GABRIEL Marcel expresses his ideas in several different forms autobiographical journal, philosophical essay, music, and drama--and each of these can be considered a part of the whole of his work. This is neither the trivial point that Marcel's works belong together because he wrote them, nor the slightly less trivial point that common themes unify his authorship. Rather, the unity of Marcel's work results from the distinctive and sophisticated application of a particular understanding of parts and wholes to the relations among forms of expression and to the relation between a form of expression and the content expressed. His philosophical essays provide a clear example of the latter, because the essays illustrate and embody the views he presents in them. This essay reflects on parts and wholes in Marcel's philosophy, explores the way in which his philosophical essays exhibit aspects of a whole, and concludes by relating Marcel's part-whole thinking to his Catholicism.
Marcel uses the essay form for most of his overtly philosophical writing. Many philosophers have written "essays" that are really "treatises"--Locke, Berkeley, and Hume immediately come to mind. Marcel's essays, on the other hand, are really essays, employing a "tentative and open-ended" exploration of ideas (Hall 79-80, 82) rather than the rigorous argumentation more typical of philosophical expression. Although he was highly trained in philosophical argumentation and could have chosen it for his mode of expression, he decided to avoid it, and he tells us this directly. For example, in his central essay, "Concrete Approaches to Investigating the Ontological Mystery," Marcel says:
Instead of beginning with abstract definitions and dialectical argumentation that are sure to discourage my audience. I prefer to start with a sort of global and intuitive characterization of persons for whom any sense of being or the ontological is lacking, or who--more exactly--have lost all consciousness of having had any such dimension to their lives. (172)
Marcel chooses to start with a description rather than "abstract definitions and dialectical argumentation." Most philosophers prefer a linear style or dialectical style that exposes their definitions, premises and conclusions. A philosopher's decision to avoid the structure of philosophical argumentation runs the risk of losing the philosophical audience and thereby marginalizing the philosophical positions s/he would advance. However, one must not forget philosophers such as Pascal and Nietzsche whose seemingly disorganized brilliance appeals to both a philosophical audience and a general one. Marcel reaches out to the literate public in his essays while engaging in a sometimes subtle dialogue with past and present philosophers. After all, philosophy throughout history has been presented successfully in a wide variety of styles. Moreover, O.B. Hardison, Jr. points out "that the essay was born from a moment of profound, even terrifying, doubt, and that its rhetoric has often been adopted by authors who have sensed the power of the forces of dissolution" (23). Marcel no doubt is one of those authors, for he claims that we live in "a broken world" (Mystery of Being 1: 22-47) and that this is "an eschatological age" (Mystery of Being 2: 186-210):
[W]hat is clear is that men today are faced with a fact which would have been inconceivable at the beginning of [the twentieth] century: they know that they have it in their power to destroy the [world]. Moreover, one would have to be blind not to see that, at every level of being, a clearly traceable process of self-destruction is taking place; while it is much harder to see what are the forces which can--or could if the occasion arose--keep this process in check. ("Existence and Human Freedom" 48)
Although Marcel is not a pessimist, he has the existential philosopher's sense that human free choices can, and often do, individually and collectively lead to catastrophe. An exploratory approach acknowledges freedom and suggests alternatives for what to do with it. Finally, the essay form is appropriate for Marcel because a non-linear style is best suited for what he intends to communicate. Marcel's choice of the essay form calls attention to two things: the relation between author and reader, and the relation between form and content.
Marcel as a philosophical author clearly advocates some positions and not others. He gives definitions, albeit provisional ones; he uses fairly consistent terminology, varying slightly from his earlier to later works; he makes assertions; and he promotes and defends those assertions. For example, Marcel says that this world of ours is a broken world (Mystery of Being 1: vi, 27, 34) and that "[f]idelity truly exists only when it defies absence" ("Creative Fidelity" 152). (1) Marcel explains and supports his assertions, and so the claim that he avoids rigorous philosophical argumentation must now appear to be puzzling. Yet argumentation as such is a particular form, which overtly uses logical patterns and aspires to be clear and distinct. Despite its rational structure, argumentation always makes assumptions, employs rhetoric, and tries to convince someone of something.
