This page will bring together articles and information concerning Abraham Joshua Hescel – particularly his life and work as it is relevant to inspiring those committed to Holistic Education.
A commentary on Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book ‘Who is man?’
– as the basis for a spiritualizing model of holistic education
NB Early piece – needs revising and developing RP
Having thought about human nature and about spiritualization and about perennial philosophy teachings in undisciplined ways for forty years, and having thought about Holistic Education for some five or ten years, in a somewhat more disciplined way, I found that Who is Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel was like having a great poet-seer at your shoulder who had captured essential vision and set it down, in powerful, profound simplicity. For me Who is Man? Contributes massively toward an underpinning philosophy of Holistic Education, or at least the part that concerns the humanness of human being and the beingness of being human. It is also steeped in the spiritual and the spiritualizing. This piece of work then concerns the value that that great work has for teachers who would be holistically-minded as part of developing a spiritualizing form of education.
Much of Heschel’s writing is located in, and overtly steeped in, Judaic-Rabbinical scholarship. In this book however he does what is the great spiritual challenge for all of us – to rise above our cultural-religious-social background, without ceasing to take all the nourishment we can from the roots we have – in order to become just, but wholly, human – and to speak to people without any labels of religion or race or status. Heschel did not write the book specifically for teachers or for those who try to teach in the perspective of Holistic Education. This commentary and response then is written to link his ‘teaching’ with being a teacher, one who happens to be a Baha’i, with a holistic perspective, and someone who seeks to understand his work as ‘a spiritual craft’, a craft of consciousness (Prentice 1996).
Who is Man? is spiritual and visionary more than ‘scholarly’ or ‘academic’, even though one knows that there is a massive scholarship just, as it were, off stage. Gillman (1998 http://www.rabassembly.org/cjmag/98wisp/) in speaking of Heschel’s work as a whole, takes the view that Heschel was always true to his early mystical training, rather then to scholarship per se. The mystical roots must also be the poetic roots. In Sermon, entitled ‘The Legacy of Abraham Joshua Heschel’, given March 6, 1998, Rabbi Samuel M. Stahl
( 1998 http://www.beth-elsa.org/be_s0306.htm) quotes Dr. Fritz Rothschild, who was his colleague at the Seminary, as making the following observation about Heschel’s writings: “We find ourselves confronted with a style that exhibits a beauty and vividness of phrase rarely found in scholarly works. The idea appears in aphoristic insights…spiritual gems…His easy flowery prose hides subtle and complex thought processes that are ours to discover, only if we delve beneath the smooth surface and study each passage in depth.”
In Who is man? there is no bibliography, just the odd reference to one of his earlier more religious books. Its beautiful profundity probably works most for all who are involved with the mytical heart of religion, as opposed to simply describing it s phenomenological surfaces. As a Baha’i I, inevitably, subscribes to the Hindu (?) saying that there are many paths to the top of the mountain but only one top of the mountain. I believe Heschel speaks at the level of truth where it no longer matters what path has been taken, by any of us, to get closer to the mountain top because as we struggle upwards, eventually in the realization that we are one, we gradually begin to hear the very truth, goodness and beauty that was Heschel, his life and his writing. Whilst engaging the teachings of my own faith community, Baha’i, and other sources, this thesis is an exploration of, and commentary on, Who is man as inspiration for framing a spiritualizing model of education.
The book starts out under the heading of ‘To think of man in human terms’. For this would-be holistic educator the first sentence, the first 21 words are ‘mind-blowing’ in their combination of simplicity and profundity.
To ask a question is an act of the intellect; to face a problem is a situation involving the whole person.
This is a statement that is simple, clear but of great import. It sums up the need for Holistic Education. It also encapsulates, in highly condensed form, a critique of most Western education in its mechanistic, materialistic, fragmentary and divisive nature, since it operates, predominantly, at the ‘questions’ level and not at the ‘problematizing’ level.
Education to leave behind the horrors of the 20thC, to be worthy of the Founders of all the great world religions, to be worthy of all of the just, courageous, beautiful and virtuous people who ever contributed to getting us this far must become spiritually based instead of materialistic but it also needs to become a process for nurturing whole humanity – whole, hale, healed and holy are part of the same reality, as well as words with the same derivations.
I need to mention in passing the understanding I had reached before discovering Who is Man. The non-Faith-specific nature of the spiritual to which we all need to subscribe is stated minimally as seeking for The Golden Rule. Maximally, of course, it is the ever-growing realization that the inner essence of all traditions is the same.
