate quietism because, since no solutions are possible, we should have to consider action in this world as quit~ impossible. We should then end up in a philosophy of contemplation; and since contemplation is a luxury, we come in the end to a bourgeois philosophy. The communists in particular have made these charges.

On the other hand, we have been charged with dwelling on human degra- dation, with pointing up everywhere the sordid, shady, and slimy, and ne- glecting the gracious aod beautiful, the bright side of human nature; for ex- ample, according to fyllle. Mercier, a Catholic critic, with forgetting the smile of the child. Both sides charge us with having ignored humao soli- darity, with considering man as an isolated being. The communists say that the main reason for. this is that we take pure subjectivity, the Cartesian I think, as our starting point; in other words, the moment in which man be- comes fully aware of what it means to him to be an isolated being; as a result, we are unable to return to a state of solidarity with the men who are not ourselves, a state which we can never reach in the cogito.

From the Christian standpoint, we are charged with denying the reality and seriousness of human undertakings, since, if we reject God’s command- ments and the eternal verities, there no longer remains anything but pure caprice, with everyone permitted to do as he pleases and incapable, from his own point of view, of condemning the points of view and acts of others.

I shall try today to answer these different charges. Many people are going to be surprised at what is said here about humanism. We shall try to see in what sense it is to be understood. In any case, what can be said from the ve~y beginning is that by existentialism we mean a doctrine which makes human life possible and, in addition, declares that every truth and every action im- plies a human setting and a human subjectivity.

As is generally known, the basic charge against us is that we put the

From Existentialism and Human Emotion by Jean-Paul Sartre, translated by Bernard Frechtman, © 1957 by Philosophical Library. Reprinted with permission.


The Humanism of Existentialism 291

emphasis on the dark side of human life. Someone recently told me of a lady who, when she let slip a vulgar word in a moment of irritation, excused her- self by saying, “I guess I’m becoming an existentialist.” Consequently, ex- istentialism is regarded as something ugly; that is why we are said to be natu- ralists; and if we are, it is rather surprising that in this day and age we cause so much more alarm and scandal than does naturalism, properly so called. The kind of person who can take in his stride such a novel as Zola’s The Earth is disgusted as soon as he s.tarts reading an existentialist novel; the kind of person who is resigned to the wisdom of the ages-which is pretty sad-finds us even sadder. Yet, what can be more disillusioning than saying “true charity begins at home” or “a scoundrel will always ·return evil for good?”

We know the commonplace remarks made when this subject comes up, remarks which always add up to the same thing: we shouldn’t struggle against the powers-that-be; we shouldn’t resist authority; we shouldn’t try to rise above our station; any action which doesn’t conform to authority is ro- mantic; any effort not based on past experience is doomed to failure; experi- ence shows that man’s bent is always toward trouble, that there must be a strong hand to hold him in check, if not, there will be anarchy. There are still people who go on mumbling these melancholy old saws, the people who say, “It’s only human!” whenever a more or less repugnant act is pointed out to them, the people who glut themselves on chansons rtalistes; these are the people who accuse existentialism of being too gloomy, and to such an extent that I wonder whether they are complaining about it, not for its pessimism, but much rather its optimism. Can it be that what really scares them in the doctrine I shall try to present here is that it leaves to mao a possibility of choice? To answer this question, we must re-examine it on a strictly philo- sophical plane. What is meant by the term existentialism.2

Most people who use the word would be rather embarrassed if they had to explain it, since, now that the word is all the rage, even the work of a musi- cian or painter is being called existentialist. A gossip columnist in Clartts signs himself The Existentialist, so that by this time the word has been so stretched and has taken on so broad a meaning, tha.t it no longer means any- thing at all. It seems that for want of an advance-guard doctrine analogous to surrealism, the kind of people who are eager for scandal and flurry turn to this philosophy which in other respects does not at all serve their purposes in this sphere.

Actually, it is the least scandalous, the most austere of doctrines. It is in- tended strictly for specialists and philosophers. Yet it can be defined easily. What complicates matters is that there are two kinds of existentialist; first, those who are Christian, among whom I would include Jaspers and Gabriel Marcel, both Catholic; and on the other hand the atheistic existentialists,trTaken from Guignon and Pereboom (eds.), Existentialism: Basic Writings, Second Edition. Hackett, 2001.Tiger Roholt

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among whom I class Heidegger, and then the French existentialists and my- self. What they have in common is that they think that existence precedes essence, or, if you prefer, that subjectivity must be the starting point.

Just what does that mean? Let us consider some object that is manufac- tured, for example, a book or a paper-cutter: here is an object which has been made by an artisan whose inspiration came from a concept. He referred to the concept of what a paper-cutter is and likewise to a known method of production, which is part of the concept, something which is, by and large, a routine. Thus, the paper-cutter is at once an object produced in- a certain way and, on the other hand, one having a specific use; and one cannot postu- late a man who produces a paper-cutter but does not know what it is used for. Therefore, let us say that, for the paper-cutter, essence-that is, the en- semble of both the production routines and the properties which enable it to be both produced and defined-precedes existence. Thus, the presence of the paper-cutter or book in front of me is determined. Therefore, we have here a technical view of the world whereby it can be said that production precedes existence.

When we conceive God as the Creator, He is generally thought of as a superior sort of artisan. Whatever doctrine we may be considering, whether one like that of Descartes or that of Leibniz, we always grant that will more or less follows understanding or, at the very least, accompanies it, and that when God creates He knows exactly what He is creating. Thus, the concept of man in the mind of God is comparable to the concept of paper-cutter in the mind of the manufacturer, and, following certain techniques and a con- ception, God produces man, just as the artisan, following a definition and a technique, makes a paper-cutter. Thus, the individual man· is the realization of a certain concept in the divine intelligence.

