Freedom Freed by Hope

A Conversation with Johann B. Metz and William F. Lynch on the ‘Identity Crisis’ in the West

by Alberto Dominguez Munaiz (Author)
Monographs 186 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Preface by Pope Francis
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Thesis
  • Prior Considerations
  • Methodology
  • Chapter 1: Status Quaestionis: On Identity, Modernity, and Postmodernity
  • 1.1 What We Assume by Identity
  • 1.1.1 Psychoanalysis Perspective
  • 1.1.2 Psychosocial Perspective: Erik H. Erikson
  • 1.1.3 Cognitive Psychological Perspective: Lawrence Kohlberg
  • 1.1.4 Philosophical Perspective: Mary Warnock
  • Theory of Knowledge: Imagination
  • The Nature of Human Identity: Memory and Autobiography
  • 1.1.5 Evaluation
  • 1.2 On Modern and Postmodern Identity
  • 1.2.1 Status of the Individual Identity: Bauman, Taylor, Lipovetsky
  • 1.2.2 The Place of Weakness: M. P. Gallagher, N. Boyle
  • 1.3 Conclusion
  • Chapter 2: The Role of Hope in Metz and Lynch’s Theological Anthropology
  • 2.1 Johann B. Metz: The Place of Hope in His Theological Anthropology
  • 2.1.1 Mystical-Political Theology or Practically-Oriented Fundamental Theology
  • 2.1.2 Theological Anthropology: Memory, Narratives, and Compassio in Hope
  • Human Beings and Creation: World, History, and Rationality in the World
  • Human Beings and Their Mystical Character: Rationality, Language, and Prayer
  • The Human Being and Others: Political Character of the Subject (Ethics of Compassio and the Homo Peccator)
  • 2.2 William F. Lynch: Imagination as Grace to Go through the Human Valley
  • 2.2.1 Christian Realism: A New Sensibility and Spirituality to Build the Human City
  • 2.2.2 Anthropological Theology: Imagination to Go through the Human Valley
  • The Individual as a Hoping Being: On Hope, Hopelessness, and the Absolutizing Instinct
  • A Hopeful Sensibility: Imagination as Grace to Go Through
  • Chapter 3: Rethinking Identity in Hope
  • 3.1 Hope Constitutes a Fundamental Element of a Vulnerable Human Being: Disposition to Trust and the Communitarian Dimension of Hope
  • 3.1.1 Conversation with Metz and Lynch
  • On the Symptoms
  • On the Internal Process of Identity Devaluation
  • Pedagogy of Hope: Hope Sweet Hope
  • 3.1.2 Contrast with the Results of Chapter One
  • 3.2 Hope a Dynamism to Endure in Life (and History): Through Hopelessness to Hope
  • 3.2.1 Conversation with Metz and Lynch
  • On Truth and its Relationship with Anamnestic Rationality: Unjust Suffering
  • On Just Suffering and its Value: Sensibility, Pathos and True Humanness
  • Hope as a Criterion of Discernment
  • 3.2.2 Contrast with the Results of Chapter One
  • 3.3 Hope Invites the Person to Integrate Time and History
  • 3.3.1 Conversation with Metz and Lynch
  • 3.3.2 Contrast with the Results of Chapter One
  • 3.4 Balance and Conclusion
  • Epilogue: Images of Hope
  • i The Photo Album: Identity Is Memory and Autobiography
  • ii The Graft: Continuity in Discontinuity
  • iii R. Nadal vs. R. Federer: Friendship and Beauty in a Competitive World: The Ideal Desire in Hope
  • iv Patch Adams (Tom Shadyac, 1998): Doctor-Patient, Disposition toward Hope
  • v Madrid, January 5, 2016: “Mum, Gaspar’s Clothes Are Not Real”: The Energy within Imagination of Hope
  • vi The Spiral: In the Time of Aeschylus, One Never Goes Back to the Same Place: Time in the Inner Mentality of Hope
  • vii The Immune System: Epigenetic Creativity of Hope
  • viii Investment Plan: From the 2007 Crisis to the 2020 Crisis: Hope Means Human Nature and Society with Plans
  • ix The Glass of Water: Drop by Drop It Overflows until You Fully Perceive Grace
  • x Covid-19: #WeStopThisVirusTogether: Communitarian Responsibility of Hope
  • xi Joker (Todd Phillips, 2019): We Are a Society, Hope Is Not Faceless
  • xii Dangerous Memories, Rwanda 1994: “Do This in Memory of Me”: Hope, Unjustly Suffering, Incarnation, and Anamnestic Reason
  • xiii #BlackLivesMatter: Past as a Principle of Reconciliation if It Is a Source of Hope
  • xiv Mt 25: Feeding, Material Need and Hope Transfer
  • xv Saved by the Bell: On a Pilgrimage to the Xavier Castle: Hope Guides and Saves on the Way
  • xvi The Test of Gratitude: Take, Lord, and Receive from Ignatius of Loyola
  • Bibliography
  • List of Tables and Figures

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Human beings take for granted the continuity and sequentiality of days and seasons: Spring follows Winter, Summer follows Spring, and Autumn follows Summer.2 Likewise, we expect the sun to rise every morning, for light to appear, and the sun to set at night to make room for darkness. We accept and believe in the axioms of geometry and logic on which mathematics and physics depend, and experimentation and scientific observation seem to prove that they work. As children, we learn to walk by exploring our “disbeliefs” (“unbeliefs”), insecurities and fears, until at last, we believe in ourselves enough to put one foot in front of the other, a process that will become so automatic as to be unconscious. Similarly, when driving a car, adults confidently assume and expect the continuity of the road. Even when the car climbs a mountain and encounters a bend which does not allow us to see round the other side, the driver expects a certain result.

It seems that humans need to believe in the regularity of nature and in the regularity (i.e., stability) of relationships. Otherwise, a person would live in permanent tension, characterized by latent insecurity and/or confusion that could be exaggerated to the point of neurotic disease. That is what Freud and Erikson highlight from infancy and childhood: infants have to learn to believe and trust in relationships through being loved and protected by their parents, relatives, or community. This attachment forms their first identity or the basic substratum where identity will take root. In fact, the absence of such an attachment, the absence of basic trust in a friendly environment—fundamentally parents and family—will problematize the future integration of any child into society.

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Therefore, it is worth asking whether or not this capacity for trusting, hoping, and believing in the regularity of nature, in the stability of relationships, or in the progress of society, is something which is merely circumstantial? The evidence suggests that this is not the case, and there must be an inner disposition towards trusting-in, hoping-from the living world. The absence of it can result to a failed personhood, whether that person be apathetic, indifferent, depressed or isolated from communitarian joy.

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But what is broken in an apathetic person? And what about a person with depression? How does hope contribute to the configuration of human identity? Is hope a simple idea or abstract knowledge? Is it only for a time of despair? Only for Christians as a theological virtue?3 I propose that hope plays a crucial role not only to overcome challenges or difficult moments in life but also to raise, train, and grow as mature, (mentally) healthy and (morally) good people.

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Indeed, I want to explore what, from the perspectives of social psychology and sociology, some authors (Charles Taylor, Michael Paul Gallagher, Zygmunt Bauman, or Gille Lipovetsky) call soft, weak identity or the false confident subject.4 However, I do not only want to articulate how things stand at the moment, particularly in the West, but also to propose a way of rethinking human identity in hope. That is why I intend to study the theological anthropology of Johann B. Metz and William F. Lynch, which is grounded on the virtue of hope.

In this study, I argue that a proper understanding of the notion of hope and its activation as a habit contribute to rehabilitating the disposition of the person, both subjectively and communally, whether in periods of identity crisis (existential or psycho-evolutionary) or in intermediate periods of ordinary life. And this leads to healing of the taste for life, imagination, and desires, as well as purpose, freedom, passion, and gratitude (to God and others).

Prior Considerations

The research focuses on the Western world. To be specific, what Charles Taylor understood as the term the “West” in his acclaimed book, A Secular Age: “Almost everyone would agree that in some sense we do: by this, I mean the ‘we’ who live in the West, or perhaps Northwest, or in other words, the North Atlantic world.”5

On the other hand, one of the key terms we will analyze is the concept of identity. This complex concept has long been studied from different perspectives. From now onwards, it should be emphasized that identity is related to the individual’s formation and his or her behavior. It is not something which is simply “discovered” but formed, forged, and even built over time. In this book, the term will be approached from a humanistic perspective, particularly Christian humanism.

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With regard to identity crisis, it should be pointed out that is a technical term which was coined by Erik H. Erikson and directly associated with Developmental Psychology. Erikson’s study on completing the cycle of life suggests that the development of human beings goes through gradual stages.6 In each stage the person encounters a discussion, tension or internal conflict that involves epistemological, psychosexual, and social-adaptive aspects which must be resolved in order to achieve a human capacity (fidelity, industry, autonomy, etc.) allowing them to peacefully progress in the vital task. Although this is true, it is still possible to be more precise with Erikson, since identity crisis describes the resolution of the conflict between the confused identity and the (achieved) identity which appeared in adolescence. Erikson will also use the term completed (life cycle completed) but this does not mean either a mathematical perfect cycle or a complete human being. He is aware that human beings, although they reach important milestones and close cycles, are always on a path and can never complete the life cycle until the end of their lives.7

Another prior consideration corresponds to the category of hope. I will talk about the need to rehabilitate hope but is there hopelessness nowadays? How is hope understood? How are hope and hopelessness integrated? I must indeed confirm that there is such a thing as hopelessness or some sort of confusion; otherwise, there would be no need for this study. Authors such as William F. Lynch have suggested that some behaviors, some cultural patterns, if they belong to the sociological imagination, can be fairly considered to be symptoms of hopelessness.8 With this perspective, let us have a look at official data on drug addiction, alcoholism, increasing rates of addiction to social media, and an increase in depression, the suicide rate, and the divorce rate, declining birth rates, and ever-increasing consumerism, and individualism.

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On October 27, 2017 the White House made public the battle against the now-blazing opioid crisis that affects the U.S.9 In 2016 around 64,000 people died because of an opioid overdose.10 There is an increase of 4 % in the mortality rate from 2010. Similarly, in Spain, the government has grown alarmed at the silent increase of opioid overdose among its own people. (One needs to bear in mind the ravages wrought by this drug in the 1980s generation.)11 Moreover, the state of Massachusetts has recently legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, principally as an antidote to anxiety.12 This raises the question: is there really a social problem with anxiety? Anxiety is related to minor fears and to the perception of immediate future time.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that more than 264 million people in the world suffer from depression.13 And there has been an increase of 18 % between 2005 and 2015. It accounts for 4.3 % of global morbidity. In addition, it is inferred that in 2030, one out of four people could suffer from a mental illness. Therefore, the WHO stressed the need for a global action plan.14

Likewise, a recent study in the U.S. linked depression and anxiety with risky behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, obesity, and stress. The data reveal that 8.7 % of the population suffer from depression in the U.S.15 When the data is broken down according to certain key indicators, such as profession, the percentage of people suffering from anxiety is even higher in some categories. In Europe, 40 million people suffer from depression, which is around 4.3 % of the population according to the WHO.16

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Another mental health concern is suicide. The suicide rate in the US has increased by more than 30 % in half the states since 1999.17 More than half (54 %) of the people who committed suicide did not have any previously known mental health condition. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is a global phenomenon which constitutes the seventeenth highest cause of mortality. “Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and is the second leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds globally.” The report continues, “there are indications that for each adult who died of suicide there may have been more than twenty others attempting suicide.”18

Europe had the worst average suicide rate in 2015.19 It is remarkable that there were 22.3 suicides per 100,000 population in Poland; 15.4 and 15.2 per 100,000 population in Sweden and Switzerland respectively; 13.1 in Germany. In North America, the data are similar: 14.3 per 100,000 population in the U.S., and 12.3 per 100,000 population in Canada.

