'Problem' vs. 'Mystery' in Daily Life

“In the last two or three centuries, and indeed since much more remote periods, there has been a great deal of critical reflection on the subject of truth. Nevertheless, there is every reason to suppose that, in our everyday thinking, we remain dominated by an image of truth as something extracted... It is, however, this very image of truth as something smelted out that we must encounter if we want to grasp clearly the gross error on which it rests.” (Gabriel Marcel, The Mystery of Being)

This is the quote with which I began my capstone paper for my undergraduate B.A. in philosophy. In short, I think it captures very well the prevalent situation of most modern thinking: namely, that our view of ‘truth’ is most usually of some scientifically accessible reality, upon which we found our daily actions and opinions. On the contrary, though, Marcel implicitly suggests here that truth really ought to be considered from a much more objective and, ultimately, less ‘problematic’ vantage point. Hopefully I can explain what I mean…

I would venture to guess that most of us view the major social phenomena in the world—such as poverty, for example—as problems to be solved. In other words, we see great and intricate occurrences as composed of parts, which can be solved, and that are projected toward us (in Greek, «pro» = toward; «blemenos» = thrown) by the world we live in. With this mindset, we eliminate automatically the possibility of a mystery higher than ourselves, and thereby limit truth to something we can dissect. On the contrary, Marcel suggests that we make room in our minds for truths that are not problematic (i.e. able to be solved by reason), but that are mysterious, and therefore must remain always somehow ‘unsolved.’

While this might initially seem inhuman—viz. it is not relegated to the function of reason—in reality, it appears more human than anything else. Human nature, if we look at it fully, is something quite mysterious; we cannot ‘solve’ the complexities of our own being by reason alone (for those who are familiar, one only need look to philosophers such as Descartes or the empiricists to realize this). Thus, making a place for mystery in our lives is simply allowing room for the realities that we cannot and will never explain by rational processes. In a word, we only realize the dignity of our humanity when we realize our deficiency in light of the greatness of the creation around us. Anything less is demeaning and ultimately destructive of what it means to be ‘human beings.’ Once we establish this base of ‘truth’ in our lives, our further analyses will appear much clearer, and we will be much better disposed to encounter reality in a productive and non-frustrated manner.