Lecture 13

Lecture 13

Here the phenomenon of the truth and falsity of being in the first and second persons shows its face. Whereas philosophy has traditionally been concerned with truth in the third person, i.e. with how beings show themselves of themselves, especially in science, which strives to bring things to light in terms of a scientific explanation, truth in the first and second persons has been more at home in the realm of literature and drama. This means that the ontological dimensions of first and especially second person being have to date not been laid sufficiently bare by way of questioning, philosophical discourse.

Falsity of whoness

Truth and falsity of whoness have to be distinguished from truth and falsity of whatness. With regard to the latter, beings can show themselves as what they are not, so that human understanding is deceived by the self-showing of things themselves. Apart from their self-showing in immediate presence, beings are also called to presence and defined in their presentation by human speech. Herein lies already a possibility of a discrepancy between how something shows itself of itself and how the logos presents it. When the logos is used to communicate something in intercourse with others, the others only see what is presented through the medium of the logos, which may well be inadequate or simply false.

If someone intentionally says something to be the case which he knows in truth to be otherwise, this is lying, a phenomenon not only ubiquitous in everyday living, but also well-known in philosophy. In the phenomenon of lying, a situation is presented to others in the medium of speech to be otherwise than the speaker in truth knows it to be. Since all situations are more or less ambiguous, a liar always has the opportunity of pleading ignorance or self-deception if confronted with the truth. But lying is not an interesting phenomenon for the dimension of first and second-person being. Even if other persons, and not just things, are spoken about, these others are present in the dimension of third-person being, albeit as who they are. Second-person being involves not just a speaking-about, but also a speaking-to.

Let us consider the falsity of being in the first person. I always have a reflexive relation to myself. I am aware of my self first of all in how I find myself in a given mood, which is the way I encounter world or the way world is there in the openness of the Da for me. But I am also aware of myself in self-understanding, in how I articulate my self in my inner dialogue. This inner dialogue, even if scarcely articulated, is how I hold myself to be as somewho, and it may be a self-deception in the sense of a false estimation of who I am myself. I have a do/ca about myself, just as others have an opinion about me and hold me to be who I am. In my self-understanding I bring my self to stand as who I regard myself to be. Such a standing is always already social, even though I am understanding myself, so to speak, solipsistically, for, the terms of my self-understanding are always social. I understand myself in my standing in a social, shared world.

Pride and vanity

We have already seen that being somewho is always a matter of showing-off, of putting oneself on display with one's abilities in the open dimension of a shared world. Showing-off is to be understood here first of all in an entirely sobre way, which includes modes of human behaviour that are decidedly not showing-off in the sense of ostentatious self-display, such as inconspicuous behaviour, lack of self-confidence and the like. In my self-display, I always have a relation of self-awareness to how I present myself in the social world. I always hold my self to be in my self-presentation. This holding-myself-to-be is my self-estimation, i.e. how I hold myself to be in my self-esteem, my self-worth, such self-worth being a function of my assessment of my abilities in the widest sense. If my estimation of self-esteem exceeds my genuine abilities, this is vanity, one quise of self-falsehood. In vanity, how I hold myself to be covers up a worthlessness with over-estimation. Those who are most vain are also most worthless in the sense of being good-for-nothings.

Pride is similar to vanity, consisting as it does in having a lofty self-esteem, but not necessarily as a cover for worthlessness. Vanity is a synonym for conceit (from L. conceptus 'conceiving'), which involves conceiving of oneself too highly, entertaining an overweening opinion of oneself. The phenomena of vanity, conceit and pride already make it plain that whoness is a vertically structured dimension of being.

The opposite of vanity is self-depreciation which consists in holding oneself to be beneath one's true qualities and abilities. The truth of first-person being therefore consists in modestly holding oneself in self-esteem in accordance to a sobre assessment of one's own qualities and abilities, i.e. of knowing who one is as self and deriving (the strength of) one's stand in social life from this sobre and adequate self-assessment.

Falsity in the first person flows naturally into falsity in the second-person dimension of being, because how I regard myself to be in my own estimation is also how I present myself in my self-showing to others. Thus, for instance, vanity is not just having an over-estimation of myself which covers up a worthlessness, i.e. indulging in an excessively high opinion of my own appearance, attainments, qualities, possessions, etc., but implies also that I delight in, or am desirous of attracting, the admiration of others. Similarly, pride, or having or cherishing a high or lofty opinion of myself; valuing myself highly on account of my position, rank, attainments, possessions, etc. disposes me also in relations with others to assume an attitude of superiority to and contempt for them, i.e. to be arrogant, haughty, overweening, supercilious in my dealings with them. In short, pride disposes me to put myself above others.

Snobbery or the pretension to superior knowledge, taste, etc., in a particular sphere, is a phenomenon situated more within the dimension of second-person being because a snob is someone who wishes to be regarded as a person of social importance and who despises those who are considered inferior in rank, attainment, or taste. Here, lofty self-estimation is relative to others, who are regarded as inferior.

To be continued...

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