But what prompts someone to commit suicide? There are many factors involved which are related to their socio-economic and cultural context, as well as their personal history. It should also be highlighted that not every person who commits suicide is mentally ill. Suicidal thoughts are extreme internal struggles which concern dissatisfaction with the way the person is living: “I don’t want to continue living like this,” is the interpretation made William Lynch, one of the authors whom I will address later on. The person longs for expansion and liberation. However, these ideas may not accurately represent our reality, or maybe only part of the reality. That is why Lynch—who overcame depression himself—will help us understand the internal process that leads a person to despair.

In Spain, young people cannot buy alcohol until they are eighteen years of age. However, the typical way of going out on the weekend ordinarily involves alcohol, and many teenagers start drinking heavily at 13. Studies suggest that there has been a change in consumption among young people. Not only do they start drinking earlier but the consumption model has changed: the typical Mediterranean wine culture, associated with dining and conversation, has moved on to stronger alcohol drinks with the aim of achieving euphoria and disinhibition more quickly. Alcohol has become an object of entertainment itself.20

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It is true that behavior changes after the teenage years, but still those who used to drink habitually have a higher probability of becoming alcoholics. A report by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services stated that 23 % of adults and teenagers reported heavy episodic drinking in the past month.21 The second chapter of that report referred to the neurobiological effects provoked by misuse and addiction. It is worth wondering whether Western culture is nourishing healthy people. For this reason, this study will try to answer the following question: what kind of image of human development does the West promote?

In the U.S., the average rate of divorce between opposite sex couples is 41 % for first marriages; 60 % for second marriages; and 73 % for third marriages.22 In the E.U., the data show that the number of marriages has decreased while the number of divorces has increased: in 2013 there were 4.1 marriages for every 1,000 people and 1.9 divorces.23 For instance, in Spain there has been a surprising decrease in married life: from 7.8 marriages per 1,000 persons in 1960, the rate dropped to 3.6 marriages per 1,000 by 2015. It is well known that divorce is a sad and complex phenomenon which involves economic autonomy, social expectations, levels of education, physical and psychological violence, and the social context in general. But it is worth reflecting on why a man and a woman can no longer live together in a stable and successful way. The puzzle seems to point to the fact that, at a time when political and economic freedoms have been consolidated for every individual in the West, the communitarian dimension of human identity has been neglected or, at least, impoverished.

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The birth rate for Spain in 2015 was 1.33 births per woman, but 18.67 % of them were non-Spanish women. In the U.S. the birth rate was 12.4 per 1,000 population in 2016, a slight decrease from 14 per 1,000 in 2005.24 It is common to attribute these decreases to the higher cost of living, either in economic terms to guarantee the proper (adequate) upbringing of a child (clothing, food, school, recreation) or in terms of the time needed; it would be common to say something like this: “children take up a lot of time and we both work.” However, how many people decide not to have children as they believe that this world is too complicated and hard? In other words: “it is not worth the effort.”

Taking another step. From an anthropological point of view, a preliminary reflection on consumerism can shed light on two aspects: the exercise of freedom and consumerism’s contribution to identity. First, consumerism in a globalized and market-oriented world valorizes the experience of freedom and the desire for liberation. People experience something similar to freedom because quasi-infinite options are set before them, such as the choice of beverages (light, zero, flavors), the diversity of clothing (color, brand, size), international news (The Boston Globe, Die Welt, El País, Le Monde) just a click away through the Internet, or increasingly afordable tourist destinations (Rome, Tokyo, Nairobi, New York City), etc. The experience of consumerism conveys a sense of power, or at least the power of free will.

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Second, and without leaving aside the previous reflection, consumerism suggests that more or less consciously human being needs to do something in order to be, need to do in order to satisfy a longing for being, for identity. Action, what philosophy discusses as the moment of praxis, plays a crucial role in the construction of our truth, and thus in our identity.25 In this line, consumerism turns out to be an incomplete mechanism that manages to satisfy and entertain certain human needs but does not favor the consolidation of a resilient and mature person. It should, therefore, study what my research can tell us about how hope can contribute to the significance of our actions and, in turn, to human identity.

Now and beyond the previous considerations, hope is a theological virtue along with faith and charity, which allows us to participate in life and the love of God.26 The three virtues are, indeed, interrelated in the Christian experience, which is one and not two different things. “Christian hope takes up what faith believes and carries it through difficulty unto a deeper, transformed love.”27 However, we need to speak separately about them in order to clarify and nourish human experience.28 Moreover, they are distinguished from one another insofar as faith is primarily related to knowledge (intellect), charity with action (will), and hope with the holistic and energizing power of the imagination (mind). This last aspect will be developed and explored in more depth throughout this study at different times and with different authors.

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Moreover, it is finally convenient to make another clarification. Some people understand hope as an extraordinary thing which appears in cases of emergency or despair: when there is no longer a “human” solution. Thus, hope paradoxically means despair. It is true that Saint Paul tells us: “In this hope we were saved. Hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?” (Rom 8:24).29 Which brings us back to the transcendental dimension of hope that is, indeed, essential. However, it does not mean an easy future solution is at hand. The Letter to the Romans is underlining the transcendental dimension of hope, which is only part of its truth because, if this part is absolutized, this would imply an underlying denial of reality, temporality, context, and responsibility itself.

On the contrary, a hope that had consequences in the realistic understanding of the ordinary would encourage the normal life of people; it would be, to rewrite Martin Buber, an imagination that imagines the real. Therefore, hope will imply both a transcendental dimension and a categorical dimension, that is embodied, that embraces reality, not only intellectually but in the very nature of our dispositions, commitments and, consequently, our perception of life. Paraphrasing Pope Benedict in Spe Salvi, hope gives us something and this study will investigate what.30


The method of study will be as follows. In Chapter 1, I study the notion of identity. If my thesis refers to identity and its crisis, I will have to define two things: the ideal mature identity (Section 1.1.), and the current state of identity in the Western world (Section 1.2.).

However, it is convenient, on the other hand, to be careful with what at this point is intended to be understood by an “ideal mature identity.” “Ideal” not because it is a process that has an end—it lasts a lifetime—but because individuals achieve an identity that they accept, assume and integrate, and from which they will live and partially reconfigure the rest of their lives in a way that is no longer malleable. In fact, biology confirms that human physiology and psychology are more flexible and moldable at an early age, especially when it comes to the brain. That is to say, by “ideal” what is understood is that, at some point, leaving behind adolescence, people (must) define their self well enough to be able to later live in peace integrating the vicissitudes of life. “Maturity” refers to that moment.

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On the other hand, the term “maturity” refers to precisely that moment and, in some way, modifies the notion of “ideal” so that it need not be something abstract, notional and unattainable, but, on the contrary, something possible and real. Maturity marks a horizon but does not blindly determine it under the anguish and anxiety of reaching a canon; it is about a livable, achievable horizon which is called upon to be kinder and freer than that of the immature subject.

From the Christian humanistic perspective, we believe in the saying of Irenaeus of Lyon: “the glory of God is a living human person.”31 Therefore, to make it easier for people to live with hope in this world, I will first compare what different scientific perspectives tell us in order to establish a proper understanding of the ideal mature identity from these sources. These perspectives will be: psychoanalysis (Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson), cognitive psychology (Lawrence Kohlberg) and philosophy (Mary Warnock).

It should be noted in advance that the psychologists Erikson and Kohlberg deploy their theory in longitudinal studies. Hence, they have real credibility to speak with some authority about human development. Mary Warnock, from her mature writings, provides us with a thorough and exhaustive reflective synthesis on what philosophy, through the best authors on the subject, has thought about identity throughout history. Writing in the twentieth century, Warnock also incorporates biology and neuroscience into her studies of memory and the role of imagination in the constitution of identity.

Once ideal mature identity has been defined, I will analyze the state of the identity of the Western subject in order to compare both the ideal and the current one and, thus, be able to reflect on where the points of weakness or failings—crisis—are located. In fact, many authors warn us about this, which might make us think as an initial hypothesis that this crisis has to do with the weakness of hope from a cultural, political, family and religious point of view.

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Apropos of this, I will first study what sociology says, mainly through the Polish American Zigmunt Bauman, but also with references to the French sociologist Gille Lipovetsky. I will also discuss the study of the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor. Secondly, I will analyze the place and cause of the Western subject’s crisis. Michael Paul Gallagher and Nicholas Boyle place it not merely at the sociological level but also on at an anthropological and cultural level. To put it another way, they argue that it is not enough to organize better our societies or to make more laws: society needs to rehabilitate a fallen anthropology, and that involves the images, symbols, and narratives of our culture. In this section, it is necessary to discuss the contribution of the economy in the configuration of the contemporary subject, given the omnipresent role of economics in this globalized world. Nicholas Boyle provides the essential contributions for that discussion.

In the second chapter, I will study the theological anthropologies of the German Johann B. Metz (Section 2.1.) and the North American William F. Lynch (Section 2.2.). (Since I talked about the West, I wanted to bring along the two centers of the West, the European one, embodied in the work of Metz, and the North American one, represented by Lynch, and also previously Bauman and Taylor, Erikson and Kohlberg.) Metz and Lynch find in hope a fundamental element of the human subject. Metz and Lynch claim, from different perspectives, that individuals are vulnerable subjects threatened by escaping from reality: alienated by ideologies (echoing Metz) or by fantasies (echoing Lynch) that come to justify, save or free them, but often to isolate or even make them sick.

Metz and Lynch argue that the humanness of the subject is built, not given, despite the fact that humanness comes from outside—whether in birth or in the mutual nature of all economic, social, work relationships, and human life—. That is why their theologies are a reflection on the person, history and God with a strong practical and political dimension. Metz and Lynch intend to offer ways to liberate human beings from ideologies and fantasies, and thus rehabilitate them and reintroduce them to “the valley of the human,” using Lynch’s terminology, since there, and nowhere else, is where the realization of life is to be found, as the reality principle of psychoanalysis insists.

Nevertheless, not everything will be identical in Metz and Lynch, since they approach theology from different points of view. This will precisely allow us to gain a rich reflection and a fruitful dialogue with them. The German develops a fundamental theology with a strong emphasis on its political-cultural dimension, whereas his American counterpart displays a phenomenology of hope when presenting his theological anthropology. This poses some difficulty since neither Metz nor Lynch systematize an anthropology at any time. As this is the case, one of my contributions will be to infer their theological anthropologies from their writings. This divergence will be reflected in conversation in the last and conclusive chapter. At some point, I will even reread an author through the eyes of the other; and vice versa. Likewise, the results established in the conclusions will be compared and reinforced with the results obtained in Chapter 1.