In the eighteenth century, the atheism of the philosophes discarded the idea of God, but not so much for the notion that essence precedes existence. To a certain extent, this idea is found everywhere; we find it in Diderot, in Voltaire, and even in Kant. Man has a human nature; this human nature, which is the concept of the human, is found in all men, which means that each ma11 is a particular example of a universal concept, man. In Kant, the result of this universality is that the wild-man, the natural man, as well as the bourgeois, are circumscribed by the same definition and have the ·same basic qualities. Thus, here too the essence of man precedes the historical ex- istence that we find in nature.

Atheistic existentialism, which I represent, is more coherent. It states that if God does not exist, there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept, and that this being is man, or, as Heidegger says, human reality. What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means that, first of all, man ex-

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ists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be. Thus, there is no human nature, since there is no God to conceive it. Not only is man what he conceives himself to be, but he is also only what he wills himself to be after this thrust toward existence.

Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first princi- ple of existentialism. It is also what is called subjectivity, the name we are labeled with when charges are brought against us. But what do we mean by this, if not that man has a greater dignity than a stone or table? For we mean that man first exists, that is, that man first of all is the being who hurls him- self toward a future and who is conscious of imagining himself as being in the future. Man is at the start a plan which is aware of itself, rather than a patch of moss, a piece of garbage, or a cauliflower; nothing exists prior to this plan; there is nothing in heaven; man will be what he will have planned to be. Not what he will want to be. Because by the word “will” we generally mean a conscious decision, which is subsequent to what we have already made of ourselves. I may want to belong to a political party, write a book, get married; but all that is only a manifestation of an earlier, more spontaneous choice that is called “will.” But if existence really does precede essence, man is responsible for what he is. Thus, existentialism’s first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his exis- tence rest on him. And when we say that a man is responsible for himself, we do not only mean that he is responsible for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men.

The word subjectivism has two meanings, and our opponents play on the two. Subjectivism means, on the one hand, that an individual chooses and makes himself; and, on the other, that it is impossible for man to transcend human subjectivity. The second of these is the essential meaning of existen- tialism. When we say that man chooses his own self, we mean that every one of us does likewise; but we also mean by that that in making this choice he also chooses all men. In fact, in creating the man that we want to be, there is not a single one of our acts which does not at the same time create an image of man as we think he ought to be. To choose to be this or that is to affirm at the same time the value of what we choose, because we can never choose evil. We always choose the good, and nothing can be good for us without being good for all.

If, on the other hand, existence precedes essence, and if we grant that we exist and fashion our image at one and the same time, the image is valid for everybody and for our whole age. Thus, our responsibility is much greater than we might have supposed, because it involves all mankind. If I am a -workingman and choose to join a Christian trade-union rather than be a


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communist, and if by being a member I want to show that the best thing for man is resignation, that the kingdom of man is not of this world, I am not only involving my own case—-I want to be resigned for everyone. As a result, my action has involved all humanity. To take a more individual matter, if I want to marry, to have children; even if this marriage depends solely on my own circumstances or passion or wish, I am involving all humanity in mo- nogamy and not merely myself. Therefore, I am responsible for myself and for everyone else. I am creating a certain image of man of my own choosing. In choosing myself, I choose man.

This helps us understand what the actual content is of such rather gran- diloquent words as anguish, forlornness, despair. As you will see, ies all quite simple.

First, what is meant by anguish? The existentialists say at once that man is anguish. What that means is this: the man who involves himself and who realizes that he is not only the person he chooses to be, but also a lawmaker who is, at the same time, choosing all mankind as well as himself, cannot help escape the feeling of his total and deep responsibility. Of course, there are many people who are not anxious; but we claim that they are hiding their anxiety, that they are fleeing from it. Certainly, many people believe that when they do something, they themselves are the only ones involved, and when someone says to them, “What if everyone acted that way?” they shrug their shoulders and answer “Everyone doesn’t act that way.” But really, one

‘ ‘ should always ask himself, “What would happen if everybody looked at things that way?” There is no escaping this disturbing thought except by a kind of double-dealing. A man who lies and makes excuses for himself by saying “not everybody does that,” is someone with an uneasy conscience, because the act of lying implies that a universal value is conferred upon the lie.

Anguish is evident even when it conceals itself. This is the anguish that Kierkegaard called the anguish of Abraham. You know the story: an angel has ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son; if it really were an angel who has come and said, “You are Abraham, you shall sacrifice your son,” everything would be all right. But everyone might first wonder, “Is it really an angel, and am I really Abraham? What proof do I have?”

There was a madwoman who had hallucinations; someone used to speak to her on the telephone and give her orders. Her doctor asked her, “Who is it who talks to you?” She answered, “He says it’s God.” What proof did she really have that it was God? If an angel comes to me, what proof is there that it’s an angel? And if I hear voices, what proof is there that they come from heaven and not from hell, or from the subconscious, or a pathological condi- tion? What proves that they are addressed to me? What proof is there that I

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have been appointed to impose my choice and my conception of man on hu- manity? I’ll never find any proof or sign to convince me of that. If a voice addr~sses me, it is always for me to decide that this is the angel’s voice; if I consider that such an act is a good one, it is I who will choose to say that it is good rather than bad. ‘

Now, I’m not being singled out as an Abraham, and yet at every moment I’m obliged to perform exemplary acts. For every man, everything happens as if all mankind had its eyes fixed on him and were guiding itself by what he does. And every man ought to say to himself, “Am I really the kind of man who has the right to act in such a way that humanity might guide itself by “:Y actions?” And if he does not say that to himself, he is masking his anguish.

