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The Second Aporia: What is Man? (The Abyss)

You could not in your going find the ends of the soul,
though you traveled the whole way:
so deep is its

I searched into myself.

Heraclitus, Fragments 45 and 101

Man has known that above all the beings in this world man is the being which is most worthy of man's knowledge. Malebranche says, "Of all human knowledge the knowledge of man is the most deserving of his study." Gifted with all the splendors of the world and of all the varieties of life or otherwise, man's unique and burdensome ability to know finds itself challenged not by the grandeur of the knowable world but by the task of knowing man himself.

Yet this challenge to know man himself presents the most difficult task and heaviest cross. To know man is to know not merely a part or an aspect of man; episteme seeks to know as a whole, that is, to know man as man or man's wholeness. And this is the difficulty as such. As Rabi von Prysucha once said, "I decided to write a book called Adam, which would be about the whole man. But I decided not to write it." And that decision not to pursue a knowledge of man betrays the difficulty of the task: difficult because it requires comprehensibility. For where does one begin in knowing man in his wholeness?

In "What is Man?" (Between Man and Man), Buber remarks that in front of this perplexity, man sidesteps the challenge put to him by himself and goes to other directions. He instead seeks knowledge of first, everything else except man -- this or that being, the world, the extra-worldly, etc., or second, knowledge of man as divided into his rationality, body, spirituality, etc. The sciences accomplish their knowledge of beings through their specialization. To specialize a science is to find for that science its own locus, that is, its own object and method. Each being, turned in to an object under the gaze of science, is thus grasped as this or that, that is, known as . . . . The object: thrown before man's gaze and to which man counter-throws his questions and categories in order to know. This is why we know this to be. . . , we know that to be . . . . Even man is known to be as this object or that object (a biological work of art, the cousin of the ape, advanced intelligent life, etc.) In other words, in the world of knowledge everything has to be an object. Even man.

"All men," says Aristotle, "desire to know." And this desire is never quenched. See and listen to all the knowledge of this world. To a certain extent, it is true that "nothing is new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes). However, this desire finds its first aporia or dead-end when it tries to quench its thirst by the drink that comes from its own river. It aspires to but cannot
completely know itself, that is, know man in itself and as such. This knowledge consigns itself to every knowable other-than-itself: this or that being or this or that part of man's being. It aims man, to be sure, but he always misses the mark where to hit the mark is to find the bull's eye at the center of man, i.e., his heart, his spirit: the not-object. Hitting the periphery is easy; finding the invisible center is close to impossible, or at least, as Husserl says of philosophy, is an 'infinite task.'

Man: the not-object. Hence, man: the
subject, that is, that being who takes the initiative to know and has the ability to know at all. The problematic: can the knower know the knower as knower?

To be continued.


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