I take mind and soul to be the same mental/human spiritual reality, with the brain being the chief physical instrument of the mind. Mind is each individual’s total consciousness, realized and nascent, and the particular awareness that s/he has at any moment in focusing on some aspect of reality. This switching of focus is something we do in a continuum of rapid shifts of will, or by external interruption. In meditation or prayer the shifting of focus slows or is held still.
In education there is, in a sense only mind (and the expressive ‘instruments’ of the body e.g. for dance) and the universal task is to raise consciousness through nurturing the development of capabilities in all of the soul’s primary powers ie cognition, affectivity, volition. This may be less so for the engineering lecturer in a technical college than for the primary school teacher but the broad responsibility remains so I believe because s/he is not teaching metals but is a human being teaching human beings who exist in social, moral and historical contexts. Ignoring the contexts is to ignore the humanity. Ignoring the humanity is to work amorally. To work amorally is to provide the space for tyrants to occupy.
The chief concern in teacher education therefore ought be how to raise consciousness, how to expand the mind. It is irrelevant to require student teachers to gain superficial command over the ‘bloated ‘ologies’, except in so far as they can assist in illuminating the task of raising consciousness.
The most important single truth is that that consciousness is single and whole, but awareness, the area we choose to focus on at any one time is partial. For example we know that if someone says through thin lips and gritted teeth with arms folded and body rigid, “Yes of course I’m all right!” that they are not all right – the ‘words’ and the ‘music’ do not go together. Attention needs to be paid to feelings as well as thought, to the social as well as the academic, to the volitional as well as to the behavioral, to personal history as well as to educational aims, etc. However all of these need to be held within, and understood within, the singleness of consciousness. In Western education we have chosen to believe that an admixture of bits equals a whole, just as we have chosen in relation to the environment the easier unsustainable in preference to the harder sustainable.
There is no case to be made for making the teacher a sociologist or psychologist or any other ologist except for the help they might give in the teacher as pedagogue, as nurturer of the learning of others and of her/his self. Pedagogy is ill-developed in my country, the UK, it has been negatively defined ie defined by eg the ‘ologies, not as a thing in itself. A large part of the reason is the failure to see teacher as fully professional and teaching as a spiritual craft cf a transmissive skill.
The ‘parts’ through which we should define teacher education and pedagogy are not separate they are dimensions of the whole, the whole being consciousness, being human. (Prentice 1996a, 1996b) The dimensions I see as nine in number and are:
1) The Inspirational – from which we derive inspiration and values/higher order principles
3) Action/behaviour – as expressed through the physical.
4) Love/Affect (feelings and caring)
5) Knowing in the sense of cognising
6) Values and beliefs
7) Self-understanding/The personal history – through which pupil is helped/hindered in learning
8) The social contexts – in which pupil is helped/hindered in learning
9) The Potential and mystery of the learner
Diagram 1 shows that whilst we might pay attention to the affective or the volitional each dimension is rooted in the other, each draws on and contributes to all of the others. Similarly we might ask the children to focus on the affective or the ethical. Such focusing of attention, which of course is highly rapid at times, could lead us to conclude that each of these dimensions are separate realities. My contention however is that they only appear separate realities. Much more time and effort needs to be given to the whole, less to the parts. The teacher needs to be free to ”vibrate’ in his/her consciousness, holding understanding in all of these dimensions, able to respond to any of the dimensions in any of the children in the continuous flow of teaching dialogue. I see this as a kind of meditation state whilst conducting high-speed responses to what is going on. Perhaps I can illustrate this
To return to Abraham Heschel and how in Who is Man he provides so much to underpin a Holistic view of education
The vitality of problematizing and problem-solving.
It is in tackling problems that we grow – in being, in thought, in skills and in caring. Problem-solving is now widely held as god practice in many ‘subjects’ in many schools. Our whole self is, or ought be, involved
A question calls for an answer, a problem calls for a solution (from the Latin solvere, to loosen, to dissolve).
No genuine problem, comes into being out of sheer inquisitiveness. A problem is the outcome of a situation. It comes to pass in moments of being in straits, of intellectual embarrassment, in experiencing tension, conflict, contradiction. p 1
The need for philosophy to be renewed within the human image
Heschel indicates that he feels that philosophy has failed, at least in part, because it has moved too far away from central human concerns – it has moved in effect into questions instead of problems.
