Vortrag auf der Konferenz
Die Bedeutung der Geisteswissenschaften für die Gesellschaft
in der Universidade de Catolica de Brasilia am 10. September 2015
The Enjoyment of Theory
The Conservation of Freedom against Benefit and Purpose
We are meeting here to discuss two areas of science – the humanities and social sciences – and to query their significance for humanity. The third area is also implicated: natural sciences.
Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for the invitation to the Universidade Catolica de Brasilia and Ms Wivian Weller, the Universidade de Brasilia and Gustavo Castro as well as the Freie Universität Berlin and Christoph Wulf. I have really been looking forward to this conference and to the opportunity to hear something about this important topic and to reflect and speak about it myself.
1. Ancient Knowledge
Such topics arise in crises, and I would like to make particular reference to two: the first relates to insight and the second to recognition and promotion.
The crisis of insight lies in the fundamental uncertainty of all science. But each has its own specific crises, such as the question of dark matter or the rapid change in the humanities from phenomenology and existentialism, historicism and positivism as well as constructivism and deconstructivism within half a century.
Today, natural sciences and technical disciplines shape the world and promise products that promote economic power, guarantee profit and secure influence. Economics is viewed as the leading science, as the economisation of education and culture and the thinking in market categories show.
Science is based on curiosity, desire and interest. This applies to both visible and invisible – mental and spiritual – phenomena. Science has no explicit link to benefit and profit. The areas of knowledge that combine to form the seven liberal arts of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric and dialectics) and the quadrivium arise early. Plato requires statesmen to master the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy) and philosophy to enable them to lead a community well. For Aristotle, the worth of the free man lies in mastering three areas of life, all of which concern beauty: the enjoyment of the physically beautiful (bios apolaustikos), the realisation of beautiful deeds in a political framework (bios politikos) and preoccupation with aesthetic things (bios theoretikos). To Aristotle, the founder of individual scientific disciplines, a mere working life and the desire for wealth appear inappropriate. Mankind should strive for the good and the perfect.
The seven liberal arts – from Augustine through into the 18th century canon of study – contained little technical knowledge, as “techne” doesn’t enjoy high standing. It is no coincidence that it is known as “craftiness”.
2. New Knowledge
Things change with the Renaissance. Technical knowledge makes a name for itself with the economic and political upturn of the bourgeoisie. The expansion of trade and craftsmanship demands a new definition of science and truth, as from the very beginning trade and technology, craftsmanship, schools and universities form a close network in Europe’s cities, which supersedes Christian beliefs as the source of truth. Leonardo da Vinci formulates this clearly: “The mother of all insight is experience.” In art, nature and landscapes become worthy of reproduction. Natural sciences develop the empirical method. Observations are made according to nature, measurements taken and geometrically depicted, so as to reproduce natural occurrences as mathematical signs. This is still the case today in the practice of natural sciences. This process is applicable to the world of things and the sphere of nature, which can be mechanised, and it is there that its success lies: in the production of things, tools and apparatus, such as cars and aeroplanes, computers and smartphones.
But the generalisation of the method is doomed to failure. For example, with respect to application in relation to life sciences, biology, living processes can only be geometrised, reproduced and statistically recorded to a limited extent. The humanities as well have either nothing or very little to do with what is measurable. Their truths can only be appreciated in context – not in combinations of numbers. Their truths lie between empirical data. Feelings, taste, tones and the effect of the colour red elude measurability.
The meaning of the humanities and social sciences for society is considerable. We experience their significance when we ask what life is. People are communicators whose security and self-evidence lie in trust of other people and self-confidence. In this sphere it is all about needs and challenges, pleasure and participation in the community. All of this comes ahead of possessing things and ahead of wealth, profit and ordered balance sheets.
3. Culture anD Balance Sheets
Alongside my work as an academic, I have two other roles. I work successfully as a consultant at a corporate consultancy. We look at everything that isn’t in a company’s balance sheets.
We analyse management, work structures, shared work processes and the motivation of staff. We repeatedly find confirmation that around a third of all investments made by a company are lost due to internal, personal friction. This also applies for universities and other institutions. Information is not forwarded or changed, employees cannot stand one another and get sick, jobs are not properly filled. When government representatives ask whether the state will achieve annual growth of one percent, 1.8 percent or only 0.4 percent, that is a fraction of what is lost through internal disputes. And this difference holds vast potential. If employees learn to act fairly, openly and non-violently with respect to one another, companies can save enormous costs and are relieved of the requirement for constant growth. This is a huge task for the future and a job for the humanities.
The aim of our work is to promote wellbeing through the improvement of the work situation. This also improves the economic situation as a by-product.
4. Practical Research
In Switzerland, I am working in a research team on the development of a new manner of sitting. We are, however, meeting with little success. I have been investigating sitting on chairs for 35 years. I wanted to discover what sitting on chairs means: where it arose, who invented it and for what purpose, how it has developed, what its benefits are and why we stick to chairs so stubbornly. I am the only expert on the topic within the team and the only humanities scholar; this research is dominated by engineers, orthopaedic specialists, therapists and inventors. The end result will be a chair developed according to bionic principles, but the chair will change nothing with respect to the problems arising as a consequence of sitting in an office.