Kierkegaard, another Christian existentialist, reminds us that direct attempts to convince someone of something or to change someone else's mind usually meet with serious resistance, because most people are attached to what they already believe. Existential philosophers face this difficulty through their preference for addressing matters that are close to people's lives. Kierkegaard resolves the problem through his method of "indirect communication," whereby he adopts the persona of someone holding a particular view and demonstrates the weakness of the view from within (Kierkegaard 448-66). Marcel's alternative solution is to put forward his views in a mode of questioning that is essentially Socratic. Indeed, Marcel preferred to be described as a "Neo-Socratic" philosopher rather than a "Christian existentialist" ("Author's Preface" xiii). Thus, although he makes, explains and defends his assertions, he does so in a provisional way that invites the reader to think along with him. He often introduces his views with phrases such as "it seems to me," "I would like to suggest," "perhaps it might be possible to show that...." The essential humility of his essays reflects his explicit rejection of dogmatic philosophy ("Concrete Approaches" 194, Man Against Mass Society 135). Frequently, he uses the phrase "one may ask" to introduce a possible objection to his own position, and thereby to allow an issue to be unfolded further. By proposing his views in an exploratory style, Marcel not only provides an opportunity for reflection, but also explicitly permits rejection of his ideas and makes the reader aware of his/her freedom to agree, disagree, or even stop reading. This device draws attention to the process of philosophizing rather than to the results formalized in arguments.
Another device Marcel uses to draw the reader into the process of thinking consists of concrete examples from everyday experience. He prefers to start with a description that the reader most likely will recognize. For example, in his essay, "Sketch of a Phenomenology and a Metaphysic of Hope," Marcel states:
In a study such as the one I am here undertaking there can be no question of starting from a particular definition and endeavoring to explain its content philosophically, I propose rather to appeal to a special experience which it must be supposed you have. (29)
Again he says that he will not begin with definition and argumentation, and he chooses instead to begin with an example--in this case, the experience of hoping for something. This illustrates Marcel's preference for induction over deduction. In a deduction employing a valid argument form, the inference from premises to conclusion is certain, so that if one accepts the premises and agrees to be reasonable, one must accept the conclusion. This type of reasoning has at least four drawbacks: the premises may not be true; valid and invalid argument forms are not self-evident to many people; people often decide not to be reasonable; and certainty applies only to objectivity, not to existence as a whole ("Authentic Humanism" 33-4). As an existential philosopher, Marcel knows that people have reasonable confidence in many relations that are not susceptible to deductively certain proof; he calls such confidence an "existential assurance" ("Authentic Humanism" 33-35, 39). And again as an existential philosopher, Marcel wants to communicate with people, not disembodied intellects, about human situations. Unlike deduction, induction uses specific examples as premises and draws a probable inference to all, most, some or one similar example(s). Induction relies on actual experience and leaves the inference open for discussion. Although Marcel does not use induction in a straightforward way, his preference for concrete examples over abstract arguments shows that his presentation is fundamentally inductive and that he wishes to connect with the experiences of his readers.
Thus, Marcel's exploratory style draws attention to the relation between author and reader. Marcel himself contributes one perspective, and he invites his readers to consider their own experiences and to explore along with him. In his Gifford Lectures, The Mystery of Being, he says:
Research [la recherche, a search or inquiry] has always seemed to me the word which most adequately designates the manner in which philosophic thought moves essentially towards its goal; I shall not therefore expound my system, but rather retrace the movement of my thought from its outset, but in renewed light, and, so to speak, map out its itinerary. (Mystery of Being 1: v)
The language he uses here, of retracing a path, evokes his view of homo viator, "man the wayfarer" ("Preface" 8-12). Each of us travels on the path of life for ourselves, but in so doing we can proceed by "calling out to fellow travelers" ("Concrete Approaches" 195) and sharing our reflections on actual experience. Each of us is a "witness" who contributes a unique perspective or testimony, and should it be lost, something valuable would go out of the world ("Testimony and Existentialism" 956). Marcel shares the "movement" of his thinking in a neo-Socratic attitude of exploration along with others, rather than an argumentative attitude of domination over or persuasion of others, and he offers opportunities for mutual recognition of truth. This suggests that Marcel and his readers are parts of the whole of inquiry, that the search for understanding is essentially inclusive and ongoing, and that the whole of understanding is greater than what anyone succeeds in capturing in words.
Marcel as author does not set himself up as an authority who dictates to his readers. On the contrary, for Marcel, mutual exploration is the appropriate mode of philosophizing. Why, then, did he write essays instead of dialogues? The answer lies partly in the larger whole of Marcel's works. His plays provide concrete, dialogical explorations along the same journey, showing the struggle of people to achieve understanding in concrete situations, where the philosophical perspectives are implicit rather than explicit (Hanley 13-30). Yet the exploratory style of Marcel's philosophical essays, exemplifying both humility and respect by sharing a philosophical path, makes the essays themselves fundamentally dialogical. Michael L. Hall points out that implicit dialogue is a characteristic of the essay form:
The rhetorical technique of the essay is somewhat dialectical in that it involves both author and reader in an implied dialogue--or at least in heuristic, cooperative exploration of a subject--that leads to moments of revelation though not necessarily to any final synthesis. And the shared experience of author and reader is essential to the genre's rhetorical appeal ... (82)
Marcel's essay invites the reader along on an exploration that remains essentially provisional and open to expansion on the part of the reader.