The predicament of much contemporary philosophy is partly due to the fact that ongoing conceptualizations have so far outdistanced the situations which engender philosophizing that their conclusions seem unrelated to the original problems. After all philosophy was made for man rather than man for philosophy. p 2
Caring as well as criticality
Heschel further sketches in the whole where he points out that we reflect not because we want information but because ‘le condition humaine’ includes anxiety and conscience.
The impulse to reflect about the humanity of man comes from the conscience as well as from intellectual curiosity. It is motivated by anxiety, and not simply a desire to add to the sum of information about a member of the class of mammals. 2
Consciousness + conscience = intrinsic problematization
He goes further than Freire, for example who sees the essentiality of problematization as being a social issue, in problematization as being intrinsic. Heschel tells us that the problematic is human being
…man (unlike horses e.g.) is a problem under all circumstances. To be human is to be a problem, and the problem expresses itself in anguish, in the mental suffering of man. Every human being has at least a vague notion, image or dream of what humanity ought to be, of how human nature ought to act. The problem of man is occasioned by our coming upon a conflict or contradiction between existence and expectation, between what man is and what is expected of him. It is in anguish that man becomes a problem to himself.
Problematizing the process of education therefore is not just humanizing because it frees us from the kind of domination with which Freire is concerned but also because it brings us back to being and becoming and away from doing and having. It makes knowledge a state of being instead of a possession. Treating knowledge as a thing leads to treating human beings as things.
Clearly the conflicts and the anguish need to be worked through in imagination as well as dialogue and dialectic – as in drama and dance. However reason and intuition or the critical and the creative need to dance together frequently – so I try to do drama based on philosophy and poetry and I ask children to be creative before they are critical e.g. to write a first draft of a poem (sometimes in response to a ‘guided meditation’ stimulus) before we discuss the particular theme.
The humanness of being human
What are the defining characteristics of the humanness of being (positively) human? Heschel, rejecting by implication the ‘Bitzer’ (see the opening chapters of Dickens’ Hard Times) approach to describing the reality of a creature, says this is where the difficulty starts;
The animality of man we can grasp with a fair degree of clarity. The perplexity begins when we attempt to make clear what is meant by the humanity of man.
It is not sufficient to say that being human is to belong to a particular class of objects, being human, when you are human, with conscience as well as consciousness, presents us with a situation, much like good drama versus boring narrative. He says
Being human is not just a phrase referring to a concept within the mind, but a situation, a set of conditions, sensibilities or prerequisites of man’s special mode of being. 3
Of course he is leading to the ‘usness’ and ‘withness’ and ‘wholeness’ being human and to a rejection of the objectification of other humans, the ultimate degrees of which express it self in genocide. We need to think of man in terms of man (or of something more), not in terms of lower forms of life, or indeed inanimate objects. The success of science is also a curse because the success has been in knowledge of the parts, of sub-systems. Little progress has been made in understanding and operating wholeness in relation to (hu)man
any specialized study of man treating each function and drive in isolation tends to look upon the totality of the person from the point of view of a particular function or drive. Such procedures…have resulted in an increasing atomization of our knowledge of man, in the fragmentation of the personality, in metaphysical misunderstandings, in mistaking the part for the whole. Is it possible to comprehend one impulse separately, disregarding the interdependence of all impulses within the wholeness of the person? 4
The answer of course is that yes it is possible, and usual, but as to the degree that we suffer (or some suffer) as a consequence, that is the question. What we have is disproportionate development on one side, and under-development on the other. Bio-chemistry is soaring in great heights, moral philosophy, caring and community in global terms is struggling in its inadequacy, as would a Medieval scientist in a modern laboratory.
Is it possible to comprehend one impulse separately, disregarding the interdependence of all impulses within the wholeness of the person? P. 4.
Heschel could receive the answer from a scientific viewpoint, “No.” ‘No’ meaning therefore we’ll go on atomizing and ignore any concern with wholes. I reached the conclusion that from the scientific perspective Holistic Education was not possible in the sense that a teacher could not in her/his decision-making, within dialogue or transactions, remain conscious of all factors that were bearing upon the situation. This of course is the same as saying that perfect justice is not possible – justice is a state of being in which all factors that bear upon a situation are taken appropriately into account. We can only do our best to move further in the right direction.
