The Common Life and The Formation of “We”

  • James G. Hart
Part of the Phaenomenologica book series (PHAE, volume 126)


The preceding discussions of personhood and the emergence of the quest for an ideal position-taking, i.e., one which would be maximally satisfying and unregrettable, are abstracted from the social-cultural weave into which each personal history is inserted. Position-takings typically build on the position-takings of Others and, in turn, call forth position-takings by Others which, in turn, etc. Indeed it is difficult to sort out what precisely are the exclusively individual aspects of a position-taking when one considers the extent to which individual agency is founded on the reciprocity of agency and the inherited traditions. The sense of individual personhood is inseparable from the cultivated common world, its interpersonal origins and the community of its agency and of its ideals. If this be true then it would seem that there is an essential life in common which may be teased out. This common life has various strata, some of which are pre-egological-instinctual, others of which are egological but the authorship is anonymous, others tacitly and implicitly affirm explicit achievements of their authors. In our view this functioning common life serves both as the ideal and basis of a critique of the life lived together by persons. This is not an abstract universal power, e.g., the state, which stands in opposition to the single individuals. Rather the common life is essential to each individual’s life as both its necessary condition as well as its completion. The alienated group and individual lives may be generally correlated with circumstances in which the essential and ideal common life exists in the form of a caricature.1 In this chapter we wish to begin a demonstration of how this common life is the fuller context for the discussion of the ideal position-taking which is the desideratum of the ethical epoché. We must keep in mind (see Chapter I) that the absolute ought emerges from the ethical epoché in conjunction with the attempt to survey one’s life in the light of what is best. We shall later study the categorical features of the absolute ought (in Chapter IV); in this chapter we point to these discussions and have occasion to remind ourselves that it is only from the standpoint of the transcendental reduction that the ultimate (“absolute”) sense of the absolute ought becomes evident (Chapter I).


