A Reflection on Seeing

This post comes to us from Michael McFarland, Notre Dame University

Those who wish to be leaders in our own day and in the future would do well to read The Phenomenon of Man, for what it says about vision. We are in the midst of ISIS, a quasi-nation that stands in relation to nations as a virus to cells, rises up to kill and to wage war. Whole countries strive to destroy other countries, and the situation looks apocalyptic.

What does a nation need for survival? The proverb goes, “Without vision, a nation perishes.” So, our times need citizens and, among them, leaders who possess vision. Plato regarded courage as a combination of boldness and wisdom. Wisdom includes vision. So, vision forms an obviously important part of courage. Where does a young person get vision?

Let me present a reflection on the foreword to The Phenomenon of Man. Teilhard called the foreword, “On Seeing”.   Knowledge, he says, allows us to see subjectively with the inner eye what we already see objectively with our physical eyes. To acquire this knowledge, which is vision, we need to acquire senses, such as a sense of the organic. By this sense one can see what connects entities that, without this sense, appear disconnected. Without this sense, they may appear as elements in a list, or as merely adjacent things. Teilhard calls this book The Phenomenon of Man so that, in understanding what he writes, readers see man as an extraordinary “phenomenon,” and so that we would see the quite meaningful implications of this organic fitting of man into the universe.

In writing The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard limits himself to what will help the

reader see. Man’s “over-pronounced individuality conceals from our eyes the whole to which he belongs; as we look at man our minds incline to break nature up into pieces’ by not considering man as a part of a whole – the whole earth/ the whole universe/ nature itself.”

“In fact I doubt whether there is a more decisive moment for a thinking being
than when the scales fall from his eyes and he discovers that he is not an isolated
unit lost in the cosmic solitudes, and realizes that a universal will to live
converges … in him.”

Nations would avoid needless warfare if enough of their citizens came to the realization, as Teilhard suggests, that they embody, as persons, “the universal will to live.”

Teilhard cared about this spare , The Phenomenon of Man, as an artist cares for the great work of his life. It is a monumental book. This book transcends Western thought. Teilhard writes as a human, not without Western biases, but as a human. After all, he did not always live in Europe and America, but spent years working in China. “Without vision, a people perishes.” As Sir Arnold Toynbee, one of the world’s greatest historians, remarked about Teilhard, “His work gives our generation the comprehensive view it sorely needs”. Now, a century after Toynbee’s heyday, a generation needs the comprehensive view that Toynbee mentions. Young people with the courage to lead nations, for the sake of the future, read The Phenomenon of Man. Acquire this vision, a vision as a result of which courageous citizens lead their own nation without destroying others.


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