By Maurice Merleau-Ponty
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Additional resources for Adventures of the Dialectic. (Northwestern University studies in phenomenology & existential philosophy)
The conscious control which is useless for salvation is transferred to a worldly enterprise that takes on the value of duty. Plans, methods, balance sheets are useless in dealing with God, since, from his perspective, everything is done, and we can know nothing. All that is left to us is to put the world in order, to change its natural aspect, and to rationalize life, this being the only means we have of bringing God's reign to earth. We are not able to make God save us. But the same anguish that we feel before that which we do not control, the same energy that we would expend to implement our salvation, even though we cannot do so, is expended in a worldly enterprise which depends on us and is under our control and which will become, even in Puritanism, a presumption of salvation.
This is due to the fact that they are all embedded in the unitary web of human choices. This is a difficult position to hold and one which is threatened on two sides. Since Weber tries to preserve the individuality of the past while still situating it in a developmental process, perhaps even in a hierarchy, he will be reproached, sometimes for concluding too little and at other times for presuming too much. Does he not leave us without means for criticizing the past? Does he not in principle give the same degree of reality and the same value to all civilizations, since the system of real and imaginary methods by which man has organized his relations with the world and with other men has always managed, somehow or other, to function?
Finally, the objection can be made that historical consciousness lives off this indefensible paradox: fragments of human life, each of which has been lived as absolute, and whose meaning thus in principle eludes the disinterested onlooker, are brought together in the imagination in a single act of attention, are compared and conSidered as moments in a single developmental process. It is necessary, therefore, to choose between a history which judges, Situates, and organizes-at the risk of finding in the past only a reflection of the troubles and problems of the present-and an indifferent, agnostic history which lines up civilizations one after another like unique individuals who cannot be compared.