The contemporary desire for a technified salvation
Author: Jorge Martín Montoya, José Manuel Giménez Amaya
Published in: Razón y fe 2023; 287(1):69-94.
Date of publication: 2023.
One of the main characteristics of the world we live in is what we call the presence of a metabolic vitalism. In this article we want to deepen the anthropological-cultural use of this concept by relating it to human desires for happiness and salvation and the implications of technology to, finally, carry out a conclusion through a possible dystopian scenario. We argue that the cultural supremacy of this subject of vitalism has led to the obscuring of a natural and unitary vision of the experience of the expiration of the human body and, therefore, also of man's natural need to be saved. From an anthropological point of view, we analyze that at the base of this whole process is the curtailment of the natural ends of what we define as corporeal intentionality, which is difficult to understand if there is not an adequate integration, teleologically, of the biological and spiritual aspects of the human being.
Introduction and presuppositions: on vitalism in an anthropological and cultural sense.
Purpose (teleology), intentionality of the body and the natural need of the human being to be saved.
Corporal health and the current attempt of happiness of metabolic vitalism.
4. Concluding aspects: the contemporary desire for a technified salvation.
One of the main characteristics of the contemporary culture in which we find ourselves is what we call the presence of a metabolic vitalism. As we will see in this work, our approach to reality, through these terms, is framed within the analysis of the culture that Modernity has imprinted in our world, and in the moral projection that this idea has for the human being in particular, and for society in general. In this sense, we use the term vitalism in a cultural context that also includes the way in which the empirical sciences, and the reflections on their own foundations, identify living beings. However, it is not restricted to such contributions.
Indeed, the terminology metabolic vitalism, as we use it, acquires the epistemological characteristics of the programs of study of cultural products inserted in a teleology that is proper to them. Thus, as Choza (1990, pp. 13-24) indicates, culture considers everything that is not a spontaneous product of nature, and that implies man's freedom. That is what we call cultural products, and that is why it can be said that man is realized in culture: it refers to desires and habits. It implies a teleology for the singular subject and human society that involves its religious end (which transcends history); its moral end (which offers modes of sociohistorical action); and its political and cultural end (which is exercised in the social sphere with historical aims). The fact that absolute and permanent values are given in culture in an immediate but relative way makes it relative in itself (since it makes no sense to speak of an absolute historical epoch). For this reason it relativizes everything it embraces, including values that can be considered absolute. The very validity of a culture can cause it to wear out and no longer serve as a mediator or representative of those values considered valid for every epoch.
Thus, the sense in which we employ metabolic vitalism is located in the realm where deeply rooted beliefs about the value of corporeality in contemporary culture have been established, and in its meshing with the idea of salvation, in a world where technology takes precedence. A consequence of this way of approaching vitalism is its amplitude for an integrative analysis of natural teleology within the ends of human life as a whole. For this reason, it becomes necessary to search for types of teleological conceptions that reflect in an integral and unitary way human action, in which the subject gives himself his own ends for living, even though these may be presented as given to him, in some way, in aspects of his nature, as in the case of his own body. Thus, the inclusion of Aristotle's Philosophy , within a narrative, as Alasdair MacIntyre has already done for this subject of tasks (MacIntyre, 2001), lends us the appropriate elements for this anthropological analysis, since his works more inclined to the observation of animal nature have their projection towards ethics, and the assessment of the ends and intentions of action (Fernandez, 2014).
Next, we will go on to consider the current valuations of corporeality and how they affect human life by articulating its limiting experiences, such as aging, illness and death. Through them, we will delve into how what we call the intentionality of the body affects in a relevant way the human conception of salvation. Subsequently, we will analyze how the contemporary idea of bodily health has led to a search for happiness governed by metabolic vitalism. Finally, we will highlight some conclusive aspects through a dystopian scenario illustrated by the work of Aldous Huxley (2012), Brave New World.
The desire of survival of the human being is found since he has report of his presence in the world. We can verify it through the numerous paleontological remains, and traces of ritual elements related to the passage to the afterlife (Ariès, 2005). All this sample the existence of a universal and unitary human desire to transcend the expiration of the body. It is, in final, a yearning that arises from the passing of time in the face of the experience of a corruptible corporeality, since the subject is not in itself unitary, but has parts separated from each other (Thomas Aquinas, 1952, lib. 1, 1.5, n. 3). 1. It is the experience of something that happens in an inevitable way, of a fragmentation of the corporeal that is in a fragile organic equilibrium, which is paradoxically harmonious, and which cannot be stopped by the mere forces of ordinary life. This is why it is possible to affirm:
Corruption does not occur only as a determined change, however radical, but as a "permanent condition" of the material substratum. That is, the individual composed of subject is essentially corruptible. This condition of the living being manifests itself in different Degrees over time. On the one hand, there is a wear and tear (consumption) and a deterioration (passage to a worse state) proper to the material state, which progressively loses the optimal conditions for its use and functions. These vital dynamisms are not as a whole entirely parallel, but they are harmonious in that they are organized in a unitary manner (Lombo and Giménez Amaya, 2016, p. 147).
We can understand, with this, something that seems obvious, but which is an important starting point: the anthropological reflection on the experience, unified in the consciousness of the subject, of the biological limits of human life, and the desire to transcend them. In other words, to think about this status of wear and tear and material deterioration that is perceived in a unitary way, within the understanding of the organic end of the body, and of the understanding of the purpose of existence itself as it approaches its temporal end, that is, of life as a whole, which especially involves human freedom.