In addition to calling attention to the relation between author and reader, Marcel's exploratory essays highlight the relation between form and content. A Marcellian essay introduces ideas that suggest further ideas. In contrast to the narrowing down of deductive argument from many premises to one conclusion, the essay broadens out and may appear to meander from one idea to another. Combine this with the tentative way in which Marcel introduces his views and the result is a form likely to irritate most professional philosophers. The form can be illustrated by the openings of several paragraphs in the Introduction to Volume One of The Mystery of Being. His statements suggest possibilities and propose examples, objections, and alternatives. (2) After going on in this vein for several pages, Marcel appears ready to present his starting point: "To get a clearer insight into the matter we must make a real effort to get a more exact definition of the point of departure of this other type of investigation--our own type" (9). Yet rather than provide a "more exact definition" in any straightforward way, Marcel adds more possibilities and raises more questions. (3) Finally, in case the reader has not already noticed, Marcel points out that his method is non-linear and recursive: "The answer to this very important question will only clarify itself very gradually, as our thoughts about it work back upon themselves" (11). Thus Marcel revisits a question over and over again, each time adding a different dimension or point of view or perspective through an objection, an observation, a related question, a connection between previously raised ideas, and so forth. The original question expands and develops toward greater understanding, through a movement akin to a spiral wherein each "pass" adds more depth.
This pattern occurs not only within individual essays but also within Marcel's philosophical essays as a whole. He himself emphasizes the coherence of his work and describes his central philosophical theme several times:
Perhaps I can best explain my continual and central metaphysical preoccupation by saying that my aim was to discover how a subject, in his actual capacity as subject, is related to a reality which cannot in this context be regarded as objective, yet which is persistently required and recognized as real.... What this point of view tended ultimately to exclude was the idea that the mind can, as it were, objectively define the structure of reality and then regard itself as qualified to legislate for it. My own idea was, on the other hand, that the undertaking had to be pursued within reality itself, to which the philosopher can never stand in the relationship of an onlooker to a picture. ("Essay in Autobiography" 127-8)
This particular account of Marcel's project illustrates the importance of his rejection of Cartesian dualism. Marcel insists that the existing, concrete (not abstract) subject does not really stand apart from a purely objective world. Descartes's thought-experiment separated the thinking, immaterial self from the extended, material world (including the body), but then went on to claim that those are two distinct kinds of being and the only two kinds of being (except for God). From Marcel's point of view, this further claim exemplifies the rationalist tendency to "objectively define the structure of reality and then regard [the mind] as qualified to legislate for it." Like all existential philosophers, Marcel would say that "I am, then I think." The thinker already exists as an aspect of the embodied self. The reality in which I live, move and have my being cannot be purely objective because it includes me, the subject who investigates it. For Marcel, because "I am," I am involved in my inquiry into being and cannot become detached from being in order to investigate it ("Concrete Approaches" 178). As a result, that investigation or undertaking must "be pursued within reality itself," and I cannot stand outside reality as an observer because I already partake or participate in reality (as a witness).
The emphasis on actual or concrete existence given in that account of Marcel's project carries over into another description: "The dynamic element in my philosophy, taken as a whole, can be seen as an obstinate and untiring battle against the spirit of abstraction" (Man Against Mass Society 1). Marcel's opposition to Cartesian rationalism extends outward to "the spirit of abstraction" in general, which practices a nearly systematic forgetfulness of itself. "Abstraction" simply means considering one aspect of something while not considering the rest of it. (4) There is nothing wrong with abstraction in itself; in fact, most of the power of thinking derives from the ability to name kinds of things and categorize them and to select an aspect of reality for investigation according to appropriate methods. Yet it is important to remember the existence of the non-considered aspects. For example, "I think" is an aspect of the concrete, embodied self, and Descartes himself found it difficult to practice his abstraction--presumably, when he kept noticing himself writing it down (Descartes 15-16). His persistence, not admirable from the point of view of existential philosophy, represents the deliberate exercise of a rational arrogance that ignores whatever it cannot explain in its own terms. Descartes's peculiar demand that the senses meet the intellectual standard of deductive certainty illustrates the "spirit" of abstraction, which leaves behind aspects of reality and claims that they are not real and/or do not matter. The artificiality of such a method bothers Marcel and contributes to his rejection of abstract argumentation in favor of concrete exploration. Moreover, Marcel's "battle" against the spirit of abstraction requires him to develop a spirit of concreteness, insisting that a focus on a selected aspect must not be taken to replace or exclude the whole from which the aspect is abstracted. (5)
THUS far Marcel's project appears to be the rejection of Cartesian rationalism due to its (forgetful) abstraction from existence. Yet a third account indicates another related aspect of his project:
