Editorial: Volume 7.1

One of the distinguishing marks of human flourishing is healthy human interaction. Humans are not inanimate machines, whose efficiency is judged by how little they depend upon outside sources of power—we are living beings. To live without needing anything beyond oneself would be to be God, for self-sufficiency of life is only possible with infinitude of life. But this is not the condition of humanity. If we are to flourish as living human individuals in this world, one of the necessary facets of our activity will be interaction with our world and with other people. In the early pages of Genesis, God recognized that it was not good for the individual man to be alone, and so He made woman. Plato and Aristotle recognized the development of human society as a natural outcome of humans seeking to enhance their lives by not simply relying on what they could produce alone. When humans form society, however, not only is there an occasion to mutually meet needs, but there is also the opportunity for hostility. Mere human interaction without any order or structure easily degenerates into the painful sketch outlined by Hobbes—it becomes “nasty, brutish and short” (Leviathan, XIII). Society may be necessary for the actualization of human potentiality, but it can also be a stage for human conflict and degradation. Yet, while the solitary individual does not fight himself (unless he is himself in a condition of disunity), he accomplishes little and his life is short. He has peace, but cannot be said to flourish, for he is essentially stagnant. The dynamic life is one of active interaction with the world and with other persons. In this volume of Ramify, our contributing authors explore the dynamic life, giving us insight into areas of interaction that are deeply connected to the nature and identity of our humanity.

Opening the conversation, Churchill’s piece considers the close connection between self-knowledge and knowledge of other individuals by examining the immediacy of one’s perception of another person. After all, authentic human relationship demands more than mere awareness of the bodily states of another, and the perception described by Churchill is one that provides knowledge beyond another’s external motions to his internal emotions and motivations. Such a perception is intuited by the perceiver as he uses his imaginative faculty to see himself within the experience of another. While this perception is empathetic, seeking to authentically imitate the experience of another, it is still spontaneous. Churchill urges that much of our knowledge of another’s inward states is gained through an intuitive imitation.

Yet, imitating an experience is different than simply going through the original experience. Is imitation inherently deceitful or can it be trusted to give knowledge? More than direct human relationship is at stake in the answer to this question—art too is based in imitation. Esther Moon’s discussion of imitation and art is thus not simply concerned with saving art, but it also with helping us examine the legitimacy of imitation more broadly considered, including its use as an avenue of relational perception and knowledge. Imitation, we discover, must be concerned with more than mere appearances. Like Churchill presenting a psychological imitation that provides insight into the inward state of the perceived person, Moon describes artistic imitation as providing knowledge of truth, not merely a representation of appearance. Moon urges that while there is a difference between the imitation itself and the thing imitated, the imitation itself can still reveal valuable insight. Through its alluring power, imitative art can become a powerful force for good, drawing the individual towards the truth towards which it points.

Churchill gives us a defense of the essentiality of imitation for human relationship as a part of the authentic human psychology of knowing; Moon defends the legitimacy of imitation itself, shifting the focus from an intuitive act of human relationship to a purposeful approach to art; Zhao enters the discussion of art’s relationship to knowledge and truth, describing how art leads us to truth even apart from cognitive processes, and thus returning even the imitation of art to a more intuitive approach. Zhao urges the necessity of an immediacy of feeling in grasping the nature of the world and of the Absolute, as opposed to merely relying on factual reasoning. This immediate sense of the world comes to us by way of imaginative art or poetry. Owing to art’s imitative nature, Zhao’s immediate sense of reality can be linked to Churchill’s explanation of the intuitive perception of another person through imitation. Certain patterns for immediacy and intuition emerge in the conversation, patterns that not only pertain to the realm of human relations, but transcend it, affecting how we grasp reality in the world.

Erdman’s article addresses our broad interaction with the world in which we live. This interaction with nature must take into account man’s presence within nature, indicating the need for a unifying harmony. But Erdman also acknowledges the need for the individual’s experience of nature in his emphasis of the aesthetic element of man’s interaction with nature. Rather than being an external process of objective reasoning, this experience of the aesthetic is individualized. While this experience perhaps echoes Zhao’s discussion of the value of individual sensations of beauty and truth, Erdman’s contribution also brings into the conversation the issue of how the harmony of the whole relates to the authenticity of the individual’s experiences and decisions. Both knowledge of the individual and knowledge of his surrounding environment must be examined together.

Stearns’s excursion into the world of Dickens takes the recommendation to explore these two facets in tandem to heart, as she examines how society and an environment of business expectations can shape an individual’s outlook on life and ethical action. If shaped by a rigid societal environment that is rooted in greed, one’s humanity suffers. Stearns discusses the journey of a Dickens character to an authentically human manner of interaction that is guided by more than simple thirst for wealth. It is as this character learns to view others outside of the constraining bounds of the negative business mindset in which he has been so steeped that he learns to truly see, feel, and interact on a human level. Even so, in this moment, true human relations are furthered without society itself being rejected.

Individuality taken to unbridled excess brings chaos, and Scoggins brings the issue of balancing societal uniformity and human individuality more explicitly into the political realm with his comparative study of two societies that used different approaches to the issue of individual liberty of speech and religion. By dissecting preferential policies and violent outbursts in Sri Lanka and Malaysia during the 20th century, he helps to illuminate a path of prudence for the content, and especially the timing, of governmental regulation on ethnic relations, religious freedom, and political free speech.

Snell continues to examine the issue of order in society. Emersonian wildness ends up being dangerous to the humanity and existence of the individual. Even so, Snell is not seeking to smother the authentic human expression of the individual, as can be seen in Snell’s display of his own individuality by his confident and robust style of prose. Rather, order in society is for the purpose of creating a context in which the individual’s humanity can flourish. Considering key influences from the past that still affect American civilization, Snell demonstrates that a society must be historically connected, informed by the wisdom and experience of the past. Historical connection is important to Ramify: as a journal we desire to be rooted in the past, to engage with deep ideas that have been articulated and debated over centuries. A great oak stands tall because its roots have developed over time, deepened and strengthened over years of struggle. Snell’s article points us back to the importance of past civilizations for the development of our own intellectual outlook and human culture. But true rootedness involves more than a connection with the great ideas of the past. The oak’s roots are still growing; they must remain present and full of life—or the tree dies. Development from the past must be coupled with vitality in the instant. And this, of course, brings us back once again to the importance of human interaction. It is not enough to simply interact with past ideas, but we must bring what we learn from these ideas into our present through our interactions with the people and world around us.

Essential to the mission of Ramify is to show how various disciplines of the liberal arts can be in genuine conversation about essential questions of human flourishing. We believe that our authors have entered into a rich and insightful dialogue over issues pertinent to the rootedness of the individual and the health of human interaction. We invite our readers to do the same through their perusal of the pages that follow.

For the Editors,
Christopher Walton
Editor In Chief
Feast of St. Benedict of Nursia
July 11, 2018

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