We understand that the unity of this experience must start from the reflection on the ends, and not from a mechanistic point of view. In this regard, it is interesting to consider that Kant's work already pointed, in its part on the critique of teleological judgment, to the dilemma between mechanicism and teleology. For the philosopher from Königsberg, on the one hand, human understanding demands that all strictly scientific knowledge about nature be mechanistic (appeal to efficient causes) and, on the other hand, what is characteristic of living organisms is that they have purposes or ends, something that can only be explained teleologically (Gherab Martín, 2020, p. 460; Kant, 2011, § 78). However, due to the limits of our knowledge, Kant considers that it is not possible to unite both perspectives in the explanation of the same natural production, and he is inclined to establish a specific judgment subject for the ends within nature.
In Kant's proposal , which can be seen synthetically in the Critique of Judgment [KU, AA V, 192-198], this teleological judgment on the natural world does not come from the determination of one of the Schools of knowing such as understanding (governed by the a priori concepts of nature), neither does it arise from the School of mind that is desire (which governed by another School of knowledge that is reason becomes the School superior of freedom), and even less from the School mind of the feeling of pleasure or displeasure. It is a judgment proper to the knowledge that is reflective. Such reflection has as its basis not a natural law or its content, but the way in which the subject can understand this nature. If such a judgment were to proceed from a content of the natural law, it would not be teleological, but determinant, that is, proceeding from the understanding, and therefore subject to mechanistic interpretations. Thus, for Kant, the adjustment of the teleological judgment with reality is on the basis of a law that the subject gives himself. It is, therefore, a reflection of nature that has as its object the way in which the subject understands nature itself: it is "as if" the natural world were understood. But in addition, this natural teleological judgment -in the Kantian perspective- cannot be united with the human experiences of freedom and moral action, since these involve relations with Schools of knowledge that are distinct and irreducible, thus breaking the possible vital unity of the experiences proper to human expiration (Kant, 2011, pp. 105-111).2.
In order to maintain the unity of such experiences, it seems most effective to analyze this process of organic deterioration from the perspective of an Aristotelian narrative of human life (MacIntyre, 2001, pp. 81-195), a task that we will begin with the consideration of aging. What we mean by aging in itself considered, without contemplating -for the moment- the emergence of diseases derived from this same process.
In aging we experience the biological wear and tear produced in our body by the simple passage of time. It involves a series of morphofunctional changes that are not the result of pathological alterations (which we will consider later), or of accidents that happen more or less suddenly to the individual. Aging is the natural course followed by all living beings, including, therefore, the human being. In this process, the biological Structures undergoes the effect of deterioration -mainly due to use- and a certain state of natural degradation (Montoya Camacho and Giménez Amaya, 2021, pp. 158-175).
The contemporary world, however, seems to have forgotten that aging is a place of meeting to understand man. And this is so, because it has neglected the understanding of the integration that exists, on the one hand, between learning and stabilization of knowledge (attention, report and habits) and, on the other hand, wear and tear and vulnerability (Montoya Camacho and Giménez Amaya, 2021, pp. 161-162; Lombo and Giménez Amaya, 2022).
This oversight occurs, above all, in the withdrawal of explanations based on what has classically been called final causes, that is to say, the concept of teleology. The latter essentially tries to answer the question of what is the end of our living. Undoubtedly, the teleological category is very much hidden at present, as to the end to which human existence is directed in its unity of body and spirit (Montoya Camacho and Giménez Amaya, 2021, pp. 212-218). Indeed, it is verifiable the lack of understanding of the unity between human materiality and spirituality, which is perceived at present, and to which we will dedicate some commentary later to understand the vital unity of the experience of growing old.
A teleological way, and in a certain way phenomenological at the same time, of understanding this integration of the spiritual and material elements of the human being, is given through the understanding of the systemic character of the body, and the interweaving of this systematicity with the ends of man's actions. In this way, the body is presented as a dynamic unit with a purpose that is not exhausted in the mere biological organicity, necessary for its subsistence, but transcends it.
Such finalistic transcendence can be understood as a kind of corporeal intentionality (Lombo and Giménez Amaya, 2016, pp. 21-22).3. That is to say, we speak of a dimension of subjectivity that opens to the world, and relates to other physical realities with ends that have repercussions on the good of the body itself, of the subject itself. These ends to which the aforementioned corporeal intentionality tends do not have to belong merely to the order of the useful or the functional, but are framed in actions that are open to the noble and the beautiful, and that offer a vital unity to human behavior. And this, because it directs the human being as a whole towards realities that are willed in themselves, and not because they are means to another end.4
To observe the latter, we must start from Aristotle's commentary on the goodness of the goods of the natural order in the Eudemian Ethics:
A man is good to whom natural goods are good, since the goods for which men strive and which they believe to be the greatest, honor, wealth, virtues of the body, good fortune, and power, are good by nature, but may be harmful to some because of their mode of being. For neither the foolish, nor the unjust, nor the intemperate derive any profit from their use, any more than the sick man from the regimen of the healthy, or the weak and crippled man from the trappings of the healthy and in possession of all the limbs (Aristotle, 1998, VIII, 3, 1248b 16-35).
