Without losing face

Rubén Sánchez Muñoz

If it is true that life is a concern, as José Ortega y Gasset (242s) said, or that we are living problems, in the words of María Zambrano (76), it seems even more obvious now. Concerns and problems are constitutive notes of human life, because we constantly need to choose what to do and who to be. And this thesis, which is of capital importance for philosophy, does not need, at any moment, to abandon the concrete reality, the radical reality that is life. Because everything that happens happens to us and what we do with our life, we ​​will do it with ourselves.

And yet, it cannot be said that this is just like that. If what we do and what we decide had implications only for us, we might as well live uninterested and carefree. But it’s not like that. If problems and concerns are constitutive notes of human living, then no less important, and also constitutive, is living with, living next to, coexisting with the world (Ortega), coexisting or living with (Zambrano), living with each other and in each other (Husserl). We do not live our life in a solipsistic way, therefore, what we do, what we choose and obviously what we stop doing and choosing, has implications in the lives of others. Others are not just the people who live immediately next to me. They are not just my family, my neighbors, or my co-workers. I live with many others that I do not know personally, that I do not know anything about, and they can also be affected by the consequences of my actions and sayings.

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Many contemporary philosophers have dedicated very important studies to the subject of our responsibility towards each other: the problems of intersubjectivity, of caring for others, of caring for oneself, of ethics in its social dimension, and so on. Who, today, could doubt their social responsibility or better yet their co-responsibility? We are all responsible for everyone; what happens to us can happen to others; my illness can be the illness of the other and vice versa. In a world where one can move easily – I say that with the restraints it deserves – one can carry and bring diseases as well. Spread dangerous, new viruses that cause physical harm, psychological harm, economic harm, and so on. What attitude is the most favorable to this circumstance? The answer may seem obvious, but it is not. And it is not because, how can we explain or understand that there are so many people who do not take care of themselves and, consequently, do not take care of the others? What we consider to be evident is not self-evident: it sounds evident as long as we have the ability to see it. Consequently, they are not obvious to those who can not see it.

We live in each other in incredible ways that bond us humanly, from the basic communities of belongings to the most complex, both nationally and across borders. When Husserl imagined himself in an extreme situation, for example a prisoner, he wondered what could be done in such cases. And the answer is extremely valuable in this time that we have lived. Husserl said that even in the worst circumstances what could not be lost is the ethical attitude, acting lovingly with others (2009, 803s), acting correctly, acting with the best science and conscience (2012, 34). And this demand is a moral demand that we can make ours. Even in the worst circumstances we cannot lose face, we cannot lose composure, moral integrity. We do not know the meaning of suffering, nor do we know the reason for the evil in the world or for sickness and death. We do not know what will happen next. Many of us have seen our loved ones die recently; we saw our partners sick, our children sick. We see such large numbers of infections in the world… And what we are saying here is that we can still cling with all our strength to the moral ideal, to the ethical life, to the authentic life, because ethics gives life a higher value and because only from ethics can we at least aspire to take our neighbor into account in the things we do. This ability is achieved little by little, in degrees of ascent and descent.

Therefore, not losing face implicates two things. We either remain firm in our moral attitude, if it is already a part of our life and therefore imperative for us to stand firm and resist, or we take it as an opportunity to grow morally and to reach the corresponding attitude. In both cases, what is involved is to live ethically in the world, to coexist ethically, to coexist and cohabit ethically with others. It is about not allowing the contingency, which brings so much damage, pain and suffering to the world, to end up corrupting us and damaging the ethical beings that we are. That even in the worst conditions, the possibility of doing things right exists, in the best possible way. This is an absolute moral obligation and it shows that in our being in the world we cannot give up on growing morally at all times and in all circumstances.

Puebla, August 26, 2020.


Husserl, Edmund. “Valor de la vida, valor del mundo. Moralidad (virtud) y felicidad”, trad. Julia V. Iribarne, en Acta Latinoamericana de Fenomenología vol. III, 2009, pp. 789-821.

Husserl, Edmund. Renovación del hombre y de la cultura. Cinco ensayos, introducción de G. Hoyos; trad. Agustín Serrano de Haro, Madrid: Anthropos, 2003.

Ortega y Gasset, José. ¿Qué es filosofía?, Obras I, Madrid: Gredos, 2014.

Zambrano, María. Hacia un saber sobre el alma, Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 2000.


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