Finally, and as an epilogue, I offer sixteen images of hope that a contemporary mentality will understand. With these images, I intend to use that other access route, imagination, and its implementation through narration as literary irony, to open fixed or blocked structures and move human nature from the anxiety for security to the certainty of hope.

2This work is based on my STL Thesis from Boston College University, entitled “The Response of Hope to the ‘Crisis of Identity’: The Theological Anthropologies of Johann B. Metz and William F. Lynch.” The full text can be found at http://hdl.handle.net/2345/bc-ir:108064.

3With regard to hope, four basic references are going to be discussed: Pope Benedict XVI, “Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi,” 2007, http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20071130_spe-salvi.html; Ernst Bloch, et al., The Principle of Hope, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986; Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope. On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology (New York; Evanston, IL: Harper & Row, 1967); and Dominic Doyle, The Promise of Christian Humanism: Thomas Aquinas on Hope (New York: Crossroad Pub, 2011).

The German priest, Joseph A. Ratzinger (1927-), professor of theology, consultant to the Second Vatican Council, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1982, and elected Pope in 2005 as Benedict XVI, published this encyclical on hope in 2007 within the framework of a trilogy on theological virtues: charity, Deus Caritas est (2006) and Caritas in Veritate (2009); faith, Lumen Fidei (2013)—although this was eventually signed by Pope Francis. Benedict XVI wonders about the quality and properties of hope, precisely because he states that there is a crisis of Christian hope. Pope Benedict, based on the Scriptures (especially on the Pauline corpus) and on the Church Fathers (Ambrose and Augustine, mainly), in dialogue with philosophy and culture, understands hope rooted in faith and not as an individualistic thing; hope gives us “something” which is already here, and the acknowledgement of that “something” performatively affects our present by changing our life. As proof of this, he points to a witness of hope: a woman of Sudanese origin, who was a slave, was raped, bought, freed, became a nun and, was finally declared a saint in October 2000: Saint Josephine Bakhita.

The German Jewish philosopher, Ernst Bloch (1885–1977), wrote this exhaustive three-volume work during his exile in the U.S.A., between 1938 and 1947. From a Marxist perspective and often using his own language, he reflects on hope from the utopian aspiration of human rational nature. Based on an encyclopedic study of utopias throughout history, he argues that to reflect on the person is fundamentally to do so on his or her hope; this is how the term “principle” is understood in the title of the work: The Hope Principle. What the human being is today was real potentiality, and he or she will continue to achieve it through his or her limitless limited progress. The eschatological well-known “not yet” is not, then, a possibility but a real potentiality that will one day be consummated as progress; a process that occurs perfected by the errors of history and is made subjective in the disappointment of its hope which, in turn, becomes more docta by going through courage. Freedom and order, anticipatory awareness, and courage, are categories that guide the dialectic of history. This goes beyond flat optimism or abstract utopia in favor of a concrete utopia, capable of correcting a narrow Marxist economic materialism.

Jürgen Moltmann (1926– ) is a Protestant theologian of German origin. He grew up receiving a sound education in a secular Gnostic atmosphere. During the years 1945–8, Moltmann was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp; On the verge of losing hope, he approached a group of Christians and began his journey of belief. Professor at the University of Bonn and Tübingen, hope will be a recurring theme in his publications: Theology of Hope (1968), The Hope Experiment (1976), In the EndThe Beginning (2004), Ethics of Hope (2011). Theology of Hope is a systematic work grounded in Scripture that addresses hope from an eschatological perspective. What is especially valuable is his theology of promise and how he incorporates history into his eschatology of history. In the end, making explicit the influence of E. Bloch on his thinking, he devotes more than forty pages to the dialogue with The Hope Principle.

The English-born theologian living in Boston (USA), Dominic Doyle, is a brilliant professor at Boston College University. A graduate of Cambridge University and Harvard Divinity School, he published the previously cited book as a synthesis of his doctoral thesis from Boston College. The Promise of Christian Humanism received the John Templeton Prize for Theological Promise in 2010. In the first part of the book, and in dialogue with culture, Doyle develops an understanding of Christian humanism through authors such as Charles Taylor, Nicholas Boyle, Jaques Maritan, and John C. Murray. He then makes a well-founded but personal interpretation of the importance of hope in Saint Thomas Aquinas. Within the Thomistic theological framework, exitusreditus, Doyle explains how grace does not compete with nature. The author emphasizes the unfinished aspect of being human in a dynamic society that can be sustained (“perfected,” echoing the original Thomistic term) by the auxilium of God. Human beings yearn for a type of happiness and satisfaction that only God can fulfill in Heaven, with the beatifica visio Dei. Faith, hope, and charity are ways of knowing and talking about the human experience of God, which is unitary. Charity is the feasible and laborious way of traveling in hope towards God, taking what faith believes to live and build Christian humanism.

4Cf. Michael P. Gallagher, Clashing Symbols: An Introduction to Faith and Culture, New and rev. ed. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2003), 147. Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 38. Zygmunt Bauman, Postmodernity and Its Discontents (New York: New York University Press, 1997), 127–47, 130.

5Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2007), EBSCOhost, 1.

6Erik H. Erikson (1902–1994) was a German-American psychologist who studied human psychosocial development. I mainly follow Erik. H. Erikson, The Life Cycle Completed (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998).

7Cf. Erik. H. Erikson, El Ciclo de la Vida Completado (México: Paidós, 1988), 12.

8C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, A Galaxy Book ; GB 204 (London; New York: Oxford University Press, 1967). This book published in 1959 was a turning point in Sociology. Sociological imagination is a new perspective and method which takes into account the three dimensions of a life: biography, society, and history, which all simultaneously involve the object of study. Sociological imagination represents the self-conscious view of a contemporary person within its sociological and historical context. “It is the capacity to range from the most impersonal and remote transformations to the most intimate features of the human self—and to see the relations between the two.” Ibid., 6. To give an example: the rate of divorce is no longer considered a personal crisis but a structural, cultural pattern because divorce belongs to the sociological imagination. Cf. Ibid., 9.

9The White House, “President Donald J. Trump Is Taking Action on Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis” (Washington, D.C., 2017), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trump-taking-action-drug-addiction-opioid-crisis/.

10Josh Katz, “Drug Deaths in America Are Rising Faster Than Ever,” The New York Times, January 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/05/upshot/opioid-epidemic-drug-overdose-deaths-are-rising-faster-than-ever.html.

11Barbara Ayuso, “El Nuevo Perfil Del Adicto a La Heroína,” El País, August 2016, https://politica.elpais.com/politica/2016/08/14/actualidad/1471195572_998082.html.

12Joshua Miller, “It’s Official: Marijuana Is Legal in Massachusetts,” The Boston Globe, December 2016, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/12/14/official-marijuana-legal-midnight-massachusetts/10Rl2inZQMjSPrNAMSBkCJ/story.html.

13World Health Organization WHO, “Depression,” January 30, 2020, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression.

14WHO, “Mental Health Action Plan 2013–2020,” 2013, https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241506021.

15Tara W. Strine, et al., “Depression and Anxiety in the United States: Findings From the 2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System,” Psychiatric Services 59 (December 2008): 1383–90. See also, Alexander S. Young, et al., “Persistent Depression and Anxiety in the United States: Prevalence and Quality of Care,” Psychiatric Services 59 (December 2008): 1391–8. In the conclusions, the author states: “Persistent depressive and anxiety disorders are remarkably common in the U.S. population and are associated with substantial morbidity.”

16Cf. https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases/mental-health/areas-of-work/depression.

17Centers of Disease Control and Prevention CDC, “Suicide Rising across the US,” June 7, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/suicide/index.html.

18Cf. http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/.

19The next data refer to WHO statistics. http://apps.who.int/gho/data/node.sdg.3-4-viz-2?lang=en.

20Cf. Javier Elzo, Joan Pallarés, and María T. Laespada, “Más Allá del Botellón: Análisis Socioantropológico del Consumo de Alcohol en los Adolescentes y Jóvenes” (Anti-Drug Agency, 2003). See also Carlos Gómez-Vírseda, “Jóvenes y Alcohol: ¿Juicio desde Fuera u Oportunidad de Encuentro?,” Sal Terrae: Revista de Teología Pastoral, 2012. This article develops four main theses: firstly, the change from Mediterranean consumption to another “Anglo-Saxon” type; secondly, alcohol has become an object of entertainment itself; thirdly, adults are those who run the businesses and, therefore, benefit from it, likewise, they are the ones who have generated a culture in which young people do not easily find meaning; finally, the author wonders whether it is in alcohol itself where they try to mitigate and find this yearning for meaning.

21See Figure 1.2: Trends in Binge Drinking and Past 30-Day Use of Illicit Drugs among Persons Aged 12 Years or Older, 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, “Facing Addiction in America. The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health,” 2016, https://addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-generals-report.pdf.

22Cf. McKinley Yrvin, “32 Shocking Divorce Statistics,” https://www.mckinleyirvin.com/Family-Law-Blog/2012/October/32-Shocking-Divorce-Statistics.aspx.

23Cf. Euroestat, “Marriage and Divorce Statistics,” June 2017, http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Marriage_and_divorce_statistics.

24Cf. “Number of Births in the United States from 2000 to 2016,” The Statistics Portal (blog), May 2018, https://www.statista.com/statistics/195908/number-of-births-in-the-united-states-since-1990/.

25Maurice Blondel, Action (1893): Essay on a Critique of Life and a Science of Practice (USA: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007). In this long and masterful work, Blondel wonders about the meaning of life and its destiny from the exhaustive method of phenomenology and dialectics. In the concluding chapter, he affirmatively responds: yes, “it is” a meaning and a destiny for human life. This involves action, through the attempt to adapt oneself through the cycle of finding the compromise between knowing, wanting and being, and committing oneself to produce it. Cf. Ibid., 446. Blondel analyzes different approaches to action: firstly, whether it was not a problem (Part I), then assuming a problem, whether it was given a negative, pessimistic or nihilistic answer (Part II). In the third part, the author develops a phenomenology of action: from intuition, awareness of action, its expansion insofar as it goes outside of itself when it is updated, the difference between what is wanted and what is acted upon, the dimension which is always social, and the new higher knowledge acquired that returns to the being. Afterwards, in Part IV, the possibility (“conflict”) or necessity (“alternative”) of transcendence and of God is raised; self-denial, sacrifice and indifference will be the notes of that transcended action. Finally, in Part V, Blondel reflects on philosophy and theology.

26Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Vatican City; Washington, D.C.: Libreria Editrice Vaticana; distributed by the United States Catholic Conference, 2000), nn.1803–45. “The human virtues are rooted in the theological virtues, which adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature (cf. 2Pe 1:6) […] They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity (cf. 1Co 13:3)” Ibid., nn.1812–3.

