Both modes of knowledge, the practical and the theoretical, facilitate an encounter with personhood. Personhood refers to a self which exists as-such in relationship to an other. Such an identity is realized in communion.
For instance, a father is a father by nature of having a son, while a son is a son by nature of being from his father. We all exist in the context of relationships which possess the structure of same and other: husband/wife; brother/sister; employer/employee; self/neighbor. Our selves are only fully realized in freely reaching out to and giving ourselves unto the other.
Through theory, we intellectually perceive the truth of our common humanity, and this informs how we approach relationships. Through practice, we live out the reality of these truths and no longer see them as just ideas, but experience them as the underlying structure of our being–a being made for, in, and through relationship.
Personhood takes the form of communion. Our five sense are ordered to interaction with the world. We reach out toward the other in order to know and to be known. Our ability to think, to speak, and to listen all exhibit the form of sharing and connection, of taking into oneself and sending forth. Even the ethical life is ordered toward forging and protecting these relationships with others. That is to say, ethics (the practice of love) is ordered toward communion or personhood.
Ethics might even be said to be the practice of knowing and speaking the truth in love.
Balancing Theory and Practice
Without practical knowledge, we remain aloof from the reality of our humanity. I may say that I am made for connection, but I have yet to experience such connection until I practice living as a social being. I may advocate personhood, and yet reject the nitty-gritty reality of its existence.
Without theoretical knowledge, I cannot discern meaning in myself or others because I lack familiarity with the universal, not only in the abstract, but even in the particulars. Theory allows me to respect and recognize a common humanity. Without such, I operate at the level of emotion and instinct.
When we emphasize theory over practice (or practice over theory) we limit the possibility of communion. Doing so, we fail to discover the full purpose and privilege of the ethical and spiritual life: Personhood remains hidden to us.
Why does this happen?
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