A Formative Dialogue: Remembering L. Pareyson

On the Need to Recognize the Value, Dignity and Greatness of the Person

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When we are really open to the “external”, we perceive not only  “alterity”[1] with  an interpersonal perspective, but a service is offered to reason itself, which becomes formative and creative by maintaining contacts with the outside world and opening itself to other horizons[2]. The dialogue builds bridges and is a driving-force for a positive reflection taking us away, though the exercise of mildness, from a sort of isolation which is an improper self-condemnation:

…because if we are isolated in ourselves, we have only what we have, we cannot grow culturally; however if we go to find other people, other cultures, other ways of thinking, other religions, we emerge from ourselves, we start that so beautiful adventure which is called dialogue. The dialogue is very important for the personal maturity because in the comparison with the other person, in comparison with other cultures, even in the healthy comparison with the other religions, one grows: one grows and matures.[3]

The person – as L. Pareyson affirms – realizes himself in a forming and “revelatory”[4] process projecting his/her vision beyond one’s own space in a mutual process of receptivity and activity[5]. This is the main characteristic of human action, which is – by nature – creative, formative, projectual, and seminal:

Every human action is always formative and also a work of thought or a practical work requires the excercise of formativity. A virtuous action must be invented as that which is demanded by the moral law in that particular circumstance, and it should be done and realised with a movement that at the same time  invents the best ways to implement it; in framing and solving a problem, in deducting from a principle the consequences, in conducting a demonstration, in connecting reasonings in a systematic complex, one has to do and execute „movements of thought“ and with the act of invention (he has to) discover thosethat reason requires in the given case and expressely formulate such thoughts[6].

In this rational effort we are not isolated but we enhance ourselves with other speculative contributions which enrich us continuously in “constructive osmosis” that has its roots in the common good, willingness, dedicated listening, and propositive humility in the process of understanding, sharing, and development of ideas:

Dialogue between generations, dialogue within the people, because we are all that people, the capacity to give and receive, while remaining open to the truth. A country grows when constructive dialogue occurs between its many rich cultural components: popular culture, university culture, youth culture, artistic culture, technological culture, economic culture, family culture and media culture: when they enter into dialogue. It is impossible to imagine a future for society without a significant injection of moral energy into a democratic order that tends to remain imprisoned in pure logic or in a mere balancing of vested interests.[7]

The commitment to the common good is an essential psychological paradigm for the real comprehension of historical circumstances. It helps to analyse appropriately the needs, risks and opportunities from the perspective of an enduring, realist and effective solution in a framework of an integral and holistic approach to human development[8]:

There also exists a constant tension between ideas and realities. Realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out. There has to be continuous dialogue between the two, lest ideas become detached from realities. It is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone, of images and rhetoric. So a third principle comes into play: realities are greater than ideas. This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.[9]

This positive tendency can survive only in a freedom closely tied to respect and responsibility[10] where the moral forces are not delegitimized[11], fundamental human rights are protected[12], and personal and mutual dedication is appreciated and admired[13]. This acceptance of our own nature is not only open to higher elaborated mental processes but understands that our existence is characterized not only by rights but especially by obligations and duties in a structurally ethical perspective[14]:

In this way it becomes possible to build communion amid disagreement, but this can only be achieved by those great persons who are willing to go beyond the surface of the conflict and to see others in their deepest dignity. This requires acknowledging a principle indispensable to the building of friendship in society: namely, that unity is greater than conflict. Solidarity, in its deepest and most challenging sense, thus becomes a way of making history in a life setting where conflicts, tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity. This is not to opt for a kind of syncretism, or for the absorption of one into the other, but rather for a resolution which takes place on a higher plane and preserves what is valid and useful on both sides.[15]

But even in a context of democratic political systems, there is a risk of a totalitarian degeneration if we do not know how to discern with prudence[16] and recognize the value, dignity and greatness of the person considered in his/her greatness and without any ideological reductionism. Unfortunately, in some cases, positive contributions to civic participation are extremely limited or, less rarely, opposed by high levels of bureaucracy and its “cargo” of Kafkaesque foolishness, corrupt practices[17], illegitimate presence of unnatural monopolies, barriers to knowledge with a frustrating and imperfect allocation of human capital and unfounded contempt of merit and talent.