Therefore, for the Stagirite there are goods that are good by nature (honor, wealth, virtues of the body, etc.), and that can only be beautiful or honest for the subject that can give them a correct use, that is, of agreement with the ends that correspond to him by his own nature. Thus, what is good in the order of the natural and what is beautiful or honest in action, although they are closely related, are not fully identified with each other. Human life is not made good by the mere use of goods that are naturally good, but it is necessary to contemplate the end that can be given to them. So says Aristotle, again, in the Eudemian Ethics:
There are persons who think that virtue is to be had, but only on account of natural goods. Such men are good (since natural goods are good for them), but they have no no nobility; for beautiful things in themselves do not belong to them, and they do not intend noble actions. And not only this, but things which by nature are not beautiful, but good(agathon), are to them beautiful(kalon). For natural goods are beautiful when that for which men make and choose them is beautiful. Therefore, for the noble man, goods by nature are beautiful (...) so that, for the noble man, what is useful is also beautiful (Aristotle, 1998, VIII,3, 1249a 1-10).
Therefore, the goods of the natural order (which Aristotle calls the virtues of the body) and which seem to serve simply for the attainment of something else, can reach a higher level of goodness that transcends the merely useful or functional. For this they must be incorporated within honest ends.
However, what has been indicated up to this point does not yet shed sufficient light to illuminate the question of the interweaving of the spirit with the ends of the body. Moreover, it might seem that this proposal instrumentalizes corporeality if the latter is identified with that which is good and useful by nature, as if noble ends were something juxtaposed to corporeal intentionality. To avoid this, attention must be paid to the fact that, in this subject of the intentionality of the body, the body is open to physical and biological objects, but not simply to let them determine its functionality. The human being is capable of organizing the material elements, even its own biological constitution, in such a way that they remain elevated and constituted as subjectivity (Lombo and Giménez Amaya 2016, p. 21).
An illustrative example of what we have been saying can be found in the relationship that human beings experience between their hands -and with it, their capacity for manipulation- and their rationality. Thus:
between intelligence and hands there is a continuity internship, by virtue of which the human being is open to the relationship with other beings in the corporeal realm. This relationship takes place in two linked directions. On the one hand, the field of technique that has to do with the useful; on the other, symbolic expression and communication, which go beyond the sphere of utility (Lombo and Giménez Amaya, 2016, p. 21).
Therefore, in this example we are dealing with, the very functional plasticity of the hands in the human being goes beyond their simple categorization as tools. The hands transcend all sectorial functionality, in such a way that they are a way of manifesting the person's own rational world, which reaches its most accomplished point with the appearance of the face and language.
What we have been indicating can only occur if the ends proper to the intentionality of the body, which are good by nature, correspond to the ordering reason of the subject, in a unity that possesses mutually implicated levels of interrelation. Thus, from this point of view, there cannot be a dichotomy between body and spirit, since the very experience of the body's functionality makes every object that falls within the sphere of its operativity to be, in some way, part of its subjectivity, and they become elements integrated into it by the ends of its action.
Indeed, the voluntary physical movement, that is to say, that which is ruled by the locomotor Schools , receives its organization from the rule of the subject, that is to say, from the choice (of the will), and the direction of an ordering reason. In this way, operations oriented by reason and will, which are not in themselves linked to a corporeal organ, interact directly with psychosomatic operations in bodily movement. It is clear that such rational operations are not causally linked in a direct way to organize the movement of the nervous system; in the same way that the act of eating or not eating prevails, but not that of the digestive processes directly (Enriquez Gomez and Montoya Camacho, 2021, p. 349).
In addition, the functioning of all organic activity in the human being can be altered by acts of the subject that imply the lack of nobility of their actions, such as when appetite delight is abused, causing inclinations in the behavior of the individual, which have a clear correlate in brain activity (Lombo and Giménez Amaya, 2013).
In this unitary understanding of the human being between his corporeal and spiritual action, subjectivity is not circumscribed simply in the mind of the subject, but we speak of a corporeal basis of all his experience. Nor would it be possible to affirm a kind of spirit that instrumentalizes the body, and that would fragment this experience. Rather, subjectivity implies corporeality, and transcends it without isolating the material aspects of his life to a supposed objectification that prevents the total meaning of his existence from being encapsulated.
Therefore, with this anthropological foundation it can be understood that every bodily aspect is open to both the objectivity and the subjectivity of the material and spiritual realities of man. Indeed, from the phenomenological and teleological consideration of which we have been speaking, it is not possible to make a sharp dissection between body and spirit, between bodily objectivity and mental subjectivity. On the contrary, human subjectivity is comprehensible in its communicating dimension of inner states if it implies the idea of bodily objectivity, necessary to be able to speak of what is good or bad, just or unjust, beautiful or ignoble (González, 2016, pp. 3-23). If we place in the foreground the search for the purpose of man in his corporeal and spiritual unity, the meaning of human life acquires a sense of totality that integrates all the ends of his actions (Giménez Amaya and Lombo, 2022, pp. 105-114).
With all that has been explained, and in a chronobiological and unitary context of human life, aging becomes an occasion for the accumulation of experiences that affect the whole person, and an opportunity to correct errors or faults that occur in the person over time. The fact that we temporarily go through life with the same body that progressively loses its functionalities, added to the need to correct mistakes and try to get life right in all its aspects, allows us to incorporate into our identity the idea that it is not possible to achieve a successful life only with our own biological and moral forces. And this, simply said, because we cannot control all the elements that occur in our existence and affect our biological vulnerability and our moral actions (Llano, 2006).
In addition, the idea of dependence or vulnerability leads us to understand that aging also needs to be analyzed from a social perspective, above all, on an interpersonal relationship level. Indeed, Aristotle indicates that it is not possible to establish a community solely on the basis of rules and precepts, or with simple exchange agreements that preserve individual interest (Gonzalez, 2016, pp. 9-11).
The latter he affirms, in the book of Politics, saying that individuals have not associated not only to live, but to live well; or that they have not associated to form a warlike alliance in order not to be victims of any injustice; nor only for exchange or mutual financial aid (Aristotle, 1970, III, 9, 1280a6-8). As he also indicates in the Nicomachean Ethics, this is based on two elements of life internship: justice and friendship, which play an indispensable role in the configuration of the community (Aristotle, 1998, VIII, 9, 1159b24-1160a8). Therefore, a rational ordering of social life is necessary through the specific virtues that are related to coexistence and to the attention and care of vulnerability (Lombo and Giménez Amaya, 2016, pp. 164-173; MacIntyre, 2001, pp. 141-171).
In this regard, the philosopher Alejandro Llano has rightly pointed out:
Care is an extraordinarily rich anthropological tessitura, as Heidegger envisioned. Care is attention, respect, financial aid. The one who adopts this attitude of epimeleia does not intend to aggressively break into reality, but to "let it be", to cultivate it so that it grows. Certainly things can also be cared for, but perhaps only living things, with which there is room for a certain empathic communication (Llano, 1988, p. 181).
Thus, aging is constituted over time in a web of needs and exchange of goods, with purposes that take into account the totality of the person. This interrelationship is historical and social, and in this the human being is a receiver rather than a donor. It can thus be said that a person has a constitutive debt with those who have preceded him, and this debt is repaid throughout the generational succession.
At final, this
reality is the one that founds the feeling and the virtue of pietas, which is present in almost all ancient cultures. Especially in ancient Rome, it was considered the virtue of the hero Aeneas, often called the "pious one", insofar as he faithfully fulfilled his duties towards his country and his parents. This virtue will be profoundly elaborated by Christianity, since the One who precedes all in his action and gifts is God himself. In this sense, the perfect incarnation of piety is Jesus Christ [vid. Guardini, R., El servicio al prójimo en peligro, Guadarrama, Madrid 1960] (Lombo and Giménez Amaya, 2016, p. 171).
With all this, corporeal intentionality, as a biological-subjective opening, is inserted in the honest human purpose, willed in itself, but which, because of the finiteness of this life, is projected to an end that transcends it. The human being is, moreover, warned of the need to be saved by means of his dependence on others; that is, by the unitary experience of his expiration that is not alien at any moment to his social condition, but even claims it (MacIntyre, 2001).
If the human being were a merely material being, corporeal intentionality would be reduced to immediate, functional or useful ends, even at the peak of his fragility, prior to death. However, as indicated above, it is clear that this is not the case, but rather that the awareness of its vulnerability allows it to evoke that which is spiritual and which it shares in community. The ends proper to the body are thus integrated with those that correspond to the totality of the person, both morally and spiritually.
The latter, from a Christian religious perspective, not only has important anthropological connotations but also, above all, theological ones. This is because it sheds light on the true nature of man, since the need for dependence refers, through Christian Revelation, to an act that exceeds the possibilities of human strength, and that comes from a transcendent Being who offers that salvation.
This explains why St. Ambrose can affirm in the Exameron Libri Sex:
I thank the Lord, our God, who has done such a great work that he can rest in it. He has created heaven, but I do not read that God has rested then. He has created the earth, but I do not read that God has rested in it. He has made the sun, the moon, and the stars, and I do not read that He rests in it either. But I read that he created man and then God rests. He already had someone to forgive sins (Ambrose of Milan, PL 14, 288C).
We can conclude this first part of our research by indicating that, anthropologically, the unity of the experience of human vulnerability is only possible when man is considered in his unity of ends of both body and spirit. This unity subject occurs at different levels that mutually imply each other, which are revealed when considering the ends of the person, in which corporeality possesses its own intentionality that conforms to the ultimate end of its existence. In this way, the repercussions on the experience of the human being of the need he has for salvation are important: vulnerability and dependence become natural pillars for the exercise of moral virtues that have at the center the notion of care (Lombo and Giménez Amaya, 2016, pp. 164-173). But, in addition, this unitary awareness of its expiration becomes a natural principle that leads to the final acceptance of the material transcendence of his life, which he cannot achieve on his own.
The study of the natural process of organic wear and tear and deterioration that takes place in a unitary way in aging is a question that is subject to the biological research . However, knowing why this corruptible process occurs is a rather complicated question, since it requires the elucidation of questions related to other fractional experiences, and which are also connected with human expiration. On the one hand, it is a matter of understanding how in the human being biological (material) changes do not interrupt his substantial unity. The body follows the course of human life: it does not decay in parts, but does so in a unitary way. On the other hand, however, the experience of illness can contribute significantly to the understanding of the fragility and expiration of man as a whole, even if this experience is perceived only in certain bodily elements.
Disease is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an "alteration or deviation from the physiological state in one or more parts of the body, due to generally known causes, manifested by characteristic symptoms and signs, and whose evolution is more or less foreseeable" (WHO, 1946, p. 1). Therefore, it can be understood as a kind of dysfunction that is verified in disorders of specific organs or body systems. This is reached by known causes external or internal to the person himself, or, also, by the alteration of the body occurred traumatically or by accident.