There is no question here of the kind of anguish which would lead to quietism, to inaction. It is a matter of a simple sort of anguish that anybody who has had responsibilities is familiar with. For example, when a military officer takes the responsibility for an attack and sends a certain number of men to death, he chooses to do so, and in the main he alone makes the choice. Doubtless, orders come from above, but they are too broad; he inter- prets them, and on this interpretation depend the lives of ten or fourteen or twenty men. In making a decision he cannot help having a certain anguish. All leaders know this anguish. That doesn’t keep them from acting; on the contrary, it is the very condition of their action. For it implies that they en- :isage a number of possibilities, and when they choose one, they realize that It has value only because it is chosen. We shall see that this kind of anguish which is the kind that existentialism describes, is explained, in addition, by~ direct responsibility to the other men whom it involves. It is not a curtain separating us from action, but is part of action itself.

When we speak of forlornness, a term Heidegger was fond of, we mean only that God does not exist and that we have to face all the consequences of this. The existentialist is strongly opposed to a certain kind of secular ethics which would like to abolish God with the least possible expense. About 1880, some French teachers tried to set up a secular ethics which went something like this: God is a useless and costly hypothesis; we are discarding ~t; .but, meanwhile, in order for there to be an ethics, a society, a civilization, 1t ts essential that certain values be taken seriously and that they be consid- ered as having an a priori existence. It must be obligatory, a priori, to be honest, not to lie, not to beat your wife, to have children, etc., etc. So we’re going to try a little device which will make it possible to show that values exist all the same, inscribed in a heaven of ideas, though otherwise God does not exist. In other words-and this, I believe, is the tendency of everything called reformism in France–nothing will be changed if God does not exist.


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We shall find ourselves with the same norms of honesty, progress, and hu- manism, and we shall have made of God an outdated hypothesis which will peacefully die off by itself.

The existentialist, on the contrary, thinks it very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him; there can no longer be an a priori Good, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. Nowhere is it writ- ten that the Good exists, that we must be honest, that we must not lie; be- cause the fact is we are on a plane where there are only men. Dostoyevsky said, “If God didn’t exist, everything would be possible.” That is the very starting point of existentialism. Indeed, everything is permissible if God does not exist, and as a result man is forlorn, because neither within him nor without does he find anything to cling to. He can’t start making excuses for himself.

If existence really does precede essence, there is no explaining things away by reference to a fixed and-given human nature. In other words, there is no determinism, man is free, man is freedom. On the other hand, if God does not exist, we find no values or commands to turn to which legitimize our conduct. So, in the bright realm of values, we have no excuse behind us, nor justification before us. We are alone, with no excuses.

That is the idea I shall try to convey when I say that man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet, in other respects is free; because, once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. The existentialist does not believe in the power of passion. He will never agree that a sweeping passion is a ravaging tOrrent which fatally leads a man to certain acts and is therefore an excuse. He thinks that man is respon- sible for his passion.

The existentialist does not think that man is going to help himself by finding in the world some omen by which to orient himself. Because he thinks that man will interpret the omen. to suit himself. Therefore, he thinks that man, with no support and no aid, is condemned every moment to in- vent man. Ponge, in a very fine article, has said, “Man is the future of man.” That’s exactly it. But if it is taken to mean that this future is recorded in heaven, that God sees it, then it is false, because it would really no longer be a future. If it is taken to mean that, whatever a man may be, there is a future to be forged, a virgin future before him, then this remark is sound. But then we are forlorn.

To give you an example which will enable you to understand forlornness better, I shall cite the case of one of my students who came to see me under the following circumstances: his father was on bad terms with his mother, and, moreover, ‘Yas inclined to be a collaborationist; his older brother had been killed in the German offensive of 1940, and the young man, with

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somewha.t immature but generous feelings, wanted to avenge him. His mother hved alone with him, very much upset by the half-treason of her husband and the death of her older son; the boy was her only consolation. Th~~oy was faced with :he ch?ice of leaving for England and joining the

Free French Forces-that 1s, leaving his mother behind-or remaining w1th his mother and helping her to carry on. He was fully aware that the wo lived only for him and that his going-off-perhaps his death-would pl:n: her mto despair. He was also aware that every act that he did for his mother’s sake was a sure thing, in the sense that it was helping her to carry on whereas every effort he made toward going off and fighting was an uncerta’~ mov~ which might run aground and prove completely useless; for exampl~, on his ;vay t~ England he might, while passing through Spain, he detained mdefimtely m a Spanish camp; he might reach England or Algiers and be stuck tn. an office ~: a desk job. As a result, he was faced with two very dif- ~er~n~ kinds of action: one, concrete, immediate, but concerning only one ind1vi~u~l; the other concerned an incomparably vaster group, a national collectivity, but for that very reason was dubious, and might be interrupted en route. And-, at the same time, he was wavering between two kinds of ethics. On the one hand, an ethics of sympathy, of personal devotion; on the other, a broader ethics, but one whose efficacy was more dubious. He had to choose between the two.

Who could help him choose? Christian doctrine? No. Christian doctrine says, “Be charitable, love your neighbor, take the more rugged path etc etc.” But ;vhich is the more rugged path? Whom should he love as a br~the;; The fig~tm~ man or his mother? Which does the greater good, the vague act of fighting m a group, or the concrete one of helping a particular human being to go on living? Who can decide a priori? Nobody. No book of ethics can tell him. The Kantian ethics says, “Never treat any person as a means but as an end.,, Very well, if I stay with my mother, I’ll treat her as an end and ?ot as a means; but by virtue of this very fact, I’m running the risk ~f treating. t~e people around me who are fighting, as means; and, conversely, if I g.o to )Om those wh~ are fighting, I’ll be treating them as an end, and, by doing that, I run the risk of treating my mother as a means.