Some of these issues have already been a source of acute reflection by thinkers of the Russian diaspora[18] during the Soviet era that, with the especially vivid bifocal philosophical speculation of N. Berdyaev[19], criticized state atheism and the concentration of power in their country, as well as the growing impoverishment and annihilation of values in democratic and secular countries[20] which are apparently indifferent to the true concepts and meaning of good and evil  in a kind of contingency trap:

A constant tension exists between fullness and limitation. Fullness evokes the desire for complete possession, while limitation is a wall set before us. Broadly speaking, “time” has to do with fullness as an expression of the horizon which constantly opens before us, while each individual moment has to do with limitation as an expression of enclosure. People live poised between each individual moment and the greater, brighter horizon of the utopian future as the final cause which draws us to itself. Here we see a first principle for progress in building a people: time is greater than space.[21]

[1] Cfr. E.  Levinas, Alterity and Trascendence, Columbia University Press, New York 1999.

[2] Cfr. B. Treanor, Aspects of Alterity: Levinas, Marcel, and the Contemporary Debate, Fordham University Press, New York 2006.

[3] Francis, < em>Address to the Students and Teachers from the Seibu Gakuen Bunri Junior High School of Saitama (Tokyo), 21 August 2013. www.vatican.va

[4] Cfr. L. Pareyson, Existence, Interpretation, Freedom. Selected Writings, edited by P.D. Burgio, Davies Group Publishers,  Aurora- CO 2009,  p. 145

[5] Cfr. P. Caravetta, “Form, Person and Inexhaustible Interpretation: Luigi Pareyson, Existence, Interpretation, Freedom” , Parrhesia, n. 12-2010, p. 101.

[6] L. Pareyson, Estetica. Teoria della Formatività, Bompiani, Milano 2002 p. 23 (Our Translation).

[7] Francis, Meeting with the Brazil’s Leaders of Society, 27 July 2013 www.vatican.va

[8] Cfr. UNESCO, Learning to be: A holistic and integrated approach to values education for human development: Core values and the valuing process for developing innovative practices for values education toward international understanding and a culture of peace,  UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, Bangkok 2002.

[9] Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 231.

[10] “Freiheit darf nicht zu einem Götzendienst werden, ohne Verantwortung, ohne Bindung, ohne Wurzeln. Die Verbindung zwischen Freiheit und Verantwortung bedarf vielmehr der Ordnung“,  L. Erhard, „Freiheit und Verantwortung. Ansprache vor dem Evangelischen Arbeitskreis der CDU. 2 Juni 1961“ in O. Schlecht, Ordnungspolitik für eine zukunftfähige Marktwirtschaft. Orientirungen und Handlungsempfehlungen, FAZ Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2001, p. 18.

[11] Cfr. D. R. Lee, “Liberty and Individual Responsibility”, The Freeman, vol. 37 Issue 4, April 1987.

[12] Cfr. W. Eucken, Grundlage der Nationalökonomie, Springer, Berlin 1965, p. 239.

[13] Cfr. W. Röpke, Civitas Humana. Grundfrage der  Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsreform, Rentsch, Erlenbach 1949.

[14] “Unsere Fähigkeit zur Verantwortung ist somit nicht etwas, das durch Philosophen, Politiker oder Geistliche quasi von außen in unser Leben hineingebracht würde, sie gehört vielmehr zum Grundbestand des Humanum. Wir verlieren uns selbst, wenn wir diesem Prinzip nicht zu folgen vermögen.“ J. Gauck, Freiheit. Ein Plädoyer, Kösel Verlag, Munich 2012, p. 36.

[15] Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 228.

[16] “Prudence shapes and informs our ability to deliberate over available alternatives, to determine what is most fitting to a specific context and to act decisively. Exercising this virtue often requires the courage to act in difense of moral principles when making decisions about how to build a society of justice and peace.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Forming Conciences for Faithful Citizenship. A Call to Political Responsability, USCCB, Washington D.C., 2007 n. 19.

[17] “ … there is a strong negative correlation between corruption and economic growth, levels of human development, the functionality of democratic institutions and the struggle against social injustices.” J.L. Allen jr, The Struggle Against Corruption, National Catholic Reporter, 11 June 2006.

[18] Cfr. J. Meyendorff, Witness to the World, Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Yonkers N.Y., 1987.

[19] Cfr. N. Bordiaev, Un nouveau Moyen Âge. Réflexions sur les destinées de la Russie et l’Europe, Plon, Paris 1927, p. 243.

[20] “The belief that the primary social function of religion lies in the area of corporate morality is well entrenched in Western thought. It certainly predates the Humean revolution in philosophy and has survived in popular thought, and especially in the social sciences, remarkably intact. Even if (despite MacIntyre), it is thought that moral philosophy as an intellectual discipline informing intellectuals is logically distinct from any religious basis, moral behaviours and moral presuppositions in society more generally, are still frequently believed to derive from religious positions. There even seems to be evidence in a number of disciplines that a belief in the moral function of religion is gaining surprising supporters.” B. Gill, Christian Ethics in Secular Worlds, A&C Black, London 2004, p. 97.

[21] Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 222.

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Giovanni Patriarca

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