This last consideration of disease, as an injury that suddenly causes dysfunction, will now be left aside in our anthropological consideration. We want to stick in this article to disease in a broader sense, that is, as a deviation with respect to the normal structure or ordinary functioning of the living organism (Lombo and Giménez Amaya, 2016, pp. 151-154). Under this aspect, illness represents a phenomenon that introduces a specific perception of the expiration of human life, a reminder for the subject of its material contingency. This is made evident by the effect of an alteration, which hastens organic wear and tear and deterioration and which is realized in a unitary way in aging (when the corporal and spiritual dimensions are integrated in the subject). In final, falling ill, in this context, brings to report the ultimate limit to which this process is directed, but, in many cases, it is also the cause of its acceleration; and it can become an experience of the limit of life.
In addition, the understanding of disease as an experience of the vital limit requires the reference letter to a structure and activity that correspond in an "optimal" way to the individual of the human species. Following this criterion, the WHO has defined health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity" (WHO, 1946).
The current definition of health, therefore, presents elements that lead us to understand it as the level of functional efficacy that encompasses the totality of life, always threatened by any aspect that may alter it. As Diego Gracia comments, "disease is always a threat to the organism that suffers it. The threat announces a damage, which in the case of disease means alteration of the biological balance that the living being needs to be able to subsist" (Gracia, 2009, p. 517). However, this idea of disease contrasts sharply with the definition of health mentioned above. The latter speaks of the vulnerability and dependence of human life, produced by the contingency of our bodily (material) condition, and which is projected throughout its historical development .
In this way, vulnerability can be misinterpreted, as it could restrict every purpose of human actions simply to their functionality, and generate a desire for control, just as it would for the biological functioning of the body.
Indeed, the human being is inevitably subject to illness, so that his condition is - in different ways Degrees- that of a habitual "sick person". However, as intelligent beings, we are capable of compensating for our own weaknesses through technology and culture; the problem is when these capacities can lead us to think that human beings have omnipotent control over their own health. In this perspective, weakness or vulnerability will necessarily appear as subhuman aspects that must be eliminated or, failing that, ignored (Lombo and Giménez Amaya, 2016, pp. 153-154).
All that we have just pointed out leads us to the anthropological consideration that is currently given to the concept of illness as an experience of the limit of life. We think it is ambiguous, since it determines a certain concealment of the natural ends of the human being and of the human capacity to have a unitary experience of its own expiration (Montoya Camacho and Giménez Amaya, 2021, pp. 84-93; Lombo and Giménez Amaya, 2016, pp.145-164). In effect, it leads to a misunderstanding of the role that disease plays in the way in which the unity of human life is perceived.
On the one hand, it is clear that we are talking about the essence of the human being, and from this perspective it is a path open to the ethics of care and transcendence: not everything ends with a disease that has not been overcome. On the other hand, there is an unusual confidence in the strength of the human being to overcome the disease in the future, and to dominate the body in an instrumental way to avoid its dysfunctionality. Thus, in a utopian way, it could be said that "the advent of contemporary biotechnology is favoring the fallacious belief in a liquid or inverted nature according to which, through the application of certain new technologies (...), it would be possible to redefine the identity of the human being both at the individual level and at the species level" (Postigo, 2019, pp. 8-9).
At the same time, we encounter a rejection of illness that can lead to a lack of hope (or the search for a kind of liberation) and provoke the destruction of oneself or of others. The ambiguity of all this becomes clear when, for example, compassion and financial aid to the disappearance of that suffering human life is made on the basis of the idea of "human dignity". But it is precisely this same argument that is used for not doing so, and deliberately ending the life of the suffering person by means of euthanasia (Montoya Camacho and Giménez Amaya, 2021, pp. 175-202).
The current culture places great emphasis on the prevention of disease, also as a longing for solutions to avoid it, or as a search for overcoming the limits of human contingency (Montoya Camacho and Giménez Amaya, 2021, pp. 165-169). From this perspective, the history of medicine has taught us that, in a little less than two centuries, mortality due to diseases has been greatly reduced with respect to previous times; this is especially true of infectious diseases, of those with surgical repair, and, more recently, of tumor processes. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that we are in an era in which there is a whole culture of cultivating the body, which in principle is correct, but when not managed prudently leads one to think that medicine can prevent all subject of ills and suffering, including old age and death [...]. The obsessive search for well-being ends up generating the opposite; that is, discomfort. Health, like everything else, we must learn to manage it prudently (Gracia, 2011, p. 17).
It is clear, therefore, that we experience illness as part of an experience of our vital limitation. It provokes the awareness of "a profound dimension of human nature, since it is not simply something that can happen to us accidentally, but our own essential condition" (Lombo and Giménez Amaya, 2016, p. 154). This dimension of the sickness of the human being is often hidden in modernity and, consequently, leaves aside any consideration of a need for salvation.
Quite the opposite occurs when illness is considered within the experience of human expiration, which arouses in man the final possibility of death, but returns him to a unitary understanding of the ends of the totality of his life (Lombo and Giménez Amaya, 2016, pp. 155-164; Vicente, 1990; Arregui, 1992; Murillo, 1999). All this brings us into the problem of dying.
Indeed, the experience of death affects all human beings. It is something that cannot be silenced [...]. In the face of death, man experiences the deepest contradiction that accompanies him at every moment of his existence: his limitation and his desire for fulfillment. The efforts of human beings to struggle against their own and others' death, the use of psychological and therapeutic resources that help to overcome suffering, and the advances of science and technology, which have certainly succeeded in prolonging the expectations of human life "cannot calm this anxiety of man", nor "satisfy that desire for an afterlife which is ineluctably rooted in his heart" [Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes", 18]. Man, left to his own devices, feels impotent, because he knows that he finds himself before an enemy that is stronger than he is, from which he cannot escape and which he cannot overcome by himself (lecture Spanish Episcopal Conference, 2020, no. 4).
