Communication, Philosophy of
COMMUNICATION, PHILOSOPHY OF
In its ordinary usage, "communication" refers to all the means that serve to bind human beings together, especially through the spread of information by mass media such as the internet, radio, television, press, and motion pictures; in a philosophical sense, it refers to the process of intellectual intercourse between individuals or groups, resulting in the transmission and interchange of information, experiences, affections, goods, and services. Communication as such has become the object of special philosophical interest since World Wars I and II. Yet it has always been regarded as one of the basic phenomena of human existence, as reflected, for example, in analyses of speech as expressive of man's social nature, of the individual good as a participation in the common good, and of the origin of the common good in cooperative human endeavor.
Philosophical Analysis. Man is distinguished from animals in that his nature requires that he attain full stature as a person through culture. Culture itself is entirely social in origin, even in its material aspects; its basis is communication, that is, intellectual cooperation and exchange. Culture is possible only for beings composed of body and soul, for such a composition requires cooperation with others to develop its potentialities and achieve its full perfection. Culture, then, is peculiar to the human being, who is incomplete in himself; a purely intellectual being, such as an angel, being complete in itself, cannot have a culture.
Social individualistic theories see man as a reasonable being, complete in himself and as such entering into social relations. In fact, however, man becomes a fully human and a cultural being through communication, first at the level of the family and then at the level of society as a whole. By communication from generation to generation, a growing set of truth and value insights, ideas, morals, and customs is built up. This development depends equally on participation and on a common sharing by the members of society. Only on the basis of such a developed social mentality are works such as those of Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and Beethoven possible. These are not merely eruptions of individual genius; rather they grow out of a culture, and then go on to repay that culture by contributing to it new forms as well as new contents of communication.
Basis of Communication. In philosophical anthropology and social philosophy the question arises as to the human characteristics that make communication possible. Here the self-evident truth that all men have in common an intellectual nature as human persons is not at question; rather what is sought is the concrete potentiality whose actualization is necessary for communication. The primary characteristic is that man is capable of judging his own experience reflectively and, in consequence, of generalizing his sense experiences by means of concepts and words; thus, as distinct from animals, he is able to accumulate knowledge and experience from one generation to another. Hence social tradition becomes a fundamental category for the explanation of communication. Only by participating in such tradition is the full development of the individual made possible.
Closely related to the characteristic just mentioned is the second: to strive for happiness is a natural impulse in man, and the progressive satisfaction and actualization of such striving are entirely dependent on communication. This is seen in the fact that man's natural impulse is basically one to love and to be loved. Besides, man's aspirations toward happiness, arising as they do from his powers of knowing and desiring in the realm of values, can be realized only by way of communication. Such communication is effective in satisfying the human desire for creative fulfillment by the works of art, literature, science, and technology. To assume, therefore, that the interchange of knowledge is the only function of communication is a one-sided view; love in all its forms, of persons and of things, is no less significant.
Philosophically speaking, there is also a third basis for communication, namely, man's need for freedom. Communication depends on freedom because a nature that must complete itself through cooperative activity must also be free in its endeavors for self-fulfillment through social means. Hence communism, in restricting natural free communication in intellectual, economic, and associated matters, cannot continue indefinitely as a social system. The system is bound slowly to dissolve from within because normal patterns of communication will gradually develop and so will the freedom that these entail.
To the foregoing should be added a fourth, even more basic requirement, viz, the knowledge of the natural law, which imposes upon men a basic mode of conduct toward one another. This, together with the imperatives associated with the dignity of the human person, is basic to all communication.
Thomistic Thought. The notion that communication is essential for all social relations is fundamental to the social philosophy of St. thomas aquinas. Aquinas often uses the word communicatio for communio and communitas. For him, communication implies an imparting as well as an interacting, thus including different forms of natural love and even supernatural love, or charity. Although the basic relations of communication are strongest in kinship, they are found also in civil intercourse in a political society and in the spiritual union of all men in the Church, either actually or potentially (Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 31.3). On the civil level, a double bond of communication is emphasized by Aquinas: that based on law and authority on the one hand, and that existing through free intercourse on the other (Summa theolgiae 1a2ae, 105.2 and ad 3), with particular stress on commercial exchange. Again, besides the communication that arises through kinship, which he calls naturalis, that of individual love per modum amoris takes on a special importance (In 1 sent. 13.1.2 ad 2). All forms of communication are connected with the love of friendship (In 3 sent. 29.6). Communication should unite men in the universal love of God, since they are destined to strive for one common end (C. gent. 3.117); more, the love of God is the very basis of all communication (In 4 sent. 188.8.131.52).
