We are never mere subjects…

Commenting on the inseparability of subjective and objective,  Hannah Arendt said the following:

The worldliness of living things means that there is no subject that is not also an object and appears as such to somebody else, who guarantees their ‘objective’ reality. What we usually call ‘consciousness’, the fact that I am aware of myself and therefore in a sense can appear to myself, would never suffice to guarantee reality…Living beings,  men and animals, are not just in the world, they are of the world, and this preceisely because they are subjects and objects – perceiving and being perceived – at the same time.

Since we arrive into and disappear from a world of appearances, Arendt argues that we can never elude it, even when we are engaged in mental processes such as thinking. There is no escaping the phenomenal world into a realm of objective truth which is somehow separate from our being in the world, unless we were:

…mere spectators, godlike creatures thrown into the world to look after it or enjoy it and be entertained by it, but in possession of some other region as our natural habitat.

These observations lead Arendt to doubt the separation that occurs in philosophy since Kant between true being and mere appearances, as though the things that we observe and participate in have real hidden  causes that can be discovered.

Instead of being preoccupied with the base, or the true ground from which the world of appearances is supposed to spring, she says, is it not more plausible to conclude that what is truly meaningful in our world is to be found in the appearances? This is the world where we perceive and are perceived, subjective and objective arising together.


5 thoughts on “We are never mere subjects…

  1. sbilling

    I am interested in your comment about how we look to find real hidden causes that can be discovered. I’ve been involved in organisations recently that have been using Myers Briggs, TMI, Belbin Team Roles, Gallup Strengths Finder, Lominger competencies, AVI Values, LSI and so on.

    I am beginning to think that these are all attempts to try and find the “hidden cause” behind why we are the way we are. It must be because of some hidden structure to our personalities that will be amenable to discovery by these kinds of instruments. However, these instruments are the creations of human beings, just as the social order and the results we experience in our organisations are also the creations of human beings.

  2. Tom Gibbons

    I am a partner in a business that uses and promotes work preference assesmsnts as part of our work and I absolutely agree with what Stephen has said above. These types of instruments are often used as a ‘discovery’ tool, used in hopes of finding that key thing that makes someone tick. And when used in this fashion they are often a dismal yet inticing falure.

    When used as data that can help inform conversations and sense making in the process of our organizational life I do think they can have value. The reason for this is that they can provide a language to help make sense of patterns of behaviour someone may express and recognize. We often do not have good language for this expression so if used in this way the data can be helpful.

    We do try and pass this perspective on when we accredit people to use our assessments but there is tremendous pressure to use them as discovery tools so we are constanly working to offset this. One effort is captured here in our blog entry… http://www.tms-americas.com/blog.cfm?id=913588824

    There have been a number of times when I have been asked to work in an organization that is using a battery of assesments such as Stephen describes and they want to add ours to the list and I have simply said “Why don’t we try something else, you seem to have enough of that data around”. And this response is to offset what seems to be the treatment of people and identity as objects only, not objects and subjects forming and being formed at the same time.

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