In the section which he entitles Do we live what we are? Heschel states;
Man is not tabula rasa. Unlike other objects, the desire to know himself is part of his being. To know himself he must first question himself, and that means questioning his self-knowing, disturbing what may be a narcissistic relationship of the self to its conceits, ingrown thinking. To raise such questions is more that to seek an approach to an answer; it is a breakthrough. P. 4.
To challenge conceits and ‘ingrown thinking’ is an inescapable obligation of extending our humanity and an inescapable obligation of education and of the teaching process. To view education as a developmental process and as a/the chief means for social transformation requires that the seeking of self-understanding be a requirement for the profession and something that teachers should integrally facilitate in their pupils. The process has to be ‘in’ not about. English is my/our self-understanding. History is my/our story, not just theirs etc. Learning has to be self-revelatory as well as toward a vision of possibility, conditioned and guided by the best of the past, and for this there needs to be an adequate philosophy & pedagogy. A collection of descriptions of parts is inadequate as Heschel puts it;
The task of a philosophy of man cannot properly be defined as a description of the nature of human being. It is critique as well as description, disclosure of possibilities as well as exposition of actualities of human being…… We question what we are in the light of an intuitive expectation or a vision of what man ought to be. p.
In starting to grasp what it is to be human we start to see new balances that must be struck – to balance being and becoming with having and doing, to recognize that being human is a continuous process of re-creation through being and becoming, to recognize that we are spiritual as well as material, that we are vision-creators as well as the recipients of great cultural heritages etc. Vital to establishing and maintaining this matrix of balanced ‘opposites’ is that all of what it is to be human is engaged so that feeling and intuition, volition as well as cognition are involved or as I would put it the caring and the creative and the critical need to be kept in play. The whole self is necessary;
We study human behaviour; we must not disregard human bewilderment. We analyze expression; we must not disregard the inability to express what we sense. We know more about man’s possessions than about his moods. We describe deeds; we must not fail to explore how one relates inwardly to what one does.
The Baha’i perspective is indicated in man is a mine. Vision is prompted in . (“Ye are the stars of the heaven of understanding….”) One of the challenges is that we know so little, or have operationalized so little, of what it is to be human. For Heschel this is not just an under-emphasis but long-term traveling along the wrong path;
Our difficulty is that we know so little about the humanity of man We know what he makes, but we do not know what he is. In the characterizations of man, for example as a tool-making or thinking animal, reference is made to the functions not the being of man. Is it not conceivable that our entire civilization is built upon a misinterpretation of man? Or that the tragedy of modern man is due to the fact that he is a being who forgot the question: Who is man? The failure to identify himself, to know what is authentic human existence, leads him to assume a false identity, to pretend to be what he is unable to be or to fail to accept what he is at the very root of his being. Ignorance about man is not lack of knowledge but false knowledge.
Self-knowledge for Heschel is not an extra, or a luxury or a cultural inevitability or a desirable goal or a liberal bolt-on extra but is de facto in human being. No choice is involved, unless it is to psychotically ignore reality;
Man is not free to choose whether or not he wants to attain knowledge about himself. He necessarily and under all circumstances possesses a degree of such knowledge, preconceptions, and standards of self-interpretation. The paradox is that man is an obscure text to himself. He knows that something is meant by what he is, by what he does, but he remains perplexed when called upon to interpret his own being. It is not enough to read the syllables of a text written in a language one does not understand, to observe and to recount man’s external behaviour, important and necessary as such an enterprise is. Man must also interpret them in terms larger than his inner life. 6
The obscure text is the challenge. The obscure text is the eternal quest. He first task is to stay conscious that we are the text and that staying conscious is a spiritual and holistic obligation. Staying conscious is inner awareness as well as outer awareness. Meditation and reflection are vital counterparts to outer inquiry and investigation. We are the reality with which we investigate. If we take Abdu’l-Baha’s description of meditation;
“It is an axiomatic fact that while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. It that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers; the light breaks forth and reality is revealed….” Paris Talks p.174
then we start to see that knowledge creation is self-revelation and revelatory self-knowledge. Baha’u’llah’s statement that the heart is the seat of revelation is also of course to the point. Knowledge creation from a Holistic Education point of view is a balance between activities of inner and outer worlds. But perhaps the inner world is more important. Heschel says;
Like all concrete beings, man occupies a place in the physical space. However, unlike other beings, his authentic existence goes on in an inner space. Geography determines his physical position; his thoughts are his personal position.