27Dominic Doyle, “ ‘A Future, Difficult, Yet Possible Good’: Defining Christian Hope,” in Hope: Promise, Possibility, and Fulfillment, edited by Richard Lennan and Nancy Pineda‐Madrid (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2015), 145.

28Cf. Ibid., 16–27, 19. See also Benedict XVI, “Spe Salvi.” 2–9. “Faith is the substance of hope,” Ibid., 10.

29All biblical quotations are from Walter J. Harrelson and Daniel J. Harrington, The New Interpreter’s Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2003).

30“Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a ‘proof ’ of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a ‘not yet.’ The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.” Benedict XVI, “Spe Salvi,” 7.

31Irenaeus, Contra haereses 4.20.7 (Patrologia graeca 7:1037) quoted by Dominic Doyle, The Promise of Christian Humanism: Thomas Aquinas on Hope (New York: Crossroad Pub, 2011), 5. Doyle reminds us the immediately second part of Irenaeus’s statement: “the life of the human person, however, is the vision of God.” To explain this statement, intimately related with hope, is one of the goals of his book. See also Irenaeus, Contra haereses 3.20.2 and 5.3.

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Chapter 1Status Quaestionis: On Identity, Modernity, and Postmodernity

Modernity in the Western world has given way to Postmodernity, characterized by uncertainty and skepticism. Modernity, apart from the positive aspects that it introduced (autonomy, independence of science, industrial revolution, secularization, modern nation-state, human rights), brought about a displacement of human individuality which led the individual into a sort of “isolation, fragmentation, and narcissism, where life is an indifferent game and individual options are merely aesthetic and provisional.”32

Postmodernity arises as a reaction to Modernity and—still focused on the subject—turns into a humbler understanding of the human being. This reaction and change entail a crisis of humanism and identity that cannot be fully explained in sociological terms, but which has a deeper anthropological root at the level of imagination, i.e. at the level of disposition, sensibility and horizon, according to Michael Paul Gallagher. Precisely the domains in which the self-understanding of the human being, the possibility of faith, hope, and gratitude are elucidated.

I will analyze identity in order to study the roots which currently reduce or weaken people’s lives. This is why I must clarify what we assume by identity in a mature person—with all the difficulties that psychology and philosophy find when they come to deciding what this relative term maturity is—. Thus, I will first discuss the notion of a mature identity and then I will present its current situation in the West.

1.1What We Assume by Identity

From the philosophical point of view, Modernity brings what is called the subjectivist shift or the anthropological shift. This supposes that, generally speaking, we turn our gaze toward the subject. Thus, we move from the theocentrism of the Middle Ages to the anthropocentrism of Modernity.33

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Along the same line, the studies of the English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809–1892) and his so-called Darwinism theory, internationally known after the publication of his book The Origin of Species (1859), reinforced this anthro-pocentrism.34 Modern scientific method was also applied to study how the mind works and how human behavior is developed, which corresponds with the emergence of a new autonomous science: psychology. Therefore, it is not by chance that the studies of the Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) which gave birth to Psychoanalysis happened alongside the revolutionary theory of Darwin. Darwinian naturalism is comparable to the determinism of psychoanalysis because of the deterministic language they use.35

If I start this discussion on mature identity with psychoanalysis, it is for three reasons. Firstly, psychoanalysis has been widely influential in many fields such as pedagogy, social sciences, art, and religion. At present, it is not in force, but the presence of its results is unquestionable in those currents.36 Secondly, the two main interlocutors with whom I will engage in dialogue, J. B. Metz and W. F. Lynch, incorporate this psychological perspective. Metz does so by analyzing its effects on religious experience and Lynch by grounding his thinking in this perspective. Finally, because my notion of a mature identity is highly influenced by Erik H. Erikson who develops a wider psychosocial approach to the psychoanalysis.

Therefore, I will visit some theories of identity. Starting with psychoanalysis, I will turn to other post-psychoanalytic versions, conductivism and cognitive psychology; and finally, I will approach the philosophical contribution itself.

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This last perspective allows us to integrate the very existential human experience of time that does not seem to be sufficiently incorporated in the other sciences.

1.1.1Psychoanalysis Perspective

This psychological perspective argues that who I am now is intimately related to human childhood and, to be more concrete, to our relations with our parents. Freud suggested the existence of a powerful sexual energy (libido) through which to interpret human motivations and thus, as we will see, identity. Libido forces can be either forces of pleasure and love, so-called Eros, or forces of aggression and hate, so-called Thanatos.37

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According to psychoanalysis, this sexual energy had been “denied by human consciousness, repressed by the dominant morality, and ignored by science” before Freud.38 Prior to Freud, sexuality appeared at puberty without previous childhood stages. Whereas Freud argues that there is a connection, and even a continuity with previous childhood stages which explain human behavior and neurosis.39 Freud establishes two main stages from which to comprehend the process of human identity: pregenital and genital.40 In fact, during infancy, the child, overcoming the phases of the pregenital stage (anal, oral, and phallic), attains critical learning about how to organize his or her world of impulses-wishes (Ger. Wunsch, according to Freud), emotions and desires in relation with the outerworld (people, food, things, culture).41

For a time, in the womb, the child was not separated from his or her mother. Only after being born does the experience of lacking something begin. Then follows the individuation process which helps the child to understand what “I” and “You” mean.42 This emotional-sexual game of lacking something (erotic experience, according to Freud) is again the manifestation of the libido.43 Yet Freud argues that impulses, cognition, and behavior cannot be fully understood because they are ambivalently determined by irrational drives, which are rooted in the unconscious. (The theory of the unconscious is one of Freud’s great contributions.) Both the conscious and the unconscious constitute our psychological identity depicted through the terms Id, Ego, and Superego and perform in our personal behavior.44

As people grow up through interplay with the outerworld, they establish a compromise among these three elements—Id, Ego and Superego—which are called upon to be harmonized, they may be fighting and contending within us. Thus, depending on how this compromise has been reached, the maturity of the person can be assessed. Following Domínguez in his Freudian studies, mature identity has been reached when the Ego has achieved a healthy balance in tension with the Id and the Superego in its relation to the external world.

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However, it should be noted that this relation is not merely any type of balance, but a healthy one.45 This relationship between Ego and Superego means the healthy management of the motivational dimension: impulses, needs, values. This management would be carried out through rational control and adaptation to reality instead of unconscious defense mechanisms on the Ego and the Id: repression, above all.

This apparently theoretical result corresponds to the observation of the behavior patterns of the individual, especially in relation to the two main behavioral spheres of human life: personal relationships and work. Therefore, in a mature identity we find the convergence of both the ability to establish stable and reliable relationships, as well as the ability to work in a responsible and committed manner.

1.1.2Psychosocial Perspective: Erik H. Erikson46

Until the 1940s, Psychoanalysis seemed not to be refuted by other different psychological perspectives for a long time. However, since then, Erikson complemented the predominant psychosexual explanation with psychosocial development.47 And he went on to say that Freud took for granted certain fundamental principles “and with morality, cultural identity,” which is not true.48

On the one hand, Erikson accepts the main results of psychoanalysis: every human being is equal because they have the same internal conflicts; libido is the driving energy which explains continuity and configures human structures in the psychological development of human identity. He also admits the ambivalence of the conscious and unconscious world to explain human behavior. However, Erikson observed that psychoanalysis is oriented toward “an ego-synthesis only for the individual.”49

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Psychoanalysis’ main object of study is the internal battle, while the external reality, whether social or material, is treated as an alien element (“outerworld”) with which to struggle for adaptation.50 Nor does he agree with the unilateral understanding of human beings as subjects who adapt through gratification to compensate for anxieties and to transform their drives.51 (He considers it insufficient.) By comparison, Erikson devotes a “systematic attention to the role of the self in the relationship between individuality and communality.”52 For him, pregenitality is not only a function of genitality, as Freud thought, but has a psychosocial dimension “in the ecology—both healthy and sick—of the individual life cycle and in the cycle of generations.”53

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There are three fundamental principles to understand Erikson’s theory. The first is found in his studies on the breeding of the Indian Sioux and of the Yurok people. The Sioux used to be a hunter tribe across the wide, long prairies. However, nowadays a sense of uprooting and an apathy of failure can be seen among the children in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the state of Nebraska and South Dakota.54 As for the Yurok, they were a fishing tribe along the Klamath river flowing into the Pacific coast of California.55 By reflecting on that new apathetic disposition among both tribes, Erikson observed that the environment of children, especially the way in which maternal care was given in the first years, was what oriented their identity to be able to adapt to the habitat, the Sioux as hunters and the Yurok as fishers. Likewise, the balance of the community, which is inevitably “subjected to changing technological and historical conditions,” is critically dependent on children’s adaptation.56

This is the reason why Erikson affirms that there are three fundamental organizational processes: the soma, the psyche, and the ethos.57 These three unfolding processes contribute at all times to the unique psychosocial development of the individual. The soma is what experiences the libidinal forces, and it needs to reach an internal hierarchical order; the psyche is the cognitive center subjected to the conscious and the unconscious and it needs to organize the experiences to find an “existential identity58; and the ethos refers to what is inscribed within the rhythms and sociocultural forms that make the human experience possible. Each of these organisms must evolve in a proper relationship to reach an identity. However, although they are open to the success of a balanced or orderly relationship, they are also of course subjected to failure and consequently may suffer “somatic tension, individual anxiety, or social panic.”59

The second fundamental principle corresponds with Erikson’s hermeneutic to understand the cycle of psychosocial development of the person. He named it the epigenetic principle, a name that was taken from embryology. And it should be noticed that this hermeneutical principle must be latent at any time when we are approaching his theory, otherwise dislocations will arise. In the following paragraph, I explain the epigenetic principle in the same way as Erikson does, using Table 1.60

Tab. 1: Epigenetic Principle

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I, II, and III correspond to the gradual and sequential ascension through which the process must be evolving to accomplish a cycle—a cycle represents a goal achieved—. Note that II is not reached in a neat way by isolating itself from I and without aspiring to III, but rather it is reached gradually in time, in parts (see Tab. 1: Part 1, 2, and 3), and without ceasing to be related to the others states, whether earlier or later. This relationship between states and parties is known as “relativity,” according to Erikson. The diagonal in bold (1I, 2II y 3III) indicates the stable or culminated states of the expected cycle. This cycle (1I, 2II y 3III) is gradually achieved over time when necessary, and critical relativities of the whole are reached—note how parties and the whole are referred to at all times, although the whole will only be reached at an end towards which it tends—. Accordingly, 2I—which is below the diagonal—represents that effort: with the predominance of 2II upwards and with the 3I horizontally, the critical level necessary for appearing the stable state 2II is not ready yet.