Whenever I try to consider [my entire philosophical] development as a whole, I have to observe that it has been dominated by two interests which may at first seem contradictory ... The latter is what I shall call the exigence of being; the first is the obsession with beings taken in their individuality but also affected by the mysterious relations which link them together. Clearly the paramount problem was to find some means whereby these two different inquiries could meet, although they at first seemed oriented in opposite directions; indeed, aren't we inclined to assume that the more the mind concentrates on being in its unity, in its transcendence, the more it is led to abstract from the diversity of beings, to view the latter as of trivial importance, as insignificant? And inversely, the more our attention is concentrated on that diversity, the more we tend, it seems, to view being in itself as a fiction, or at the very least, as a completely abstract postulate having no real referent. I think I can say without any exaggeration that I have always rejected this dilemma, even if I have not done so explicitly, and that instead, I have started from the act of faith which provides an a priori solution to it.... [T]he more we are able to know the individual being, the more we shall be oriented, and as it were directed towards, a grasp of being as such. ("Creative Fidelity" 147-8)
Here Marcel questions the relation between being as such and particular beings. He notes that analytical inquiry (or "primary reflection") tends to assume that they diverge. If one investigates being as such, it appears that one must discard particular beings, and if one investigates particular beings, it appears that one must ignore or even reject being as such. However, this is only an appearance, a false dichotomy brought on by the spirit of abstraction which takes aspects separated for investigation to be pieces separable in reality and in significance. The solution is revealed by a "secondary reflection" that reintegrates the aspects detached by "primary reflection" (Mystery of Being I: 102-3). Since particular beings are, they already participate in being as a whole. The "act of faith," fidelity as it is lived, includes openness or creative receptivity to the presence of Thou on many levels ("Creative Fidelity" 154, 166). (6) This provides a concrete demonstration of participation as belonging in being, and also shows that isolated individuality is only an abstraction.
These three accounts of Marcel's central philosophical concern describe the same whole from three different perspectives. Although at first they may seem to be about different things, each of them insists upon the reality of participation, especially the participation of the actual subject in being, as the basis for rejecting and replacing Cartesian dualism and the spirit of abstraction. The different perspectives also illustrate Marcel's non-linear and recursive method that goes over the same ground on different levels. He revisits his central concern and formulates it from different but related points of view that function as aspects of a whole.
In addition to reviewing his central philosophical concern, Marcel uses stylistic devices to show the connections among his works. He refers to his other works and, in a rather heavy-handed fashion, he quotes himself directly. If he thinks he worded something particularly well before, he does not try to express it anew but simply imports the appropriate passage from another essay or even from a play. For example, in Mystery of Being, he quotes a passage from his play The Broken World and says, "That is a speech by the heroine of one of my plays, and from time to time I shall be quoting from my own plays in this way" (26-7). In "Creative Fidelity" he quotes a lengthy passage from Being and Having, after saying "I should like to transcribe a passage here from Etre et Avoir which exactly expresses my thought on this issue" (164-6). Also in "Creative Fidelity," he quotes from his play Iconoclast: "I shall transcribe here a few lines from the final scene which anticipates thoughts I had formulated in philosophical terms at a much later date" (151-2). In his essay "An Outline of a Concrete Philosophy," Marcel says:
This brings us to a distinction which I regard as fundamental, and which at the present time seems a presupposition of my entire philosophical thought, though it was not explicitly formulated until October 1932: "The distinction between the mysterious and the problematic. A problem is something which one runs up against, which bars the way. It is before me in its entirety. A mystery, however, is something in which I find myself involved, whose essence therefore, is not to be completely before me. On this level it seems as though the distinction between the in me and the before me loses its meaning" [Etre et Avoir 145]. (68)
Many other examples could be given to illustrate Marcel's practice of self-quotation. This practice, whether annoying or endearing, successfully brings forward the continuity he perceived within his work. More importantly, it provides additional evidence for the part-whole relations among his works, such that method and content are inseparable.
Seymour Cain points out that "[t]he way and the what of Marcel's thought are bound together--indeed, the way is the what" (14). Marcel's philosophy unfolds according to a part-whole logic instead of a linear logic. Cain says of Marcel:
He does not force us into procrustean definitions and postulates, and proceed with logical rigor to a forced set of conclusions. He calls, he listens, and invites us to listen with him, as he starts off from a theme and follows it patiently and openly, with a delicate and intricate form of concrete analysis, which concludes not with a Q.E.D. through a necessary sequence of propositions, but with a fullness of discerned meanings through immersion in a reality which must be felt and heard, rather than conceived and seen. (19)
Marcel's essays offer to the reader an "immersion" within a process of philosophical exploration. The interconnections among the essays suggest that any one of the essays could be embedded in any other. This unusual pattern exhibits the relationship between the form of his essays and the content of his philosophy. Marcel's essay form moves from one idea to another related idea in an exploratory and interrogative mode, including appeals to the reader's experience, specific examples, references to his other works, and direct quotations from those works, all in the pattern of a spiral going back over the same ground on a progressively deeper level. This suggests an interconnected network of interrelated parts that are aspects of a larger whole.
