Life in common – general anthropology essay

Wassily Kandinsky


Commentary on the book by Tzvetan Todorov

Anthropology emerged as a science in the XNUMXth century. However, throughout the XNUMXth century, from an articulation of different branches of knowledge, a branch was created that came to be called general anthropology or fundamental anthropology.

It is no longer a question of analyzing cultural variables, but of understanding some of the fundamental structures that determine human beings as a species, that is, as anthropos. Gehlen, Illies, Kirschof, Welsch, Kummer, Durand, Putnam, Landmann, Plessner, Portmann, Rothacker, Ruffié, Scheler, Uexküll, Tugendhat and Vossenkuhl. These are some of the international representatives of this field of study.

The Bulgarian-French philosopher, historian and literary critic Tzvetan Todorov penetrates the heart of this interdisciplinary field with Life in common: an essay in general anthropology, title that inaugurated the Author's Collection at Editora Unesp.

Todorov takes as a starting point the so-called “associal traditions”. How was the myth of the relationship between truth and isolation created? Both in ancient philosophy and in the French moralists of the XNUMXth century (Pascal and La Rochefoucauld) and in Hobbes, Kant and Rousseau, the Bulgarian thinker identifies the same problem: the possibility of dissociation between individual and group and between an individual and other individuals. More than that: they imagine that this dissociation is synonymous with freedom.

A shift in thought occurs with Hegel and his great interpreter in the XNUMXth century, Alexandre Kojève. Based on the so-called “recognition theory”, the existence of an individual depends on the awareness of other individuals. There is no individual outside an infinite mirroring of consciences, one in relation to the other. The individual is an intersubjective web. From this panel, Todorov enters a new related field: that of psychology and psychoanalysis, especially in the English schools: Adler, Fairbairn, Bowlby, Winnicott, Klein.

It suggests limitations of Freud's classical theory for thinking about some human phenomena. One of these limitations concerns two human manifestations that are difficult to explain: love and solidarity. All the psychologies of the ego and drives, the pessimistic and dualistic philosophies, that is, all the theories that value the society-individual conflict, ignore an elementary fact: the human being only survived and became human because he managed to generate forces of solidarity and life preservation.

Human beings are entangled in a triangular movement: to be, to live, to exist. The being only wants to preserve itself, as Spinoza says. Therefore, being is amoral and demands a morality. This horizon of moral values ​​is not realized in simple life either, as plants and animals also live.

When human beings become aware of their own existence, they realize that they are radically relational beings and lives. To exist is to become aware of the bonds of common life that unite us with all individuals. Common life is prior to individual life. We exist as we perceive the fabric of our lives' relationships with other lives and beings.

One criticism that can be made of Todorov's approach is that it remains too closely linked to the so-called philosophies of consciousness. It seems to ignore the criticisms made to these strands throughout the XNUMXth century. Despite this, in addition to being impeccable from an academic point of view, Todorov's work combines the stylistic subtleties of an essayist with intuitions of great human and intellectual value.

From the horizon of a general anthropology, it is possible to visualize the singular physiognomy of a common future for the human species. A future in which human beings will have overcome all seductions and illusions of isolation.

*Rodrigo Petronio, philosopher and essayist, he is a postdoctoral researcher at the Graduate Program in Intelligence Technologies and Digital Design at PUC-SP.


Tzvetan Todorov. Life in common: general anthropology essay. São Paulo, Unesp, 2014, 224 pages.


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