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On Ong's Thought and Modern Capitalism: An Essay for Rob Kall

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) July 21, 2015: Rob Kall read a short essay of mine (approximately 2,400 words in length) that I had sent him as an email attachment. In a brief email reply, he was kind enough to inform me that he did not quite understand what all Walter J. Ong, S.J. (1912-2003), means by the world-as view sense of life. So I have decided to undertake explaining what Ong means by that expression to the best of my ability.

Actually, Ong discusses the world-as-view sense of life in contrast with the world-as-event sense of life of all of our human ancestors.

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See Ong's article "World as View and World as Event" in the journal American Anthropologist, volume 71, number 4 (August 1969): pages 634-647.

In pre-historic and pre-literate times, our human ancestors all had the world-as-event sense of life. In effect, it was the default position for all of our human ancestors.

The world-as-view sense of life emerged historically in Western culture in ancient Greek philosophic thought as exemplified by Plato and Aristotle. Plato and Aristotle not only influenced the Western philosophic tradition of thought, but also the Christian tradition of theological thought -- in short, Christian theology.

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Ong's claim about the world-as-view sense of life expressed in Plato's and Aristotle's philosophical thought is greatly strengthened by Andrea Wilson Nightingale's book Spectacles of Truth in Classical Greek Philosophy: Theoria in its Cultural Context (2004). (However, she does not happen to advert explicitly to the relevant books by Louis Lavelle and Ong.)

In 17th-century New England, the college-educated Puritans, who had been educated at Cambridge University in England, founded Harvard College in 1636 to produce further college-educated Puritans. The college-educated Puritans represented the world-as-view sense of life.

See Perry Miller's book The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (1939).

Perry Miller, a self-described atheist in English at Harvard, served as the director on Ong's 1954 Harvard doctoral dissertation in English, which was published, slightly revised, in two volumes by Harvard University Press in 1958. The second of the two volumes is basically an annotated bibliography of more than 750 volumes that Ong had tracked down in more than 100 libraries.

The first volume is titled Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason. In it Ong works with the aural-visual contrast that he acknowledges he borrowed from Louis Lavelle. The aural-visual contrast is also known as the sound-sight contrast. As mentioned above, in his 1969 article, Ong subsequently expanded the aural-visual contrast to the contrast been the world-as-event sense of life and the world-as-view sense of life.

In 17th-century New England, the Native Americans represented the world-as-event sense of life.

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For a phenomenological account of the world-as-event sense of life, see David Abram's book The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (1996).

After the Gutenberg printing press emerged in the 1450s in Western culture, print culture emerged in Western culture. In print culture in Western culture, the world-as-view sense of life expanded to unprecedented numbers of people. To this day, formal education in Western culture is the primary institution through which the world-as-view sense of life is transmitted and inculcated.

Modern capitalism, modern science, modern democracy as exemplified by our American experiment in democracy, the Industrial Revolution, and the Romantic Movement in literature and philosophy and the arts emerged in print culture in Western culture.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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