On Debate and Existence (1967)
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On Debate and Existence (1967) 130 From Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Volume 12: Published Essays, 1966– 1985, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), 36–52. [This essay identifies and explores conditions under which rational debate concerning our existence as human beings can be conducted . Only if the partners to the debate accept as binding “the matrix of reality” can such a debate occur. In order to clarify this condition, Voegelin discusses modes of existence (“existence in truth” and “existence in untruth”); ideologies as “Second Realities”; the modern breakdown of this requisite condition for debate; and the conditions under which Aristotle and Aquinas conducted their inquiries.—Eds.] In our capacity as political scientists, historians, or philosophers we all have had occasion at one time or another to engage in debate with ideologists—­ whether communists or intellectuals of a persuasion closer to home. And we all have discovered on such occasions that no agreement, or even an honest disagreement, could be reached, because the exchange of argument was disturbed by a profound difference of attitude with regard to all fundamental questions of human existence—­ with regard to the nature of man, to his place in the world, to his place in society and history, to his relation to God. Rational argument could not prevail because the partner to the discussion did not accept as binding for himself the matrix of reality in which all specific questions concerning our existence as human beings are ultimately rooted; he has overlaid the reality of existence with another mode of existence that Robert Musil has called the Second Reality. The argument could 131 on debate and existence not achieve results, it had to falter and peter out, as it became increasingly clear not that argument was pitched against argument, but that behind the appearance of a rational debate there lurked the difference of two modes of existence, of existence in truth and existence in untruth. The universe of rational discourse collapses, we may say, when the common ground of existence in reality has disappeared. Corollary: The difficulties of debate concern the fundamentals of existence . Debate with ideologists is quite possible in the areas of the natural sciences and of logic. The possibility of debate in these areas, which are peripheral to the sphere of the person, however, must not be taken as presaging the possibility in the future that areas central to the person (Max Scheler’s distinction of personperiphere and personzentrale areas) will also move into the zone of debate. Among students of the Soviet Union there is a tendency to assume that the universe of discourse, at present restricted to peripheral subject matters, will, by the irresistible power of reason, expand so as to include the fundamentals of existence. While such a possibility should not be flatly denied, it also should be realized that there is no empirical evidence on which such an expectation could be based. The matter is of some interest, because philosophers of the rank of Jaspers indulge in the assumption that there is a community of mankind in existence on the level of the natural sciences, and that scientists form a community. That raises the philosophical question whether community is something that can be established on the level of a common interest in science at all, a question which at present is far from being thought through. The phenomenon of the breakdown as such is well known. Moreover, the various Second Realities, the so-­ called ideologies, have been the object of extensive studies. But the nature of the breakdown itself, its implications for the advancement of science, and above all the methods of coping with the fantastic situation, are by far not yet sufficiently explored. The time at our disposition will obviously not allow an exhaustive inquiry concerning so vast a topic; still, I propose in the present paper at least to circumscribe some of the relevant points of such an inquiry. And as a step toward establishing the relevant points, I shall place the phenomenon of the breakdown in historical perspective. 132 part three | philosophizing in modernity I The Second Realities which cause the breakdown of rational discourse are a comparatively recent phenomenon. They have grown during the modern centuries, roughly since 1500, until they have reached, in our own time, the proportions of a social and political force which in more gloomy moments may look strong enough to extinguish our civilization—­ unless, of course, you are an ideologist yourself and identify civilization with...


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