Page 1 of 5
from The Collected Works
Why Do We Need Philosophy?–Part 1
God and man, world and society form a primordial community of being. The community with its quaternarian structure is, and is not, a datum of human experience.
It is a datum of experience insofar as it is known to man by virtue of his participation in the mystery of its being. It is not a datum of experience insofar as it is not given in the manner of an object of the external world but is knowable only from the perspective of participation in it.
The perspective of participation must be understood in the fullness of its disturbing quality. It does not mean that man, more or less comfortably located in the landscape of being, can look around and take stock of what he sees as far as he can see it. Such a metaphor, or comparable variations on the theme of the limitations of human knowledge, would destroy the paradoxical character of the situation.
It would suggest a self-contained spectator, in possession of and with knowledge of his faculties, at the center of a horizon of being, even though the horizon were restricted. But man is not a self-contained spectator. He is an actor, playing a part in the drama of being and, through the brute fact of his existence, committed to play it without knowing what it is.
It is disconcerting even when a man accidentally finds himself in the situation of feeling not quite sure what the game is and how he should conduct himself in order not to spoil it; but with luck and skill he will extricate himself from the embarrassment and return to the less bewildering routine of his life.
Participation in being, however, is not a partial involvement of man; he is engaged with the whole of his existence, for participation is existence itself. There is no vantage point outside existence from which its meaning can be viewed and a course of action charted according to a plan, nor is there a blessed island to which man can withdraw in order to recapture his self. The role of existence must be played in uncertainty of its meaning, as an adventure of decision on the edge of freedom and necessity.
Both the play and the role are unknown. But even worse, the actor does not know with certainty who he is himself. At this point the metaphor of the play may lead astray unless it is used with caution. To be sure, the metaphor is justified, and perhaps even necessary, for it conveys the insight that man's participation in being is not blind but is illuminated by consciousness.
There is an experience of participation, a reflective tension in existence, radiating sense over the proposition: Man, in his existence, participates in being. This sense, however, will turn into nonsense if one forgets that subject and predicate in the proposition are terms that explicate a tension of existence and are not concepts denoting objects.