If values are vague, and if they are always too broad for the concrete and specific case that we are considering, the only thing left for us is to trust our instincts. That’s what this young man tried to do· and when I saw him he said? “In the. end: feeling is what counts. I ought t~ choose whichever pu~hes me m one direct10n. If I feel that I love my mother enough to sacrifice ev- erything else for her-my desire for vengeance, for action for adventure— ~hen I’ll stay with her. If, on the contrary, I feel that my lo~e for my mother isn’t enough, I’ll leave.”

B~t how is the value of a feeling determined? What gives his feeling for

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his mother value? Precisely the fact that he remained with her. I may say that I like so-and-so well enough to sacrifice a certain amount of money for him, but I may say so only if fve done it. I may say “I love my mother well enough to remain with her” if I have remained with her. The only way to determine the value of this affection is, precisely, to perform an act which confirms and defines it. But, since I require this affection to justify my act, I

find myself caught in. a vicious circle. On the other hand, Gide has well said that a mock feeling and a true feel-

ing are almost indistinguishable; to decide that I love my mother and will remain with her, or to remain with her by putting on an act, amount some- what to the same thing. In other words, the feeling is formed by the acts one performs; so, I cannot refer to it in order to act upon it. Which means that I can neither seek within myself the true condition which will impel me to act, nor apply to a system of ethics for concepts which will permit me to act. You will say, “At least, he did go to a teacher for advice.” But if you seek advice from a priest, for example, you have chosen this priest; you already knew, more or less, just about what advice he was going to give you. In other words, choosing your adviser is involving yourself. The proof of this is that if you are a Christian, you will say, “Consult a priest.” But some priests are collaborating, some are just marking time, some are resisting. Which to choose? If the young man chooses a priest who is resisting or collaborating, he has already decided on the kind of advice he’s going to get. Therefore, in coming to see me he knew the answer I was going to give him, and I had only one answer to give: “You’re free, choose, that is, invent.” No general ethics can show you what is to be done; there are no omens in the world. The Catholics will reply, “But there are.” Granted-but, in any case, I my-

self choose the meaning they have. When I was a prisoner, I knew a rather remarkable young man who was a

J~uit. He had entered the Jesuit order in the following way: he had had a number of very bad breaks; in childhood, his father died, leaving him in poverty, and he was a scholarship student at a religious institution where he was constantly made to feel that he was being kept out of charity; then, he failed to get any <:>f the -honors and distinctions that children like; later on, at about eighteen, he bungled a love affair; finally, at twenty-two, he failed in military training, a childish enough matter, but it was the last straw.

This young fellow might well have felt that he had botched everything. It was a sign of something, but of what? He might have taken refuge in bitter- ness or despair. But he very wisely looked upon all this as a sign that he was not made for secular triumphs, and that only the triumphs of religion, holi- ness, and faith were open to him. He saw the hand of God in all this, and so he entered the order. Who can help seeing that he alone decided what the

sign. meant?

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Some other interpretation might have been drawn from this series of set- backs; for example, that he might have done better to turn carpenter or rev- olutionist. Therefore, he is fully responsible for the interpretation. Forlorn- ness implies that we ourselves choose our being. Forlornness and anguish go , together. .

As for despair, the term has a very simple meaning. It means that we shall confine ourselves to reckoning only with what depends upon our will, or on the ensemble of probabilities which make our action possible. When we want something, we always have to reckon with probabilities. I may be counting on the arrival of a friend. The friend is coming by rail or street- car; this supposes that the train will arrive on schedule, or that the street-car will not jump the track. I am left in the realm of possibility; but possibilities are to be reckoned with only to the point where my action comports with the ensemble of these possibilities, and no further. The moment the possibilities I am considering are not rigorously involved by my action, I ought to disen- gage myself from them, because no God, no scheme, can adapt the world and its possibilities to my will. When Descartes said, “Conquer yourself rather than the world,” he meant essentially the same thing.

The Marxists to whom I have spoken reply, “You can rely on the support of others in your action, which obviously has certain limits because you’re not going to live forever. That means: rely on both what others are doing elsewhere to help you, in China, in Russia, and what they will do later on, after your death, to carry on the action and lead it to its fulfillment which , will be the revolution. You even have to rely upon that, otherwise you’re im- moral.” I reply at once that I will always rely on fellow-fighters insofar as these comrades are involved with me in a common struggle, in the unity of a party or a group in which I can more or less make my weight felt; that is, one whose ranks I am in as a fighter and whose movements I am aware of at every moment. In such a situation, relying on the unity and will of the party is exactly like counting on the fact that the train will arrive on time or that the car won’t jump the track. But, given that man is free and that there is no human nature for me to depend on, I cannot count on men whom I do not know by relying on human goodness or man’s concern for the good of so- ciety. I don’t know what will become of the Russian revolution; I may make an example of it to the extent that at the present time it is apparent that the proletariat plays a part in Russia that it plays in no other nation. But I can’t swear that this will inevitably lead to a triumph of the proletariat. I’ve got to limit myself to what I see.

Given that men are free and that tomorrow they will freely decide what man will be, I cannot be sure that, after my death, fellow-fighters will carry on my work to bring it to its maximum perfection. Tomorrow, after my death, some men may decide to set up Fascism, and the others may be

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cowardly and muddled enough to let them do it. Fascism will then be the human reality, so much the worse for us.

Actually, things will be as man will have decided they are to be. Does that mean that I should abandon myself to quietism? No. First, I should involve myself; then, act on the old saw, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Nor does it mean that I shouldn’t belong to a party, but rather that I shall have no illusions and shall do what I can. For example, suppose I ask myself, “Will socialization, as such, ever come about?” I know nothing about it. All I know is that I’m going to do everything in my power to bring it about. Beyond that, I can’t count on anything. Quietism is the attitude of people who say, “Let others do what I can’t do.” The doctrine I am presenting is the very opposite of quietism, since it declares, “There is no reality except in action.” Moreover, it goes further, since it adds, “Man is nothing else than his plan; he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he is therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts, nothing else than his life.”