From the anthropological and ethical perspective of modernity, it is well known that the topic of death has undergone, especially in recent times, a profound transformation in how it is lived and in the way of facing it (lecture Episcopal Spanish, 2020, no. 7). To all this has contributed the development of an ambiguous culture, in which the ideal of indefinite progress seems to make the reality of death incompatible with a rational and profound reflection on the end of human life (O' Callaghan, 2004, pp. 17-38; Montoya Camacho and Giménez Amaya, 2021, pp. 169-175).
In final, a kind of "salvation" of the bodily contingency is sought, having as an end or goal the contemporary paradigm of health, which only pays attention to functionality. In this way, the adequate understanding of the ends is compromised, in which the bodily intentionality would be implied as an opening of the subject.
From this perspective, it is clear what we are showing in this study. Through a strict identification of that which Aristotle defined in human actions as good in a natural sense (honor, wealth, virtues of the body, etc.), with that which is beautiful or noble, added to the notion of health that is currently used, corporeal intentionality has been reduced to its simple functional value. This is problematic. In our contemporary world, to be beautiful-in a sense that can encompass all the ends of life, producing satisfaction or pleasure-is to possess a healthy body. It is the pursuit of a vital state of happiness, founded on the physical, which would have to lead, as a consequence, to the attainment of goods such as honor, and even wealth. Thus, the subjective openness of the subject loses sight of the other spiritual ends of his life and, of course, the unity of the experience of vital expiration is broken, since the subject makes every effort not to let it shine through to others: the subject is sample, but he isolates himself.
This anthropological, vital and social dynamic is what we call metabolic vitalism. In recent decades, Western society has privileged this health care subject through a "cult" of bodily expression, maximally realized from the biological-physiological point of view. It is a sublimation of the aesthetic and functional value of physical health and, consequently, the desire to show this health as a social standard to which all other vital values are subordinated.
It seems clear to us that this kind of narcissism of the body is a hidden form of egoism, which is "blessed" by a materialistic society, as pioneered by the American historian and sociologist Christopher Lasch (1979). This current apogee of the cult of the body is something that in the West had not been seen in this proportion in the past, except in some sybarite minorities: we have to go back many centuries in history to see this social behavior so developed ( subject ) (Gómez Pérez, 2007, pp. 81-82). What is striking about this current resurgence is its widespread social acceptance. It gives the impression of having become a new "religion", a new commitment of individuals who wish to be better physically. And with a very high level of loyalty and sacrifice.
As the French philosopher and sociologist Gilles Lipovetsky puts it, forcefully and expressively:
Narcissistic investment directly through a thousand daily practices: anxiety about age and wrinkles; obsession with health, lines, hygiene; rituals of control(check-up) and maintenance (massages, sauna, sports regimes); solar and therapeutic cults (overconsumption of medical care and pharmaceuticals). [...] the social representation of the body has undergone a mutation whose depth can be compared to the democratic collapse of the representation of the other (Lipovetsky, 2000, pp. 60-61).
This bodily improvement in order to live better reflects the rise of a scientism that only accepts as real what is strictly material in the human being (Montoya Camacho and Giménez Amaya, 2021, pp. 97-100). The "spiritual" qualities of the latter are seen as epiphenomena of an omnipresent biology in our being and acting. It seems that we live in a world -especially in Western culture, which is spreading to other parts of the globalized world-where bodily values come first in importance. All this explains the strong passion for maintaining health and taking care of the body through sport, healthy habits, etc. At final, comfort is seen solely in terms of physiological excellence (or, if you will, body aesthetics), making health and happiness practically identified.
The consequence of this exclusively biological-corporal vision is the concealment of other human values of greater transcendence. The attention paid to the corporeal life of the human being tends to occupy the space of other anthropological considerations, which are now seen as alien to what is truly important and which count for our happiness.
Moreover, in this preeminence of metabolic vitalism, it is also important to take into account several factors that have influenced its social expression. While it is true that the primacy of the empirical knowledge and the concealment of human nature and its ends is at the basis of all its development, there are other phenomena that add to it. Indeed, the impressive development of biomedical knowledge in recent years, and the desire to maintain the state of biological well-being for as long as possible, would be two examples of these factors.
As we noted earlier, the vision of a happy life, which should be biologically fulfilling, is spreading through an increasingly sophisticated information society. This is done, above all, in two ways. First, the ideas and practices of the corporeal-vitalist culture are disseminated through previously unimaginable technology. Secondly, the technology itself is applied to the improvement of biological life itself: the exponential growth of the Economics linked to this subject of activities, such as gyms, schools, specialized commerce, computer applications, etc., is surprising. And also, of the medical approach itself (for example, the great development of aesthetic surgery).
It is undoubtedly paradoxical, from an anthropological point of view, the amount of vital energies that a huge multitude of human beings devote to taking care of their bodies and their health beyond medical-pathological considerations. In many cases it is, as we have already mentioned, a kind of modern "asceticism", full of discipline and renunciations, of effort and goals, but which focuses exclusively on the bodily, and rarely corresponds to an improvement in the more lasting aspects of the human being, or in the attainment of stable achievements of humanity as a whole.
Therefore, metabolic vitalism, with its aesthetic-cultural dynamics, has caused us to lose sight of the intentionality of the body as a reality that goes beyond mere biological functionality. With this curtailment of the ends of corporeality, the experience of human expiration - whether through pain or suffering - is curtailed, since the spiritual ends are not taken into account. In this way, the other experience to which we have been referring - that of the human need to be saved - cannot come to light in individual or collective life. Thus, paradoxically, we become less human, because we forget the importance of pain as a phenomenon that conditions us in the biological, psychological and sociological aspects for the survival of our species, and its possible connection with the idea of the need for a God who is capable of overcoming all these conditionings (Horvat, 2023).
We now turn to the third and concluding section of our study. The yearning in today's world for a salvation within reach (which, in any case, is understood as technological).
The natural aspiration of the human being to salvation is identified with his desire for happiness, in what the latter has of fullness. This is the thought of Thomas Aquinas when he speaks of the perfect happiness of the blessed, in contrast to the imperfect, which is given in this life, and which is what we find in Aristotle. The medieval theologian links the philosophical idea found in the Nicomachean Ethics on the subject of higher life, or contemplative life (Aristotle, 1998, X, 7, 1177a22-1177b24), with the Christian idea of the beatific vision of the redeemed in heaven. In this way, Thomas Aquinas connects happiness and salvation, emphasizing that only after death is it possible to reach the fullness of one's being through the vision of God. Following his words:
Voluptuous happiness-which consists in the accumulation of wealth and the satisfaction of the passions-because it is false and contrary to reason, is an impediment to future beatitude. On the other hand, the happiness of the active life -which lies in the internship of the moral virtues- prepares for future beatitude. And contemplative happiness, if it is perfect, constitutes essentially the same future beatitude; and, if it is imperfect, it is a certain inchoation -or beginning- of the same (Thomas Aquinas, 1972, I-IIa, q. 69, a. 3).
However, nowadays, happiness seems to be defined as "a set of psychological states that can be managed through will; as the result of controlling our inner strength and our authentic self; as the only goal that makes life worth living; as the bar with which we must measure the value of our biography, our successes and failures, the magnitude of our psychic and emotional development " (Cabanas and Illouz, 2019, p. 13).
The idea is to attain happiness by means of a will technically strengthened, and constantly subjected to the effective search for a standard of living that alleviates any pain or suffering that might take us out of that desired state. The purpose of life would therefore be reduced to seeking the satisfaction of the subject's own desires. However, the counterpart to all this would be to live constantly dissatisfied because, as our desires to be satisfied grow, those that lead us to seek more technological elements that allow the control of the various aspects of life would also increase; but which, paradoxically, end up becoming instruments for the control of individuals at a sociocultural level (Carrasco Díaz-Masa, 2021). The hedonistic and individualistic background becomes evident when the attempt to dominate these desires and vital expectations is aimed at achieving the state offered by metabolic vitalism. Moreover, the way in which the latter can become a tool of domination, or manipulation, is illuminated through the possible utopian scenarios that technology seems to pose to the human being and that can only be sustained ideologically (Llano, 1985, pp. 89-112; Postigo, 2019, pp. 5-6).
In this final section it is important to point out that part of contemporary culture has rebelled against this anthropological approach, as has occurred through dystopian literature, and its interpretation from the Philosophy. The threat of the establishment of a human life that wants to save itself by means of a chimerical plenitude, which ends up dehumanizing it, comes from far back in time (Sanmartín Esplugues, 2021). This danger of desiring a kind of material perfection (biological-bodily) is associated not only with the progress of technology but, above all, with its growing use, almost intensive, in history (Montoya Camacho and Giménez Amaya, 2022). Already the British writer Aldous Huxley, in his well-known novel Brave New World, begins his narration with a phrase of the Russian thinker Nicholas Berdiaeff that says: "Utopias appear to be more achievable than what was once believed. And we are currently faced with a rather distressing question: How to avoid their realization final? Utopias are achievable. [...] Perhaps a new century is beginning, a century where intellectuals and the cultivated class will dream up the means to avoid utopias, and return to a non-utopian, less perfect and freer society" (Huxley, 2012, p. 7).
Huxley's work describes a society dominated by technology in which people are no longer born, but are produced in a laboratory (Huxley, 2012, pp. 19-44). They never get sick, nor do they age, but only until they reach a certain very advanced age. Their physiological, psychological, intellectual characteristics, and even their sexual tendencies, are controlled by manipulation Genetics, by irrational indoctrination, and by the consumption of psychotropic substances. It is a world that, above all, is governed by the principles of what we have called metabolic vitalism, which is used as an instrument of domination that prevents the individual development of human beings.
An example of this, in Huxley's story, is what happens with sexuality, which has been trivialized and turned into a mere consumer product. This subject of joy, in the novel we have been discussing, allows for a relief from the anguish that arises when the subjects intuit something of the meaninglessness of a life made exclusively to fulfill a function in society. Human beings are indoctrinated from their early childhood to seek that subject of bodily pleasures, which are considered a necessary good, not only for the individual, but also have a high value for the whole of social life. They are considered a pillar for peace and community life (Huxley, 2012, pp. 45-71). As we have indicated, all this occurs in a technological context imposed by the system that governs them, and which prevents the development of a consciousness that is capable of transcending this scenario. However, such an imposition is not perceived, since all search for satisfaction staff possesses certain "religious" characteristics: they are like parts of a "social cult" of bodily materiality which, at the same time, becomes trivial by being reduced to the exaltation of the most basic levels of desires (Huxley, 2012, pp. 87-98). Subjects are thus prevented from thinking beyond the intensity of the pleasure they seek to obtain, but, at the same time, it makes them consider that satisfaction as their contribution staff to the civilized order (Huxley, 2012, pp. 99-116).
