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Archive for October, 2013

The Value of Art

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¨Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.¨

–Oscar Wilde

The phrase could mean a lot of things to different people unless we define the ¨language-game¨ where it belongs. From the viewpoint of an art collector or an art gallery owner/administrator, value is more calculated in terms of the pecuniary aspect. Though, such aspect largely depends of course on a few factors like the exquisite intricacy of the art work which in a more basic sense depends essentially on the prominence of the artist. The more widely acclaimed the artist is, the higher the price the artwork commands. It is almost always the thinking that the bi-condition between the artwork and the artist is pre-established and hence defines the ¨value¨ of the artwork: The artwork is highly priced IF AND ONLY IF the artist is extensively celebrated.

But this bi-conditional statement is not an inherent truism for it has passed through an evolutionary process. To say that a Dali is highly valued/priced because of the fame of its creator is a later development. Originally, what mattered more was the creator—Salvador Dali who initially was not famous—later became a celebrated world-class painter because of the first exquisite artworks he produced which captured the discriminating taste of respected art connoisseurs of equally world-class significance. In a more reasonable sense, the value of art is in the exquisiteness of the artwork itself that delights and captivates the appreciative sensitivity of its beholder regardless of who the artist is.

In certain instances, though, the ¨pecuniary value¨ may not be totally divorced from an artwork´s aesthetic value. Genuine patrons of the art who truly understand the aesthetic worth of an artwork spend a fortune to claim such a treasure as a lasting possession. However, there are also the ¨filthy rich¨ who basically do not have an iota of artistic taste. But to keep up with the standard of their more ¨cultured¨ acquaintances, they would compete with them by making their presence felt in an art gallery show and in shelling out a lot of money to bring home an artwork deemed to be very well commended by discriminating connoisseurs milling around the place. They are the ¨social-climbing¨ variety of the ¨filthy rich,¨ so to speak.

But there is more to the issue of ¨the value of art¨ than the exclusively pecuniary and that is the purely aesthetic. Aesthetic valuation is basically human discernment/judgment of the beautiful. Its most fundamental media are the five senses of perception. Nevertheless, sensitivity towards the exquisite and the attractive that pleases, delights, charms and captivates the heart is much deeper than what is materially comprehended. Truly there is something cultural in this valuation but such is not ¨culture¨ in the language-game of ¨high society¨ but in the more primarily sociological understanding of the concept of society and culture.

Though not always cultural (in the sociological sense), but at times more personal and purely individualistic, even idiosyncratic, art finds a most meaningful expression in the culture of a people, more particularly in its material component. Art is the concrete/tangible/substantial materialization of the human creative impulse to convey her/his most vital desires and needs. Art is the channel that facilitates the release of humanity´s imaginative urge that makes life more liveable and more worth enhancing. In a broader sense, we may even contend that human life in its truest essence is art itself. It is the artistic spirit of humanity that sees beauty in the natural environ of earthly existence. The course of life on earth provides magnificent inspiration to the creative human being in the furtherance of the world which s/he started to create millennia ago and has been the focal point of her/his most determined struggles to survive, to improve and to make life more meaningful despite myriads of troubles, adversities and tragedies.

Even long before the human species invented the ¨art¨ of writing, cave-dwelling homo sapiens had already been actively carving pictures—pictographs—on cave walls which even appeared in colourful designs to express and communicate their ideas and thoughts. In the course of time, primitive societies composed poetry which they recited and even sang in public functions. Genealogical stories were formulated, recited and likewise sung in celebration of the dignity of a tribe´s origin. These artistic expressions were even enhanced and made livelier by kinaesthetic activities as in the dance performed before an audience. This is ¨spectator¨ art where special talents are called gifts which are not generally shared by many.

Primitive life was doubtless suffused with art. Even the fabrication of hunting equipment, farm tools and household paraphernalia required the ¨artistic¨ creativity of the primitive human. This is ¨utilitarian¨ art in its most basic form. In this particular category, there is a very thin line that divides art and technology. We know the basic pragmatic value of technology from its most archaic formation to its most exceptionally sophisticated configuration and along the way of its evolution is the interwoven presence of art. In carpentry and masonry, in fabric weaving and pottery, in engineering and architecture among others, the omnipresence of art is indubitable and persistent.

