René Descartes and Jan Ruusbroec

 A director for a home for mentaly impaired children and young adults, once told me passionately: “If it were for René Descartes with his view on the human being as ‘Je pense donc je suis’, there would be no need for my job, nor for a home for the young people entrusted to my care”. This has, indeed, been the consequence drawn by the Nazi’s in the years before the second world war. To me this poses a serious challenge to modern philosophy and anthropology. It contrasts with another view on the core of human existence, as expressed by the medieval mystical author Jan Ruusbroec: “Want compassie es ene quetsure der herten die minne maect ghemeyne tot allen menschen, ende niet ghenesen en mach also langhe als enighe doghet in den mense levet” (compassion is a wound of the heart that stretches out love to all human beings, and that should not be healed as long as there is any virtue alive in a human being). Here, the emphasis is not on the “I” and on intelligence, but rather on the vulnerable capacity to relate to others and, therefore, on the “We”. It may wel be very important to recover this “we” and the relational reality that constitutes it and in which the “i” arises. For those who have had of have the privilege to live with mentally impaired young people, their immediate capacity at relating – sometimes in a violent way, but often also in compassion and sympathy – is a grace. Is this not the revelation of graceful human beings?


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