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Joseph A. Bracken
Subjectivity, Objectivity and Intersubjectivity: Toward a Post-Post Modern Metaphysics


In medieval theology, the term person was generally conceived in ontological terms. In the early modern period with the new focus on human subjectivity, the notion of person was conceived more in psychological terms, namely, as an ongoing subject of experience. This paper defends the hypothesis that human personhood and human community only make complete sense within an overarching metaphysics of universal intersubjectivity. For the postmodern tension between subjec­tivity and objectivity will only be satisfactorily resolved when one realizes that, in human discourse, intersubjectivi­ty is a necessary precondition for achieving reliable objectivity even as intersubjectivity itself invariably presupposes an already existing objective state of affairs. The essay is divided into two parts. In the first of which, the issue of truth and objectivity is addressed in terms of the arguments of Bernard Lonergan, Josiah Royce and Alfred North Whitehead. In each case, the author partially succeeded but also partly failed to solve the problem of truth and objectivity. In the second part of the paper, an understanding of truth and objectivity in the light of a neo-Whiteheadian trinitarian approach to the God-world relationship is set forth. Implicit therein is an understanding of Whitehead­ian societies as structured fields of activity for successive generations of constituent actual entities. In this way, Whiteheadian societies are specifically social realities with an enduring objectivity distinct from the momentary subjectivity of their constituent actual entities at any given moment. These fields of activity, in other words, carry forward from moment to moment the intelligible form or objective pattern of existence and activity which constitutes the ongoing identity of the society as this rather than that physical reality. Genuine objectivity and ongoing intersubjectivi­ty thus mutually condition one another.

Furthermore, confirmation for this dialogical approach to truth and objectivity seems to come from analysis of the way Nature has evolved over the millennia. That is, if “the final real things of which this world is made up” (Whitehead, Process and Reality) are momentary self-constituting subjects of experience which coalesce to form progressively more complex “societies,” enduring objective structures of existence and activity, then “dialogue” in an extended sense is an all-pervasive feature of a world in evolution. Proponents of contemporary chaos theory like Stuart Kauffman propose that Nature progresses to new levels of complexity in virtue of an innate principle of self-organization. That is, when molecules are gathered together in sufficient numbers and over an extended period of time, something new and different tends to emerge as a result. The new emergent reality may or may not survive to develop in complexity even further. Here natural selection eliminates what ultimately does not work within the environment in which it happens to be located. But the basic point is that creativity within Nature does not take place within entities isolated from one another, but only in entities in ongoing dynamic interrelation, entities in “dialogue” with one another.

Joseph A. Bracken, SJ, Emeritus Professor of Theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, received his PhD from the University of Freiburg in Germany in 1968 and taught at Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois (1968-1974), and at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1974-1982) before becoming Chairman of the Theology Department at Xavier in 1982.  He has published 10 books and roughly 90 articles in academic journals in the general area of philosophical theology/philosophy of religion.  His latest book is entitled Christianity and Process Thought: Spirituality for a Changing World (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2006), and his next book Three Who Are One: The Christian Doctrine of God will be published by Liturgical Press in 2008.  He is currently working on a new book manuscript reviewing the history of Western philosophy and indicating the need for a contemporary metaphysics based on intersubjectivity not only for the purposes of better human communication but as a philosophical justification for novelty and evolution at all levels of existence and activity within Nature.


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