responsibility to one’s neighbor

Zimmermann and Klassen compare Heidegger, Gadamer and Levinas:

Hans Georg Gadamer … emphasizes the point that ideas for our interpretation of the world do not simply pop into our heads from nowhere but are passed on to us through tradition.

…We must begin not with greater totalities such as Heidegger’s Being or Gadamer’s tradition but with our concrete social relation to other human beings. Philosophy does not come first in our reflections but the ethical relation to our fellow human being, and such a beginning is not Greek but Hebraic. It is in the Bible, argues Levinas, that we find the true ethical grounds for humanism: responsibility to one’s neighbor. It is this ethical demand of the other human being that limits one’s self-centered impulse for control over nature and others.

From The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education by Jens Zimmermann and Norman Klassen.

don’t forget to spell it with an H

Lewis’ sentiments on the weightiness of being human come through beautifully in these two passages from Prince Caspian (chapters 13 and 15 respectively). Take heed all those who “come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve.”

“Very well, I will dictate,” said Peter. And while the Doctor spread out a parchment and opened his ink-horn and sharpened his pen, Peter leant back with half-closed eyes and recalled to his mind the language in which he had written such things long ago in Narnia’s golden age.

…it is our pleasure to adventure our royal person on behalf of our trusty and well-beloved Caspian in clean wager of battle to prove upon your Lordship’s body that the said Caspian is lawful King under us in Narnia both by our gift and by the laws of the Telmarines, and your Lordship twice guilty of treachery both in withholding the dominion of Narnia from the said Caspian and in the most abhominable, – don’t forget to spell it with an H, Doctor – bloody, and unnatural murder of your kindly lord and brother King Caspian Ninth of that name.

Here Lewis references a popular folk etymology of the word, in which “abhominable” was derived from the Latin ab homine “away from man” (beastly or inhumane). Our humanity gets another gentle prodding form Lewis in this passage from the end of the story:

“You, Sir Caspian,” said Aslan, “might have known that you could be no true King of Narnia unless, like the Kings of old, you were a son of Adam and came from the world of Adam’s sons. And so you are. Many years ago in that world, in a deep sea of that world which is called the South Sea, a shipload of pirates were driven by storm on an island…. Do you mark all this well, King Caspian?”

“I do indeed, Sir,” said Caspian. “I was wishing that I came of a more honourable lineage.”

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

they flash upon that inward eye

Petrarch, in his letter called “The Ascent of Mount Ventoux,” quotes a passage from book ten of Augustine’s Confessions: “And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not.”

Petrarch cites this passage as he sets his gaze on the wonder of what it means to be human. Augustine is talking specifically about the wonders of human memory (what we might call the subconscious, the heart or the imagination). “Memory” was the fifth canon of rhetoric and Augustine was a master of the complex rhetorical theory associated with it. He conceived of each human mind as an elaborate city (or even universe) of conscious and unconscious thoughts and sensory impressions that maintain a life of their own. Augustine even speculates about how our memories contain God himself (in some incomplete sense, he is quick to point out).

When reading the poem below by William Wordsworth (which is also primarily about the power of memory), it strikes me that he is deliberately referencing this passage from Augustine and Petrarch, comparing these flowers in his mind to the stars and the waves.


William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Spring flowers that I photographed years ago at St Andrews: