The Problematik of Otherness

Image result for volf exclusion and embrace

In reading chapters 4-6 of Mirsolav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (1996), I wanted to make a particularly important connection to what can be described as “the problematik of Otherness.”

In my view, the “problematik” of otherness is that otherness cannot always be quantified, or even objectified. In some cases, otherness can only be qualified as an idea and that “idea,” as such, then, has to be bracketed as object of understanding. I am thinking particularly of Husserl’s phenomenological reduction, whereby the only way that we can understand something transcendent is by “bracketing” it, or reducing its transcendence to something more epistemologically-accessible. Not to say that something transcendent does not have a certain epistemological quality to it –it is just that objects of transcendence can only be “apperceived” through a phenomenological awareness of them. The “problematik” is that certain forms of otherness can only be apperceived, where that apperception of them engages our awareness of them differently depending on the experiences and history we bring into our encounter of them.

This seems to be what Volf is most concerned with when confronting the “otherness” of oppression, justice, and truth. There is, in fact, something problematic in them. We each encounter oppression, justice, and truth differently, either viewing them through our own experiences of them, the nature in which we are aware that other people have experienced them, and the degree to which we idealize what we think they are in society –these three things, as “ideas,” can only be conceptualized as “others,” but share a problematic stature in the human consciousness that is relative to how they are defined, appropriated, and interpreted contextually.

To say that anything is “oppression,” “justice,” and “truth” means that they must be individualized, qualified within some concrete situational context in order to proceed toward human quantification. In other words, as objects of understanding, oppression, justice, and truth are idea existing only in ideality. There is no true reality in which oppression, justice, and truth “are,” as such –what I mean is that they do not have a concretized existence in themselves outside of the means and ways in which they are used and applied. When we affirm that something is oppressive, or something is a form of justice, or that something is truth, we affirm, first to ourselves, that they have relevance in the world of ideas and that, in turn, within the world of ideas they are possible quantities. What we make of oppression, justice, and truth is based on the meaning we make out of them as “ideas” -the fact that they are not factual by their nature, but only “factical,” particularly in the sense that they have ontical groundings. I find that this is directly in line with what Kierkegaard describes as “truth is subjectivity,” where any idea can only be objectified through our own will as a subjective figure in the world and the extent to which we formulate a meaning from that idea.

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