At the center of St. Thomas's doctrine on communication is the notion of the image of God (Summa theologiae 1a, 93). Man is the image of God by virtue of his reason, which, by an innate God-given law, is directed to communicate with God (Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 100.2); he is also the image of God in the sense that, like God, he is the principle of life to others (principium alterius ) through procreation, as well as by instruction and guidance (1a, 94.3). In virtue of man's supernatural sonship, communication among men is established by charity and the common possession of truth (2a2ae, 184.1 and ad 1); communication with God, on the other hand, is established by participation in the divine nature, in divine knowledge through faith, and in divine love through charity (1a2ae, 110.4).
Modern Theories. Arnold Gehlen (1904–1976) accounts for the origin of communication through the biological theory that man developed sounds as forms of movement, thus evolving above the animal stage. In the beginning man's lingual utterances were mere motions; then thought evolved out of man's communicating with himself. This theory postulates what has to be explained: how man, in communication with himself, came to be reflectively conscious of his own experiences and to form the concepts that are expressed verbally in human communication.
According to Max scheler, communication is constitutive of the person, i.e., of the individual as well as of the social person. The person is existent only in performing intentional acts, hence only as a member of a society of persons and by way of communication. Although this theory of person and communication does not deny the existence of the concrete individual, the resemblance of Scheler's great work to the philosophy of actualism is undeniable.
The French "philosophy of the spirit," initiated by R. le senne and developed by L. lavelle, holds that man, by virtue of his personal experience of being, knows in the very act of knowing that he participates in being as such. Such a philosophy thus approaches a metaphysics of communication, according to which man not only knows himself to be in union with God as the source of all being but also knows himself to be in union with all being as created by God. He is therefore aware of his responsibility, as cocreator, for the state of the world and society. The weakness in this philosophy is that it gives too little attention to the analogy of being, though it does open up metaphysics, particularly within christian philosophy, to new interests.
Martin buber sees communication as an "I-Thou" relationship, ontologically making possible man's being as man, theologically making possible the fullness of man's being through his relationship to God. Thus man's situation is a kind of twofold dialogue. The much spoken of "I-Thou" relationship and man's dialogue form of being tend to obscure the fact that in Buber's system the ontological nature of society itself is not really established.
According to the Christian existentialism of Gabriel marcel, man learns in his daily communication with other men how indispensable are devotion and truth toward one another and consequently toward the absolute Thou. This experience of communication becomes the basis for an optimism motivated by hope.
The atheistic existentialism of J. P. sartre approaches human existence pessimistically, rendering a negative judgment on communication. The basic fact of the being of man is loneliness. Man finds himself in anguish because he is condemned to freedom as his peculiar form of existence. Being without cognizance of his essence, man knows nothing about the order of his existence; rather he sees himself faced with nonbeing and absurdity. In interhuman relations and in society Sartre does not see fruitful communication but rather an encroachment upon free existence that makes man an "it." This blatantly false philosophy may be taken as an expression of man's depersonalization in the contemporary industrial world.
According to the ontology of Martin heidegger, the interhuman relation belongs to the existence of man, but communication is limited to the level of care for one another. It is not understood in terms of the social nature of man.
Karl jaspers distinguishes between objective communication, in which man has a part in the being and the values of society as a whole, and existential communication, in which man freely opens himself to another self and thereby also attains his own existence, freeing himself from loneliness, but also creating new loneliness. From existential communication there originates personal (transcendental) truth; thus, it is the origin of philosophy. However, truth can be perceived by man only in the freedom of self-persuasion. This holds good also in relation to truth about God; hence, philosophical belief alone is possible (see existentialism).
What J. de Tonquédec has said of the philosophy of Jaspers applies to all kinds of existential philosophy in which communication is regarded only as a means of achieving individual existence in freedom. It reveals itself basically as a "despairing individualism," in which man experiences only his own truth, his own morality, his own God, all as incommunicable. This reservation, however, does not mean that the existential philosopher has nothing significant to say about communication in either its socio-phenomenological or its socio-philosophical aspect.
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