My main subject is Finnish language, so my philosophical approach is often linguistic. I have come to believe that our native language has a lot to give to the international discussion – which often is based on concepts from Latin, Greece, English or German language. There are two Finnish words that I find quite exiting and exotic from foreign perspective: läsnäolo and huomaavaisuus. They both express some type of awareness. They belong mainly to the realm of ethics, where they are perhaps a tool for creating some new philosophical divisions.
I start by placing them inside more classic division:
All philosophical ethics today have certain common ground: they try to accomplish some form of general agreement and point out some universal criteria for judging personal actions. Science in general shares this attempt: search for truths that don’t require constant babysitting. They are sound and stable – reliable codes for creating a reliable society.
Religion often seeks something else: good will in live action. Most famous is the story of Good Samaritan. Jesus doesn’t ask if he was a utilitarian or God fearing man. The story doesn't focus on “why”. The story simply pictures a good man in action. It’s about living in the moment, not about building sound philosophical vessels that float gallantly on the sea of academic discussion.
The same can be said about Buddhism. Modern Mahayana Buddhism believes that good action come from mindfulness – and that mindfulness is something you can practice and learn. Mindfulness is just what the Good Samaritan does: not walking past an opportunity to follow you heart – whatever it says. Not to ignore = not to be ignorant. (And also: not to use people as means but as an end.)
Couple of big questions arise here. First: How to philosophically jump this gap between knowing what is right --> acting upon it? Is it possible to live as you preach? Just like David Hume said: Inside my room everything seems to be clear – but when I step outside to the street, it gets complicated – and I seem to forget everything I ever knew about philosophical certainty. Should we abandon philosophy altogether in order to be mindfull and aware of our immanent surroundings?
Second question: What are the unsolved problems of immanence and living in the moment? There has to be problems because practically all modern philosophy steps away from solving individual issues, and transcendes from particles to universals.
Here are three already stated and quite active counter-arguments to immanence and ethics of here and now:
1) People tend to be partial (when particle events are the case): they use different guidelines if they are giving praise or judgement to their selves or their friends and family members. What this means is that somehow we must escape to universals in order to “clean” our minds from such subjectivity – but how to return from abstract ideas to the concrete? Is there any philosophic method for this turnaround? Most philosopsy seems to go well from partical to universal – but it’s a single way ticket.
2) Good Will can be just good rhetoric. If someone tells us that his motives are good, how to test him? Can we believe him? This is the second reason why statue of Justice is blindfolded: same rules for family members and same rules for good liers and bad liers. Of course it is not that simple: all western courts take persons good or ill will into consideration: penalty depends on whether the harm was intentional or not - so there already exists a compromise.
3) The state of uncertainty and anarchy without simple standards: Philosophical ethics and the written law can be seen as a one form of metrics. Just like there are measurements of feet or centimeters or miles or kilometers, there is also the measurement of crime and punishment. Philosophy can argue against these shared notions – but most people are naturally against all type of deconstruction of what is known as The Law. Our moral concepts are a social contract, just like liters and gallons, and so be it.
What about the Finnish Language then? Can it give us any new perspective?
I begin with the word huomaavaisuus. It can be translated to “politeness” or “kindness”, but they are both missing something and they have completely different connotations. Politeness is obviously a social attribute: it contains the word “polis” (word for Greek city or society). Politeness is something that comes with political skills. When you are polite, it implies that you try to make good impression of you self. So you are not playing completely without self-interest.
Etymology: Polite = "refined, elegant," lit. "polished,"What about kindness then? Surprisingly it is also connected to nation and civil virtue. Online etymology dictionary says the following:
kindness: c.1300, "courtesy, noble deeds" …from late 14c. O.E. kyndnes meant "nation; produce, an increase."Today kindness also implies emotinal softness. It has something to do with personal temperament. Someone is a kind person – so kindness is more connected to person, not to her singular act. Some also “shows” kindness, instead of “doing” kindness. So kindness is inside a person and he or she just brings it out to the open, showing it – depending on the other. One person can be worth our kindness, but we might not show it to someone else.