The third fundamental principle is the affirmation that a community contains the minimal ethos which nourishes the ego. (What constitutes the community depends on each stage: parents, family, school, society—see below—.) This means that there are innate patterns inscribed in that community which are acting more or less unconsciously on the individual. Erikson calls these patterns “mechanisms of ritualization.” For him, in the uses of language is where the highest level of ritualization is to be found.61 That is the reason why he also analyzes these uses in other writings. For example, the applications, meanings and relationships that may exist between trust and fidelity. And he concludes: “therefore, trust and fidelity are related both linguistically and epigenetically.”62

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Having established this point, Erikson’s psychosocial theory states that the cycle of life is completed in eight stages: infancy, early childhood, play age, school age, adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood, old age.63 Each stage corresponds to a struggle, conflict or tension between two opposite forces in order to achieve a capacity. This is what Erikson technically means by crisis, referring to psychological development. For instance, in infancy, the capacity that emerges from the resolution of the conflict between basic trust and basic mistrust is hope. The following table (Tab. 2)64 shows us the epigenetic representation of these eight crises. In Tab. 2, capital letters mean the resulting strength vector from the correspondent conflict in each stage.

In accordance with the epigenetic hermeneutic, when a capacity is reached it becomes, in turn, a condition to sustain the next one. Moreover, the capacity is widened and perfected in hoping for the next. Thus, as the first capacity is hope, for Erikson, every next capacity will be rooted in hope.65 Hope means “expected desire” and “seems to be related even to ‘hop’ which means leap.”66 He devotes some beautiful lines to explaining the presence of hope in every stage, from the seeking of integrity in the last stage passing through expectation of intimacy in young adulthood, and so on.67 For instance, the basic community in infancy is the maternal figure through which attachment is nurtured. This attachment, in turn, constitutes the basis for good self-esteem, the future capability of industry, and intimacy. In adolescence the capacity is fidelity:

[Fidelity] maintains a strong relation both to infantile trust and to mature faith. As it transfers the need for guidance from parental figures to mentors and leaders, fidelity eagerly accepts their ideological mediatorship – whether the ideology is one implicit in a “way of life” or a militantly explicit one.68

Erikson says: “hope connotes the most basic quality of ‘I’-ness, without which life could not begin or meaningfully end.”69 However, in order to fully grasp the meaning of this assertion, we need to bring into play the three organisms which entail the shaping of the ego—the soma, the psyche, and the ethos—that work in the aforementioned system.

In Tab. 3 (Page 38), we can see the connections: row A with the soma; row C, F, G and H with the ethos; and row D and E with the psyche.70 Each process is subject to being distorted toward a failure or a pathology. Due to the purpose of this work, it is worth stopping as an explanatory example and looking at adolescence. Erikson defines adolescence as “the age mediating between childhood and adulthood” when crisis of identity takes place.71 In adolescence, fidelity emerges as a result of the conflict between identity and identity confusion.

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[‘The core concept of individual psychology is the self ’ that is] a pervasive sense of identity [which] brings into gradual accord the variety of changing self-images that have been experienced during childhood (and that, during adolescence, can be dramatically recapitulated) and the role opportunities offering themselves to young persons for selection and commitment. On the other hand, a lasting sense of self cannot exist without a continuous experience of a conscious ‘I’ which is the numinous center of existence: a kind of existential identity, then, which [] in the ‘last line’ must gradually transcend the psychosocial one.72

The process of the self does not always happen in ascending fashion, but there may be some semi-intentional regressions in order to regain some essential hope from previous stages.73 Furthermore, the antithesis of fidelity, role repudiation, is a possibility: “an active and selective drive separating roles and values that seem workable in identity formation from what must be resisted of fought as alien to the self.”74 In this line, a partially negative identity is always possible, but that is not a problem. The real problem would be if it became pathological under “the form of systematic defiance.”75

In summary, the process of identity formation emerges as an evolving configuration – a configuration that gradually integrates constitutional givens, idiosyncratic libidinal needs, favored capacities, significant identifications, affective defenses, successful sublimations, and consistent roles. All these, however, can only emerge from a mutual adaptation of individual potentials, technological world views, and religious or political ideologies.76

Erikson at some point establishes the relation between his theory and the three theological virtues:

If developmental consideration leads us to speak of hope, fidelity, and care as human strength or ego qualities emerging from such strategic stages as infancy, adolescence, and adulthood it should not surprise us (although it did when we became aware of it) that they correspond to such major credal values as hope, faith, and charity.77

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1.1.3Cognitive Psychological Perspective: Lawrence Kohlberg

Another refutation of psychoanalysis came through cognitive psychology in the 1960s.78 Jean Piaget (1896–1980) was one of the initiators of this now predominant tendency.79 Piaget studied the intellectual and mental development of children from a biological and empirical point of view, but he did not accept the psychoanalytic line of thinking. He developed a genetic epistemology that focuses on how knowledge is acquired rather than on behaviors or developing pedagogies.80

Piaget considered that the moralization process of the individual does not consist only of “a process of internalizing culturally given by external rules through rewards, punishments, or identification,” as affirmed by psychoanalysis, but that “internal moral standards are rather the outcome of a set of transformations of primitive attitudes and conceptions.”81 Accordingly, Piaget set up the theory of cognitive development in conjunction with a new methodology based on flexibility and personalization. This means that, depending on students’ answers, the interview is led in one direction or another according to the opinion of the interviewer, researcher. This was soon compiled in his acclaimed book The Moral Judgment of the Child (1932).

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However, and once Piaget’s fundamental epistemological framework has been established, our interest focuses on one of his followers, Lawrence Kohlberg (1927–1987).82 This Harvard scholar studied the states of moral development of the person by using Piaget’s method of intervention. Whereas Piaget was interested in the general intellectual stages of development, Kohlberg studied the moral stages and even rectified some of Piaget’s conclusions.

According to Kohlberg, there are six stages of development in moral thought which in turn are classified into three moral levels: pre-moral level, morality of conventional role-conformity, and morality of self-accepted moral principles. This classification is based on two criteria, the cognitive aspect of morality and motivations.83 Table 4 summarizes his theory.

Level I meets with Piaget’s heteronomous state where rules are fixed by an authority. However, Kohlberg disagrees with Piaget’s argumentative explanation, which in this case is close to Freud’s understanding of morality as a superego. Thus, Kohlberg claims that children follow orders and commandments because of their “strong idealized moral respect for adult authority.”84 In comparison, Kohlberg argues that “good or bad [is set] according to the reward or punishment” which is expected from an older figure.85 The difference between Type 1 and Type 2 lies in the reasoning, which is still focused on the ego rather than on other’s teaching or value itself. Type 2 performs a more conscious hedonism, along the lines of the following internal thinking: “(Why should someone be a good son?) ‘Be good to your father and he’ll be good to you.’ ”86

On the one hand, Level II is reached once the cognitive development can understand moral concepts which are different from mere rewards or punishments. This occurs around preadolescence (8–12-years-old). On the other hand, Level

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Tab. 4: Kohlberg’s Six Stages of Moral Development (Personal Adaptation)

II is favored by a larger and more communal interaction which makes egocentrism decline by realizing the value of otherness and mutual respect. Thus, while Type 1 and Type 2 act to avoid the painful effects from the disapproval of the authority, Type 3 and Type 4 try to guess the possible reaction of a legitimate authority, whether this be disapproval or not. It should be remarked that “the preadolescent is bothered only by disapproval if the disapproval is expressed by legitimate authorities [‘but not by peers’].”87 There is intentionality and a sensibility towards self-guidance by role-taking judgments,88 but not yet within the explicitly moral domain. It is a material decision mainly determined by shared social attitudes.89

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Finally, the difference between Type 3 and Type 4 stems from the question of justification. A Type 3 child or adult person would judge based on the natural effects of social shame; their internal speech would be, for example: “[if you did that,] people would think that you come from a family that doesn’t care what you did.” By comparison, Type 4 judgements are based on “rights, assigned duties, and rules.” For example, “if you worked for something and someone came and stole it,” here the penalty lies in the difference between performing one’s duty and the injustice of someone who has not earned it and breaks the rule.90

Level III overcomes some psychological assumptions which consider that there is no room for moral decisions beyond the conflict of community-egotism. Therefore, this possibility of taking some distance from egoistic impulse is what mainly differs from Type 3 and Type 4. Type 5 and Type 6 want to make rational decisions and assume that they must choose between conflicting norms, for the greater good. Type 6 makes judgements according to so-called moral principles91 such as “the utilitarian principle (the greatest good for the greatest number) and Kant’s categorical imperative,”92 whereas Type 5 makes judgements according to socially sanctioned realities—as distinct from social ideals which constitute moral principles—such us “legal or institutional rules.”93

In conclusion, Kohlberg suggests that there is an invariable sequence of six states for the moral development of the person. Type 1 corresponds to a child whereas Type 6 corresponds to people like Sir Thomas More, Mahatma Gandhi, or Martin Luther King Jr.94 Moreover, the progress through this moral sequence depends, on the one hand, on the growth of the individual, especially in terms of cognitive development and interaction with others. On the other hand, there must be a gradual transformation of attitudes as well as an understanding of moral concepts—it is not enough to merely learn a number of moral principles.

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Let us recap a little. One of the key words that psychological currents have used up to this point has been “development”: psychosexual development in Freud, psychosocial development in Erikson, and moral development in Kohlberg. The temporal and evolutionary dimension of the human being and, in particular, of identity in the conquest of maturity is clear. However, they have not yet talked about how time itself, or our human relation with time, affects its existential level, i.e. at the level of conscience, sensibility, and disposition toward life and the living world (echoing Martin Heidegger). I will address Mary Warnock’s reflections on this issue in the next section.

1.1.4Philosophical Perspective: Mary Warnock

The British scholar Mary Warnock (1924–2019) focused her academic research interest on ethics and philosophy of the mind. Regarding the theory of knowledge, she published three main books: Imagination95 (1976), Memory96 (1987), and Imagination and Time97 (1994). In the latter, which was written based on a long and devoted career, she implemented the results of Imagination and Memory to explain the formation and nature of human identity.

For Warnock, the notion of identity is essentially biological and linked to memory which, in turn, has been formed in a concrete space-time continuum. Memory and, therefore, identity are not specifically human properties, but instead they are shared by all animals. However, through evolution human beings reached a physiological condition, a cerebral level and the faculty of language that allows them to access the intelligibility of things, in particular the intelligibility (self-consciousness) of their existence in relation to time. This gives human identity a special complexity that must be revealed by narrating our autobiography.

However, before going further in the explanation of Warnock’s theory of identity, it is necessary to explain the theory of knowledge of this philosopher in which imagination, sympathy, value, and common sense play key roles. of Knowledge: Imagination

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Warnock’s theory of knowledge is not identified with a pure realism, although she does maintain a continuum with reality that allows the person to access the truth of “things.”98 It is not in fact a pure realism because Warnock assumes our singularity—not only as a human species but as individuals distinct from one another—in our process of knowing things. Precisely because of our genetic identity, our historical-experiential identity is also taken into account. However, she does not exaggerate this singularity to the extent of breaking with the “for me” concept that leads to relativism or skepticism about true knowledge of things. Warnock believes that such exaggeration would hinder the possibility of dialogue—since the same things would not be captured, nor would they be understood in the same way, and consequently the other’s opinion could not be accepted—which, in turn, would lead to isolation.99 There are two main arguments:

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First, there is no inner-outer dualism, as was collaterally maintained by Descartes through his soul-body anthropological division.100 “Things” do not exist because “I” think them—things are not my-thoughts—but rather, following Merleau-Ponty, in perception there is a continuum with the thing, and this perception occurs in the human mind as thought through imagination, following Kant.101 Imagination is what accesses things, whether they are in front of us, they are in the past (i.e. memories), whether they have never existed (i.e. fantasies), or have not existed yet, but they will exist (i.e. hopes). Warnock even argues that human knowledge can access in a particular way the rest of human beings as a “thing,” as an object of knowledge, due to the affinity entailed in belonging to their own species, as the brilliant philosopher Wittgenstein would argue.102 The latter refers to perceiving, for example, when the other person is tired or afraid. That is why Warnock uses the term “sympathy” to refer to this imagination disposed toward the intelligibility of reality, including what is related to other human beings with whom we share this intelligence.103

The problem that the history of philosophy has encountered with imagination is that of distinguishing truth from fantasy. Warnock does not settle the question, but neither does she accept, considering it insufficient, the next criterion maintained by Hume: “The only difference lies in their relative force or vivacity.”104 Nevertheless, she delimits the issue when referring to the rationality and the plausibility of events. Following John Casey, Warnock makes us reflect through the example of water in a lake: How is water preserved? Because of the underground flow of the waters or because of a spaceship that comes at night to fill the lake? We do not actually see either process, but one is “far-fetched,” to use Casey’s term, whereas the first is more credible and falls within the realm of a shared presumption that we know as common sense.105

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The second argument comes from the philosophy of language (Wittgenstein) and existentialism (Sartre). The human being not only perceives things, but can also communicate them to others in such a way that they are mutually understood. For example, when we say “red table” or “headache,” people access a shared common sense of things. This happens because things are given in a symbolic way. Things are not only materiality, but also symbolic reality.106 That is to say, reality is given in an intelligible way, as symbols.

Symbols are mediated through cultural context, although a division can be made between natural and arbitrary symbols. The difference is that the latter require a certain teaching, for example, the red-green-yellow light of a traffic light or the meaning of a crucifix. On the contrary, the former are grasped “because of something in their own intrinsic nature,” such as, for example, footprints in the snow as a sign of the passing of a creature or the symptom of fever as a synonym for infection.107 Furthermore, there are objects of knowledge that are natural symbols and overcome the temporal context. Warnock calls them values. There are moral values (honesty, good and evil, etc.) and other values, “such as love and hatred, fear and confidence, creativity and intellectual excitement, curiosity and the wish of truth.”108 Values are encapsulated in stories and transmitted through them, whether they are fantastical ones, for example, The Odyssey of Ulysses, or historical narratives such as the missionary Francisco Xavier’s trip to India and Japan. That is why Warnock states that there are values that last for generations, that have universal scope and, therefore, are universal.109

To end this section, and because of their importance in this work, let us review Warnock’s assumptions on imagination. First, imagination is a brain function that involves the whole body and transforms impressions into living ideas:

[Imagination] is a power in the human mind which is at work in our everyday perception of the world, and is also at work in our thoughts about what is absent; which enables us to see the world, whether present or absent as significant, and also to present this vision to others, for them to share or reject. And this power, though it gives us “thought-imbued” perception (it “keeps the thought alive in the perception”), is not only intellectual. Its impetus come from the emotions as much as from the reasons, from the heart as much as from the head.110

Meanings spring up round us as soon as we are conscious [different from animals].111

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Second, imagination has a role both in perception and in understanding to acquire real knowledge112:

Imagination is the image-forming faculty; but even if it is conceded that interpreting the world, seeing it one way rather than another, involves this very images-forming faculty, it does not follow that what we see is an image, rather than the real thing.113

Third, imagination is a universal human capacity, but it is personalized by each individual through life-time-experience, experiences in the stories that he or she has lived in time throughout his or her life. Warnock here follows Kant114:

According to Kant’s theory, there are functions of the a priori imagination which are shared by all rational creatures, and are fixed and unalterable; they determine the application of the categories in the light of which we parcel up the world to make it intelligible and predictable. There is also, for each rational creature, an empirical imagination which will vary from one individual to another, according to what he has actually experienced in the course of his life. For each, it will be different from all others.115

Finally, imagination needs to be educated in order to orient and protect itself from some enemies:

Besides its universal employment, the imagination has emerged, in addition, as necessarily connected with our emotions. And this is of the greatest importance. For if we think of imagination as a part of our intelligence, universally, then we must be ready to admit, that, like the rest of human intelligence, it needs educating; but this will now entail, if we are right, an education not only of the intelligence, but, going along with it, of feelings.116

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The great enemies of the imagination, in whatever field it is exercised are, on the one hand literalness, that is, a narrow and limited idea of the truth, and on the other hand a failure of historical sense – what the historian Keith Thomas, following Lord Acton, called ‘present-mindedness.’117 Nature of Human Identity: Memory and Autobiography

Having outlined Warnock’s theory of knowledge, I will now analyze her notion of identity. Warnock begins from a fundamental biological observation: there is an “I” that perceives and creates a persisting self. A self that is capable of recognizing itself in the experiences of the past and capable of projecting itself in the future in order to guide itself in life. For example, the memory of the loss of our mother when we were seven years old; how is it possible that a person can access an “object” which belongs to the past and is no longer physically before him or her but affects him or her as if she—the object that represents the mother—was really present? Another example is the case of a football player who is excited imagining training hard during the week to win Sunday’s game. How can we access a future which does not yet exist but is experienced as a real emotion?

For Warnock, this process involves imagination as we create a thought or an image of something that is not before ourselves. In the example above regarding a football player, it is clear that imagination is involved since the game on Sunday is something that has not existed yet, but it is, nevertheless, totally different from fiction. The imagined object is, indeed, not a fantasy that has nothing to do with the player’s life—quite distinct from imagining a story about Martians, for example—. This imagination we are talking about—a game schedule in the league calendar—is associated with the person, that self which has been developed over time, has known what it means to train since childhood, and has come to the present to experience their emotions by thinking about the next football game of their team. Furthermore, one player will do this quite differently from any other, even if they both think about the competition facing them on Sunday: Tom Brady (N.E. Patriots’ quarterback and six-time Superbowl winner) will differ from Nick Foles (Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback currently not a Superbowl winner).

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If we now think of remembering the death of our mother, who died when we were seven years old, we notice that it is an event of the past. Therefore, our imagination has had to look for a kind of memory, one associated with our biology since it is not a question of remembering a numerical value while counting, for example, coins in a box. It is a question of looking for a stored and recreated (re-imagined) “object” which moves our emotions, affects our reactions, and determines our way of seeing, hearing, and understanding. Thus, personal identity has to be a memory related to our biology. In fact, Warnock believes that neither memory nor identity are aspects which are exclusive to human beings.

A dog has a memory when it has learned the habit of faithfully bringing its owner’s shoes to get a pat on the head. A parrot can be taught to repeat “Hello, how are you?” when it perceives the presence of a tall-moving-figure i.e., a human. And a horse will have learned to avoid damage (in a jump) by seeing the obstacle in front of it. In these animals there is, therefore, a continuity between the experiences lived (the first pat on the head from the owner, the imitation of human sound—“Hello…”—, and the damage received when the horse did not avoid the obstacle) and the reactions in the present. That is what Warnock and other scholars call “habit memory.”118

Therefore, we can say that animals are aware of their continuity in time, and thus they do have identity. However, neither the dog, nor the parrot, nor the horse elaborate thoughts about themselves. Regardless of that, some skeptics might object that what we hitherto know is that we cannot enter into the mind of an animal, nor get into its consciousness. However, these skeptics people can rest assured that no animal can autobiographically narrate its life, or its identity in relation to others. This is only possible only for human beings through language and writing.119

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Indeed, in the history of evolution human beings have attained a physiology (larynx, epiglottis, and the oral cavity in general) and a cerebral development (according to the theory of the three brains, the neo-cortex is the one that makes homo sapiens so special) such that “the brain became capable of passing comment on its own activity. And from concepts grew language, and from language, consciousness.”120 This, in conjunction with the possibility of communicating with one another, enables the appearance of an unusual complexity of body-consciousness regardless of its persistence in time. And this in turn leads to a more complex identity than that of a dog, a parrot, or a horse. Such comments, concepts and thoughts allow self-consciousness to grow and access the meaning of “things.” (Remembering that things are not merely materiality for humans but also symbolic forms.) In fact, when areas of the neo-cortex or the language area (including its learning) are damaged, it is observed that there is a limitation on the human condition, although through our affinity with the intelligibility of things and specifically with those of our species—due to sympathy and common sense, as we saw above—, we still recognize them as human beings.121

Nevertheless, something makes us understand—common sense—that the memory of human beings and that of animals are different. This does not mean that we do not share the basic memory of animals—insofar as we share their animal condition—, but that human memory becomes more complex than the previous one. It is what Warnock and other scholars have called “conscious memory.”122

There are not two distinct kinds of memory; but rather that memory, being essential to any individual animal of whatever species, may develop in the course of evolution into something more sophisticated, as animals themselves develop. What we are talking about is physiology or morphology; and physiology, unlike physics, is an essentially historical subject.123

The new physiology, self-consciousness, and language make us perceive reality, wanting to order it and catch the meaning of things. Here Warnock quotes Sartre when the latter states: “We will not look for images, but rather will seek to explain the meanings which really belong to things.”124

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Common sense also enables us to understand that human memory (animal memory in general) is different from the silicon memory of the computer. In this sense, Warnock does not accept any reductionism, unlike some authors who believe that the “brain is a computer, or that a computer could be constructed which would fully replicate the human brain.”125 In this context, Warnock discusses artificial intelligence when dealing with the determinist Daniel Dennett.126

The main argument of the determinists is that computers have a memory, and some of them even possess a logical-mathematical calculation power and a storage capacity superior to those of a human being. They also state that “artificial intelligence is real intelligence (though produced in an artificial way).”127 Warnock can agree with the latter but, on the contrary, argues that the difference between an animal’s memory and a computer lies neither in being a place of storage, nor in the power of calculation, but in biology: an animal’s memory is affected and somehow modified (see Kant’s theory below) by the exercise of knowledge itself.128 What happens is that not only is their calculation capacity affected as new inputs are acquired to implement in their calculations or logical resolutions, but also their very biology and being themselves are affected at the level of their constitutive and affective structure—this occurs consciously or unconsciously—. Therefore, not only are cognitive structures affected, but also the self itself.129 In this regard, the issue of pain management represents a good test.