Following Heschel we would say that knowledge is primarily a state of being and doing, and secondly a state of having. We seek to know because we are. It is not in addition to being. To split the two is to deny our nature. To deny our nature is to tread a dangerous, if not hellish path. Being and knowing are two dimensions of the singleness of the human condition or as Heschel puts it;
In asking about man we ask of man what he knows of himself as a human being. This self-knowledge is part of his being. Thus, knowing oneself and being a self are not to kept apart.
Thinking is being & becoming – we are what we think, we become what we think
In thinking we are being a person. We are what we think. In our thoughts we experience our reality. In discovering more of our selves we think more, in thinking more deeply we become more – assuming the thinking is not superficial or circular. On this Heschel says;
The thought we think is where we are, partly or entirely. The thought we think is the space of the inner life, comprehending it. A person is in his thoughts, particularly in the way in which he knows or understands his own self. His thoughts are his situation. His nature includes what he thinks he is.
Becoming what we think, and what we think it is to be human, creates both heaven and hell. We can internalize and strive to become the vision enshrined in such words as;
Ye are the stars of the heaven of human understanding….
Or we can think something less, something mechanistic, something animalistic, the reality is in the metaphor, the metaphor creates the reality – through choice. The extreme negative forms are in the bestial shown by ‘monsters’ such as the Wests or in political forms such as Nazism. Such extreme negative forms ought teach us of the vitality of staying focused in education or what it means to be fully, positively human. Reflection and dialogue, psychological and social counterparts, are part the means of creating and maintaining our human reality. The quality of the vision is vital, as the computing fraternity say GIGO – garbage in, garbage out, for as Heschel says;
Unlike a theory of things which seeks merely to know its subject, a theory of man shapes and affects its subject. Statements about man magnetize the inner space of man. We not only describe the ‘nature’ of man, we fashion it. We become what we think of ourselves.
But isn’t in natural that we are evil so often? Abdu’l-Baha says otherwise in speaking of bestial human acts as less than human and less than animal. Heschel also asserts that our humanity is beyond being natural.
Humanness is beyond nature;
We are human not only in engaging with our own inner reality but also in the quality of the culture in which we thrive, or if not thrive debase ourselves. In both we go beyond our animalness;
…the natural man is a myth and a contradiction in terms, because man has become man by acts of culture, by changing his natural state.
We all our recipients of the past, we all are created in cultural specificity. ‘Natural man’ is a myth, cultural man is reality and it is in the quality, elevated or debased, of the image we hold that determines that reality;
Human nature in its pristine, uncorrupted state is not given to us. Man as we encounter him is already stamped by an image, an artifact. Human being in distinction from all other beings is endowed with consciousness of its own being, not only with awareness of the presence of other beings. 7 ………… What determines one’s being human is the image one adopts. 8
Heschel makes a vital distinction between the effects of thought about external things and thought about ourselves;
A theory about the stars never becomes a part of the being of the stars. A theory about man enters his consciousness, determines his self-understanding, and modifies his very existence. The image of man affects the nature of man.
We need to be guided by the best images of what it is to be human since it is our image of ourselves that determines what we become. For those who are guided by the Founders of the great world religions and philosophies there is clearly a source for such image creation – surely even if we don’t count ourselves as a member of such a community providing connection and inspiration for our teachers and pupils is vital? With what are we content – being human as a hairy bag of sea-soup or an animal infinitely more brutish than the other animals. If somewhere like this is our origin of reality-creation we can not expect a peaceful, just and developing world. If we have a depressed, debased, fragmentary view of human nature we lead ourselves into becoming less than our full human potential;
Any attempt to derive an image from human nature can only result in extracting an image originally injected in it.
The missing ‘facts’ in a fact-dominated world
Heschel also asks for a re-balancing, and points to the cost we pay as being the failure to keep uppermost in ours minds what it is to be fully human. He does not reject the work of science but asks effort in seeking to justify what is unique about the humanity of man a task he sees as beyond the sciences. The problematic nature of being human he says is as important as the facts of science;
Sensitivity to one’s own behaviour, the ability to question it, to regard it as a problem than as a structure consisting exclusively of irreducible, immutable and ultimate facts, is an essential quality of being human. The fact that to the mind of man his behaviour is a problem instead of an unquestioned immutable fact is as important a datum of inner activity as the facts of external behaviour. 9
I have dealt elsewhere (Prentice 1995) with the propensity to need controllable external facts. I was surprised at how historically long-rooted was this propensity and conclude that it is a broad psychological dimension of openness or closedness, that is to say is not at root a cultural phenomenon but a dimension of human psychology. It concerns the desire for safety and controllability, and manipulatability. It relieves one of the need to deal with inner turmoil, it provides a binary model of external reality and obviates the necessity for dealing with the inner world. In negative political forms it leads to manipulation of others, as in the extremes of Left and Right.
