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BOOK REVIEWS 413 On the Human Subject: Studies in the Phenomenology o] Ethics and Politics. By Nathan Rotenstreich. (Springfield, Mass.: Charles C Thomas, 1966. Pp. vii + 226) In a very definite sense the present work continues the argument developed by Natha~ Rotenstreich in such earlier works as Humani,wa in the Contemporary Era (1963) and Basic Problems o] Marx's Philosophy (1965). Kant's philosophy again serves as a point of departure, following Rotenstreich's Experience and Its Systematization: Studies in Kant (1965). His basic theme here is that "ethical conduct is irreducible to a level outside the ethical realm proper"; that "ethical conduct presupposes some given features of the human_ subject"; and that it is from such a point of view that the problems of man's politicaJ_ existence must be approached. The crucial assumption underlying the whole argument of the book is that mind is irreducible , it being characteriT.ed by an awareness of end-means relationships which presupposes a responsiveness to meanings; by "anticipatory responses" or the pursuit of ends recognized as ends; and by "serf-knowledge" or consciousness proper. Since these facts of our own experience cannot be genetically explained or reduced to something other than consciousness, they entail "the ontologically irreducible position of the human subject" (p. 50). Moreover, so conceived, "a human being per se is a creature of value" (p. 61). Values Rotenstreich assumes to be "principles of conduct operative in reality" which "constitute a formative element of actions," of ways of conduct, etc. (p. 67). In substantiation of this theme Rotenstreich discusses at some length the problems of lying (Chapter 6) and being ashamed (Chapter 7)--lying, being an act of deception, implies also self-awareness on the part of the liar (p. 100); and being ashamed, implying an inner tension, also entails selfidentification (pp. 125f). But Rotenstreich's argument is not yet complete. Taking issue with Kant on the true meaning of the "Primacy of Practical Reason," l~otenstreich argues that "there is a fundamental disparateness between reason and value" (p. 146) and that therefore Kant was mistaken in holding that because reason is intrinsically of value, man, possessing reason, must likewise be of value. That is to say, against Kant our author holds that "Reason is of value or has value, but is not essentially a value" (p. 148). It is the "human subject," not reason, that is a value. And this fact now pits the "human subject" against the idea of a raison d'gtat---a conflict disastrously evident in the military and political conflicts of our times. The philosophical issue and its immensely important practical consequences are: which is the supreme value, the individual or the state? If it is the state, it must impose its authoritarian regime. The individual is subservient to the state. The result is that "the state cares only for the physical being of man" (p. 184), not for his trans~ndent interests, his independent judgment, and valuations. The "metaphysical irony," however, is that, in preserving man's physical existence (which is but a potentiality for transcendent action), "the totalitarian state nurtures its own limitation and thus also its opposition, and thus, finally, the support of its own negation" (p. 185). The whole thought here is essentially Hegelian-though this does not detract from its truth. Of special interest is Rotenstreich's discussion of "the tension between maiority and principles" (Chapter 11). Accepting Kant's basic principles underlying the conception of a Rechtsstaat---freedom, equality, and independence (p. 194)--he points out that "majority rule is based on the idea of human rights as unqualified," whereas "rule by knowledge" rests upon the idea "that knowledge determines which actions are rightful" (pp. 196f). And so in politics two principles stand against each other: "the human principle" and "the principle of the content of knowledge" (p. 201). But only the two together define the conception of legitimate political authority. One can only wish that they were always found together. In summing up, let me s~y that I have found this to be a thoughtful book. The argument, however, is at times somewhat circuitous; and it is always rather abstract. To be sure, philosophy is concerned...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 413-414
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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