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Dennett argues that it would be possible to design a machine capable of feeling pain. Warnock replies that it is not a question of our ability to create a machine that can react “when it is hit” and measure the force of the impact—to which the term “pain” would then be assigned above some standards—but rather a question of the importance of the fact that pain is part of our personal memory, contributing meaning and transforming our self. In fact, Warnock is surprised when Dennett argues that the problem is that we have a mistaken concept of pain, and that machines will help us to better understand its meaning.130

In summary, Warnock develops an empirical theory—a biological theory—of brain function theoretically suggested by Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason and states that:

It is the developing categorizing function of the brain that, in humans, develops so highly that it gives rise to self-awareness and to language, in terms of which the universe of each individual is recognized as a shared and universally intelligible universe, intelligible, that is, to all members of the same species Kant distinguished the a priori self, the “vehicle of all concepts” about which nothing could be said, from the empirical self, who in the already perceived and ordered world had a particular history, and had acquired a particular set of concepts.131

It is true that Romanticism tried to break Kant’s distinction and, although it was not possible to eliminate Kant’s theory (as we have seen above), it did help to think about the nature of ideas or thoughts. Romanticism maintained that thoughts were images that have been impressed upon our memory in such a way that they capture a new concept-meaning “for me.” Which, in turn, is universalized as an idea: a shared human idea. Nevertheless, “the forms determined not only [our] aesthetic world but [our] moral sensibilities.”132 It is, at this moment in her particular journey through the history of ideas, when Warnock establishes one of her great conclusions: “The existence of such persistent images, recollections which can in principle be described, is precisely what makes us inclined to say that memory is a species of imagination.”133

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Finally, Warnock takes one more step to describe and/or define the nature of human identity. It is not enough to have an identity, as an animal also has one. It is not enough to be aware of it, as a baby and a (small) child are also aware of this. We must know it. Warnock maintains that, since our identity is a memory—a type of imagination—, it is possible to narrate it as a story, as an autobiography.

When I speak of autobiography in this connection, I mean that kind of autobiography, not especially common, which attempts to tell the truth about how things were, and what they were like, not in a spirit of boastfulness, nor in order to set the record straight about events in the public arena, but simply because the enterprise seems worth doing for itself.134

Furthermore, autobiography may be the natural form of our identity, given the special role—as we have already seen—that language plays in the emergence of homo sapiens and human identity. We must not forget that a language is meant for communication with other homo sapiens.135 For Warnock, this autobiographical narrative not only contains our identity, but also helps us to better understand the person, as an individuality and as a member of our species. That is the case because, along the way, we access shared values and, consequently, to elements of our nature. Shared nature—as we have already mentioned when talking about sympathy—, values, and common sense, are inscribed in the way in which the human being knows, accesses reality and lives.

However, Warnock is not proposing a radical change in the understanding of identity so that it diffuses into a kind of timeless metaphysics belonging to each other, through which to justify our moral duty with our contemporaries and even with those of future generations.136 Nothing of the sort. Such dissolution leads ←54 | 55→us to a depersonalization that would weaken our identity.137 Warnock was very clear at the beginning, and also here at the end: “What I will have meant all along when I used the pronoun ‘I’ was this complete living entity, body-including-brain,” with which she accentuates the temporal and concrete.138 Although she does believe in a kind of continuity with all human beings, including future generations. Warnock remains consistent with her whole system by bearing in mind her notion of sympathy and stating:

We can interest ourselves in it [our assertion of continuity with the future] only by reflecting that those who suffer or who benefit will be, like us, human. They will then be in the same boat that we now are in; in this sense humanity is, as a whole, all in the boat together, regardless time. The crucial factor here is that we, being human, are unique in being able to think in these terms.139

In conclusion, Warnock understands identity as memory, identifiable with a type of imagination, which is personally acquired during our temporal development within the intelligibility of reality that all members of the human species share. This imagination constitutes a faculty of the brain (conscious memory) that allows us to recognize ourselves in the past and project ourselves into the future to guide us in life. By narrating this personal memory in an autobiographical way—which, by definition, implies seeking truth—we are contributing to a better understanding of our story, which literally means with others in this world, that is to say, of history as such. This autobiographical narrative will develop personal identity, developing and transforming it in a way.

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First, with reference to Freud I have discussed the radical experience of being separated beings from the womb (I am “I” because “you” are different from me). This separation is experienced through a psychosexual force (libido) which appears as the frustration of not being able to fuse with a desired object. Moreover, the shaping of this force is rooted, prolonged, and experienced in the critical context of maternal-paternal care during of the infancy which, in turn, configures a superego and a unconscious. Both will be manifested in time in our behavior, in our “behavioral identity,” a term with which I wanted to highlight the determinism to which psychoanalysis leads. This proposes to visit without fear the traumatic processes of our story, particularly the early ages, to learn about the origin of our neuroses and to recognize our instincts and hardships to be experienced as normal human misfortunes. That is what human beings should basically expect from life from a psychoanalysis perspective.

I then incorporated, with reference to Erikson, the contribution of the social dimension to the formation of human individuality. In his psychosocial approach, we have seen how maturity is achieved through a “universal” sequence of conflict resolution or crisis (autonomy vs. shame-doubt, initiative vs. guilt, industry vs. inferiority, intimacy vs. isolation, generativity vs. stagnation, integrity vs. disgust, depending on the stage) that involve three organizational processes: corporal (soma), mental (psyche) and socio-cultural (ethos). This sequence is cumulative, since every crisis is based on the resolution of the previous conflict. At the origin of this succession begins the resolution of the tension basic-trust/basic-mistrust for hope: a kind of basic faith in hope. The quality of that hope will participate in the resolution of later human development stresses: will, purpose, fidelity, love, care, wisdom.

Third, I have looked at the development of the mind (Piaget), particularly aimed at the moral development of the person (Kohlberg). Kohlberg affirmed that there is a sequence of moral states through which human beings must ascend so that their actions are not only determined by their impulses, and these impulses in turn merely by social acceptance. For this to happen, not only the physiological of the cognitive development in the person is necessary, but also a cognitive change which affects our sensibility and attitudes, our dispositions and habits. Kohlberg emphasizes that maturity is related to a kind of morality that goes beyond our world of necessities, including our unconscious; in such a way that, at least the person is lucid about our needs, philias, and phobias, in order to make decisions freely.

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Warnock then allowed us to consider the very human act of integrating time into our existence, as well as highlighting the fundamental role that language—particularly narration—has in the constitution of a mature person. The person not only goes through stages—as we have seen in Freud, Erikson and Kohlberg—but as he or she goes through them an image of oneself is constructed that transforms our mental and emotional structures. Memories are maintained and synthesized under the form of memory, not only intellectually but also materially and biologically. That is where the human notion of identity is located. Warnock goes so far as to say that, although every member of the human species has common structures, depending on how the historical experiences have been integrated, this will construct their perception of reality and their disposition towards the world. In other words, depending on how this integration is made, this will be the configuration of the current self-consciousness of our past and our future. This is how our identity will be in a certain historical-social context. By narrating my story (identity) autobiographically, one gains access to the truth about oneself, and that truth leaves us with a sapere (from Latin, to know, to be wise, and to taste) and a predominant emotion, a self-concept linked to human nature. This translates into the desire (or not) to live and commit oneself (or not, indifference) to life, hope or futility, and so on. Therefore, it can be said that, through autobiography, the degree of achievement of the original basic hope in the impulse of life is revealed.

Finally, it is worth remembering that morality presupposes that we are social beings, since it does not make complete sense to speak of morality if we are isolated. Morality thus presupposes the exchange of assets and values that, according to Warnock, are eternal, encapsulated in stories and accessible by human sympathy, a human type of imagination. Therefore, if the individual does not sympathize with his or her species or with the common sense of values—what is known as exaggerated individualism of a relativistic nature—then the only way to organize the common good is through the imposition of law, a law which is perceived, by the way, as being imposed and which would be followed out of fear of penalties and punishments. That is one more confirmation of the intimate relationship between our imagination and our sensitivity. The moral state of this practical imagination (morality) would be located on the Kohlberg scale at level II, which does not yet correspond to the expected degree of human maturity. (In general, this is where the West would be found, as I will develop later).

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In conclusion, the goal of a responsible, mature identity is the world and life. Which means being able to lead our lives in a committed and hopeful way. At first, we say that this has been achieved if a sufficient physiological development of the mind has been reached and, in this sense, a certain cognitive and language development is particularly important. But this necessary condition is not enough to fully describe healthy maturity. In addition to what has been said, the person must fulfill the following conditions:

Self-knowledge, including a certain lucidity about the subconscious. Getting in touch with others and developing autobiography will help in this regard (see below).

Level of morality driven by principles rather than by fears of punishment, compensations, or social or other rewards. Morality speaks about the self with others.

Ability to communicate our person on two different levels, the autobiographical one and the one of ties or intimate relationships (friendship, fraternity, marriage, single). The first level is mediated by a personal diary, the autobiography, the interview with the psychologist or in conversation with the priest, and refers to the capacity for truth about oneself, as well as having access to the fundamental emotions and values of my history.

In addition to lucidity and self-knowledge, when we look narratively and authentically at our person (“who am I?”), we would be answering the questions “what do I think of myself?” and “what do I feel about that?” Satisfaction, sadness, compassion, grief, gratitude, hope, may be some of the answers. Now, since I seek a Christian humanism, I advocate that it be not painful but one of gratitude, satisfaction, and hope. In any case, it must respond to a kind vision about the historical memory that one makes about oneself.

The second level is related to the constitutive separation and clarity about the affective-sexual human nature. The maturity of that identity, whose disposition mainly appreciates and trusts the world, is not just a feeling or a thought about oneself but must also be visible and supported by the practical dimension of individual behavior. The practical dimension of storytelling (autobiographical narrative) consists of establishing bonds: being able to tell my story to someone who cares about me, whether it be in companionship, friendship, fraternity, courtship, or marriage. Affective-sexual clarity translates into a minimum of envy and a minimum of domination with a maximum of gift and free and joyful interest. (The acceptance of personal dependences on others, natures, culture, and history without losing but gaining autonomy.) Telling my story to someone I care about and who cares about me is, by the way, what love is basically all about. Sympathy and common sense in the acceptance of continuity and intelligibility of reality are crucial in this beautiful and promising task.

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Thus, the mature person has the ability to establish stable and trusting relationships, in addition to being committed to a life working in a reliable manner.

Indeed, mature people live constitutive separation healthily because they have “learned,” to a large extent passively especially in childhood and adolescence, to establish stable and orderly bonds with people or things. They have learned to build bridges, communication with a different self, and live those emotional ties operatively through their work in an intelligible and historical way. They do so because they trust and peacefully accept their creatural dependency to strengthen their personal autonomy.

The next image (see Fig. 1) envisions and aims to represent what I have developed. It will be helpful later on at the end of Section 2 to make a comparison. Figure one presents a rectangle with a good base and a not too excessive height. That base prevents it from tipping over when winds (challenges or misfortunes) come. If we had to imagine a material, it would be strong, tenacious rubber. This rubber has some flexibility and is shock resistant, which means a good resilience (capacity to absorb the energy of impacts and recover after them). Due to flexibility, the rectangle re-shapes after the blows. Thinking of a person, we can imagine here their capacity to face crisis, to acknowledge their errors (even sins) and recover from them in a reconciled way and living a new normality.

The dashed line in the figure represents the stability of the emotions. The wavy brown line describes this ideal person: this Ideal Identity has emotions, neither too high nor too low, but they oscillate under control around the ideal setting of the world. Its resilience (flexibility combined with resistance) ensures that it does not break easily.