According to this, we can understand why our doctrine horrifies certain people. Because often the only way they can bear their wretchedness is to think, “Circumstances have been against me. What I’ve been and done doesn’t show my true worth. To be sure, I’ve had no great love, no great friendship, but that’s because I haven’t met a man or woman who was worthy. The books I’ve written haven’t been very good because I haven’t had the proper leisure. I haven’t had children to devote myself to because I didn’t find a man with whom I could have spent my life. So there remains within me unused and quite viable, a host of propensities, inclinations, pos-

, . f h. I’ d ” sibilities that one wouldn’t guess from the mere series o t 1ngs ve one. Now,’ for the existentialist there is really no love other than one which

manifests itself in a person’s being in love. There is no genius other than one which is expressed in works of art; the genius of Proust is the sum of Proust’s works; the genius of Racine is his series of tragedies. Outside of that, there is nothing. Why say that Racine could have written another trag- edy,- when he didn’t write it? A man is involved in life, leaves his impress on it, and outside of that there is nothing. To be sure, this may seem a harsh thought to someone whose life hasn’t been a success. But, on the other hand, it prompts people to understand that reality alone is what counts, that dreams, expectations, and hopes warrant no more than to define a man as a disappointed dream, as miscarried hopes, as vain expectations. In other words to define him negatively and not positively. However, when we say, “You ~re nothing else than your life,” that does not imply that the artist will be judged solely on the basis of his works of art; a thousand other things will contribute toward summing him up. What we mean is that a man is nothing else than a series of undertakings, that he is the sum, the organization, the ensemble of the relationships which make up these undertakings.

The Humanism of Existentiali’sm 301

When all is said and done, what we are accused of at bottom is not our . . ‘ ‘

pess1m1sm, but an optimistic toughness. If people throw up to us our works of fic~on in which we write about people who are soft, weak, cowardly, and sometimes even downright. bad, it’s not because these people are soft, wea~ cowardly, or bad; because 1f we were to say, as Zola did, that they are that ‘”:ay b~cause of heredity, the workings of environment, society, because of b101og1cal or psychological determinism, people would be reassured. They would say, “Well, ~9at’s what we’re like, no one can do anything about it.” But when the existtbtialist writes about a coward, he says that this coward is responsible for his cowardice. He’s not like that because he has a cowardly heart or lung or brain; he’s not like that on account of his physiological make-up; but he’s like that because he has made himself a coward by his acts. There’s no such thing as a cowardly constitution· there are nervous . . , c~nst~tuttons; there is poor blood, as the common people say, or strong con- st1tut1ons. But the man whose blood is poor is not a coward on that account f?r ~hat makes cowardice is the act of renouncing or yielding. A constitu~ tton ts not a~ act; the coward is defined on the basis of the acts. he performs. Pe~ple feel, ~n a vague sort of way, that this coward we’re talking about is gmlty of bemg a coward, and the thought frightens them. What people would like is that a coward or a hero be born that way.

One of the complaints most frequently made about The Ways of Freedom* can be summed up as follows: “After all, these people are so spineless how . , are you going to make heroes out of them?” This objection almost makes me laugh, for it assumes that people are born heroes. That’s what people really want to think. If you’re born cowardly, you may set your mind perfectly at rest; there’s nothing you can do about it; you’ll be cowardly all your life, whatever you may do. If you’re born a hero, you may set your mind just as much at rest; you’ll be a hero all your life; you’ll drink like a hero and eat like a hero. What the existentialist says is that the coward makes himself cow- ardly, that the hero makes himself heroic. There’s always a possibility for the coward not to be cowardly any more and for the hero to stop being he- roic. What counts is total involvement; some one particular action or set of circumstances is not total involvement.

~h~s, I think we have answered a number of the charges concerning exis- t~nt1a~1sm. You see that it cannot be taken for a philosophy of quietism, since tt defines man in terms of action; nor for a pessimistic description of man-there is no doctrine more optimistic, since man’s destiny is within himself; nor for an attempt to discourage man from acting, since it tells him

• Les Chemins de la Liberti, M. Sartre’s· projected trilogy of novels two of which L:Age de Raison (The Age of Reason) and Le Sursis (The Reprieve) have already ap~ peared. Translator’s note.

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that the only hope is in his acting and that action is the only thing that enables a man to live. Consequently, we are dealing here with an ethics of action and involvement.

Nevertheless, on the basis of a few notions like these, we are still charged with immuring man in his private subjectivity. There again we’re very much misunderstood. Subjectivity of the individual is indeed our point of depar- ture, and this for strictly philosophic reasons. Not because we are bourgeois, but because we want a doctrine based on truth and not a lot of fine theories, full of hope but with no real basis. There can be no other truth to take off from than this: I think; therefore, I exist There we have the absolute truth of consciousness becoming aware of itself. Every theory which takes man out of the moment in which he becomes aware of himself is, at its very begin- ning, a theory which confounds truth, for outside the Cartesian cogito, all views are only probable, and a doctrine of probability which is not bound to a truth dissolves into thin air. In order to describe the probable, you must have a firm hold on the true. Therefore, before there can be any truth what- soever, there must be an absolute truth; and this one is simple and easily ar- rived at; it’s on everyone’s doorstep; it’s a matter of grasping it directly.

Secondly, this theory is the only one which gives man dignity, the only one which does not reduce him to an object. The effect of all materialism is to treat all men, including t~e one philosophizing, as objects, that is, as an ensemble of determined reactions in no way distinguished from the ensem- ble of qualities and phenomena which constitute a table or a chair or a stone. We definitely wish to establish the human realm as an ensemble of values distinct from the material realm. But the subjectivity that we have thus ar- rived at, and which we have claimed to be truth, is not a strictly individual subjectivity, for we have demonstrated that one discovers in the cogito not only himself, but others as well.

