Home > Book Review, Philosophy > Exam Preparation – Patocka: “Personal Spatiality.”

Exam Preparation – Patocka: “Personal Spatiality.”

Let us begin with study questions

Qu 1: Can we be indifferent to our own being?/Qu 2: What does Patocka mean when he says that typical human expression is ‘for the sake of which’?

Patocka begins with an analysis of philosophy going back to Aristotle and how the individual, the subject is left out, is not themetized, even when these philosophers got to the question of existence, the third person was how they discussed their ideas – it was Descartes who first made the turn towards the I, with is ego cogito cogitatum. This was not enough for Patocka though, as he states it comes to grief when we look at the situatedness of ourselves in the world. Descaretes tried to go from the first, to third persons, a philosophy of res extensa, a mathematical nature, which leaves no room for “situational concepts or for situatedness generally. ” (p, 172)

We need to delve beneath this layer of the impersonal and bring out the originary personal experience. The experience of the way we live situationally, the way we are as personal beings in space. We cannot rest content with the trivial conception which sees our body in a dualistic perspective – contained in the res extensa as a thing among things and objective processes, with which subjective processes are coordinated as their reflection. Even those need to be objectified in turn, transformed into impersonal entities which we can impersonally coordinate with them. (Patocka, p. 172, Body, Communication, Language, 1996)

We must look at how we are in space, are we in it among other things, and is such a conception possible? Patocka states that the tradition found that knowledge exists in objective relations, – Patocka disagrees stating that such knowledge is only possible if there is a being that is in space differently – not simply another thing next to them in space, it must  exist in it, by relating to itself through things which relate to other things.

That means, a being who can act out its life, comport itself with respect to its life in various ways simply in relating to other things and so finding a place in the world of things. We are not indifferent neighbors of things. Our relations are external, indifferent. Our nonindifference to our own being, that it matters to us, that we are no indifferent to our being – all that is expressed in the typically human expression, for the sake of: we do something for the sake of something. Therein lies the nonindifference of our mode of being. (Patocka, p. 172, Body, Communication, Language, 1996)

To Patocka the for the sake of which entails being integrated in the world, it signifies the means to an particular end, which are provided for us by the things around us – put another way, there is a continuity between such things and the for the sake of which, as Patocka states: “That means that our being among things is not a mere indifferenct being next to, a juxtaposition of things in space.” (p. 173) From here Patocka states we must look to characterize this being, as one that is oriented, or aiming at things, or even “ordered to acting among things, acting and in that action co-acting with others” (p. 173) we become oriented not just with things, but with other persons. This is our original drive which turns back inwards on ourselves in which we see our relations to others – that, Patocka states is our natural reflective tendency of our drive toward things, as beings in space among things – this is part of our nonindifference to things and ourselves. (p. 173)

Qu 3: Explain: ‘Reflection is grounded in the innermost finitude of being human and its relation to truth’.

Patocka states that we have asked about the essential reach of our reflections – our goal to him, was to reach an originary phenomenon, which would allow him to reject all models that objectified human life – this leads us to two types of phenomenology: (1) Husserl and (2) Heidegger. Under Husserl’s conception attempted to show modern Cartesianism, in its most extreme and sophisticated form – the ego cogito which seeks to remain in the personal, or what Husserl calls “transcendental intersubjectivity” was the ground the “phenomenological reduction leads” (p. 174) , under this the world is the basis for communication:

The personal world is not a set of islands amid an impersonal nature, rather impersonal nature becomes a mer objective pole of unified intentionalities of harmoniously living monads that make contact through this objectivity, The access to it is reflection, self-grasping in pure originality and self-certainty.  (Patocka, p. 174, Body, Communication, Language, 1996)

Patocka still sees problems with Husserl here, he admits the theory is attractive in that it opens up perspectives in the subjectivity of lived experience, but the question of “absolute reflection” in which attempts to move our personal, finite lived experience into an “absolute object” – it is this objectivity Paotocka means to deny. He states that Husserl never quite manages to bring the corporeal subject in continuity with absolute reflection and he states further that the ultimate foundation is not personal but rather, subjectivity itself. But what is the ground of absolute reflection? Patocka states there is none, no further theory, and no deeper explanation – absolute reflection then is the foundation of all philosophy the ground to which all else is reduced – this conclusion led to more problems, not solving them.

Is there, need there not be found, a theory of reflection which, without rendering impossible the achievement of truth, of the clairty, of all that Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology provided, would yet remain a theory of finite reflection, continuous with the finitude of human life?(Patocka, p. 175, Body, Communication, Language, 1996)

The answer is seems may lie in Heidegger in which he starts from existence – Patocka states that even with Husserl there is still a desire to move to an impersonal foundation an “existence which merely notes itself, which is given to itself purely for observation.” (p. 175)  Patocka states there is an alienation, a distance in observation, of which does not present itself in Heidegger’s theory which states that the world is not an aggregate of entities, but rather a “context belonging to us and our intrinsic structure, to the structure of our being.” (p. 176)  Here Heidegger’s theory does for Patocka what Husserls’ could not- it stresses the finitude within the basic structures of living, the finitude of reflection:

Reflection is grounded in the innermost finitude of being human and in its relation to truth. Those, ultimately are the reasons for reflection. (Patocka, p. 176, Body, Communication, Language, 1996)

For Patocka Heidegger offers greater possibilities than Husserl.


Patocka, Jan. “Personal Spatiality, Husserl, Heidegger.” Trans. Erazim Kohak. Body, Communication, Language, World. Ed James Dodd. Chicago; La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1996, 172, 173, 174, 175

Categories: Book Review, Philosophy
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