I – Thou Relationship In Gabriel Marcel; An Existentialist Analysis

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I – Thou Relationship In Gabriel Marcel; An Existentialist Analysis

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

Life is a Mystery and not a problem; it is never an existential puzzle to human mind. In allowing man to partake in this mysterious nature of life whose effects or manifestations are familiar to all, man ought to participate in a mutual relationship with the other, thereby respecting and preserving life.

In other words, to live a meaningful and authentic existence, one must establish a loving and mutual (reciprocal) relationship with other human beings, which must respect a qualified treatment of the other as (thou than it) genuine and as one who has a personal right, sacredness and dignity that must be kept respectfully.

For the success of the above viewpoint, care should be taken to avoid any form of life of estrangement. Such life of estrangement is scarcely worth living. To transcend this life of estrangement, one has to detach oneself from solitary life and enter into a committed life thereby looking upon oneself, the others, and even at the world not as a strange or perplexing existence.

Existentialism being one of the models of philosophy advocates for a life of commitment which gives focus and sense of direction to one’s life. On the strength of this, Gabriel Marcel, the leading religious existentialist in Europe, considering our state of life in a relational level, propounded the theory of I-thou relationship. Francis J.C. quotes Marcel as saying:

“The meaningfulness and the authenticity of one’s existence as an ‘I’ is totally conditioned by the generosity with which I make myself available in mutual love, fidelity, faith and disponibility to thou”.1

It is obvious and clear that the authenticity of one’s existence to the other is absolutely anchored on one’s genuiness, openness to the other who is the only unique way of oiling one’s existence. Thus, it does not give much confidence for being exceptionally sensitive, thoughtful and honest without the other.

I-Thou relationship therefore, is a total commitment to the other which involves inter-subjectivity, Fidelity, Disponibility, Faith, Hope and Love. It concerns the hidden and the mysterious nature of “being” itself. This type of relationship is predominantly innate to man rather than theoretical. Mysterious in the sense that there is no room for particular involvement, objectification and thingfication of the individual. As opposed to a problematic or problem-solving type of relationship that verifies and lacks involvement.

The nature or content of I-Thou is non-verifiable, rather it is ontologically mysterious. This notion of mystery central to I-Thou, if not given a due consideration, can be devalued by the technocracy of the functionalzed world. Marcel committed himself to the breaking down of such barriers by placing a priority to human values as against the functional values of technology. For a brilliant success in I-Thou relation, there should be a personal commitment to the absolute and eternal Thou. This act of genuine relationship and commitment is possible only when it is rooted in the absolute and unconditioned Thou, God – the giver of I – thou in its fullness.

For Marcel, a lasting relationship must take to heart the above tenets in order to have a clear viewpoint about life as a mystery and not a problem. This work therefore, is an exposition and analysis of his thoughts which suggest an alternative to genuine contemporary relationship.

1.2 Clarification of Terms

In the course of this work, there are some technical terms used by Marcel that are strange and known to the initiated alone. The ‘thou’ of Marcel depicts a partner or the other in relationship. Mystery is not as in theological terms, but as an act of being involved or part of one’s problem than parting away or trying to solve such a situation by any easy method. This is the height of his second reflection. To solve this problem demands a sense of reflection and not thinking alone. Problem is the wrong attitude towards the difficulties confronting me and my partner, which I never wanted to be a part of.

Ontology refers to the idea of “being,” and the value attached to it just by virtue of the fact that one exists. Creative fidelity is that faith, trust, love and hope we have for our beloved ones which does not manifest itself on the plane of physical presence alone, but is also effective in the absence of the other. With such fidelity, the memories of our beloved departed ones are kept in us with passion. It is a nostalgia which reproduces itself especially with our distant loved ones.

The Absolute ‘Thou’ suggests the transcendental God. Availability is translation to the term “Disponibilite”. The ‘functionlized and technological man’ is the man who is used as a means to an end and not as an end itself, the man that is valued for his functional and technological worth and values, for what he does and not for what he is.

The mastery of the above terms will help the readers of this work to follow without much stress and cost.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

Today, we are living in the midst of irrationalism and inconsistency as witnessed in many areas of life: such as the families, marriages and other aspects. As a result, it seems the center can no longer hold. It is, therefore, the purpose of this ground project to remould and re-evaluate most of our ideas in contemporary and existential issues, as mentioned above, using Gabriel Marcel’s “I-thou” authentic existence as a firm edifice. It equally suggests ways of being meaningfully and creatively responsible in our affairs with the other while not seeking utilitarian satisfaction from a relationship. Minds are strengthened up following this work on what real friendship should be while advocating for a committed and sacrificial union with the other.

1.4 Scope of Study.

Having established the purpose of this study namely; the re-moulding of our contemporary and existential issues, the scope of this study then falls within the range of relationship between ‘I-Thou’ as an existence with other entities and ‘beings’ in the world. This study exposes what genuine relationship should be in the perspective of Gabriel Marcel’s analysis and exposition of “I-Thou” as a prototype. It also incorporates God, the absolute and eternal thou, our societal life and life in the family which it sets to re-evaluate.

1.5 Methodology

Since the anthropocentric period, many philosophers have devised methods in the study of man: Edmund Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, Boros dialogical interpretation, Marcel’s analytical method and others.

It is my intention to adopt Marcel’s analytical, expository and practical method in the course of this study. Consequently, this work is made up of four chapters.

  1. Chapter one deals with general introduction with an over-view of Gabriel’s life and philosophy.
  2. The second chapter will examine properly, Marcel’s significant I-Thou, I-absolute Thou, Notion of mystery and idea of problem and the existentialist’s approach to I-Thou.
  3. Chapter three dwells on other aspects of I-Thou, such as Fidelity, Hope and Love; man in the fictionalized and technological world, and lastly presence as inter-subjective relationship.
  4. The last chapter (four) centers on the evaluation and conclusion of the work. It suggests an alternative to genuine contemporary relationship. Then comes the Bibliography.

1.6 An Over-View of Gabriel’s Life and Philosophy.

A general remark about Gabriel’s life and philosophy makes it easier to understand his ideologies clearer. Copleston calls him:

A peculiar elusive thinker, a philosopher whom it is extremely difficult to summarize.2

Born in Paris, in 1889, and was brought up in a well-off family of civil servant. He lost his mother when he was only four years old and was privileged to be raised by an aunt whose physical presence juxtaposed with his dead mother’s spiritual presence, and this influenced his concept of creative fidelity. He worked for the Red Cross during the First World War. This experience shaped his view of human relationship and confirmed a religious conviction by which he was converted to Catholicism in 1929.3 Marcel regretted the agnosticism of his father who was brought up as a Catholic, and had ceased practicing his religion at an early age and had taken the position of the late nineteenth century agnostics.4 Raised therefore in a home dominated by the cultural agnosticism of his father and the liberal Moralistic Protestantism of his aunt, Gabriel saw and confirmed that he was not living an authentic life. Not minding his delicate health situation, he endured unhappy and lonely home life. It is therefore not surprising the emphasis on “the other” and the desire and need of Love, Friendship and Fidelity in him as a life-long quest.

Lescoe, quoting Marcel, recounts how he (Marcel) had observed to him,

Nothing is lost for a man – I am convinced of this and firmly believe it, if he experiences a great love or a true friendship: But everything is lost for the one who is alone.5

The nostalgic memories of the past preceded his relational philosophy of commitment, the I-Thou. He insisted that to be genuine in our interpersonal relationship we must be totally and unreservedly available to the other.6 He left behind a plethora of works among which are: Being and Having 1965, creative fidelity 1964, the mystery-of Being, reflection and mystery, the philosophy of existentialism, 1968 and many dramatic works.

As a matter of fact, he provides us with a full and undespairing zeal in participating in the world with the interest of the other at heart. He therefore, summons people to be available (disponibilite) a stance best manifested in absolute fidelity or commitment to a “thou”.

In his work, we understand the fact that he is a personal thinker in the sense that he reflects on the personal experiences he had and which was very special to him. Those experiences formed the nucleus of his philosophical discourse on this “I – Thou” relationship. As a philosopher of his time, he reflects on experiences such as love, hope, presence and fidelity. According to Copleston:

This reflections of him do not take the form of exposing “results,” they are rather a series of explorations of various themes.7

He distinguishes two modes of thoughts, primary and secondary reflection. On the primary reflection, objectification and idea of problem “go together”: Here we have a problem – solving thinking that aims at knowledge which is universal, abstract and verifiable, excluding thereby the personal, the particular and the contingent aspect of thoughts as being irrelevant to its purposes. As such, it involves only a partial relation between the thinker and his object. Marcel’s second reflection is not concerned with a “problem” but with a mystery. The second reflection therefore, and the notion of “mystery go together”.8 It is such that seeks a wider and richer understanding of the meaning of human existence by a return to the unity of experiences within which the mystery of being is apprehended. Primary reflection exemplifies itself in objectification, the problematic I-it relationship, which reduces a person to mere object. While secondary reflection entails participation, the mysterious and I-Thou relationship-the level and realm, which illuminate authentic human existence.

Above all, the basis of Marcel’s thought and ‘being’ cannot be an “I am” rather “we are.”9 Obviously, there cannot be a systematized summary of Marcel’s thought which can convey a wholesome spirit of him

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