There are different kinds of parts and wholes, and even a subdiscipline of logic called mereology which is the study of parts and wholes (Simon). Mechanical wholes have pieces that are replaceable and relatively independent of each other: think of a clock or an engine. Organic wholes differ because their pans, some essential and some non-essential, are interrelated within a living substance: think of an animal. (The mechanical model, despite its usefulness for the discoveries of modern medicine, has always been insufficient when applied to organisms.) Some human wholes have parts that are irreplaceable and interrelated not only by function but also by shared experiences, beliefs and commitments, and mutual self-definitions: think of a family. (After all, contra the moderns, not all human aggregates are composed of isolated individuals.) Perceptual wholes, present to the senses, have aspects or profiles instead of pieces and also have horizons for further exploration: think of listening to music, seeing a desk, touching the contours of a sculpture (Husserl 86-9, 236-40; Merleau-Ponty 207-42). Even without mereological theory, these examples are sufficient to show that there are different kinds of wholes and parts. And knowledge, truth, understanding, lived experience, or wisdom is also a whole, like a great jewel with aspects or perspectives or linked facets such that no one can fail to grasp some of them or succeed in grasping all of them. (7) Marcel, in his essay "Testimony and Existentialism," asks the reader to consider the value of one person's perspective, as that of a witness who gives testimony:
In the last analysis testimony bears on an event or that part of an event which is unique and irrevocable.... I am obliged to bear witness because I hold, as it were, a particle of light, and to keep it to myself would be equivalent to extinguishing it.... What concerns us is the relation in which the witness stands to the world, what is the manner of belonging to it which is implied by his function. (95-6)
Marcel's focus on aspects or perspectives draws attention to uniqueness and to complex interrelationships of similarity and difference within a whole. This decidedly non-linear approach avoids conceptual patterns such as dichotomies or exclusive categories because, in the spirit of abstraction, those patterns take aspects to be separated pieces.
Thus, Marcel's philosophy objects to dualistic thinking, the kind of thinking that sets up dichotomies between opposites such as mind and body, self and world. He criticizes the Cartesian rationalism that separated the mind from reality (through the method of doubt) and conceived their relationship as "an onlooker to a picture," as if the detached subject peers out at a purely objective world. Marcel rejects the problem of "bridging the gap" between subject and object, or mind and body, or self and world, because it is an artificial problem created by a faulty method (hypostatizing an abstraction). Dichotomies lend themselves to exclusive argumentation and operate out of an attitude of rational arrogance, as the mind regards itself as qualified to legislate for reality and to confine it within static categories.
In contrast to dualistic thinking, Marcel's kind of thinking is holistic. He recognizes embodiment and the already-given participation of the self within the world, of my being within being as a whole. This suggests concentric circles, or a spiral, in place of the exclusive categories preferred by most philosophers in general and by Descartes in particular. There is no "gap" between subjectivity and objectivity, or mind and body, or self and world. Separation for the purpose of analytical inquiry must not be confused with separation in actual existence. Thus, subjectivity and objectivity function as aspects (parts) of experience (the whole); the thinking self is not the whole self; and the mind and the body actually exist as aspects of the complex whole of the human person. Instead of defining reality in advance of experience, the person participates in being and should be receptive to actual reality on all of its levels. This requires an attitude of existential humility rather than rational arrogance. Thus Marcel's philosophical thought moves toward the larger whole, through a dynamic exploration of interrelated aspects and their unities.