The philosophies of Descartes and Kant to the contrary, through the I think we reach our own self in the presence of others, and the others are just as real to us as our own self. Thus, the man who becomes aware of himself through the cogito also perceives all others, and he perceives them as the condition Of his own existence. He realizes that he cannot be anything (in the sense that we say that someone is witty or nasty or jealous) unless others recognize it as such. In order to get any truth about myself, I must have con- tact with another person. The other is indispensable to my own existence, as well as to my knowledge about myself. This.being so, in discovering my in- ner being I discover the other person at the same time, like a freedom placed in front of me which thinks and wills only for or against me. Hence, let us at once announce the discovery of a world which we shall call intersubjec- tivity; this is the world in which man decides what he is and what others are.

Besides, if it is impossible to find in every man some universal essence which would be human nature, yet there does exist a universal human con-

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dition. It’s not by chance that today’s thinkers speak more readily of man’s condition than of his nature. By condition they mean, more or less defi- nitely, the a priori limits -which outline man’s fundamental situation in the universe. Historical situations vary; a man may be born a slave in a pagan society or a feudal lord or a proletarian. What does not vary is the necessity for him to exist in the world, to be at work there, to be there in the midst of other people, and to be mortal there. The limits are neither subjective nor objective, or, rather, they have an objective and a subjective side. Objective because they are to be found everywhere and are recognizable everywhere; subjective ·because they are lived and are nothing if man does not live them, that is, freely determine his existence with reference to them. And though the configurations may differ, at least none of them are completely strange to me, because they all appear as attempts either to pass beyond these limits or recede from them or deny them or adapt to them. Consequently, every configuration, however individual it may be, has a universal value.

Every configuration, even the Chinese, the Indian, or the Negro, can be understood by a Westerner. “Can be understood” means that_ by virtue of a situation that he can imagine, a European of 1945 can, in like manner, push himself to his limits agd- reconstitute within himself the configuration of the Chinese, the Indian, or the African. Every configuration has universality in the sense that every configuration can be understood by every man. This does not at all mean that this configuration defines man forever, but that it can be met with again. There is always a way to understand the idiot, the child, the savage, the foreigner, provided one has the necessary information.

In this sense we may say that there is a universality of man; but it is not given, it is perpetually being made. I build the universal in choosing myself; I build it in understanding the configuration of every other man, whatever age he might have lived in. This absoluteness of choice does not do away with the relativeness of each epoch. At heart, what existentialism shows is the connection between the absolute character of free involvement, by vir- tue of which every man realizes himself in realizing a type of mankind, an involvement always comprehensible in any age whatsoever and by any per- son whosoever, and the relativeness of the cultural ensemble which may re- sult from such a choice; it must be stressed that the relativity of Cartesian- ism and the absolute character of Cartesian involvement go together. In this sense, you may, if You like, say that each of us performs an absolute act in breathing, eating, sleeping, or behaving in any way whatever. There is no difference between being free, like a configuration, like an existence which chooses its essence, and being absolute. There is no difference between being an absolute temporarily localized, that is, localized in history, and being universally comprehensible.

This does not entirely settle the objection to subjectivism. In fact, the objection still takes several forms. First, there is the following: we are told,

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“So you’re able to do anything, no matter what!” This is expressed in various ways. First we are accused of anarchy; then they say, “You’re unable to pass judgment on others, because there’s no reason to prefer one config- uration to another”; finally they tell us, “Everything is arbitrary in this choosing of yours. You take something from one pocket and pretend you’re putting it into the other.”

These three objections aren’t very serious. Take the first objection. “You’re able to do anything, no matter what” is not to the point. In one sense choice is possible, but what is not possible is not to choose. I can al- ways choose, but I ought to know that if I do not choose, I am still choosing. Though this may seem purely formal, it is highly important for keeping fan- tasy and caprice within bounds. If it is true that in facing a situation, for example, one in which, as a person capable of having sexual relations, of having children, I am obliged to choose an attitude, and if I in any way as- sume responsibility for a choice which, in involving myself, also involves all mankind, this has nothing to do with caprice, even if no a priori value deter- mines my choice.

If anybody thinks that he recognizes here Gide’s theory of the arbitrary act, he fails to see the enormous difference between this doctrine and Gide’s. Gide does not know what a situation is. He acts out of pure caprice. For us, on the contrary, man is in an organized situation in which he himself is in- volved. Through his choice, he involves all mankind, and he cannot avoid making a choice; either he will remain chaste, or he will marry without hav- ing children, or he will marry and have children; anyhow, whatever he may do, it is impossible for him not to take full responsibility for the way he han- dles this problem. Doubtless, he chooses without referring to preestablished values, but it is unfair to accuse him of caprice. Instead, let us say that moral choice is to be compared to the making of a work of art. And before going any further, let it be said at once that we are not dealing here with an aes- thetic ethics, because our opponents are so dishonest that they even accuse us of that. The example I’ve chosen is a comparison only.

Having said that, may I ask whether anyone has ever accused an artist who has painted a picture of not having drawn his inspiration from rules set up a priori? Has anyone ever asked, “What painting ought he to make?” It is clearly understood that there is no definite painting to be made, that the art- ist is engaged in the making of his painting, and that the painting to be made is precisely the painting he will have made. It is clearly understood that there are no a priori aesthetic values, but that there are values which appear subse- quently in the coherence of the painting, in the correspondence between what the artist intended and the result. Nobody can tell what the painting of tomorrow will be like. Painting can be judged only after it has once been made. What connection does that have with ethics? We are in the same ere-

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ative situation. We never say that a work of art is arbitrary. When we speak of a canvas of Picasso, we never say that it is arbitrary; we understand quite well that he was making himself what he is at the very time he was painting, that the ensemble of his work is embodied in his life.

