On the History, Theoretical Difficulties and Prospects of the Western Subjectivity Thought
Since modern times subjectivity thought has been one of the fundamental contents and the significant achievements of western philosophy. It is faced with many difficulties in its development process and has been declared to "have died", but I think that it indeed still has bright prospects of development.
1. Historical Development of Western Subjectivity Thought
The word "subject" comes from the Latin word " subjectum ", which means something in front, or something constituting the foundations of other things. In Greek philosophy, at least in Aristotle's philosophy, "subject" is not a philosophical category which belongs specially to human being or a person, but something which is opposite to attribute or contingency, and is opposite to predicate of a sentence. Such a subject is also a substance in Aristotle's philosophy. For Aristotle, Socrates is a subject, a dog or a stone also is a subject. Up to Descartes' age, the conception of subject as a philosophy category belonging to human being does not project over the general conception of substance.
In Descartes' philosophy, what is called subject means ego, soul or mind. Ego, soul or mind, like a material body, is a kind of substance, but is different from the latter in essence. The essence of material substance is extension, whereas the essence of ego, soul or mind is thinking. Ego is not only different from the material substance in essence, but also does not come from the latter. What does he call "I think, therefore I am" does mean that. It clearly puts forward the subjectivity question of human being.
However because Descartes puts forward his theory of the subjectivity of human being within the framework of his mind-body dualism, his conception of the subjectivity of human being as such can not possibly contain any further and deeper intention. They are Leibniz, Kant and Husserl and so on who endow it some further and deeper intention.
The monadology of Leibniz not only calls monad as "soul" or "entelechy", and considers the perceptive activity as the essential content of a monad, but also clearly declares that a manod is a center of metaphysical force, it has no any windows but intrinsically possesses a kind of appetition force which promotes the transition of a monad from the state of less clear perception to the state of clearer perception , and it is a mirror of the whole universe. All of these enable the ego (the subject) in Descartes' philosophy to get a kind of new active quality.
But for Leibniz, the subject still is a kind of substance, and in a certain sense even is a kind of subject which is the same type as Aristotle's. A radical change does not take place up to Kant. It is within the framework of solving the question " how a synthetic a priori judgment is possible " that Kant examines "subject" or "ego". This enables him get a chance to acquire new understanding of subject or self beyond Descartes and Leibniz. Kant creatively develops Leibniz's thought of apperception, and considers subject or self as a kind of ability or activity of synthesizing perceptual data, or of constructing experiential objects. This makes Descartes - Leibniz's substantiated subject ( ego ) a kind of function, and makes a kind of existing substantiated being a kind of a priori function of consciousness, or a kind of grounds for the possibility of all knowledge.
Husserl admires the above mentioned efforts of Kant, but he does not approve of Kant declaring subject, self or ego to be "things-in-themselves". For Husserl, subject, self or ego is not a kind of unknowable "things-in-themselves", but a kind of something which might be captured in a absolute evidence. Thus he puts forward a slogan "to the things- themselves". The method by which Husserl gets to " the things-themselves" is called as "the phenomenological reduction". In the process of the reduction Husserl not only systematically reveals the intentionality structures of subject or ego, but also exposes the givenness quality of subject as the transcendental ego. This carries the subjectivity principle put forward by Descartes to the extreme.
2. The Theoretical Difficulties of the Western Subjectivity Thought
The subjectivity thought of the west intrinsically contains some contradictions and problems which are resolved very difficultly from the very beginning. These contradictions and problems do not be eliminated and resolved, but are sharpened and manifest in the process of development of the thought.
The first problem confronting the western subjectivity thought is the contradiction between the possibility of knowing extrinsic objects and the absolute givenness of the knowing subject or ego. Generally speaking, in the earlier period the western subjectivity thought is always related in such and such ways to problems of the possibilities of knowing extrinsic objects. Descartes and Husserl put forward and discuss the questions of the subjectivity of human being in the name of seeking the unquestionable certainty of knowledge. Kant considers transcendental ego within the framework of dealing with the problem of " the possibility of a synthetic a priori judgment ". But the considering the problem of the subjectivity of human being leads them to the acknowledgment of the existence-by-self, self-support and self-sufficiency of subject or ego, and to the emphasis of the absolute internality and the givenness of a subject or ego. That produces a knotty problem how the subject or ego can get to or accord with the external things since it is absolutely intrinsic and absolutely given. For dealing with the problem, Descartes puts forward his so-called "pineal gland"; Leibniz puts forward truths of fact besides truths of reason; Kant puts forward "things-in-themselves" or "noumenon" besides the "phenomenon"; Husserl puts forward the scientific world besides the "lived world". In a sense all of these may be considered as the varieties of Hume's fork. They do not resolve the problem of knowing the external things, but expose the limitations of the western subjectivity thought.
The second problem confronting the western subjectivity thought is the dualistic antithesis between the empirical ego and the transcendental ego. Descartes' maxim, "I think, therefore I am", projects the existence-by-self or self-support, self-sufficiency of self or ego, but what he emphasizes in the formula of I means thinking is some psychological activities such as sensation activity, perception activity, volition activity, he has not further questioned the possibilities of these psychological activities as such. However this kind of further questioning is necessary for resolving the problem of the possibilities of knowing. Just because of this Kant and Husserl put forward the theory of transcendental ego besides Descartes' empirical ego (psychological ego), project and emphasize the priority of the transcendental ego. Kant may be accounted as the first person who puts forward clearly the doctrine of the transcendental ego in the history of western philosophy. What he emphasizes in his so-called "the Copernican revolution" is the activity or dynamic role and the priority of the transcendental ego. After Kant, Husserl further stresses the activity and the priority of the transcendental ego. What he emphasizes in his phenomenological suspension or reduction is the transcendency and the priority of the transcendental ego over the empirical ego. His transcendental phenomenology essentially is a doctrine of the transcendental ego. However Kant and Husserl emphasize the priority of the transcendental ego, but they do not eliminate entirely Descartes' theory of empirical ego from their doctrines. Indeed their doctrines of the transcendental ego does not allow them to do so. Because if so, their transcendental ego would impossibly have any actual apperception activity and actual intentionality activity. But the presupposition of the empirical ego, in principle, is a kind of negation or threat to the absolute givenness or the absolute self-sufficiency of the transcendental ego and its activities.
The third problem confronting the western subjectivity thought is to confirm the "other self". As stated above, the fundamental requirements and contents of the western subjectivity thought are the existence-by-self, the self-support, the self-sufficiency, the absolute intentionality and the absolute giveness of a subject, or self, or an ego. It enables this theory inevitably to be colored solipsism. If we may say that Descartes and Kant reconcile the contradiction through putting the subject or ego into the dualistic background of mind-body phenomena-noumena, then the situation becomes serious in Husserl. Because what he intends to suspend in his "phenomenological suspension" is the things-in-themselves of Kant as the cause or impetus of the empirical ego, and the transcendental ego as his "phenomenological residuum" just corresponds to the noumena of Kant which for Kant is something we can think of but can not know. It inevitably enables Husserl to fall into a position of solipsism. In order to avoid the embarrassing position, Husserl puts forward and discusses the problem of intersubjectivity after having fundamentally finished the theoretical construction of the transcendental phenomenology. The essence of the intersubjectivity is not to recognize the existence of "other things" or "other bodies", but to recognize the existence of "other-self", and the existence of a kind of "other-self" who co-existents with I-self or I-ego. Husserl successively put forwards several categories, such as " Appresentation ", " Paarung ", " Einfuhlung empathy ", " to understand each other", in order to open up a window for Leibniz's monad. However the monad with windows is no longer a monad of Leibniz, the self of being in the intersujectivity-relation also loses his inherent subjectivity. This shows that the western subjectivity thought must be remoulded thoroughly in order to avoid the solipsism.
3. The Contemporary Development of the Western Subjectivity Thought
The western subjectivity thought is connected closely with the western epistemology not only logically but also historically. Indeed the forming and the development of the western subjectivity thought are almost synchronous with the latter. Therefore the philosophical reflection of the western subjectivity thought also is almost always connected closely with the philosophical reflection of modern epistemology. In result it brings many philosophers to pay special and extensive attention to itself.
Many contemporary philosophers consider that the difficulty of the western subjectivity thought derived from the direct and inner connection between it and epistemology. Those modern philosophers consider the question of the subjectivity of human being mainly from the position of epistemology so that there are such dualistic antitheses between subject and object, mind and body, the empirical ego and the transcendental ego , the I-self and the other-self, the absolute givenness of subject and the possibility of knowing external things. Therefore in order to eliminate the contradictions and the antitheses the decisive step is to enter into the field of ontology out of the field of epistemology. Many famous contemporary philosophers and thinkers, such as Heidegger, Sartre, Buber, have made an active attempt at doing so.
The fundamental category of Heidegger's philosophy is "Dasein", and the fundamental intention of Dasein is "Being-in-the-world". Since it is so, the subject and the object, the mind and the external things, in other words, the Dasein and the world, the ideas and the actuality, are united and identical in the existence mode of the "Dasein". Sartre distinguishes between "in-itself" and "for-itself". But now that he declares human consciousness nothing, then the independence and identity of human consciousness or for-itself to in-itself is self-evident. Besides, Sartre declares that the fundamental characteristics of human consciousness are its "nothingness" or "negativity" and "existence precedes essence", the purpose of all these also constitutes in revealing the dynamic and dialectic unity or identity between "in-itself" and "for-itself".
But neither Heidegger nor Sartre have fully successfully resolved the relation between "I-self" and "other-self" in the western subjectivity thought, on the contrary they make the reduction more tense. Heidegger speaks of "co-existence" or "men", but he understands them as " inauthentic existence " which is opposite to Dasein, " the authentic existence ". Sartre attempts to surmount the obstacle of solipsism, and to acknowledge the existence of others and the existence of us as a wholeness doing common activity, but at last he has no alternative to express the view of "other is a hell". These show that it is impossible to appropriately deal with the relation between " I-self " and " other-self " from the position of individualism.
Among the contemporary philosophers there are some philosophers who consider the problem of human subjectivity from an entirely opposite position, such as Buber , the author of I and Thou. Matin. Buber, like Heidegger and Sartre, pays much attention on the self-understanding of human being, and opposes to seek the answer of the question of what is the nature of human being from the revelation of God. But what Buber emphasizes is that we should not seek it from the individual (a single person) himself, but should seek it from " the relation between a person (I-self) and a person (you-self), from " the between " of a person and a person, or from the interhuman. As Heidegger distinguishes Dasein from co-existence, Sartre distinguishes for-itself from in-itself, Buber distinguishes two kind of basic words, two basic modes of existence and two worlds, these are: "I-Thou" and "I-It", "I-Thou" mode of existence and "I-It" mode of existence, and the world of relation and It-world. Contrary to Heidegger and Sartre, for Buber, the individual does not belong to the spiritual world of relation, but belongs to the inhuman "It-world". And the nature world also is not the situation or place in which Dasein would be thrown (as Heidegger), and the object ("in-itself") which is denied (as Sartre), but should be a in a relation of "I-Thou" with human beings. It is evident that the western traditional subjectivity thought is lacking in such a kind of affinity between nature and human beings.
4. The Suggestions and Prompts of Eastern Philosophy
To be true, Buber's relation theory possesses some theoretical functions of remedying and rectifying defects and errors of the western traditional subjectivity thought and Heidegger-Sartre's some thoughts concerned. But it also possesses in itself some serious drawbacks. For example, Buber asserts the capacity and energy of advancing the humanity must not come from within the individual, but from the relation between a person and a person, or interhuman. He even stresses that one becomes a person is by grace and not by works. It clearly colors his theory of a kind of fatalism, which is too far apart from the thought of the subjectivity of human being, and runs in the opposite direction to it. It shows that if we want to prompt and develop the western subjectivity thought, we should pay more attention to reconcile the relation between the automatism of the individual and the interautomatism of interhuman besides to go deep into the ontology (metaphysics) from the epistemology. Heidegger and Sartre emphasize partially the automatism of the individual and exclude the interautomatism of interhuman; Buber emphasizes partially the interautomatism of interhuman and excludes the automatism of the individual. It seems to me that all of these are not the best management of the question of the subjectivity of human being.
The question of the subjectivity of human being essentially is an important question concerning the existence situations and development perspectives of our species as a whole, and also an important question which requires our species as a whole to appropriately handle from the combination of theory and practice. Therefore in the process of inquiring into the question of the subjectivity of human being, it is possible, necessary and instructive that the western scholars and the eastern scholars use the research results concerned of the opposite for reference each other. In fact as the western scholars have got a series of significant achievements in the inquiring into the subjectivity of human being, the eastern scholars have also got a series of remarkable achievements in the same field, and have made their subjectivity thought form a series of theoretical characteristics distinguishing from the west. For example, in the subjectivity thought of China there are some characteristics distinctly from the west.
The first distinct characteristic of the subjectivity thought of China is that the Chinese philosophy puts forward the subjectivity thought about human being from it's very beginning. As has been stated above, strictly speaking, in the west the subjectivity thought about human being is the product of the modern philosophy; in the history of western philosophy Descartes may be seen as the first philosopher who clearly and distinctly puts forward the subjectivity thought about human being. In contrast with the west, the Chinese philosophy puts forward the subjectivity thought about human being from its very beginning, and always consider the thought as its philosophical theme. In some sense, we may say that the Chinese philosophy is a kind of one concerning the subjectivity thought of human being. For example, as early as the foundation age (namely "the axis age" called by Karl Jaspers) of the Chinese philosophy, the subjectivity thought about human being had constituted the theme of the Chinese philosophy. Mencius, one of the classical works of the Chinese philosophy, has asserted that one can know and understand his own nature, the nature of all things, and the Nature and its necessary laws so long as he or she reflects himself or herself seriously and gives full realization to his or her heart-mind. (See Mencius, VIIA. It says that " For a man to give full realization to his heart is for him to understand his own nature, and a man who knows his own nature will know Heaven.") The Centrality and Commonality, another of the classical works of the Chinese philosophy, further asserts that human being can promote the transforming and nourishing process of all things in the Universe, and form a trinity with Heaven and Earth. (See The Centrality And Commonality, XXII. It says that "Only those who are absolutely sincere can fully develop their nature. If they can fully develop their nature, they can fully develop the nature of others. If they can fully develop the nature of others, they can then fully develop the nature of things. If they can fully develop the nature of things, they can then assist in the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth. If they can assist in the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth, they can thus form a trinity with Heaven and Earth.")
The second distinct characteristic of the subjectivity thought of China is that it always lays stress on the inquiring into the subjectivity of human being from the theoretical level of ontology. As stated above, in the early developing stage of the western subjectivity thought, the western philosophers, such as Descartes, Leibniz and Kant, inquired into the subjectivity of human being mainly from the theoretical level of epistemology. Only in the present age, the western philosophers, such as Heidegger and Sartre, begin to pay more attention to inquire into the subjectivity of human being from the theoretical level of ontology. In contrast with the west, the Chinese philosophy lay stress on the subjectivity of human being from the theoretical level of ontology. The Centrality And Commonality not only, as stated above, discusses the subjectivity of human being from the theoretical height of the trinity of human being with Heaven and Earth which are considered as the highest noumena of all things, but also prominently emphasize the ontological origination or rootedness of human being. It makes clear the purpose and main theme from the very beginning. In the first Chapter, it says that " What Heaven imparts to man is called human nature. To follow human nature is called the Way. Cultivating the Way is called teaching."
The third distinct characteristic of the subjectivity thought of China is that comparatively it lays stress on the wholeness of the subjectivity of human being. As a whole, an big weakness of the west subjectivity thought is one-sidedness, the subject in the western philosophy is usually "one-dimension person". For example, "the psychological ego" of Descartes and "the transcendental ego" of Husserl fundamentally belong to a kind of "knowing subject"; whereas "the solitary individual" of Kierkegaard fundamentally belongs to a kind of "a religious belief subject" who refuses and excludes the knowing subject, "the aesthetic subject" and "the ethical subject". In contrast with the west, the Chinese philosophers consider that an authentic subject should be an overall or comprehensive person. He should be both a sage and a king, who not only is a knowing subject, but also is a moral subject, an ethical subject, a political subject, a social subject, a historical-cultural subject and a religious belief subject. And according to the Chinese philosophers, the relationship among these branch-subjects of an overall subject is not the kind of "either this or that" relationship, such as "or-or" relationship of Kierkegaard, but is a kind of compatible and complementary relationship; in other words, they belong to a kind of "both-and" relationship. Great Learning, one of the classical works of the Chinese philosophy, considers that there are eight aspects or eight steps in the life of human being. They are: (1) " investigation of things", (2) "extension of knowledge" (a knowing subject), (3) " sincerity of the will ", (4) " rectification of knowledge", (5) " cultivation of personal life (a religious belief subject and a moral subject), (6) " regulation of family", (7) " bringing order to the state ", and (8) " bringing peace throughout the world " ( an ethical subject, a political subject and a social subject ). It may be seen as a typical case for the Chinese philosophy lays stress on the wholeness of the subjectivity of human being.