Heschel coins the wonderful phrase of ‘empirical intemperance’ to describe excessive dependence on the external world as reducible to series of facts;
Empirical intemperance, the desire to be exact, to attend to ‘hard’ facts which are subject to measurement, may defeat its own end. It makes us blind to the fact behind the facts – that what makes us a human being is not just mechanical, biological, and psychological functioning, but the ability to make decisions constantly. Facts exhibited in life, cut off from antecedent decisions and determinations, from simultaneous attitudes as well as from subsequent reactions and reflections, cannot be exactly described. 9
In this last quotation he of course brings us back not to relativism but to the dynamic nature of human being and to the multiple-layered contextualization of knowing. We are not just children of our time but of all else that bears upon our consciousness and sub-consciousness, from both the inner and outer worlds that we occupy. In this Baha’u’llah’s statement concerning justice is vital;
The best beloved of all things in my sight is justice……
In seeking a Holistic form of education we need to apply that statement to consciousness in teaching. It is giving due weight to all factors that bear upon the teaching transaction, with the key question, ‘What is it to be most fully human?’ at the core, that provides us with a key to how to create a Holistic Education model.
Heschel adds to this notion in;
Is it not a fallacy to regard a behaviour pattern as if it were a ghost city, an agglomeration of buildings with no living soul dwelling therein? A human behaviour pattern is not a monument to a life that is gone but a drama full of life. It is a system as well as a groping, a wavering, a striking forth; solidity as well as outburst, deviation, inconsistency; not a final order but a process, conditioned, manipulated, questioned, challenged and guided by a variety of factors. 10
The deadness of school mastering/mistressing versus dynamic teaching has long been an issue, as has the relative and conditional nature of knowing. There is no reason that education should not include the nature of the greatest scientist, such as Einstein, in their mystical mode as well as their information-handling mode. It is philosophy and the meditative-reflective that enables this in day-to-day teaching.
The more refined and accessible the avenues to the study of behavioral facts become, the greater the scarcity of intellectual audacity in probing what is imponderable about human being.
The more heavily we invest in science-as-whole-reality, and worse still in scientism, the more we move away from education as a human-centred process, and the worse our condition becomes. The uncertainty principle is a nod in the right direction but we need to acknowledge the mystery of human being more fully and work with it. Philosophy as wondering is as much about the inner world of human being as much as it is about the world of external reality. Without such a wholeness we become reductionist;
Since behaviour patterns may be easily observed and described with a degree of statistical precision, we are inclined to reduce all of man to what is explicit, manifest, observable. 10
When we reduce the wholeness of being human to something less we mistake to product for the creator of the product;
It is a mistake however to equate man’s essence with his manifestations. The power and secret of his being reside as much in the unsaid and unproclaimed, in the tacit and ineffable, in the acts of awareness that defy expression as in the vessels man creates for his expression. 10
Of course we can buttress this claim with comparison of poetic truth with scientific truth. The meaning between the lines, the meaning that reverberates beyond words-as-labels, the meaning that comes from recognition and electrifying connection with other worlds of meaning is where our humanness is. In poetry we deal with the whole of human spirit not just with one of its manifestations. Poetry demands that we attend with our whole self, our whole experience whereas;
Physical things can be defined in terms of objective properties; man can be understood only in terms of his total situation, in terms of the demands he is called upon to answer. 10
?The chief problem of man is not his nature but what he does with his nature.
Heschel then makes an astounding statement;
Human being, therefore must not be reduced to human nature. Human being is a fact as well as a desideratum, a given constellation as well as an opportunity. It can be understood only in relation to a challenge. It includes both the process and the structure of the facts of his being as well as the surprise and the events that come to pass in his existence.
From this we gain not just the lie to such argument as war is inevitable, but more positively that problematizing is the eye with which see as well as the challenge through which we grow.