But more popularly perceived in the contemporary scene, we identify art more with its ¨spectator¨ kind—the so-called ¨fine arts¨. Art for us is painting, sculpture, music, literature, the theatre, culinary refinement, fashion elegance, among others. Special talents performing in these areas of artistic location are the ones most often—if not exclusively—called ¨artists¨. And they are rightly so because of the single-minded profundity and authenticity of their steadfastness to their respective artistic commitments.

Without undermining utilitarian art as a category closer to pecuniary valuation than spectator art, utilitarian-art practitioners and spectator-art performers, in a broader sense, are both artists. In the final analysis, what genuinely matters is the qualitative value of their artistic deeds more fairly reckoned in terms of their intense commitment and profound dedication to their crafts as the prime and foremost factor over and beyond the pecuniary consideration. The ultimate judge of the value of utilitarian art is the benefited technology-user while the final adjudicator of the value of spectator art is the appreciative observer who sees the noteworthy circumstances of real life—hers/his and that of humanity in general—remarkably reflected in an artwork.

In conclusion, we may say that the value of art is basically subjective for its appeal is more ¨coronary¨ than ¨cerebral¨. One piece of artwork could be delightful in the eyes of one beholder but hideous from the perspective of another. One thing is sure though and that is the value of art is the value of life because life is sustained by art and art is nourished by life. In the words of the great British wordsmith, Oscar Wilde, ¨Life imitates art far more than art imitates life¨.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 30 October 2013

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This question needs to pass through a clearing house:

  1. Can we: Are we able? Do we have the abilities? Do we have the inherent power? Are we inherently empowered?
  2. We: In general, i.e., taken collectively as in the context of society or taken individually?
  3. Create: To cause to come into being, i.e., to bring forth into existence through a process or a series of actions?
  4. Ourselves: Our being taken collectively as in the context of society or taken individually? Our personhood in general or the individuality of each of us?

With the above-considered matters, we may recast the question to:

Do we have the collective inherent power (or ability) or individual inherent powers (or abilities) to cause to come (or to bring forth) our being or existence as persons—either individually or collectively—through a certain process or a series of actions?

Let´s simplify the issue and specifically focus on a more fundamental question:

Does an individual human being have the inherent abilities to cause to come into being the individual person in her/him through a certain process?

Has there been an instance wherein a human being created her/himself? In other words: Can we cite a case wherein someone caused to bring into being her or his very own self? And what about the self? Is it the person that presents her/himself in the world as a perceivable human body endowed with life, consciousness and more uniquely, self-consciousness? Let us start off from this point.

I have not—and am almost sure nobody has—witnessed an instance wherein a human being is in existence in this world at this point in time after s/he fully created himself, i.e., after s/he caused her/himself to fully come into being. Nobody has been able to cause her/his physico-chemical components and breathe of life to come into being by her/himself. In the Prologue of Nikos Kazantzakis´ The Saviours of God: Spiritual Exercises [http://www.angel.net/~nic/askitiki.html], it is written:

Life startles us at first; it seems somewhat beyond the law, somewhat contrary to nature, somewhat like a transitory counteraction to the dark eternal fountains; but deeper down we feel that Life is itself without beginning, an indestructible force of the Universe. Otherwise, from where did that superhuman strength come which hurls us from the unborn to the born  . . .

But there is an aspect of a human being which s/he is capable of creating and that is her/his unique individual person—the non-physico-chemical component of her/his humanity—through the operation of her/his conscious mind. However, the conscious mind is not alone in the process of this particular dynamic of creation as it interweaves and interacts along with the genetic factor and the social milieu in a systematic confluence. Theoretically, we could say that the present existence of a particular human being had long been a possibility in terms of genetics. In other words, he had long been ¨created¨ to a certain extent. The genetic component of a human individual is permanently written thru the DNA language that defines her/his individual uniqueness. In this sense, s/he did not create ¨her/himself alone by the operation of her/his conscious mind. However, the process of creation does not stop there; it goes on and on as the human individual lives and continues to ¨create¨ his person through the conscious mind that operates side-by-side now with the genetic factor and the social milieu as well. These three aspects of being are therefore ¨co-creators¨ in the spontaneous flourishing of the human person.

A human being´s inherent abilities to create (to cause to come into being) her/himself (her/his individual personhood) through a series of actions is a chief component in the interweaving and interacting factors constituting the reality of human flourishing. In this sense, we are not only talking of creation but of constant systematic re-creation. There is a dynamic process that unceasingly goes on in the life of every human individual geared to cause the coming into being of certain new things that enhance her/his person. This dynamic process is grounded in the genetic order and the environmental location—internal and external.

The human being upon birth is not a completely and perfectly finished product.  Borrowing a special term from Jean-Paul Sartre´s Being and Nothingness [http://philastockton.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/sartre_-_being_and_nothingness1.pdf], a living human being is a ¨being-for-itself¨ (etre-pour-sois)—a conscious being or a being of consciousness—that is open to changes and new possibilities. S/He is Heidegger´s  Dasein and Karl Jaspers´ Existenz. The Sartrean ¨being-for-itself¨ is a project-in-the-making; an incomplete and imperfect yet progressive being experiencing ¨anguish, abandonment and despair¨ [cf. Sartre´s ¨Existentialism is a Humanism¨ (http://www.public.asu.edu/~jmlynch/273/documents/sartre-existentialism-squashed.pdf)] as well as relief, exhilaration and wonder in the here-and-now.

The ¨being-for-itself¨ is not a passive spectator on the sideline of life´s struggles but an active participant endowed with a unique kind of creativity in forging new realities. S/He is a willing challenge-facer—even a risk-taker—to create the future not only for himself and for his generation but for the coming ones even if s/he knows he will not surely be rewarded to witness their realizations. The ¨being-for-itself¨ in the Nietzschean parlance is a ¨Yes-sayer-to-life¨. This notion affirms, re-affirms, confirms and re-confirms the reality that the ¨being-for-itself¨ is not only a creator but also a re-creator—even a co-creator and co-recreator of new realities with the other ¨beings-for-themselves¨.

Conversely, there is the ¨being-in-itself¨ (etre-en-sois)—non-self-conscious, closed, complete, non-creative, non-human.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 22 October 2013

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In the ordinary-language reading of the question taken in the spatio-temporal sense with the definitive understanding that (1) ¨something¨ is any object perceivable by the five senses in the world of human experience (¨extended substance¨ in Cartesian terms and simply rendered as ¨extension¨ by Spinoza) and (2) ¨existence¨ is being located in such a world of space-time order, an affirmative consensus is the generally expected response. It is possible for something (perceivable in space at this point in time) not to exist (anymore later).

In the Platonic/Aristotelian ¨realm of particulars,¨ anything is temporal, alterable and even destructible. In other words, no object in that context is permanent, unchanging and indestructible. It is therefore possible that a wooden chair at this point in time could be destroyed and thrown into the fire and thence be non-existent anymore. In the course of such an event, the next question is: Is there still something called chair that exists? The common automatic reply is: There is nothing. This very statement leads us to a corollary problem of serious and classic philosophical consideration: Is there nothing? If there is nothing, then: Nothing exists.

¨There is nothing,¨ taken in its ordinary-language sense, does not provoke a philosophical controversy. But the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre in his monumental but very controversial Being and Nothingness has a distinct take on this issue—which is actually an elaboration of what his teacher Martin Heidegger brought up in his equally significant Being and Time—and in the process affirms the significance of ¨the Nothing¨ as a condition of a being-for-itself that is incomplete and imperfect, constantly changing and open to possibilities in a world that is never predetermined/predestined but challenging to human creativity.

In such a ¨reality,¨ the human being qua human being perennially confronts the Nothing which is the undetermined futurity of her/his existence that possibilizes—i.e., challenges the potentiality of her/his humanness towards—transcendence in affirmation of human authenticity as a being-for-itself. The Nothing, taken metaphorically and in the Sartrean existentialist sense is therefore significant. In a similar vein, the human being as a philosopher confronts the Nothing like a painter standing before a fresh canvas that challenges in an exhilarating way her/his unbounded artistic creativity.

What is so philosophical–deeply philosophical–about the artist but her/his enormous capability to be excited/elated/exhilarated by the challenges of the Nothing. S/he looks at the blank canvas before her/him not as nothing but as a space of unlimited possibilities–a Nothing, a not-yet, a Becoming–that belongs to the future. The present Nothing promises a future Being–Nothing Becoming Being.

And all depends on a creativity that is purely human–a creativity that merges with a sense of the future that is likewise absolutely human, no more no less. Had this not been so, humanity couldn’t have seen the wonders of comfort, sophistication, information and ease that revolve around the present reality like a merry-go-round in a seemingly endless carnival of life.

Human creativity . . . a sense of the future . . . a philosophical defiance of certain programmed limitations where nothing is nothing, where zero is nothing. Rather, a philosophical affirmation that Nothing is something–that Zero is significant in the formation of hundreds, thousands, millions . . . ad infinitum.

The artist guides the philosopher. . . . May the former find inspiration in the latter.

At the end of the day, may the artist find a common convergence point with the philosopher so that the two become one.

[Ruel F. Pepa´s ¨The Artist as a Philosopher (or The Philosopher as an Artist) before the Canvas of Nothing¨ in Sophophilia: Critical Readings in Philosophy  . . . http://issuu.com/kspt/docs/sophophilia]

Looking at the matter from a different perspective, it is generally regarded by philosophers in the linguistic analytic tradition (e.g., C. I. Lewis, Graham Priest and Willard Van Orman Quine among others) that absolutely no distinction is posited between ¨there is¨ and ¨exists¨. However, some other philosophers categorized within the same camp (e.g., Alexius Meinong, Terence Parsons and Edward Zalta among others) have a dissenting view: There are instances wherein ¨there is¨ and ¨exists¨ have to be distinguished from each other: There is A, but A does not exist. And this spontaneously leads us to a clarification of the concept of existence which is one of the key concerns of this essay. Taking the latter view, it is perfectly valid and sound to say: There is A which/who doesn´t exist.

At this juncture, the issue at hand draws us to a more serious philosophical exercise. It is deemed significant at this point to consider the meanings of certain key concepts like ¨something¨ and ¨existence¨ which are actually constituents of classical philosophical problematizations that go back to the pre-modern periods and more critically analyzed particularly by Aristotle (during the ancient period) and Thomas Aquinas (during the medieval period) and their disciples as well who unanimously held that existence is a condition and NOT a property of something´s—i.e., an object´s—being. In the Platonic/Aristotelian sense, something or an object is either a percept located in space and time which is called the ¨realm of particulars¨ (perceived by the senses in the world of human experience) or a concept ¨located¨ in the mind which is basically an idea (mentally conceived) in the ¨realm of forms or universals¨.

Henceforth, early modern philosophers like Berkeley, Hume and Kant among others and later ones like Frege, Russell and the early Wittgenstein of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus fame among others had espoused, elaborated and by way of their lengthy expositions brought to the contemporary philosophical arena a similar, if not an absolutely identical, understanding of the issue: Existence is a CONDITION and NOT a property of an object´s being. In other words, we call X a thing or an object because it exists. Existence is therefore a NECESSARY condition—an ESSENTIAL state—of something. Using the terminology of ancient philosophy, existence is never accidental but essential, never contingent but necessary, to the thing-ness of something, to the object-ness of an object. In this sense, existence cannot be predicative of anything; the existential condition is therefore self-contained in a thing or an object which in this light may likewise be properly called an existent. To say that ¨X exists¨ is as tautological as ¨A black cat is black¨ or ¨All bachelors are unmarried males¨ and hence actually doesn´t say anything at all. These are analytic statements or statements of logic.

Appropriating Frege´s and Russell´s formulations, things or objects may either be of first-order or second-order category. First-order objects are basic percepts (objects perceived through the five senses in the world of experience) whereas second-order objects are concepts (objects conceived in the mind through the formation of certain properties and qualities of percepts that are imaginable and hence accommodated in the ¨mental space¨ but without the necessary condition of being materially constructed to become percepts and occupy the space-time order, though in certain ways they could possibly be because of the non-contradictory properties and qualities of the concepts). The existence of first-order objects is therefore in the physico-material, spatio-temporal dimension while that of the second-order objects is in the mental or thought dimension.

Using these two paradigms in considering the original question being resolved—Is it possible for something not to exist?— and elevating it to the more philosophical formulation, ¨Is there something that does not exist?¨ we may draw the following evaluative statements:

  1. Yes, there is something—a percept—that does not exist in the thought dimension, for the existence of percepts is only in the spatio-temporal dimension.
  2. Yes, there is something—a concept—that does not exist in the spatio-temporal dimension, for the existence of concepts is only in the thought dimension.

Further focusing on the second-order category located in the thought dimension, we have concepts like an animal with one horn which is called a ¨unicorn¨ or that of an imaginary person called ¨the present king of France¨ or  sought-after ideals like ¨the fountain of youth¨ or ¨the golden mountain¨. Many of these concepts in the thought dimension—viz., cartoon characters and fictional super heroes popularized on the TV screens and movie houses—have even been given physico-material expressions and hence accommodated not only in the ¨mental space¨ but actually perceived spatio-temporally to the delight of their young and adolescent fans.

Drawing his assumptions from the thesis of Gottlob Frege´s ¨Sense and Reference¨ [http://www.naturalthinker.net/trl/texts/Frege,Gottlob/Frege,%20Gottlob%20-%20Sense%20and%20Reference.pdf], the later Ludwig Wittgenstein (of Philosophical Investigations fame) demolished Bertrand Russell´s referential theory of meaning wherein the latter contended that a statement whose subject does not have an objective point of reference in reality (i.e., the spatio-temporal world of perceptual experience) like, ¨The present king of France is bald¨ is meaningless. Wittgenstein vigorously advanced the notion that the issue of meaning is outside of the epistemological concern which is after the truth. The statement may not be true since no king of France is in existence nowadays. Nevertheless it is meaningful because the concept of a king of France may be accommodated in the ¨mental space¨ by imagining a kingly appearance of a bald person. In other words, such an imaginary person may be mentally conceived because no contradictory components are encountered in the properties and qualities of a king who is in France and who is bald. In consideration of the meaningfulness of the statement, there is therefore a king of France who is bald and the existence of such is in the thought dimension being a second-order object. However, such king of France though he doesn´t actually exist in the physico-material dimension may be given a spatio-temporal expression as a fictional character in a movie or in a stage play. [cf. Ruel Pepa´s ¨Wittgenstein and the Problem of Meaning¨ in Sophophilia: Critical Readings in Philosophy (http://issuu.com/kspt/docs/sophophilia)]

It was the Austrian mathematician and philosopher Alexius Meinong (1853-1920) who seriously problematized the distinction between ¨there is¨ and ¨exists¨ in his critical and controversial treatise ¨The Theory of Things¨ ( whose English translation was done by Isaac Levi, D. B. Terrell and Roderick M. Chisholm) [http://www.hist-analytic.com/Meinongobjects.pdf]. His basic thesis is: There is something that does not exist. Or to put it in agreement with the present question being resolved: It is possible for something not to exist.

But Meinong exaggerated the matter and got out of bounds to further contend that certain combined properties and qualities of percepts may be conceived as an entity and hence may exist in the second-order category even if such a combination leads to a contradiction like in the case of a ¨square circle¨ or a ¨round square.¨ Certainly it is not imaginable and hence cannot be accommodated in the ¨mental space¨ in the second-order category, much less in the first-order. But there is a glimmer of chance in this Meinongian consideration because a ¨square circle¨ or a ¨round-square¨ may be something we can talk about like what we do now.

In this connection, I´d propose for the formulation of a new category to locate Meinong´s ¨square circle¨/¨round square¨. I´d call it ¨third-order category¨ wherein properties and qualities of first-order objects may combine to produce a contradiction impossible to be accommodated in the second-order category being unimaginable but nevertheless could be spoken of terminally, i.e., towards dismissal as a percept or a concept. In other words, third-order category objects are only called objects being words or phrases ¨imprisoned¨ in a linguistic construction that cannot be given an imaginative expression, much less a perceptual realization.

© Rue F. Pepa, 15 October 2013

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  ¨When anyone has offended me, I try to raise my soul so high that the offense cannot reach me.¨

Rene Descartes

¨Justice consists in doing no injury to men; decency in giving them no offense.¨

Marcus Tullius Cicero

To take offense at someone´s remarks or at something being brought to one´s consciousness is basically a matter of subjective feeling, i.e., to feel upset by another person´s words or acts or by something taken as personally abusive or insulting. An offense´s point of origin could either be intentional or unwitting. The former is consciously meant to harm feelings while the latter makes the human source at least sincerely apologetic and at most deeply remorseful upon recognition of the pain s/he has caused towards the other person.

There are however instances of the latter type wherein despite the realization of the unwitting offense, the ¨offender¨ doesn´t take an effort to rectify things and appease the feeling of the offended. With the self-insistence that s/he didn´t actually mean to hurt the other person´s feeling, s/he doesn´t feel obliged at all to at least utter an apologetic word. What persists is the thought: ¨I meant no offense and what I said was just an objective assessment of the circumstances where s/he has incidentally been into. Now that s/he feels offended, that is her/his own take of my view and I don´t intend to apologize because I don´t owe her/him an explanation. In fact, an explanation from my part could even be further misinterpreted and taken as a rationalization just to kill the unpleasant effect of the ¨offense¨ and hence deepen the grudge on the part of the offended as an afterthought.¨ But among friends and to sensitive gentle individuals, an apologetic remark or a regretful attitude towards the offended party is a spontaneous move.

On the other hand, an intentional offense is of a different grain. It is premeditated to denigrate the person and circumstances of at least an individual human being or at most a group, a society, even a nation. A most recent case in point is the intentional offensive remarks made by a certain Devina DeDiva, a Singaporean national of (Asian) Indian origin, who hurled vulgar and blatantly racist statements on Facebook upon learning that a Filipina—the beauteous Megan Young—won the Miss World title in the recently concluded international beauty pageant in Bali, Indonesia. DeDiva started off with the following post on her FB Timeline: ¨Miss Philippines is Miss World? What a joke! I did not know those maids have anything else in them. Ha Ha Ha¨ The post generated a thread of critical comments from different individuals who vehemently disagreed with DeDiva along with De Diva´s extremely virulent counter-comments and heightened attacks not only towards the Filipina Miss World but towards the Filipinos in general and could be summed up in a broad-spectrum insult that Filipinos are a bunch of contemptible, filthy, reeking and indigent dregs of humanity unworthy even of the least honour that may ever be bestowed on ordinary human beings in normal circumstances.

The matter has gone viral on the internet and has triggered Filipinos and Filipino-loving foreigners all over the world to launch heavy and ¨solid-steel¨ discursive missiles spewing condemnatory lines on toxic scale. The aftermath when the gunsmoke is finally cleared has left the soul-devastated DeDiva alone by herself. She even had to decide to close her Facebook account and has to eke out a living the harder way this time that her job appointment in a firm managed by Filipino administrators in Singapore has been irrevocably terminated. There has even been some news from the Philippine community in Singapore that she rarely gets to the street and busy public places because of the fear of getting mauled. DeDiva´s case is a particular instance wherein someone has created a ghost out of offensive remarks—a nasty and destructive criticism—made not only towards a single individual but to a people.

Nevertheless, not all so-called critical remarks are as overwhelmingly malevolent and damaging as the previous case. Some sectors might take certain remarks to be malicious and hence offensive whereas other sectors would give them a run for their money and take them with a grain of salt, so to speak. When the controversial Dan Brown in his most recently circulated bestseller, Inferno, portrays through one of the novel´s protagonists (Dr. Sienna Brooks) the city of Manila as ¨the gates of hell¨ with the city´s ¨six-hour-long traffic jams, suffocating pollution and a miserable sex trade . . . I´ve run through the gates of hell,¨ no Filipino took offense at it except the lone out-of-tune voice of the Chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority, Francis Tolentino, who was massively booed and heckled at by no less than most of the Manileños themselves and practically by the majority of the Filipinos who totally agreed—though with deep sadness in their hearts and rancour towards the past and present administrators of the city—with Brown´s characterization.

As we have initially established, taking offense is basically a matter of feeling. But for an individual´s feeling to take offense at someone or something, there are certain instances when such feeling has to connect with an awareness of truth and falsity. A critical remark grounded in truth may therefore not be offensive but rather construed as a wake-up call to intensify the plea for a person´s or a society´s obligation to seriously get involved in the urgency of a situation that needs to be attended to, rectified, transformed or eliminated. Corollary to this is the issuance of a critical remark that is automatically construed as abusive, insulting and disparaging because of its essential aspect that brazenly distorts the truth and tampers with reality. This is offensive.

It doesn´t however follow that if a remark is grounded in truth, nobody will ever take offense at it. There are instances in the human condition wherein certain well-guarded truths harmless to both the keepers and the public while concealed should rather be left in the tacit dimension than be divulged under the noontime sun, so to speak. These are delicate information whose truths are unquestionable but their public disclosure would mean personal pain to the keepers. Let us not therefore stir the pond under which personal truths harmless to both the keepers and the public rest in perfect tranquillity.