The fourth distinct characteristic of the subjectivity thought of China is that it always emphasizes the mutual independence and the mutual promotion between " the I-self" and " the other-self". As stated above, there has been the tense or opposite or even antagonistic relation between the I-self and the other-self in the doctrines of subjectivity in the west from Descartes, Kant, Husserl to Heidegger, Sartre and Buber. On the contrary, the doctrines of the subjectivity of China emphasize their mutual independence and their mutual promotion. The one reason is that according to the Chinese philosophers, the I-self and the other-self share an universal nature from the natural necessity or the Mandate of Heaven, so that there is some possibility of mutual penetration, mutual connection and mutual transition. The other reason is that according to the Chinese philosophers, a person becomes a I-self and realizes its self-transformation and its self-transcendence only the person (the I-self) is in the dialectical relation of both opposition and relatedness with the other-self. This is the fundamental reason that the Chinese philosophers not only emphasize "sincerity of the will ', " rectification of the mind " and " cultivation of personal life ", but also emphasize " regulation of family ", " bringing order to the state ",and " bringing peace throughout the world ". Because of such deep and dialectical understanding of the relation of the I-self and the other-self, the subjectivity thought of China always appears comparatively sound, comprehensive and moderate. It deserves to be specially mentioned that Confucius, who lived almost in the same time with Heraclitus, had considered love others as an essential definition of the authentic person or " the profound person" (Analects says that "humanity means to love others."), and put forward " the principle of the loyalty-reciprocity " of analogy from I-self to other-self as the fundamental code, intrinsically unify " what I want to have " and " what I want others to have ", and emphasized " let one establish his own character, and also establish the characters of others " and " what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others". All of these are significant, difficult of attainment and commendable in the history of the doctrines of the subjectivity of human being.
We have no need for reticence that the subjectivity thought of China also has its own weakness or deep-rooted bad habits, and also has its own contradictions and difficulties which are difficult to resolve and eliminate. But undoubtedly all of these characteristics or merits as stated above possess some functions of evident prompts or for us to appropriately deal with a series of above problems confronting the subjectivity theories of the present age, especially the relation of the automatism of the individual and the interautomatism of inter human.
I believe that now there are a series of knotty problems in the western subjectivity thought, but it has not died as some western scholars have asserted, and it will not die forever. The thought of the western subjectivity must be able to open up broad prospects so long as the western scholars make further reflections over those problems confronting them and use the achievements concerned of the eastern scholars for reference. (Similarly the eastern scholars also need to actively understand , absorb and use the achievements concerned of the western scholars in order to promote the modernization of their own subjectivity thought. ) The subjectivity is an essential attribute or definition of human being. So long as our human being exists for one day, the subjectivity thought of human being will exist and develop forward for one day. The perspective of the subjectivity thought of human being will be bright for ever. Although the subjectivity thought of the west meets a variety of difficulties and setbacks in its development process, its perspective will still be exceedingly bright.
R.Descartes, The Meditations, 1641
G.W.Leibniz, The Monadology, 1714
D.Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748
I.Kant, Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics, 1783
E.Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 1929
M.Heidegger, Being and Time, 1927
J.Sartre, Being and Nothingness, 1943
M.Buber, I and Thou, 1923
E.Sosa, Subjects among Other Things, 1987
Some Ancient Chinese Literature:
Tu Weiming, "Centrality and Commonality-An Essay on Confucian Religiousness" , 1989 ( at Yenching Institute, Harvard University, in 1998)