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Feelings, source of our identity

Étienne Haché, philosopher and former professor at Saint-Jean Campus, publishes a bimonthly “controversial and philosophical” column.

Étienne Haché, pH D

It all started on August 13, 2020. It was hot that day despite a light breeze coming from the open sea. Facing the Mediterranean, in this charming peaceful little village in Spain, Benitatxell, perched 300 meters above sea level, I was meditating, when suddenly, around 3:30 p.m., lulled by the song of locusts and cicadas, appeared a question.

What am I ?

A question to which it immediately seems so easy to answer: “I am a conscious being”. But, as Descartes adds (Discourse on Method, 1637), it is still necessary to conduct a good judgment.

What would this faculty, thought – which is also presumed in the professional thinker – be worth to me without a citizen consciousness, linked to the lived world, with its multiple meanings and its horizons of possibility?

Indeed, the human being is not only what his nationality, his passport, even his social status and his tax residence attest. We are also endowed with sensitivity.

The artist, the poet, the writer will easily understand that I have just opened a door which will be difficult to close: the one which leads to the magical, but sometimes troubled, depths of feelings and emotions. Together with the mother tongue, these are constitutive of any identity. They form the starting point of our relationship to the world, as well as the completion point of a transformation of oneself in this rectilinear movement that constitutes bios.

The next day, at dawn, the Mediterranean came to recall to my memory the Canadian Atlantic, the seaside of the Acadian peninsula, in New Brunswick, the beach of my childhood. Could this be the proof of my true identity? Yet Acadia is like the Francophonie in Alberta: neither a delimited administrative territory nor an autonomous political entity. Not to mention that I haven’t lived in my native region for ages.

Would I mean then that there is nothing rational in all of this? Would feelings be like the “taste” of which Kant speaks in paragraph 40 of his Critique of the Faculty of Judging : a sensus communis ? A universal without concept (§6)?

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In these depths, I may have touched gold. This identity that we carry is stronger than all the others. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau says so well in his Discourse on the origins and foundations of inequality among men (1755), it has nothing reason ; she is passion, attached to moral values, family, love and friendship; it is sentimental, strongly anchored in memories, those of childhood, marked by these people whose memory we cherish; it is shaped by unique places like the schools of our childhood that fondly remind us of our first teachers and the life that once expressed itself in these places.

Of all this, even Kantian morality will keep track …

All in all, what holds for me, the native Acadian, obviously holds for the Franco-Albertan. In truth, this applies to any man, wherever he comes from and regardless of his condition, his adopted culture … Never, in any way, we can not be doubted.

This “vital momentum” evoked by Henri Bergson in The two sources of morality and religion (1932), however, remains controlled by a natural brake, thought and its eldest daughter, judgment, common sense. The sentimental being, the one who drinks from the sources of the past and the present and who precisely appreciates their duration, is neither a Somewhere like the others, member of a “closed society” and raging against what is not in conformity with oneself, nor an Anywhere, resulting from a wealthy social category, well adapted to a “society open ”, but completely uprooted by his training (David Goodhart, The Road to Somwhere, 2017).

This “naked man” described by George Simenon in his novels, I place him in a gap, similar to that described by Hannah Arendt in The culture crisis (1963): he is halfway between an unconditional love for a heritage which he now carries and forgetting his origins. Realism all the more necessary since the two opposites often meet today in various forms: populism, nationalism, even sectarianism, racism, etc.

Saturday August 15… Apart from the joys and the cries of children forming a multilingual vocal ensemble in conformity with the Europe of nations, these moments of absolute silence and meditation on identity in Benitatxell reminded me that the human being does not Nor is he a migrant – such a humiliating economic and indeterminate reference point. As François-Xavier Bellamy points out (Stay … 2018), if only we could give up our fascination with movement and turn our gaze to the other in what is unique and singular, we could only refuse the wandering and misery that brings about globalization and its mercantilist harshness.

The days passed…, until, finally, everything became clearer in my mind. It was when we left the Costa Blanca, until next summer. Now I know it, I have it. This is why I am talking about it: a real danger threatens individuals as well as communities and peoples. Movement, wandering, emptiness can divert us at any moment from the anchor point of our identity and from the road taken since then, with our metamorphoses. Aeneas knew it, he who, carrying his father Anchises on his shoulders and holding his son Ascanius by the hand, covered with all his protection the penatian gods and the Trojan heritage to the other shore.

At the pace at which we are going, I fear, however, that philosophy and any imaginary and artistic construction, even legal formalism dedicated to defending human rights, cannot counter this danger: wandering coupled with standardization, which means that more nothing remains stable and authentic, according to the legendary formula of Heraclitus.

And yet… there is no point in imitating others, we are all the same, that is to say different, said Montaigne, Montesquieu and Lévi-Strauss. Both multiple and singular, identity (the I) actually comes in several forms (cultural, political, religious, linguistic) and at different levels (oneself, others, society).

Here are the outlines of a phenomenology of identity based on feelings and emotions. These are not just natural inclinations that should be fought, conforming to the moral interests of the ego and its idiosyncratic inclinations. Feelings and emotions allow mediation between the individual (private) and the citizen (public); mediation in which education must participate …

Neither end of the world, nor end of the self, but rather a fusion of horizons.

Hope, therefore… To be continued.