A Philosophy of Belonging
Persons, Politics, Cosmos
338 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: August 2023
- ISBN: 9780268206024
- Published: August 2023
- ISBN: 9780268206017
- Published: August 2023
- ISBN: 9780268206000
James Greenaway offers a philosophical guide to understanding, affirming, and valuing the significance of belonging across personal, political, and historical dimensions of existence.
A sense of belonging is one of the most meaningful experiences of anyone’s life. Inversely, the discovery that one does not belong can be one of the most upsetting experiences. In A Philosophy of Belonging, Greenaway treats the notion of belonging as an intrinsically philosophical one. After all, belonging raises intense questions of personal self-understanding, identity, mortality, and longing; it confronts interpersonal, sociopolitical, and historical problems; and it probes our relationship with both the knowable world and transcendent mystery. Experiences of alienation, exclusion, and despair become conspicuous only because we are already moved by a primordial desire to belong.
Greenaway presents a hermeneutical framework that brings the intelligibility of belonging into focus and discusses the works of various representative thinkers in light of this hermeneutic. The study is divided into two main parts, “Presence” and “Communion.” In the first, Greenaway considers the abiding presence of the cosmos as the context of personhood and the world, followed by the presence of persons to themselves and others by way of consciousness and embodiment, culminating in a discussion of the unrestricted horizon of meaning that love makes present in persons. In the second part, belonging in community is explored as a crucial type of communion that is both politically and historically structured. Moreover, communion has direction and a quality of sacredness that offers itself for consideration. Greenaway concludes with a discussion of the consequences of refusing presence and communion, and what is involved in the repudiation of belonging.
1. Philosophy and Belonging
2. A Hermeneutic of Belonging
3. Of the Cosmos
4. By Way of Consciousness and the Flesh
5. In Love
7. Political Goods, Political Communitas
Epilogue: Unbelonging: The Refusal of Presence and Communion
“James Greenaway’s A Philosophy of Belonging is a major philosophical achievement.” —Barry Cooper, author of Paleolithic Politics
"In an age of social media isolation and “bowling alone,” A Philosophy of Belonging is a welcome antidote to our condition of alienation, angst, and solipsism. A book not only for today but for anytime, it proposes a pathway out of our condition of nihilism, despair, and the absurd." —Lee Trepanier, author of Eric Voegelin’s Asian Political Thought
"James Greenaway's A Philosophy of Belonging not only brings together a wide range of sometimes contrasting thinkers, but provides the reader with an interpretative vision successfully uniting philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology, politics and history. Academics and graduate students alike will never see their topics in quite the same way again." —Brendan Purcell, author of Where is God in Suffering?
"At last, the theme of belonging has its philosophical champion. James Greenaway explores the topic of human belonging on a scale appropriate to its existential importance, ranging from the intimate issue of how one belongs to oneself to the comprehensive issue of how we belong to the cosmos. Greenaway’s book brings a rare nobility of reflection to political philosophy." —Glenn Hughes, author of From Dickinson to Dylan: Visions of Transcendence in Modernist Literature
Socrates’s speech is the sixth of seven speeches that Plato narrates in the Symposium. The first five are made in honor of the “great god, Eros” and they artfully recount the qualities of love that make a life of love highly desirable. Socrates, arriving late, asks what the topic of discussion is, and when he is told, he rehearses a tale of love “I was given, once upon a time, by a Mantinean woman called Diotima—a woman who was deeply versed in this and many other fields of knowledge” (201d1-3). Diotima proved to Socrates that Eros cannot be a great god because, unlike a god, he is not only immortal, but mortal too. Eros is an in-between reality (metaxy) partaking of both eternity and time. Love is “a very powerful spirit, Socrates, and spirits, you know, are half-way between god and man … since they are between the two estates they weld both sides together and merge them in to one great whole” (202e4, 6-8). Love has a nature that is otherwise than divine and human. It is in-between them and can gather the two into a common horizon that holds them both. Through Love, the god and the mortal regard each other from their proper place. The god, existing as the exemplar of the condition of lasting in the cosmos, responds to the mortal who is subject to passing as the condition of their existence and who has poured out his heart in prayer and incantation to the god who lasts. In love the proper place of god and mortal ceases to be mutually remote. It is not that love joins the contrary poles. Presence to the other becomes possible when love overflows the poles of divine and human, transforming remoteness into proximity and impossibility into possibility.