The same holds on the ethical plane. What art and ethics have in common is that we have creation and invention in both cases. We cannot decide a priori what there is to be done. I think that I pointed that out quite suffi- ciently when I mentioned the case of the student who came to see me and

‘ who might have applied to all the ethical systems, Kantian or otherwise, without getting any sort of guidance. He was obliged to devise his law him- self. Never let it be said by us that this man-who, taking affection individ- ual action, and kind-heartedness toward a specific person as his ethical first prin.ciple, chooses to remain with his mother, or who, preferring to make a sacrifice, chooses to go to England~has made an arbitrary choice. Man makes himself He isn’t ready made at the start. In choosing his ethics, he makes himself, and force of circumstances is such that he cannot abstain from choosing one. We define man only in relationship to involvement. It is therefore absurd to charge us with arbitrariness of choice.

In the second place, it is said that we are unable to pass judgment on oth- ers. In a way this is true, and in another way, false. It is true in this sense, that, whenever a man sanely,,alid sincerely involves himself and chooses his configuration, it is impossible for him to prefer another configuration, re- gardless of what his own may be in other respects. It is true in this sense, that we do not believe in progress. Progress is betterment. Man is always the same. The situation confronting him varies. Choice always remains a choice in a situation. The problem has not changed since the time one could choose between those for and those against slavery, for example, at the time of the Civil War, and the present time, when one can side with the Maquis Resis- tance Party, or with the Communists.

But, nevertheless, one can still pass judgment, for, as I have said, one makes a choice in rel:itionship to others. First, one can judge (and this is per- haps not a judgment of value, but a logical judgment) that certain choices are based on error and others on truth. If we have defined man’s situation as a free choice, with no excuses and no recourse, every man who takes refuge b~hind the excuse of his passions, every man who sets up a determinism, is a dishonest man.

The objection may be raised, “But why mayn’t he choose himself dishon- estly?” I reply that I am not obliged to pass moral judgment on him, but that I do define his dishonesty as an error. One cannot help considering the truth of the matter. Dishonesty is obviously a falsehood because it belies the complete freedom of involvement. On the same grounds, I maintain that there is also dishonesty if I choose to state that certain values exist prior to me; it is self-


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contradictory for me to want them and at the same state that they are imposed on me. Suppose someone says to me, “What if I want to be dishonest?” I’ll answer, “There’s no reason for you not to be, but I’m saying that that’s what you are, and that the strictly coherent attitude is that of honesty.”

Besides, I can bring moral judgment to bear. When I declare that freedom in every concrete circumstance can have no other aim than to want itself, if man has once become aware that in his forlornness he imposes values, he can no longer want but one thing, and that is freedom, as the basis of all values. That doesn’t mean that he wants it in the abstract. It means simply that the ultimate meaning of the acts of honest men is the quest for freedom as such. A man who belongs to a communist or revolutionary union wants concrete goals; these goals imply an abstract desire for freedom; but this freedom is wanted in something concrete. We want freedom for freedom’s sake and in every particular circumstance. And in wanting freedom we discover that it depends entirely on the freedom of others, and that the freedom of others depends on ours. Of course, freedom as the definition of man does not de- pend on others, but as soon as there is involvement, I am obliged to want others to have freedom ~t the same time that I want my own freedom. I can take freedom as my goal only if I take that of others as a goal as well. Conse- quently, when, in all honesty, I’ve recognized that man is a being in whom existence precedes essence, that he is a free being who, in various circum- stances, can want only his freedom, I have at the same time recognized that I can want only the freedom of others.

Therefore, in the name of this will for freedom, which freedom itself im- plies, I may pass judgment on those who seek to hide from themselves the complete arbitrariness and the complete freedom of their existence. Those who hide their complete freedom from themselves out of a spirit of serious- ness or by means of deterministic excuses, I shall call cowards; those who try to show that their existence was necessary, when it is the very contingency of man’s appearance on earth, I shall call stinkers. But cowards or stinkers can be judged only from a strictly unbiased point of view.

Therefore though the content of ethics is variable, a certain form of it is universal. Kant says that freedom desires both itself and the freedom of oth- ers. Granted. But he believes that the formal and the universal are enough to constitute an ethics. We, on the other hand, think that principles which are too abstract run aground in trying to decide action. Once again, take the case of the student. In the name of what, in the name of what great moral maxim do you think he could have decided, in perfect peace of mind, to abandon his mother or to stay with her? There is no way of judging. The content is always concrete and thereby unforeseeable; there is always the element of in- vention. The one thing that counts is knowing whether the inventing that has been done, has been done in the name of freedom.

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For example, let us look at the following two cases. You will see to what extent they correspond, yet differ. Take The Mill on the Floss. We find acer- tain young girl, Maggie Tulliver, who is an embodiment of the value of pas- sion and who is aware of it. She is in love with a young man, Stephen, who is engaged to an insignificant young girl. This Maggie Tulliver, instead of , heedlessly preferring her own happiness, chooses, in the name of human sol- idarity, to sacrifice herself and give up the man she loves. On the other hand, Sanseverina, in The Charterhouse of Parma, believing that passion is man’s true value, would say that a great love deserves sacrifices; that it is to be pre- ferred to the banality of the conjugal love that would tie Stephen to the young ninny he had to marry. She would choose to sacrifice the girl and fulfill her happiness; and, as Stendhal shows, she is even ready to sacrifice herself for the sake of passion, if this life demands it. Here we are in the presence of two strictly opposed moralities. I claim that they are much the same thing; in both cases what has been set up as the goal is freedom.

