Not only do I not know what I believe, but also I cannot know for sure that I believe. How can I define precisely what my attitude is toward something it cannot conceivably grasp? Can I be said to be in the relation of "belief, " in any usual sense of that term, toward something that I cheerfully and readily acknowledge to be absolutely incomprehensible to me? (...) No man can be sure that he is in faith; and we can say of no man with certainty that he has or does not have faith. (...) Not only does faith always carry its opposite uncertainty within itself, but also this faith is never a static condition that is -had-, but a movement toward... And toward what? In the nature of the case we cannot state this "what." We cannot make a flat assertion about our faith like a simple assertion that we have blue eyes or are six feet tall. More than this, the affirmation of our faith can never be made in the simple indicative mood at all. The statement "I believe" can only be uttered as a prayer.
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Positivist man is a curious creature who dwells in the tiny island of light composed of what he finds scientifically "meaningful, " while the whole surrounding area in which ordinary men live from day to day and have their dealings with other men is consigned to the outer darkness of the "meaningless." Positivism has simply accepted the fractured being of modern man and erected a philosophy to intensify it. Existentialism, whether successfully or not, has attempted instead to gather all the elements of human reality into a total picture of man. Positivist man and Existentialist man are no doubt offspring of the same parent epoch, but, somewhat as Cain and Abel were, the brothers are divided unalterably by temperament and the initial choice they make of their own being.
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What emerges from these separate strands of (modern) history is an image of man himself that bears a new, stark, more nearly naked, and more questionable aspect. The contraction of man's horizons amounts to a denudation, a stripping down, of this being who has now to confront himself at the center of all his horizons. The labor of modern culture, whenever it has been authentic, has been a labor of denudation. A return to the sources; "to the things themselves, " as Husserl puts it; toward a new truthfulness, the casting away of ready-made presuppositions and empty forms - these are some of the slogans under which this phase in history has presented itself. Naturally enough, much of this stripping down must appear as the work of destruction, as revolutionary or even "negative": a being who has become thoroughly questionable to himself must also find questionable his relation to the total past which in a sense he represents.
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From what deep springs of character our personal philosophies issue, we cannot be sure. In philosophers themselves we seem always able to notice some deep internal correspondence between the man and his philosophy. Are our philosophies, then, merely the inevitable outcome of the body of fate and personal circumstance that is thrust upon each of us? Or are these beliefs the means by which we freely create ourselves as the persons we become? Here, at the very outset, the question of freedom already hovers in the background.
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This capacity for living easily and familiarly at an extraordinary level of abstraction is the source of modern man's power. With it he has transformed the planet, annihilated space, and trebled the world's population. But it is also a power which has, like everything human, its negative side, in the desolating sense of rootlessness, vacuity, and the lack of concrete feeling that assails modern man in his moments of real anxiety.
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Certainly, we can no longer look upon the canon of Western art - Greco-Roman as revived, extended, and graced by the Renaissance - as -the- tradition in art, or even any longer as distinctly and uniquely -ours-. That canon is in fact only one tradition among many, and indeed in its strict adherence to representational form is rather the exception in the whole gallery of -human- art. Such an extension of the resources of the past, for the modern artist, implies a different and more comprehensive understanding of the term "human" itself: a Sumerian figure of a fertility goddess is as "human" to us as a Greek Aphrodite. When the sensibility of an age can accommodate the alien "inhuman" forms of primitive art side by side with the classic "human" figures of Greece or the Renaissance, it should be obvious that the attitude toward man that we call classical humanism - which is the intellectual expression of the spirit that informs the classical canon of Western art - has also gone by the boards.
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A society coming apart at top and bottom, or passing over into another form, contains just as many possibilities for revelation as a society running along smoothly in its own rut. The individual is thrust out of the sheltered nest that society has provided. He can no longer hide his nakedness by the old disguises. he learns how much of what he has taken for granted was by its own nature neither eternal nor necessary but thoroughly temporal and contingent. He learns that the solitude of the self is an irreducible dimension of human life no matter how completely that self had seemed to be contained in its social milieu. In the end, he sees each man as solitary and unsheltered before his own death. Admittedly, these are painful truths, but the most basic things are always learned with pain, since our inertia and complacent love of comfort prevent us from learning them until they are forced upon us. It appears that man is willing to learn about himself only after some disaster; after war, economic crisis, and political upheaval have taught him how flimsy is that human world in which he thought himself so securely grounded. What he learns has always been there, lying concealed beneath the surface of even the best-functioning societies; it is no less true for having come out of a period of chaos and disaster. But so long as man does not have to face up to such a truth, he will not do so.
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We have come to understand the phenomena of life only as an assemblage of the lifeless. We take the mechanistic abstractions of our technical calculation to be ultimately concrete and "fundamentally real, " while our most intimate experiences are labelled "mere appearance" and something having reality only within the closet of the isolated mind. Suppose however we were to invert this whole scheme, reverse the order in which it assigns abstract and concrete. What is central to our experience, then, need not be peripheral to nature. This sunset now, for example, caught within the network of bare winter branches, seems like a moment of benediction in which the whole of nature collaborates. Why should not these colours and these charging banners of light be as much a part of the universe as the atoms and molecules that make them up? If they were only "in my mind, " then I and my mind would no longer be a part of nature. Why should the pulse of life toward beauty and value not be a part of things? Following this path, we do not vainly seek to assemble the living out of configurations of dead stuff, but we descend downwards from more complex to simpler grades of the organic. From humans to trees to rocks; from "higher grade" to "lower grade" organisms. In the universe of energy, any individual thing is a pattern of activity within the flux, and thereby an organism at some level.
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Since the Greeks, Western man has believed that Being, all Being, is intelligible, that there is a reason for everythingand that the cosmos is, finally, intelligible. The Oriental, on the other hand, has accepted his existence within a universe that would appear to be meaningless, to the rational Western mind, and has lived with this meaninglessness. Hence the artistic form that seems natural to the Oriental is one that is just as formless or formal, as irrational, as life itself.
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