Primal Latent Primal Presencing Common Life Common World Identity Synthesis 
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  1. 1.
    This is the view of early Marx and much of this chapter is an explication of “das wahre Gemeinwesen.” See, e.g., Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, ed. and trans. by L.D. Easton and K.H. Guddat (New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1967), 271–272.Google Scholar
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    Cf. James G. Hart, “Mythic World as World,” International Philosophical Quarterly, XV (1975), 55–58. This article needs rewriting from a transcendental perspective. But that would be for the most part superfluous because a novel of Iris Murdoch presents us with an extraordinary disclosure of the eidetics of being-in-love, mythic world, love, and the horizon of the Good — all from a burgeoning transcendental perspective of a hapless and helpless middle-aged writer. See The Black Prince ( New York: Warner, 1974 ).Google Scholar
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    See Hua XIV,174 and F I 22, 53. Max Scheler’s definition of normative love as a social-personal space-making is proximate to what Husserl calls ethical love: “Love is the motion in which each concrete individual object which bears value arrives at the highest possible value for it in accord with its ideal determination; or it is the motion in which it reaches the ideal value-essence proper to it.” See Wesen and Formen der Sympathie (Bonn: Fr. Cohen, 1931), 187. Doubtless Scheler’s writings were among the most important occasions for Husserl’s sharpening of his own theory of intersubjectivity. Ethical love (or the essential-normative love of Scheler) provides an angle for appreciating Heidegger’s concept of the most authentic mode of being human. This most proper existence permits things to come into their own by our being taken with that open space out of which all determination surfaces. For Husserl, the Ideal functions in a way analogous to Heidegger’s Clearing. Scheler and Husserl regard ethical love as effective facilitating and space-making (giving elbow room) which permits beings to come into their ownmost possibilities; Heidegger’s Denken and Anwesenlassen may be considered as ontological generalizations of this feature of love; and Husserl’s striving for a formulation for the absolute ought will be interpreted in this work to move toward such Heideggerian concerns. Cf. The Piety of Thinking: Essays by Martin Heidegger,Hart and Maraldo, 125–151.Google Scholar
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    See n. 8. This discussion of “we” first appeared in a somewhat different form as “I, We, and God,” in the volume of Phaenomenologica, Husserl-Ausgabe and Husserl-Forschung, Samuel IJsseling, ed. (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1990), 127–133. In a richly instructive article (which I discovered after completing this essay) Herbert Spiegelberg holds that an authentic use of “we” is when the speaker addresses others whom he wants to include. “We,” therefore, tries to make the others listen and realize that they are appealed to as partners. This is its performative function. I hold this to be an improper use of “we” (see below in text). I owe the insight to the instruction of my eleven year old daughter, Jenni, on how this use of “we” is a form either of imperialism or disingenuous presumption of the fulfillment of conditions which are still unfulfilled. See Spiegelberg’s “On the Right to Say `We”’ in Phenomenological Sociology: Issues and Applications, ed. George Psathas (New York: John Wiley, 1973), 129–158. For an excellent essay which complements my study, see David Carr’s “Cogitamus Ergo Sumus: The Intentionality of the First-Person Plural,” in his Interpreting Husserl ( Dordrecht: Nijhoff, 1987 ), 281–298.Google Scholar
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    See Hua XXVII, 49. Karl Schuhmann, in his Husserls Staatsphilosophie,62 (see our discussion in Chapter V, §9), calls attention to R.C. Collingwood’s The New Leviathan (New York: Thomas Crowell, 1971), 139, where a self-consciousness of the community is espoused, in terms resembling that of Husserl, as a sharing of a common will. Collingwood spells this out as a resolve to assume the function of partnership in a common undertaking. This is perhaps a way of stating what Husserl means by a self-directed, self-forming will. For Husserl, as this work hopefully makes clear, this self-reflexivity is not only a possibility but an infinite task of universal human community (cf. Chapters IV—VI of this work). Social-cultural movements, by which smaller communities serve as leaven for the larger ones are exemplary. Here the self-formation and self-reflection of individuals actuate smaller communities whose self-actuation affects the whole human “community.” This is the way we should appreciate the world-historical significance of the Greek discovery of epistémé and philosophia.Google Scholar
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    L.T. Hobhouse, Elements of Social Justice (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1965), 30 and 108. For a theory of the common good, see Chapter VI.Google Scholar
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    See Nicolai Hartmann, Das Problem des geistigen Seins (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1922/1962), 186197, and especially, 302–310. Here we find a rich analysis of cultural being and ideality. Hartmann regards culture as a modus deficiens of spiritual or personal being; thereby he believes he is empowered to reject both the Hegelian objective spirit as well as Scheler’s personality of a higher order — which is proximate to Husserl’s view. Yet because Hartmann does not find occasion to undertake an analysis of “we” and community — it remains for him a collection or sum of individuals — he does not do justice to the theme of personality of a higher order. Nevertheless, Hartmann’s work is an eloquent study of the common good of culture, its communal function, and the Hegelian theme of objective spirit.Google Scholar
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    J.G. Fichte, in Sittenlehre (1812) in Nachgelassene Werke III (Bonn: Marcus, 1935; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1962), 70 ff.Google Scholar
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    David Carr, Time, Narrative, and History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 163. Carr’s discussion of the temporal and narrative nature of the person richly supplements my meager efforts — which were done before I came upon Carr’s work. He supports the central thesis that narrative enables a kind of self-consciousness for the person of a higher order or We on pp. 149–150. My only hesitation about Carr’s discussion is that “we” gets constituted for him perhaps too casually by passive acts of identification and representation. I agree that we do this, i.e., say, e.g., “We Americans mined the Nicaraguan harbors” etc., but as I hope this book makes clear, this sense of “we” might often be improper, alienated, etc.Google Scholar
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    Although I disagree with aspects of the sectarian drift of Stanley Hauerwas’ relativizing of character, community and narrative, I owe him much in my effort to get clear about these matters. I think that his commendable communitarian tendencies need not be tied to an anti-universalist or relativistic ethics. See his A Community of Character (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), especially Chapters VI—VII.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • James G. Hart
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Religious StudiesIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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