Socrates explains how Diotima proceeded to speak of the origin of love by recounting the mythic tale of how the parents of Eros came together. At the feast celebrating the birthday of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, the god Poros (Plenty or Resourcefulness) was present. Becoming intoxicated by taking too much nectar (“for there was no wine in those days”), Poros stepped out into the Garden of Zeus and fell asleep. Meanwhile Penia (Poverty), begging at doors, spied Poros resting and considered that she might raise her station in life by bearing a child by him, so she lay down at his side and conceived love (203b1-c1). There are at least three aspects of love that are significant for us in the myth: Eros partakes not only of his parents’ nature—plenty and poverty—but, because he emerged into existence on the birthday of Beauty, what he strains for is always the beautiful. So firstly, like his mother, Eros is rough and squalid. He has nothing; his heart is a hollow, molded in yearning for the beloved. Afterward, when the beloved leaves or dies, the lover is left empty, hurt, and lost. Considered under the aspect of his mother, love is vulnerability to pain and loss. Secondly, like his father, Eros is also “gallant, impetuous, and energetic, a mighty hunter, and a master of device and artifice” (203d4-5). Eros is what can also fill the heart of the lover, stirring his desire and imagination, and spurring him to the most meaningful action. Love, in the nature of the father, is the unbounded joy of the presence of the beloved. Thirdly, the beloved is always the beauty that the lover aims at, but Diotima advises the young Socrates not to confuse love with the beloved. Love and the beloved are not the same. Love gives the lover eyes to see the beauty of the beloved, and therefore “the beloved is in fact beautiful, perfect, delicate, and prosperous” (204c3-4). The beloved is always made beautiful in love. Yet, where the beloved is fair and beautiful, love can sometimes be foul. It is the nature of Love to exist as a tension between otherwise remote or oppositional poles, bringing them into harmony in himself, and it is inevitable then that Eros
is neither mortal nor immortal, for in the space of a day he will be now, when all goes well with him, alive and blooming, and now dying, to be born again by virtue of his father’s nature while what he gains will always ebb away as fast. So Love is never altogether in or out of need, and stands, moreover, midway between ignorance and wisdom (203e1-204a1).
Plato tells us that love, the longing of love for the beauty of the beloved, constitutes “the one deathless and eternal element in our mortality” (206e8). It gives and receives from what is mortal and what is immortal. Love belongs strictly to neither, but participates in-between both: it exists in time, forming the heart of the lover, but in the beloved who is always present in love, the vision of the eternally beautiful is never lost. What love seeks is the beloved who, as beautiful, is also the good and the source of happiness. “We may state categorically that men are lovers of the good? Yes, I said, we may” (206a4-5) Ultimately, “Love longs for the good to be his own forever” (206a11). Between lasting and passing, love equivocates. It is the memory of the timeless presence of the beloved in time, of a presence that sanctifies life itself and that radiates the sweetness of beauty beyond measure. Yet, while love grants a plenitude to the lover whose heart is full, it can leave him broken, destitute, and poverty-stricken when the beloved has gone. Furthermore, relationships can die and belonging dissipate, not only because the beloved leaves, but because the lover has too often fallen short of what love commands: giving and receiving, communion and generation. The lover—the subject-self who can choose not to be worthy of his love in thought, word, or deed—can fall away from what love requires, and when he does, he loses sight of the beauty of the beloved. But in love, in opening himself to love, the lover wants the beauty of the beloved to be his own forever and such beauty to last in spite of the devastation of the passing of time and in spite of the inexorableness of death.
Belonging, we can say, is grounded in a luminous beauty within the murkiness of the ordinary, simply because the beloved is a beloved, and present in our midst. From the beloved to whom we are now subject, we pick up the boundaries that demarcate the uniqueness of our selfhood. It is for the sake of the beloved that we choose to exercise our agency. We exist-from and exist-toward the beloved whose presence invites us to be responsible and free, in that order. In the presence of the beloved, I am present to myself as lover, unfolding myself in ways that I may not have otherwise done. In such unfolding, I bring my own possibilities to light. What love opens to me is nothing short of the abiding cosmos as the horizon in which I find myself regarding the beloved. Indeed, the beauty of the beloved is consubstantial with the beauty of the cosmos. Hers is the beauty of the cosmos, a microcosmic bond and order, both lasting and passing at once. Love teaches the lover how to belong in the cosmos through beauty.
Whoever has been initiated so far in the mysteries of Love and has viewed all these aspects of the beautiful in due succession, is at last drawing near the final revelation. And 191 now, Socrates, there bursts upon him that wondrous vision which is the very soul of the beauty he as toiled so long for. It is an everlasting loveliness which neither comes nor goes, which neither flowers nor fades, for such beauty is the same on every hand, the same then as now, here as there … (210e2-211a3).
Diotima tells Socrates that our entrance into the life of love crosses first the threshold of the physical beauties of the world, and the beauties of the spirit second. But the embracing vision of divine beauty, the absolute, is the grand consummation of the life of love. Populated by the beauties of loved ones—beloved persons, places and things—such a life is always played out against the vista of the absolute. Like climbing the rungs of a ladder, “the universal beauty dawns upon his inward sight, he is almost within reach of the final revelation” (211b6). Indeed, the inbetween nature of love, in search of the beauty of the beloved, equips the consciousness and flesh of the lover to become “the friend of god, and if ever it is given to man to put on immortality, it shall be given to him” (212a5). Diotima asks rhetorically, “Would you call his… an unenviable life?” (211e4). In love of the beloved, we are mortals who put on immortality in contemplating the beauty that outlives death.