Nonetheless, hidden truths harmless to their personal keepers but harmful to the public while held in secrecy must be sought after, found and exposed to the public eye to be opposed, criticized and condemned. In an event of this nature, the ¨personal keeper¨ of a truth previously held in secret is expected to automatically take offense at its public exposure. But such is a ¨pseudo-offense,¨ for during the entire time when that truth had been kept in secrecy, that was also the period when it was causing harm and pain to the public. Now that it has been revealed, the ¨real crime¨ is made known to the public who reasonably take offense at it. Corrupt governments are liable culprits at whose fraudulence and perfidy the citizens of a country do take offense once such heinous crime is publicly exposed.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 7 October 2013

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¨There is, in fact, no teaching without learning. . . . Whoever teaches learns in the act of teaching, and whoever learns teaches in the act of learning.¨ ~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom

Fundamentally, teaching and learning spontaneously go together. The general condition of learning occurs as a consequence of teaching not only in the formal (e.g., classroom) sense but in any circumstance that creates a significant impact in the life of a conscious species—an animal of either lower or higher category. Nature—this reality that presents itself to consciousness—is the ¨cosmic classroom¨ where the teaching-learning experience transpires. Planet Earth is the main campus of the real universe-city where empirical events are the ¨teachers¨ and the conscious entities in it are basically the ¨learners¨. In other words, the world we live in is a ¨school campus¨ where every bit of information (consciously synthesized data of perceptual experience)—which reaches a higher level of conceptual concentration in the human realm—is the basis of all the ¨prescribed textbooks¨ read to cope with the demands of survival and of progress which forms what humanity has agreed upon to commonly call ¨culture.¨  The nature-to-culture trajectory is therefore possibilized by the spontaneity of the teaching-learning event on cosmic scale. In this particular framework, no gap between teaching and learning is, hence, either possible or perceivable.

In Chapter 9 of the scholarly volume, The Human Nature [http://www.essayandscience.com/upload/ficheros/libros/201105/mosterin__cap__ix.pdf], the eminent Spanish contemporary philosopher Jesus Mosterin says:

Learning is the process through which information that is not inherited is acquired by an animal and stored in its brain, it its long-term memory, in such a way so as to be recoverable at a later date. Learning is a process of individual adaptation of the body´s behaviour to its environment. The specific things that an individual learns depends on the nature of their species, as expressed by their genome. Eacn animal species has a hereditary disposition to learn a specific set of abilities, which determines the things each individual in that species is able to learn. . . .

Learning can be social or individual. Through individual learning one acquires information through trial and error, imprinting (learning certain guidelines during a specific stage of life), classic conditioning, or other methods. . . .

In social learning, one assimilates information transmitted by others, which is acquired through imitation, communication or teaching. . . .

. . .

Social learning through teaching is learning through observation, where the appropriate behaviours receive positive reinforcement in the form of rewards and those that are inappropriate receive negative reinforcement in the form of punishment. With mere imitation, the model that is imitated is passive; faithful reproduction of the imitated behaviour is neither controlled nor corrected. In teaching, the imitated model is active and rewards or punishes the imitator according to their correct or incorrect imitation. Although active teaching processes have been observed in chimpanzees, in humans they have reached their highest level of development, as proven by our numerous public and private teaching institutions. Humans also use telecommunications for social learning. . . .

In the human condition, the general notion of the teaching-learning experience is basically understood as: Teaching aids learning and learning is achieved through teaching. We learn something because we have been taught of it either through an outside teaching agent or by our very own selves. Being self-taught is at all times within the nature-to-culture trajectory and thus precludes the likelihood of a gap disconnecting teaching and learning. Learning in this sense is a natural occurrence within the range of what is deemed significant in terms of our personal evaluation and judgment of an event as well as in terms of the degree of an incident´s impression in our consciousness as something satisfying, interesting, challenging, terrifying or at worst, tragic. We call this a learning experience taught by and in life.

But the gap between teaching and learning occurs likewise and exclusively in the human condition, though—as we have pointed out earlier—not in all instances because human sensitivity to the fundamental character of the nature-to-culture trajectory will prevent the chasm. To be more specific on this issue, it is in the formalization of the teaching-learning event in the hands of human initiators that the gap gets in as a resultant disorder—even a syndrome. In this sense, formalized teaching doesn´t always result to learning. In certain cases, formalized teaching (as in a school classroom) simply gets so far as the level of a mental assent—a theoretical approximation of a subject matter whose empirico-pragmatic location in real life is nowhere found. Learning—if we could call it as such—in this case is hence short of realization.

I may know the basic theoretical rudiments of driving a car but it doesn´t in any way mean that I have already learned how to drive and can actually do it at this point in time. Here, we find a gap between teaching and learning which may only be appropriately filled in as the teacher her/himself sits on the car side-by-side with the learner on the steering wheel to perform the actual driving on the road. The present example illustrates a pragmatic development that moves on from teaching to learning (process) to being (a) learned (individual). A genuinely learned individual doesn´t only have the knowledge of what s/he has learned but also the wisdom—the acquired and ¨lived¨ understanding—of it which is demonstrated and confirmed by the sheer proficiency and mastery of the skill in the actual performance of what has been truly learned.