Values, judgment and problematization
In re-stating his task Heschel says;
The task of our inquiry is to explore modes of our being which characterize the uniqueness of being human. What constitutes human existence? What situations and sensibilities belong necessarily to the make-up of being human? p 11
We see with our values, our beliefs, our sensibilities and our personal histories – these are vital facts in teaching. With these aspects of ourselves, with our whole selves we continually make judgments, we make our decisions. In the classroom the teacher and the pupils see, understand and learn through this web of personal being. Knowing ourselves is continuous as an obligation in all kinds of knowing. External facts never exist in any pristine form. Our encounter with a fact is a reverberation of personal being. We value what we know and know what we value or as Heschel says;
Man is never neutral or indifferent in relation to his own self. Love and knowledge, value judgment and factual description cannot be kept apart in establishing self-knowledge. Self-knowledge embodies either acceptance or rejection. One’s relationship to the self is inconceivable without the possession of certain standards or preferences of value. p 11
We see what we value, children sleep soundly with, indeed because of, the value they place on battered teddy bears that would be of little value to others. Facts can be standardized but when they are they are also de-humanized;
Facts of personal existence are not merely given. They are given through self-comprehension, and self-comprehension is an interpretation, since every act of self-comprehension involves the application of value judgments, norms and decisions, and is the result of selective attentiveness, reflecting a particular perspective. Thus even the facts of my existence are disclosed to me by way of interpretation, the terms of which determine the mode of my living and self-understanding. 12
….the self itself is a compound of facts and norms, of what is as well as of a consciousness of what ought to be The essence of being human is value, value involved in being human. 12
To interpret is to make judgments with ones own matrix of values. To interpret is to make meaning, to make meaning is to be human. Meaning is extended through solving problems of conflict, contradiction and inertia. Heschel sees this as;
the problem of man is occasioned by our coming upon a conflict or contradiction between existence and expectation. Thus the root of self-understanding is in the awareness of the self as a problem; it operates as critical reflection. Displacement of complacency, questioning the self, its acts and traits, is the primary motivation of self-understanding. 12
The awareness of self comes through confronting conflict or contradiction, surely this is true in the early years process of individuation as well as of mature reflection. But self as consciousness of conflicting values or of the inability to do what professes to do is how we carry on this process in the quest for maturity. In this is higher order self questioning and self-knowledge. In this we must of necessity see the self as both object and subject.
Science is almost by definition a process of excluding subjectivity. Education I am arguing must blend more effectively subjectivity and objectivity. When we know longer question, we deproblematize, and we fail to engage in the fullness of our humanity.
“But that’s how I am, that’s the way I’m made, take it or leave it.” Heschel would not countenance this as a human cry. In this state we are pulling u the drawbridge. In denying our ability to grow we are denying our humanity – because we can no longer bear to engage with ourselves as a problem-encountering, problem-solving being. Heschel puts it thus;
Self-understanding is entirely dependent upon self-judgment, and must not be equated with observation or self-observation… Mere description, simple dogmatic acceptance of the self, amounts to the deproblematizing of the man and is really the cessation of self-understanding. In short, if being human continues to be a problem, we must realize that the method of description, used exclusively, can at best offer us self-observation but is incapable of dealing with the problem. 12
Care for man
We must value the conflict and contradiction and mystery I ourselves and others in order to stay fully engaged with the whole of our humanness. We must wonder also about how we are and how we might be and how we might become. This is the paramount importance of philosophy in education for teachers and for pupils. Clearly Heschel sees this as rigorous and links it to problematization and to meaning-making;
Wondering is a mode of human being. But wondering may just be sheer wandering, moving aimlessly, roaming, rambling. Channeling our wondering into the form of a question is the imposition of a pattern and a procedure upon the mind. 12
The choice of question determines the trend of the inquiry….each question is a preconceived pattern and procedure upon the mind (is it?)….each question is a preconceived pattern….A pattern orders the inchoate wondering and determines in advance the process of thinking about its theme. 12
The promise in the eternal quest of wondering is that in ceaselessly questioning we will find answers or as Heschel puts it more mystically;
To know that a question is an answer in disguise is a minimum of wisdom.
If the question is an answer in disguise then perhaps, in addition to a discovery, it is an answer in the sense that we are staying open, staying receptive, staying engaged, staying fully human.
With Heschel I would plead that great questions must again find their place in all classrooms;
What am I here for? What is at stake in my existence?