You can imagine two highly similar attitudes: one girl prefers to renounce her love out of resignation; another prefers to disregard the prior attach- ment of the man she loves out of sexual desire. On the Surface these two actions resemble those we’ve just described. However, they are completely different. Sanseverina’s attitude is much nearer that of Maggie Tulliver, one of heedless rapacity.

Thus, you see that the second char~i’e is true and, at the same time, false. One may choose anything if it is on the grounds of free involvement.

The third objection is the following: “You take something from one pocket and put it into the other. That is, fundamentally, values aren’t serious, since you choose them.” My answer to this is that I’m quite vexed that that’s the way it is; but if I’ve discarded God the Father, there has to be someone to invent values. You’ve got to take things as they are. Moreover, to say that we invent values means nothing else but this: life has no meaning a priori. Before you come alive, life is nothing; it’s up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing else but the meaning that you choose. In that way, you see, there is a possibility of creating a human community.

I’ve been reproached for asking whether existentialism is humanistic. It’s been said, “But you said ~n Nausea that the humanists were all wrong. You made fun of a certain kind of humanist. Why come back to it now?” Actu- ally, the word humanism has two very different meanings. By humanism one can mean a· theory which takes man as an end and as a higher value. Hu- manism jn this sense can be found in Cocteau’s tale Around the World in Eighty Hours when a character, becaUse he is flying over some mountains in an airplane, declares, “Man is simply amazing.” That means that I, who did not build the airplanes, shall personally benefit from these particular inven- tions, and that I, as man, shall personally consider myself responsible for,

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and honored by, acts of a few particular men. This would imply that we ascribe a value to man on the basis of the highest deeds of certairi men. This humanism is absurd, because only the dog or the horse would be able to make such an over-all judgment about man, which they are careful not to do, at least to my knowledge.

But it cannot be granted that a man may make a judgment about man. Existentialism spares him from any such judgment. The existentialist will never consider man as an end because he is always in the making. Nor should we believe that there is a mankind to which we might set up a cult in the manner of Auguste Comte. The cult of mankind ends in the self- enclos·ed humanism of Comte, and, let it be said, of fascism. This kind of humanism we can do .without.

Blit there is another meaning of humanism. Fundamentally it is this: man is constantly outside of himself; in projecting himself, in losing himself out- side of himself, he makes for man’s existing; and, on the other hap.cl, it is by pursuing transcendent goals that he is able to exist; man, being this state ~f passing-beyond, and seizing upon things only as they bear upon this passing-beyond, is at the heart, at the center of this passing-beyond. There is no universe other than a human universe, the universe of human subjec- tivity. This connection between transcendency, as a constituent element of man-not in the sense that God is transcendent, but in the sense of passing beyond-and subjectivity, in the sense that man is not closed in on himself but is always present in a human universe, is what we call existentialist hu- manism. Humanism, because we remind man that there is no law-maker other than himself, and that in his forlornness he will decide by himself; be- cause we point out that man will fulfill himself as man, not in turning to- ward himself, but in seeking outside of himself a goal which is just this lib- eration, just this particular fulfillment. .

From these few reflections it is evident that nothing is more un1ust than the objections that have been raised against us. Existentialism is no.th~ng el~e than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent athe1snc posi- tion. It isn’t trying to plunge man into despair at all. But if one calls every attitude of unbelief despair, like the Christians, then the word is not being, used in its original sense. Existentialism isn’t so atheistic that it wears itself out showing that God doesn’t exist. Rather, it declares that even if God did exist that would change nothing. There you’ve got our point of view. Not that ~e believe that God exists, but we think that the problem of His exis- tence is not the issue. In this sense existentialism is optimistic, a doctrine of action, and it is plain dishonesty for Christians to make ~? distinction be- tween their own despair and ours and then to call ~s despa1r1ng.



sled us to the heart of being. But we have been brought to an impasse since have not been able to establish the connection between the two regions of be· g which we have discovered. No doubt this is because we have chosen an un rtunate approach. Descartes found himself faced with an analogous proble when he had to deal with the relation between soul and body. He planned en to look for the solution on that level where the union of thinking subst ce and extendti:d substance was actually effected- that is, in the imagination. is advice is valuable. To be sure, our concern is not that of Descartes and w do not conceive of imagination as he did. But what we can retain is the re ‘nder that it is not profitable first to separate the two terms of a relation in der to try to join them together again later. The relation is a synthesis. Co equently the results of analysis cannot be covered over again by the moment of this synthesis.

M. Laporte says that an abstrac ·on is made when something not capable of existing in isolation is thought o as in an isolated state. The concrete by contrast is a totality which can exist y itself alone. Husserl is of the same opinion; for him red is an abstractio because color cannot exist without form. On the other’-hand, a spatial-re oral thing, with all its determina- tions, is an example of the concrete. Fro this point of view, consCiousness is an abstraction since it conceals within 1 elf an ontological source in the region of the in-itself, and conversely the henomenon is likewise an ab- straction since it must “app·ear” to conscious ess. The concrete can be only the synthetic totality of which consciousness, like the phenomenon, con- stitutes only moments. The concrete is man wit ·n the world in that specific union of man with the world which Heidegger, fo example, calls “being-in- the-world.” We deliberately begin with the abstrac if we question “experi- ence” as Kant does, inquiring into the conditions of possibility—or if we effect a phenomenological reduction like Husserl, w~would reduce the world to the state of t~e noema-correlate of consciou~n ss. But w_e w_ill no more succeed in restoring the concrete by the summation organization of the elements which we have abstracted from it than Spinoza can reach sub- stance by the infinite summation of its modes.

The relation of the regions of being is an original emergence and is a part of the very structure of these beings. But we discovered this in our first ob- servations. It is enough now to open our eyes and question ingenuously this


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