What we have indicated leads us to understand that, in all the above scenario, there is a sort of imposition from a human order superior to the individual, which uses technology as a sort of supplementary nature of his will, and which reduces the intentionality of his body to a single functionality, individual and social at the same time: to enjoy bodily pleasure. Its purpose is to motivate certain decisions of the subject which, being considered as stabilizing for society, become part of a kind of "moral order". And, for this very reason, corporeal pleasure takes on the characteristics of an element of "salvation" in the face of the possibility of destroying the "order" presented in this dystopia. Thus, the pleasure that dominates this society subject diverts the subject's attention from his real problems, and from the issues of his life that go beyond death.
In these proposals, like those described in Brave New World, technology offers its power to try to dominate life. The aforementioned work does not consider the overcoming of human expiration, but simply delays it, accentuating the reduction of the purposes of bodily intentionality to a simple utility. This becomes evident when it is narrated that the bodies of beings that lose their biological vigor are reused in subsequent productive processes. It is, clearly, an attempt to control, as much as possible, human contingency (Huxley, 2012, pp. 87-88).
Huxley's work is conclusive, therefore, in denouncing contemporary attempts to establish an idea of happiness that, using technology, turns the fullness of the enjoyment of bodily pleasure into the principle President of the social order. It would be a way of "saving" humanity from a life other than that of simple enjoyment. And this, in reality, leads us to a true dystopia: because of the dehumanizing nature of this life thus conceived, and because it does not fulfill the sense of plenitude that true salvation has, which is to be able to live forever.
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(1) This metaphysical conception seems perfectly compatible with the scientific theories that seek to explain subject from physics, and define it from atoms; or from protons, neutrons and electrons; or from quarks and leptons; or from elementary fermions; or even from general relativity and cosmology. All these theories are directed to the investigation of the essence of the subject, which seems that it cannot be reduced neither to its parts, nor to the relations between them.
(2) This may indicate the limits of the use of a teleology that disregards human freedom within the experiences of the ends of the natural, as is the case of the necessary consideration of human corporeality. Approaches such as Kant's end up by decanting into pessimistic and semi-deterministic theories such as those of Arthur Schopenhauer, for whom the world of phenomena is strictly governed by the principle of sufficient reason, where the human being is capable of elaborating general laws of conduct; while the noumenal world, of the will to live, is presented in a blind and arbitrary way. The friction between these two realities produces pain and suffering. This is why, according to Schopenhauer, the individual, in order to be happy, must find moral ways to control his will to live by following the steps of Stoicism towards a negation of this will to live (Schopenhauer, 2010, pp. 491-700). Other attempts to establish a coherence between these experiences have come from the field of physics. In the latter, the passage from Newtonian theories to quantum physics has given rise to interpretations of the parallels between life and the unpredictability of events in the physical world. Thus, from the perspective of Niels Bohr, if quantum physics tells us that atoms have no trajectory and continuities in space and time, the observation of living beings teaches us that the passage from life to death also occurs in a leap, without continuity, without return (Bohr, 1933 and 1952; Gherab Martín, 2020, pp. 461-462). Thus, the attempt to reduce the living being to its chemical and physical components could lead to manipulate it in an inadequate way until it leads to its death. From this point of view, it is clear that the problem is approached within a scientific epistemology that finds its explanatory limits when speaking of moral behavior. However, the step towards evaluations within a culture passes through ethical estimations such as the case of considering whether it is appropriate to manipulate a living being as a simple chemical and physical object.
(3) We take this terminology in certain consonance with the so-called intentionality of the body described by Professor Jacinto Choza in his guide of philosophical anthropology. Thus, he explains that "each cell of any organism carries out a formalizing activity of the environment and of itself in relation to it, whether the environment is the exterior or the organism itself. In turn, each set of cells, each tissue, each organ, etc. carries out a formalizing activity in which one or another alternative among several possible ones is followed. The set of all the formalizing activities of the organism, even if each one has a certain Degree of autonomy, are deployed for the benefit of the unity of the organism and of the maximum development that it is responsible for. This is what can be called intentionality of the body. From this perspective it can be said that any biological organism has more 'freedom' than a machine, since the types of formalizing activities that it develops and integrates are more, and, on the other hand, to develop them is to perform the 'action of putting' its own stability or firmness, that is, to realize one's own identity" (Choza, 2016, pp. 167-168). A rigorous analysis of this terminology can be found in (Choza, 2016, pp. 222-228), and can also be consulted (Merleau-Ponty, 1953; 1975). In this regard, it should be noted that we focus on the more intentional aspects of the body, which are those that generate the dispositions for the subject to realize his own identity with human action (cognitive, volitional, affective, desiderative capacities, etc.).
(4) Our text from reference letter in this regard is the one in which Thomas Aquinas states: "Delightful goods are those which have no other reason to be desired than the fact of producing a certain delight, even if they are sometimes harmful or ethically reprehensible. On the other hand, those goods are called useful which in themselves have no reason to be desired, but are so only insofar as they lead to a reality other than themselves, such as the ingestion of a bitter medicine. Finally, those goods are known as honest goods which are desirable in themselves" (Thomas Aquinas, 1972, I, q.5, a.6 ad2). Aristotle already spoke of this classification, although not explicitly, when he indicated in the Nicomachean Ethics that the perfect is that which is chosen for its own sake, and not for the sake of something else (Aristotle, 1998, I, 7, 1097a30-1097b5).