Many examples can be given from the content of Marcel's philosophy to demonstrate his use of part-whole thinking. Whereas the "onlooker" merely observes, the "witness" not only observes but also acknowledges involvement in the concrete situation and steps forward to give testimony ("Testimony and Existentialism"). Whereas a "problem" is objective and clearly definable and has a solution, a "mystery" has a problematic component but is also more than a problem and has an irreducible component of personal participation ("Concrete Approaches"). Whereas "objectivity" describes only one aspect of being, "existence" encompasses all aspects of being ("Existence and Objectivity"). Whereas "having" concerns my ego (what I have and what I do), "being" concerns my self (who I am), who includes the aspects of having and doing but also bears an intrinsic relation to being as a whole (Being and Having). Whereas "constancy" expresses my own decision not to change, "fidelity" expresses my openness to the presence of Thou ("Creative Fidelity"). In each case, one term is not separated from the other, as it would be for dualistic thinking. Instead, for part-whole thinking, one term is a partial aspect of the other term as whole, and the whole therefore must include additional aspects. The witness is more than an onlooker, a mystery is more than a problem, and so forth. To remain on the level of partial aspects such as onlooker, problem, objectivity, having, and constancy is to be constricted and closed off. However, to move to the level of wholes such as witness, mystery, existence, being, and fidelity is to become open to exploration and growth, because in every case the whole is more than the sum of its presently available aspects. For example, a mystery such as love requires ongoing and increasing permeability (participation), and in fidelity, the unfolding of the presence of the other adds an essential element of spontaneity. As the spiral of experience and inquiry continues to expand over time, Marcel's claim--that the universal (being) can be reached through the particular (a being)--can be understood more clearly: "[T]he more we are able to know the individual being, the more we shall be oriented, and as it were directed towards, a grasp of being as such" ("Creative Fidelity" 148). It is not necessary or even possible to leave the part behind in order to attain the whole. It is only necessary to recognize the part as a participation in the whole, i.e., to recognize that the whole is always already there.
This presence of the whole is also already there in Marcel's particular essays, because one essay can be embedded in another. In several of his essays he refers briefly to being a witness, and the essay "Testimony and Existentialism" provides an extended treatment of the difference between being an onlooker (the part) and being a witness (the whole). He also mentions this difference in "Concrete Approaches to Investigating the Ontological Mystery" and refers to "existential assurance"--a basic experience of being permeable or open--in contrast to the Cartesian rational certainty applying to objectivity (the part) rather than existence (the whole). The essay "Authentic Humanism and its Existential Presuppositions" develops a clear description of existential assurance in terms of participation and provides many examples of existential assurances. In that essay he describes true freedom in contrast to the illusory freedom to tear oneself out of being, and the essay "Existence and Human Freedom" explains that contrast by way of a critique of Jean Paul Sartre's version of existential philosophy. In that essay he also refers to hope, and the essay "Sketch of a Phenomenology and a Metaphysic of Hope" examines hope further and connects it not only with the presence of Thou, which is examined further in the essay "Incarnate Being as the Central Datum of Metaphysical Reflection," but also with the difference between being and having, which is the topic of Being and Having, and so on. "Concrete Approaches to Investigating the Ontological Mystery" contains references to almost all of these issues, including the central issue of fidelity which is explored in "Creative Fidelity." Many, many more examples can be given to show the interconnections within Marcel's essays. Even the relatively peripheral essays invoke Marcel's central themes in a manner which can only be regarded as deliberate. (8) The conclusion is unavoidable: not one of Marcel's essays forms an isolated unit; each of them presents facets of his thought that are interrelated with other facets as aspects of a whole. The form of his philosophical essays bears witness to the content of his philosophy.
Thus Marcel's thought offers multiple entrances to the path of inquiry and describes multiple aspects of the complex whole of existence. Marcel's exploratory essay invites the participation of the reader, his essays participate in one another, the self participates in being, and aspects participate in wholes. Participation, considered by many to be the fundamental concept of Marcel's philosophy, becomes embodied in both the form and content of his philosophical essays. (9)
THE path of exploration traced by Marcel, from aspects to larger and more comprehensive wholes, also helps to explain his deep affinity with Catholicism. He tells us that he considered religious faith for many years, converting to Catholicism at the age of forty. His anti-dogmatic bent caused particular difficulties with Catholic dogma that claims to be stated correctly once and for all. (10) However, the essential openness of the Catholic/catholic approach to life and faith appeals to Marcel's path of thinking. It is not necessary to reject the world as such in order to live a spiritual life, for the goodness of the created world leads to the goodness of the Creator: "supernatural life has to find some connections and points of insertion in natural life," or else embodied persons could not experience it, but this "in no way means to imply that supernatural life is merely the flowering of natural life" ("Concrete Approaches" 196). Marcel tells us that fidelity to Thou, in any human interrelationship, is implicitly grounded in faith in God, the Absolute Thou ("Creative Fidelity" 167) although the perspective of faith is required in order to see that grounding. Faithfulness as such opens to faith in God, existential assurance as such opens to the assurance of God's love, and hope as such opens to an affirmation of trust in God ("Authentic Humanism" 42-3; "Concrete Approaches" 184; "Sketch" 31-2, 35, 46-7, 66). The possibility of negation, expressed in despair, betrayal, and suicide, is countered by the possibility of affirmation, expressed in fidelity, hope, and love--a barely disguised existential version of the three theological virtues subsisting as aspects but tending toward the whole ("Concrete Approaches" 179, 183-4, 187-9; "Authentic Humanism" 43).
