Asking Anthropological Questions as a Delicate Form of Courtesy

The bodied self and the nature of its connectedness with the world, a connectedness localized by its embodiment, point towards broad questions that arise when we consider the ontological contrasts presented by self and world, body and soul, substance and spirit and especially by the brain and consciousness. Whoever wishes to approach the riddle of embodiment cannot avoid these questions but must pose them ever anew. In the process of reflection, one’s own inner intellectual integrity works like a continuous appeal to clarify and place these questions on a solid foundation from which one can proceed with certainty. The emotional undertone connected with this intellectual position suggests that it is in fact possible to grasp the human being conceptually from a purely conceptual perspective. Such an approach, however, turns its back on the human being, on the concrete, here and now, embodied and bodied human being as they take hold of the world in so many different ways. Suggestion alienates the question; the aspiration of universal validity becomes a trap.
Asking anthropological questions, the attempt should be made to avoid such »zones of alienation« from the question at hand and to combine intellectual integrity with the gesture of restraint described above.
This gesture of restraint takes into account the certainty of uncertainty or, as Siri Hustvedt expresses it, the delusions of certainty. It is a delicate form of doubt or, better, courtesy. It accepts the fundamental questions of being human in their innate complexity, embraces them as they are and protects them from simplistic, universal interpretations.

Hustvedt describes it as follows:

»The kind of doubt I am thinking of begins before it can be properly articulated as a thought. It begins as a vague sense of dissatisfaction, a feeling that something is wrong, an as-yet-unformed hunch, at once suspended and suspenseful, which stretches toward the words that will turn it into a proper question framed in a language that can accommodate it. Doubt is not only a virtue in intelligence; it is a necessity. Not a single idea or work of art could be generated without it, and although it is often uncomfortable, it is also existing. And it is the well-articulated doubt, after all, that is forever coming along to topple the delusion of certainty.«

In his sketch of »Anthropological Research in the Anthropocene«, published by Beltz in German 2020, Christoph Wulf articulates:

»Wonder, radical questioning, philosophical critique and a self-critical attitude concerning the conditions we have shaped play an important role. The conditions and forms of this philosophical approach are difficult to formulate as a method. They elude formalization and only express their meaningfulness in meeting the phenomena, the events, the actions and the problems, in the play of language of anthropological research. Depending on the context, these forms of reflection lead to different insights and conceptualizations and serve to heighten the complexity of anthropology. The latter holds the question of the human being in the anthropocene fundamentally open and recognizes that it is impossible to develop a concept-based understanding of the human being.«

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