Caring thinking about caring thinking

by Oscar Brenifier, April 2008
Revision and suggestions by Janette Poulton


Discuss / diskuter



Caring, in English language, has different meanings or connotations, depending on how we use it, in which context and in which form. We basically encountered five basic meanings, of course interrelated. First, caring is to feel concern or interest for someone or something: “I care for him”. Second, it is to be cautious, to watch for oneself: “Take care of yourself”, or “Be careful”. Third, it is to provide for someone or something: “I take care of my plant”. Fourth, it is to deal with something: “I take care of the cleaning”. Fifth, it is to like: “Would you care for some beer?”. Let us finally add here that the etymology of the word care is chara, which in old high German means grief, lament, therefore it is a term of sentimental or emotional origin.

When we observe the different acceptations of the term, we notice that every time we have the word “care”, either as a verb or as a substantive, we have an object for it, and of course a subject, even though not always explicitly mentioned. The implication is usually that a subject takes care of an object. And indeed, “care” is always a term of relation: it establishes a relationship between two terms, in general the subject being a human, the object being a human (someone else or oneself), another type of being, an object, an activity, etc.

Returning to the expression “caring thinking”, we have a little problem: neither the subject nor the object are mentioned, only the action itself. At the same time, the problem is very interesting. Let us say we had the expression “caring running”. The centerpiece of the expression is the activity itself: running. We have some subject that probably runs, but we don’t need to know anything about him, we ignore the running subject, we could even say that we “don’t care” about him. Therefore, we can eliminate him in order to work on the meaning of the expression, which we clarify by simplifying the issue. We would like—au passage—to remark here that “not caring” has found a positive or useful usage, to which we will come back later on: a discriminative function.

Now, how about the object of the care? Well, we have here two possibilities: either we proceed like we did with the subject, that is we don’t care about it, or we do care, and therefore we have to determine “who” or “what” we are talking about. If we don’t care about it, this would tend to signify that the activity is the only determinant or substantial reality, and therefore the “running cares about the running”. This implies, following the different acceptations of the term, that “running is concerned about running”, that “ running watches for running”, that “ running provides for running”, that “running deals with running”, that “running likes running”, etc. We would have produced a sort of “self-conscious running”, “self-concerned running”. And in spite of the relative awkwardness of this hypostasized, reified or substantialized “running”, it seems that it can make sense. We are faced with an activity that is its own alpha and omega, both goal and means in itself, to such an extent that it needs neither an object nor a subject. And funnily enough, this brings us back to thinking, since the idea of a subjectless and objectless self-sustaining activity reminds us of Aristotle’s definition of God as “Knowledge knowing itself”, which is echoed by the Hegelian concept of a subjectless “absolute knowledge”, for which everything has a meaning, a sort of total conscience. Therefore “caring thinking” can be proposed as a kind of “regulatory ideal”—Kant’s idea of an unreachable but useful inspiring normative goal—where thinking is concerned about itself, watches for itself, provides for itself, deals with itself, enjoys itself, etc. We have a fully deployed activity of thinking, intellectually and emotionally, reaching higher degrees of self-consciousness and autonomy, as well as a profound feeling of joy linked to the activity and its accomplishment. Why not? A bit pompous and idealistic, but if we forget the overloaded connotations of the expression, a philosopher can recognize itself in the overall process hereby described.


Page created: 26.01.09. Page last modified: 18.11.09 14:41.