With Heschel I would say that mainstream philosophy has failed. It has failed in two respects. Firstly it has dehumanized itself instead of working to keep all of us centrally balanced in that chief concern of extending what it is to be most fully, most wholly human. Secondly it has failed to extend into our much changed classrooms and provide philosophical process as the birthright of every child and has remained elitist when in reality to be human is to be philosophical. Fortunately the second problem is solved by the now global community of those who work within the Philosophy for Children programme, founded by Professor Matthew Lipman. For Heschel;
Philosophy cannot be the same after Auschwitz and Hiroshima.
For me the reality of Auschwitz and Hiroshima cannot be divorced from the failure of philosophy to stay focused on the wholeness of human being and the great questions that confront all peoples in all times.
Philosophy, to be relevant, must offer us a wisdom to live by – relevant not only in the isolation of our study rooms but also in moments of facing staggering cruelty and the threat of disaster. (Not a form that amounts to re-arranging the furniture on the Titanic.)
If we can (again?) make the wholeness of human being the keystone of the structure of education we have a chance to transform our global society to a one based on the highest ideals instead of the lowest common denominator. Within an education system designed to this end self-knowledge stands as a vital component. We cannot remain alienated from our selves without compounding chaos and suffering.
Other issues we explore out of curiosity; the question of man we explore out of personal involvement. In other issues inquirer and theme are apart: I know the Rocky Mountains but I am not the Rocky Mountains. Yet in regard to knowledge of myself I am what I seek to know; being and knowing, subject and object, are one…..one can never remain aloof from one’s own self. 14
Higher order values are not a luxury bt an indispensable pre-requisite in that process of transformation since;
The sickness of our age is the failure of conscience rather than the failure of nerve. Our conscience is not the same. Stultified by its own bankruptcy, staggered by the immense complexity of the challenge, it becomes subject to automation.
In the process of transforming education as the chief instrument for social transformation we need a new freedom, not from the past’,
In the Enlightenment a major concern of philosophy was to emancipate man from the clutches of the past. Today our concern seems to be to protect ourselves against the abyss of the future. 15
but from the failure to recognize that balance in being and becoming, in past and present, shaped by the highest ideals will enable us to have a future worth occupying.
The logic of being human
Is the humanity of man….intrinsic to human being….does being human belong to human nature as a necessity of being… or a veneer….. 16
Clearly we must go as deep as the deepest oceanic exploration and as high as the furthest exploration of space in the inner world of human being so as to create the balance we so desperately need. For far too long we have proverbial ostrich-like escaped the pain of the struggle of inner conflict and confrontation, escaped in to the far easier false-god of believing that external reality and its manipulation can solve all ills – at terrible human cost.
Heschel makes us return again to the most vital need – to struggle with being human;
Being human is a reality. Man’s being human is constituted by his essential sensibilities, by his modes of response to the realities he is aware of – to the being I am, to the beings that surround me, to the being that transcends me – or, more specifically, by how he relates to the existence that he is, to the existence of his fellow men, to what is given in his immediate surroundings, to that which is but is not immediately given. 16
He exposes the falsity and superficiality of facticity;
In his facticity man’s notions of being human are both vague and confused; they are more frequently reflected in moods than in decisions. 16
He draws comparison with the Western world obesity. We have fed too long on the false god of scientism and draws us back to the nature of our being;
Are these notions, then, devoid of ontological validity? People continue to consume food long before they are aware of the necessity of nutrition. Yet it would be misleading to regard the consumption of food as a mere psychological need. The liquidation of being human would inevitably lead to the liquidation of human being. There is the ontological connective between being human and human being. Awareness, for example, of life’s significance is not just a psychological need, it is part of man’s being human. 16
We cannot but shudder and groan at the echoes of his creative use of the term ‘liquidation’. He reminds us of the essentiality of self-knowing;
Being human and human being are interdependent, and the components of the former are inherently related to the facts and the drives of the latter. What am I aware of when I think of the existence that I am? What do I sense about my existence as being human? 17
We have not escaped the effects of neglecting the truth he expounds. We can now create ways and means to put that truth into effect, into our classrooms. Human being is about rigorously, devotedly seeking to become most fully, most positively human in the light not just of contemporary sages but of those that have illumined the last 2,500 years. He says;
Being human, I repeat, is inherent as a desideratum in human being. It is not given explicitly but is interpreted by experience,
What do we mean when we say ‘being human’. 17
This great work of Heschel’s provides us with an underpinning philosophy for Holistic Education and a great source of inspiration with which to go back to the Baha’i Writings to search out those ‘basic principles’ and teaching ideals’.