The posture that I take up is determined by awareness, knowledge, habit and desire – not by the chair. So people can take up a suitable posture on a bad chair or a poor posture on a good chair. Natural scientists are unable to accept this, because if I talk to them about awareness and desire I am no longer in their natural-science mode and so not really relevant.
5. Humanities Strategies
A good workplace in relation to posture and its changing as well as in relation to the interaction between people is an excellent starting position for wellbeing at work. A well-furnished workplace thus has an enormous impact on individuals, the company, society and ultimately all people. After all, the best thing that an individual can do for the world is to approach it as optimally as possible: in a good mood, respectfully and with motivation. The positive effect of wellbeing should not be underestimated.
Humanities like psychology, sociology and philosophy, like art history, history and medicine, have created opportunities for intervention such as non-violent communication, tolerance of ambiguity and compliance that prepare people well for life in an era of advanced globalisation.
“What doesn’t appear in balance sheets” could be a paradigm of the humanities: a preoccupation with things beyond numbers, dimensions and verifiability. Knowledge does not involve knowing individual data but a network of information on different levels and the awareness of a path (hodos) that has to be taken (meta) to communicate in the knowledge network – or to act methodically (metahodos). Truth and proof refer to such knowledge in the humanities.
Non-violent communication means fair and sympathetic interaction between people. It is based on an understanding that language can hurt, which is why it requires increased attention to be paid to listening and speaking. It is an ecology of thought, feeling and behaviour. It promotes good communication and is thus valuable for school, family, politics and companies. It promotes respect for oneself and others and avoids terms such as guilt, injustice and revenge. Instead, people take responsibility for their own behaviour.
Tolerance of ambiguity
Tolerance of ambiguity refers to people’s capacity to withstand contradictions, opposites, uncertainty and insecurity. It is an attempt to question one’s own perspective over and over again and to understand the thoughts, feelings and behaviour of others. To be able to interact with strangers and with people from a different cultural group, a black-white mentality and the apparent security to be found in disassociation from foreigners and people with different ideas need to be relinquished.
In salutogenesis, medical sociologists investigate conditions under which people are capable of successfully managing crises and challenges. They recognise three factors: coherence, a sense of one’s own capability; comprehensibility, the appropriate understanding of a current situation; and meaningfulness, the experience of meaning in the management of challenges.
Non-violent communication, tolerance of ambiguity and salutogenesis are strategies that strengthen the resistance (resilience) of people.
On the contrary, compliance is the resistance (resilience) of companies. It is aimed against corruption, price fixing and damaging market behaviour. Compliance safeguards reputations to protect corporate brands. It includes measures to ensure good management and good interaction among employees so as to consolidate employer branding. This refers to the good reputation of companies whose jobs are coveted because employees feel happy, enjoy their work and can work towards a common goal.
The science of history is key to our understanding of the world. The influential twentieth-century thinker Karl Popper is an opponent of this science. In his two-volume work entitled “The open society and its enemies”, he disputes all historically oriented thinkers’ scientific thinking. He calls the only possible form of scientific work incomplete work. It works without a past and without visions, as they are not verifiable.
Within this, the science of history can open up perspectives and, for instance, point to the phenomenon of globalisation. Globalisation is no accident. It is not just a hundred years old, but as old as man. From the start, he has embodied this inclination. He is curious and intelligent, communicates passionately and interacts with other cultures – sometimes peacefully and sometimes belligerently. He has a good memory and passes on knowledge and skills to the next generations, who then continue the process of social development in turn.
Humanity’s potential for development is evident in globalisation, whose conclusion is globality, the phase in which humans have learnt to reconcile their personal and local concerns with those of all people. That is the globality project. Today we live in a house that belongs to everyone and no-one. Today, in the transition period to globality, the global situation is naturally extremely liable to break down, as never before were very different cultures so closely connected. The science of history discloses such far-reaching and – in my opinion – soothing insights.
Philosophy supports the globality project in diverse ways. Theory means looking on and is the reflective observation of something that is unperceivable. Things that the senses cannot show us have to be captured through intellectual activity. The pleasure of theorising lies in adventurous thought thanks to freedom from real spatial and time-related reference points and categories of reason.
Theorising is a risk, as anything is possible. And it is strange when we use our brains to reflect on people, their brains and their thoughts and present ourselves as intangible beings.
Aesthetics and ethics are closely connected. Ethics – originally only formulated for one’s own culture – must formulate ethical rules for people from all cultures in light of advanced globalisation. Conversely, nice things, a devoted upbringing, high-quality materials and loving behaviour motivate, stimulate and heighten well-being, which in turn promotes good interaction with other people. This is the ethics-aesthetics cycle.
As mechanisation distracts people from their compass, the senses, they learn that they cannot make decisions for a good life without their body and feeling, as being alive is connected with the vibrant activity of the senses. To protect natural matter in the face of global business, global ethics are required. But they must convince and be pleasant. As the Chinese Meng Tzu said: “It is possible to act as a great man.” I wish to end with this simple and optimistic sentence, and I think it could become a paradigm of our professional, cultural, private and social commitment – for the preservation of nature and for the wellbeing of all people.
© Hajo Eickhoff 2014