The area also has significant value. It represents the contact surface with the world, not only at the level of feelings but also as a capacity for intimacy and establishing stable relationships. Note that the surface area and the dashed line are in contact for a long time. This subject can share their story and be responsible.

Fig. 1: Ideal Identity

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1.2On Modern and Postmodern Identity

Thus far, I have discussed the notion of (ideal) identity to condense the elements which make up a mature person. I will now study the state of the identity of the subject in the West and where its weakness may be located.

1.2.1Status of the Individual Identity: Bauman, Taylor, Lipovetsky

One of the key factors that characterizes the current subject is the depersonalization of responsibility that, likewise, would closely correspond, from a religious point of view, to the loss of consciousness of sin. Here, I am not going to opt for a complete explanation of the secularization phenomena, nor I am going to adopt a direct theological perspective, although both would have been legitimate alternatives, but I am going to opt for a sociological and philosophical view of the reality of the postmodern subject.

The beginning of postmodernity has been discussed in varied ways. While some authors like Zygmunt Bauman and Johann B. Metz say that a second modernity started in the 1960s, others like Michael Paul Gallagher and Nicholas Boyle place postmodernity in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The former theorist take as their reference the crisis of humanity of World War II, the Holocaust, and the subsequent revolutions of May 1968, the hippie movement, and the sexual liberation movement.140 Those who choose 1989 take as their reference the end of the last empire, the USSR, opening the way to the era of globalization which, in turn, was made possible by the boom of the Internet. Rather than choose one or the other, both can be combined in understanding the contemporary individual. The Holocaust undermined the moral framework and then the Internet enabled and provoked such a speed and an interconnectedness in the economy, politics, and human interactions that it affected our consumption and our perception of time.

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The Polish-American sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman (1925–2017), grounded his horizon of interpretation of reality in his research on the Holocaust, Modernity and the Holocaust.141 For Bauman, “the experience of the Holocaust contains crucial information about the society of which we are members,” it was not a singular event but a terrible expression of something that was contained in the rationality of the society and culture of modernity.142 Bauman argues that the Holocaust cannot be explained as one more war in the history of human evil, nor as the fruit of Christian anti-Semitism in modern and Christian Europe. We must remember that “six million Jews were among more than 20 million people annihilated at Hitler’s behest.”143 Nor does Bauman accept to say that the Holocaust was a failure of modernity, rather he maintains it was “a product of [it].”144

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The “final solution” (Shoah) was not thought through from the beginning, but the Holocaust occurred gradually as a process of political and military engineering under the sense of rationality, efficiency, science, and progress, which were, in effect, the goals of Modernity.145 Bauman’s interlocutors in this question are Raul Hilberg, Helen Fein, Hannah Arendt, Stanley Milgram, Max Weber, and Immanuel Levinas, among others, and he assesses the so-called holocaust-style146: an organized bureaucratic system (“bureaucratization of rationality”) that universalizes rationality in a way that manages to avoid alternative irrational or mythical judgment on public social life because they do not meet modern scientific rational criteria. Furthermore, in this system, violence does not appear as a lack of control but rather as a “rational calculus.”147 Therefore, people are involved in a chain of bureaucracy and a chain of obedience which depersonalize their liability under the rules of that game. In this line, distance with the final object frees the individual from any moral responsibility.

Among societal achievements in the sphere of the management of morality one needs to name social production of distance, which either annuls or weakens the pressure of moral responsibility; substitution of technical for moral responsibility, which effectively conceals the moral significance of the action; and the technology of segregation and separation, which promotes indifference to the plight of the Other which otherwise would be subject to moral evaluation and morally motivated response.148

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This experience of depersonalization is what leads him to analyze human identity in the era of globalization. Bauman coined the term “liquid life” in modern “liquid society.” He wanted to highlight the brevity of options, encounters, jobs, … of things in general. “Liquid life means constant self-scrutiny, self-criticism and self-censorship.”149 A continuously changing culture that appears to our sensibility as a “hybrid culture,” because we are permanently invited to not have belongings, appealing to the freedom to challenge and disregard the existing relationship between movements and choices of people considered inferior, unsophisticated or outdated.150 In that culture, more and more people “live to survive (as long as possible) and to get satisfaction (as much of it as possible). They consider that the world is not their home ground and not their property (having relieved themselves from the burdens of heritage …).”151 In that world and in that way of living, Bauman presents identity “as a problem and as a task,” a task of self-realization and personal discovery.152 Ubiquitous consumer marketing constantly appeals to us to exercise our freedom to be authentic in that desperate search for individuality.153 Thus, the game of self-assertion is basically satisfied in consumption, which makes us feel “emancipated,” although in reality there is a break that often leads to an exaggerated individualism and an existential disconnection of the communitarian dimension of society and history—“atomism” as Taylor will soon say—.154

In that society, Bauman detects two factors at stake in every identity: “the desire for freedom and the need for security.”155 Liquid society does not feed the “communal” dimension of security but the “societal” one of sharing common goods. The communal dimension implies ties and belongings while the societal dimension emphasizes the legal minimum of social peace. And this may be forming a “false confidence”156 which can be maintained only in permanent change, living as “homo eligens—the ‘man of choosing’ (though not the ‘man who has chosen’!): a permanently impermanent self.”157 Thus, there is little left of those elements that offered security such as routine, commitments to one another, fidelity to a newsstand or a neighborhood grocery store, loyalty to schedule, etc.

Surrender to the pressures of globalization tends these days to be claimed in the name of individual autonomy and freedom of self-assertion; but more freedom does not seem to the victims and collaterals casualties of globalization to be a cure for their troubles – they would rather trace them back to the crumbling or the forceful dismantling of the life routines and networks of human bonds and mutual commitments that used to support them and make them feel secure.158

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The same twofold previous ideas have been argued in a less dramatic and more organized way by the Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor (1931– ): the loss of the moral framework that culture must offer for the formation of the subject and therefore, its effects on identity. Taylor takes a philosophical, political, and cultural journey for the causes of this phenomenon, beginning in the Protestant Reformation and continuing through Modernity. In his acclaimed book A Secular Age, Taylor focuses on the cultural aspect in order to explain the new conditions of belief “not just in terms of creeds, but also in terms of differences of experience and sensibility.”159 In Sources of the Self, this philosopher makes a thorough study of the displacement which occurred in the modern subject. The main reflections and conclusions of this book, alleviated without the weight of its technical explanations, are found in The Ethics of Authenticity.160

Modern society has discovered the value of self-interest and the individual. Each individual has the principal and first right to self-fulfillment in order to be happy. In fact, in a democracy of equality, each individual has value because everyone has the same rights. This fact, which is a good thing in itself, has resulted in a soft relativism or a moral subjectivism. Respect and tolerance for the other, where there seem to be no certainties and where all opinions have equal value, establish a moral neutrality.161 What in another time was irrefutable (for example, “feeling can’t determine what is significant”) nowadays appears to be old-fashioned and therefore, unthinkable for a universal ethic.162 This excessive atomization of judgments takes away, therefore, part of the “heroic dimension of life,” hinders the universality of the word in the conversation and dialogue that establish relationships, and leads to a social passivity that translates into mere survival and compliance with the norms.163

Nevertheless, the previous position causes an uncertainty in our identity that makes us lose sympathy with others and centers us on ourselves in excess (potential narcissism). On the other hand, it makes us dependent on other forms of “authority” even if they are presented to us “shrouded with the prestige of science or some exotic spirituality,” for instance, self-help books, websites, influencers, or social-media news.164 There is an atomization and psychologization of the individual’s life as well as a fragmentation and instrumentalization of the society, which is no longer understood as a community but as a market and a bureaucratic state.165 In such a society, individuals know that they need others for self-fulfillment, but this is lived through market relationships, leaving little space to go further, transcending that situation: “it is the primacy of the instrumental reason.”166

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In contrast, Taylor proposes a different understanding of individuality and authenticity. “I think of authenticity … as an ideal moral.”167

Authenticity is a facet of modern individualism, and it is a feature of all forms of individualism that they don’t just emphasize the freedom of the individual but also propose models of society But individualism as a moral principle or ideal must offer some view on how the individual should live with others.168

Accordingly, a good understanding of individualism is one that stands apart from atomism: “an atomism that did not recognize the ties of the community.”169 The human being needs others not only instrumentally but in the sentient and moral realm of affinity, empathy and sympathy. People need to have others’ recognition and to share a common horizon. Recognition means that “my own identity crucially depends on my dialogical relations with others.”170 Seeking significance in life and trying to define ourselves both have to happen in a background and horizon of things that really matter, otherwise it is a wasted, fruitless and empty search.

Horizons are given. But more: this minimum degree of givenness, which underpins the importance of choice, is not sufficient as a horizon It may be important that my life be chosen but unless some options are more significant than others, the very idea of self-choice falls into triviality and hence incoherence. Self-choice as an ideal makes sense only because some issues are more significant than others.171

In conclusion, in view of this approach, we find an identity which lacks security. It continues to exercise freedom but it is exercised in an ever-present attempt at fulfilment in a culture of globalization and market, which promises experiences and intimacy, but which does not provide us with either those stable or communal elements that used to support or sustain the individual.

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Similarly, the French sociologist Gille Lipovetsky (1944– ) refers to this time as second modernity, characterized by consumption, leisure, and mass welfare.172 Lipovetsky affirms that personal liberation has already been achieved in the first modernity, so the battle of the self now consists of fulfilling the right to happiness. Hyperconsumerist logic wants to satisfy that human longing. However, the relationship between happiness and ordinary life is not so easy. Two emotions characterize this society: disappointment and uncertainty.

Culture, presented through advertisements and marketing, promises us so many emotions to consume, but the ordinary lives of the majority of the population cannot enjoy them. Consequently, life may become tedious and disappointing for most people. The loss of religion as a structural element of society has also meant that feelings of frustration and envy were neglected. As a result, the range of frustration and disappointment—inherent in human nature—has grown and, correspondingly, negativity has increased. Hence, it is not difficult to find courses on positivity and self-help websites, thousands of YouTube talks aimed at its “treatment.” In fact, liberating humility does not appear frequently in our cultural imaginary of virtues to be taught, admired, and acquired.173


ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2021 (May)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 186 pp., 20 fig. col., 2 fig. b/w, 4 tables.

Biographical notes

Alberto Dominguez Munaiz (Author)

Alberto Domínguez Munáiz is a Jesuit priest natural from Pontevedra (Spain, 1980). He holds a master’s degree in engineering from Vigo University (Spain, 2007), studied philosophy at the Pontifical University of Salamanca (2009–11), he holds a master’s degree in pedagogy from the University of Salamanca (2011), a bachelor’s degree in theology from the Pontifical University Comillas (Madrid, 2016), a diploma in pastoral psychology from UNINPSI (Psychosocial Intervention Unit, Madrid, 2014), an STL master’s degree in systematic theology from Boston College University (USA, 2018), and a diploma in practicum of spiritual direction (Berkeley, California, 2018).


Title: Freedom Freed by Hope