The teacher-learner divide has been complicated by the modern institutionalization of formalized system of education traditionally called ¨schooling¨ wherein the teacher is culturally regarded to be ¨omniscient¨ at least in the field of discipline s/he has been formally trained. By virtue of such formal training, s/he automatically assumes the role of a teacher before a group of learners initially considered to be ignorant of the elements of the field of discipline they have subjected themselves into with the objective to substantially learn from what the ¨omniscient¨ teacher is supposed to teach them. In this particular situation, ¨schooling¨ is equated with ¨banking¨ wherein money is deposited and withdrawn by clients. In institutionalized formal schooling, canned information from theoretical sources are ¨deposited¨ in the memory banks of students and later withdrawn from them through examinations. The human mind in this process is treated like a sponge with the capacity to absorb and retain water until the sponge is squeezed to release the water it has absorbed. In his monumental magnum opus, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (http://www.users.humboldt.edu/jwpowell/edreformFriere_pedagogy.pdf ), the great Brazilian philosopher of education, Paulo Freire, calls it, ¨the banking concept of education¨.

A careful analysis of the teacher-student relationship at any level, inside or outside the school, reveals its fundamentally narrative character. This relationship involves a Narrating Subject (the teacher) and patient, listening objects (the students). The contents, whether values or empirical dimensions of reality, tend in the process of being narrated to become lifeless and petrified. Education is suffering from narration sickness.

The teacher talks of reality as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable. Or else he expounds on a topic completely alien to the existential experience of the students. His task is to ¨fill¨ the students with the contents of his narration—contents which are detached from reality, disconnected from the totality that engendered them and could give them significance. Words are emptied of their concreteness and become a hollow, alienated and alienating verbosity.

The outstanding characteristic of this narrative education, then, is the sonority of words, not their transforming power. . . . The student records, memorizes and repeats . . .

Narration (with the teacher as the narrator) leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated content. Worse yet, it turns them into ¨containers,¨ into ¨receptacles¨ to be ¨filled¨ by the teacher. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.

Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. . . . This is the ¨banking¨ concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. . . .

In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. . . . The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own existence. . . .

[Pages 71 and 72 of Freire´s Pedagogy of the Oppressed]

In bridging the teacher-student gap—which in effect likewise automatically bridges the teaching-learning gap—teachers are not supposed to project the sole image of and hence be treated as an omniscient master in the classroom but as fellow learners, co-discoverers and co-creators of new knowledge with the students who are not supposed to be narrowly treated as only learners with no capacity to impart significant insights but also as co-teachers, co-discoverers and co-creators of new knowledge. In all circumstances of life—whether inside or outside the four walls of a classroom—the human being is both teacher and learner. The gap of separation emerges only in a situation of alienation wherein convention compartmentalizes in definitive terms roles strictly bounded by superficial and artificial norms that render such imaginary boundaries impenetrable. In the final analysis, teachers are actually learners and learners are likewise teachers.

Socrates is a perfect epitomé of a teacher-learner who severely berated the professional ¨omniscient¨ Sophists of splendid Athens when he declared to them that upon consultation with the Oracle of Delphi, it was revealed to him that he was the wisest of men because ¨he knows nothing and he knows that he knows nothing.¨ In Socrates we have a teacher who at the same time is a perennial learner.

Let me end by quoting Kahlil Gibran´s words ¨On Teaching¨ in his magnum opus, The Prophet [http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jrcole/gibran/prophet/prophet.htm#Teaching]:

Then said a teacher, “Speak to us of Teaching.”
And he said:
No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of our knowledge.
The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness.
If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.
The astronomer may speak to you of his understanding of space, but he cannot give you his understanding.
The musician may sing to you of the rhythm which is in all space, but he cannot give you the ear which arrests the rhythm nor the voice that echoes it.
And he who is versed in the science of numbers can tell of the regions of weight and measure, but he cannot conduct you thither.
For the vision of one man lends not its wings to another man.
And even as each one of you stands alone in God’s knowledge, so must each one of you be alone in his knowledge of God and in his understanding of the earth.

© Rue F. Pepa, 1 October 2013

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