Marcel rejects atheism on account of its closed-off dogmatism, as another instance of rational arrogance and the mind's attempt to legislate for reality. Agnosticism, if it is honest, does not rest content with its ignorance, and avoids becoming lazy or dogmatic by continuing to search. Theism for Marcel also avoids closed-off dogmatism, because the believer must remain permeable to grace. Marcel's discussions of "gift" refer many times to grace. Whereas "lived atheism" is a path to despair, as a self-enclosed refusal of participation ("Authentic Humanism" 43-4), the acknowledgment of participation invites one to be creatively receptive with regard to more and more comprehensive wholes, to remain available to grace, and to take the step of absolute fidelity, faith in God, based on "a certain appeal delivered from the depths of my own insufficiency" ("Creative Fidelity" 167).
Creative fidelity consists in actively maintaining oneself in a state of permeability, and we see that there occurs here a sort of mysterious interchange between this free act and the gift given in response to it. ("Concrete Approaches" 190)
Thus Marcel's part-whole thinking is deeply Catholic, partly Augustinian in its emphasis on actual religious experience but also practicing an Aristotelian/Thomistic respect for the natural world of everyday experience. Marcel's careful use of the term "mystery," he says, is not intended to confuse the distinction between the natural and the supernatural. Yet a recognition of the mystery of being permits an openness to revelation, and "[s]uch a philosophy moves toward an irresistible encounter with a light that it perceives from afar ... and whose secret attraction touches a deep passionate longing" ("Concrete Approaches" 196). Philosophy, as the love of wisdom and the search for existential truth, finds itself drawn outward in an ever-expanding spiral of receptive inquiry.
Gabriel Marcel's philosophical essays both explore and exemplify reality by presenting interrelated aspects of a complex whole. This synergy of form and content offers to the reader a distinctive opportunity not only to read philosophy (the receptive part) but also to practice philosophical reflection (the creatively receptive whole). Marcel offers a gift, freely shared, and invites a response. In choosing to affirm the reality of participation, Marcel and his readers journey together toward a greater understanding of existence. His philosophical essays also participate--in each other, in the essays as a whole, in the larger whole of Marcel's works, and in the whole of inquiry. Marcel shares with us a philosophy that is non-systematic but profoundly synthetic, a philosophy well served by the essay form.
(1) Other examples of Marcel's philosophical assertions include: "It is urgent that we reflect upon reflection" (Mystery of Being 1: vi-vii, 47); "there is a need for transcendence and an ontological need [exigence]" (Mystery of Being 1: 48-69, "Concrete Approaches" 175-7, 183); "primary and secondary reflection differ in significant ways" (Mystery of Being 1: 95-126); "receptivity is essential to freedom" ("Existence and Human Freedom" 82-83, "Authentic Humanism" 34-5); "in a functionalized world, the need for being weakens in direct proportion to the fragmentation of personality, the triumph of the category of the purely natural, and the atrophy of the capacity of wonder" ("Concrete Approaches" 175).
(2) Following is the list of topic sentences: "It might be said in the first place ...;" "But the objection may be put in another way ...;" "Let us take the case of ...;" "One might note here, in passing ...;" "One might postulate it as a principle ...;" "We can come to the same conclusions starting from the other end ...;" "On the other hand, when we think of it ...;" "But this is not and cannot be true in the same way for the kind of investigation that will be presented in the course of these lectures ...;" "It is probably not sufficient for my purpose merely to say that ..." (Mystery of Being I: 4-9).
(3) The additional topic sentences are: "Interpreting it in the most general way ...;" "This is still all pretty vague, but already, I am afraid, it begins to raise awkward questions ...;" "In this connection, some remarks which I have previously made might be of a kind to arouse a certain uneasiness ..." (Mystery of Being I: 9-11).
(4) This is "abstraction through simple and absolute consideration," where we consider one thing without considering another. See Aquinas, a. 1, reply to obj. 1.
(5) Marcel's distinction between primary reflection and secondary reflection applies to this situation. Primary reflection, the moment of abstraction and analysis, is insufficient for genuine understanding. Secondary reflection moves back to the whole. See Mystery of Being 1: 95-126.
(6) "Thou" refers to the "second person" in the grammatical sense, a "you too" with whom I experience the participation of intersubjectivity. The "third person," on the other hand, is someone whom I consider to be an object ("Incarnate Being," 32-34).
(7) Note that this is a fundamentally Aristotelian view of truth. Aristotle's famous "survey of opinions" shares essentially the same presupposition.
(8) For example, "Orthodoxy vs. Conformism" opposes abstraction (187) and describes being a witness (193); "Dangerous Situation of Ethical Values" invokes fidelity (157), existential assurance (159), and an eschatological age (162).
