FLORENCE – Ronald L. Hall, long-time professor of philosophy at FMU, has just had his book, The Human Embrace: The Love of Philosophy and the Philosophy of Love: Kierkegaard, Cavell, Nussbaum published by The Pennsylvania State University Press.
The book grew out of two lectures that Hall presented at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Writing the book, he says in “the Acknowledgments,” was an opportunity for him to expand his treatment of one of his favorite philosophers, Soren Kierkegaard. Hall has previously published a book on Kierkegaard entitled, Word and Spirit: A Kierkegaardian Critique of the Modern Age (Indiana, 1993).
In this latest book, Hall claims that Kierkegaard helps us to see that the full embrace of our humanity requires us to live with, and existentially to face the persistent temptation to escape from it. Hall finds similar concerns reflected in the work of two modern-day philosophers, Stanley Cavell and Martha Nussbaum.
It is all too common, Hall says, for human beings, who decry their human condition of vulnerability and fragility, to seek ways of living that are immune to fear, anxiety, death, loss, disappointment, and suffering. But Hall argues that there is a great price to pay if we deny or otherwise try to escape these elements of our humanness. That price is despair. The alternative to despair, Hall argues, is a life of existential faith. Such a faith embraces the whole of our humanity, fragility and all, as well worth living.
Hall claims that love, the embrace of the beloved, is a decisive emblem of our embrace of our humanity. As he argues, without the embrace of love, without the bonding of human beings to one another, a full human happiness is impossible. It is not good that man (or woman) should be alone.
Yet following what he calls “the logic of paradox,” Hall argues that the existential embrace of our humanity, and its correlate embrace of the beloved, depends crucially on the struggle human beings experience with the ever-present temptations to transcend our human condition by finding strategies for living above it all.
As Hall puts this, living in existential faith, fully embracing our humanity, is possible only after confronting and refusing the possibilities of living in “aesthetic,” “ethical,” or even “religious” isolation and world-alienation. Hall says that the ideas he is discussing in the book are familiar and find expression in modern American culture, especially in modern American religion.
We see them reflected in our novels, our plays, our movies, and even the lyrics of our popular music. For example: “Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?” perfectly expresses the human urge to find a way of avoiding disappointment and hurt. So the human question is: is life without a heart, a life without attachment, a life that consciously chooses to refuse the human embrace in order to make it safe and secure from loss, the best human life? Or is the fragility of the heart essential to having one? And isn’t having one, a decisive mark of our humanity?
And in modern American religion, the quest seems to be to find a way of transcending the world, of finding a way of being immune to its hurts. The offer modern-day religion seems to make to those who are disappointed, to those who have suffered loss, or who fear it, is the offer of protection, the offer of invulnerability. In such offers of “faith,” the claim is that God will protect us from all harm, if we will but detach ourselves from the world. Such a faith builds a mighty fortress around its adherents.
However, Hall, claims, these walls ultimately make a prison. This vision of the world as our human prison fuels the religious drive toward a hope for escape. This hope is most often represented as a hope for the next life--a hope that carries in itself a deep-seated contempt for this one.
The Human Embrace will soon be on sale in the Patriot bookstore.