Archaeology of Criticism


An Unexamined Life

"[R]arely do we examine our lives to find out what kinds of answers are evidenced by our actions, hesitations, and indifferences and what ideas and mute beliefs we express about the individual and society, about our own lives, about our own freedom and responsibility." [Donald A. Hansen, An Invitation to Critical Sociology: Involvement, Criticism, Exploration 2 (New York: Free Press, 1976)]

"Within the career of day-to-day, common-sense existence, each of us goes about his business without philosophical worries. It is simply taken for granted by all of us that the world in which we move about and act is real, has a long history, has not only a physical being continuous with the realm of nature but a conceptual and emotive reality assumed to have force and consequence for others no less than for ourselves. Further, we assume that our world has a future which will be more or less like the past, societal and cultural institutions and practices which have always marked civilized beings, and men in action, steeped in practical affairs and proceeding to discharge their duties and obligations in typical ways. All these assumptions--and many more--are assumptions in the sense that unless we stop and think, reflect for some reason on them, they do not ordinarily become explicit objects for thought or investigation." [Maurice Natanson, The Journeying Self: A Study in Philosophy and Social Role 2 (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1970)]

"There are people whose metaphysics are, in effect, the comfortable feeling they have just after a heavy lunch; they see no need to raise ontological questions. They live and they die; and they think persons who torment themselves about ultimate questions both waste their time and overlook the pleasantness of the present." [Michael Novak, Ascent of the Mountain, Flight of the Dove: An Invitation to Religious Studies 47 (New York: Harper & Row, rev. ed., 1978)]

"Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves." [Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978 43 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979)]

"The defenses that form a person's character support a grand illusion.... He is driven away from himself, from self-knowledge, self-reflection. He is driven toward things that support the lie of his character, his automatic equanimity." [Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death 56 (New York: Free Press, 1955)]

"The whole person is always greater than the cultural roles because the living organism always has more potential behaviors than the particular cultural game that society sets up in order unthinkingly to further the business of everyday living. The total individual, in other words, is always greater than the cultural role self. But man does not realize this, except in rare cases, because he must live as society has set up the plot.

The result is that mostly people approach each other from the point of view of their roles, rather than as whole beings. The role player stages life; the whole being acts spontaneously. But spontaneous action is a momentous problem for most, precisely because they have learned to keep action going smoothly and satisfyingly by simply and uncritically following out the roles that the culture designed for them. They have, in effect, subverted the possibilities of their total being to the narrow interest of action and uncritical survival. Now this is not a criticism so much as it is a simple observation; man is hardly to be blamed for accepting the ongoing version of the life drama, and drawing the ready satisfactions that this entails.

Besides, this gives what man needs most--it gives conviction. When everyone upholds unflinchingly his roles, within the cultural fiction, the joint staging seems right for all time." [Ernest Becker, Escape from Evil 272-273 (New York: Free Press, 1975)]

"If individuals act automatically or conventionally, if they do only what is expected of them (or because they feel they have no right to speak for themselves), if they do only what they are told to do, they are not living moral lives." [Maxine Greene, Landscapes of Learning 49 (New York: Teachers College Press, 1979)]

"As Jesus saw a man working on the Sabbath, he said to him: 'Man, if you know what you are doing, you are blessed. If you do not know, you are cursed and a transgressor of the law.'" [Erich Kahler, The Tower and the Abyss 191 (New York: Compass Books, 1967)(quoting the Bible, Luke 6:5)]

"Many people only think in reaction to something and depend heavily on the dominant ideologies. This can sometimes be a way of protecting social status or privileges. That is how what Nietzsche called the morals of slaves are formed." [Gérard Fourez, Liberation Ethics 40 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982)]

"Every person and every social group is to a greater or lesser extent blind to many of the injustices of its time, because its own culture and education, supporting a particular way of life, represents embedded and distinctive features of this way of life as unavoidable features of human life in general." [Stuart Hampshire, Innocence and Experience 59 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1989)]


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