(9) The way in which his philosophical essays participate in his opera omnia, including his music, remains an aspect for further investigation. See K. R. Hanley's commentary in Gabriel Marcel's Perspectives on the Broken World for a clear and profound exploration of how one of his plays, The Broken World, and one of his essays, "Concrete Approaches," reveal aspects of a whole.
(10) In his essay "Incarnate Being," Marcel says that "theological affirmations as such are a snare" (36). Words are inadequate at best, so that any particular expression must be provisional. This view does not slide into relativism because, in neo-Socratic fashion, one must continue to search for more and more adequate expressions despite their inevitable failure to grasp the whole.
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiae I-I, q. 85.
Cain, Seymour. Gabriel Marcel. New York: Hillary House, 1963.
Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Volume II. Ed. John Cottingham et al. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984. 1-62.
Hall, Michael L. "The Emergence of the Essay and the Idea of Discovery." Essays on the Essay: Redefining the Genre. Ed. Alexander J. Butryn. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1989. 73-91.
Hanley, K. R. "Translator's Preface." Gabriel Marcel's Perspectives on the Broken World. Milwaukee: Marquette UP, 1998. 13-30.
Hardison, O.B. Jr. "Binding Proteus: An Essay on the Essay." Essays on the Essay: Redefining the Genre. Ed. Alexander J. Butryn. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1989. 11-28.
Husserl, Edmund. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy; First Book. Trans. F. Kersten. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1982.
Kierkegaard, Soren. "On My Work as an Author" and "The Point of View for My Work as an Author." The Essential Kierkegaard. Ed. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2000. 448-66.
Marcel, Gabriel. "Authentic Humanism and Its Existential Presuppositions." Tragic Wisdom and Beyond. Trans. Stephen Jolin and Peter McCormick. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1973. 33-44.
--. "Author's Preface to the English Edition." Metaphysical Journal. Trans. Bernard Wall. Chicago: Regnery, 1952. vii-xiii.
--. Being and Having. Translated by Katharine Farrer. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.
--. "Concrete Approaches to Investigating the Ontological Mystery." Gabriel Marcel's Perspectives on the Broken WorM. Trans. Katharine Rose Hanley. Milwaukee: Marquette UP, 1998. 172-96.
--. "Creative Fidelity." Creative Fidelity. Trans. Robert Rosthal. 1964. New York: Fordham UP, 2002. 147-74.
--. "Dangerous Situation of Ethical Values." Homo Viator: Introduction to a Metaphysic of Hope. Trans. Emma Craufurd. New York: Harper & Row, 1962. 155-165.
--. "An Essay in Autobiography." The Philosophy of Existentialism. Trans. Manya Harari. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1956. 104-28.
--. "Existence and Human Freedom." The Philosophy of Existentialism. Trans. Manya Harari. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1956. 47-90.
--. "Existence and Objectivity." Metaphysical Journal. Trans. Bernard Wall. Chicago: Regnery, 1952. 319-39.
--. "Incarnate Being as the Central Datum of Metaphysical Reflection." Creative Fidelity. Trans. Robert Rosthal. 1964. New York: Fordham UP, 2002. 11-37.
--. Man Against Mass Society. Trans. G. S. Fraser. Chicago: Regnery, 1962.
--. The Mystery of Being, Vol. 1: Reflection and Mystery. Trans. G. S. Fraser. Chicago: Regnery, 1960.
--. The Mystery of Being, Vol. 2: Faith and Reality. Trans. G. S. Fraser. Chicago: Regnery, 1960.
--. "Orthodoxy vs. Conformism." Creative Fidelity. Trans. Robert Rosthal. 1964. New York: Fordham UP, 2002. 184-194.
--. "An Outline of a Concrete Philosophy." Creative Fidelity. Trans. Robert Rosthal. 1964. New York: Fordham UP, 2002. 58-81.
--. "Preface." Homo Viator: Introduction to a Metaphysic of Hope. Trans. Emma Craufurd. New York: Harper & Row, 1962. 7-12.
--. "Sketch of a Phenomenology and a Metaphysic of Hope." Homo Viator: Introduction to a Metaphysic of Hope. Trans. Emma Craufurd. New York: Harper 8,: Row, 1962. 29-67.
--. "Testimony and Existentialism." The Philosophy of Existentialism. Trans. Manya Harari. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1956. 91-103.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Colin Smith. London and New York: Routledge, 1962.
Simon, Peter. Parts: A Study in Ontology. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987.
Teresa I. Reed (PhD University of Notre Dame, BA Seattle University) is Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Rockhurst University. Her publications and papers focus on Husserl, Marcel, and philosophy of time. She is secretary-treasurer of the Gabriel Marcel Society.…