Finnish word huomaavaisuus is much more naive and trustworthy. It has no connotations of self-interest or political fame. Literal translation could be: “to-notice-the-presence-of-other”.
If you are familiar with exitentialism of Sartre or Heidegger’s dasein, this is where you say: Wow!
And that is not all. There are two different meaning for root-word “huoma-“. 1) lap of a mother, and 2) visual perception.
It is possible to say:
Huomaatko tuon linnun? = Can you see/ did you notice that bird?
Poliisi otti rikolliset huomaansa = The police took the criminals into custody, arrested them (gently and politely – and with some irony).
Kuvassa pandan pentu on päässy emonsa huomaan = The picture shows panda cuddling in the embrace of her mother.
Huomaavaisuus somehow implies that seeing is embracing. And this is the second philosophical hurrah for Finnish Language.
My personal opinion is clear: in the University of Helsinki we could and we should go Finnish more often – and I fear that perhaps finnish speakers don’t realize this themselves. It is philosophically fruitful language, because it has its own separate roots and lots of originality. It should be explored and exploited, but for some reason not many academic scholars have the guts to take Finnish words and bring them out to the international discussion.
Often philosophical possibilities are lost because translations from Germany and English bring with them divisions and concepts that overshadow existing Finnish concepts – which I believe are much better to begin with.
From the internet I found some other translations to huomaavaisuus: thoughtfullness, courtesy, attention to your needs etc. But what about läsnäolo?
Dictionary offers quite a good word here: “presence”, “attendance”.
I like the idea that läsnäolo is something like presence for two reasons. 1) charisma is connected to strong presence, and 2) läsnäolo is to be attended in the present moment. I would go so far to connect both translations into one concept…
“läsnäolo” = attendance in the present / presence of the attendant
Finally we can return to the story of good samaritan. My claim is the following: The person in the story acted the way he acted, because he was attendant in the present and had a presence of the attendant.
The ethics of läsnäolo could be something like this:
Your charisma and your will is dependant of the state of your presence. Without attending awareness of your surrounding you can’t really accomplish much in the ethics of everyday life.
In ethics is not so important how we deduct or argue for our philosophical concepts – or at least not all of our effort and awareness should be directed to such abstract things as universals.
Philosophy has traveled one way only: from particles to universals – and it has found good methods for that – but as religions says: here and now is the time to turn and walk to other direction – turn the awareness from universals to the present. When is this now? It is as soon as you can accomplish your own attendance. Could philosophy help you with that? Perhaps? If it only tried…
The ethical twist is this: Both the self and the other are not to be seen universals. They are treated as universal, yes – but not a single one thing can be noticed and percieved if it is right away reducted to universals.
Seeing is not seeing universals. Perception is not the same thing as reason, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. Ethics can’t turn around and apply itself to partical world creatures if in our mind we don’t acknowlidge the attendance of particals.
Universals give us some comfort and guidelines, but universals do not prepare us to the moment where we come face to face with the quite unique here-and-now.
Particals are the trigger of ethical motives. They are also the end in Kantian sense. The universals works as a bridge here, but how complete is the structure if it’s a one way street, as I argued?
Powerful people might fear läsnäolo, because with moral awareness comes guilty concience. But it’s a risk you should take, unless you want to live a life of abstract and fiction. Without moral coherence you can’t accomplish a state of being-here. You only see what you want to see, and most of your self-image is imaginary, because you haven’t really studied the possibilities of läsnäolo and huomaavaisuus.
Perhaps the most important notion with läsnäolo is this: you are also treated the way you treat others – by your-self, not only by others.
This is one sort of psychological interpretation of karma: If your presence is lacking, you don’t treat others with kind consideration – but at the same time your own existence is damaged: With only moderate attendance you are not giving much credit to your own emotions and experience either. Without the notice of what-is-going-on you are missing out in life and in your being.
Perhaps it is not just lucky coincidence that attendance contains the word -dance. Little attendance of others means literally less dance in life.