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About Connecting Lines Between Integral Human Development and Communication

Alois Buch

Professor of Moral Theology, Dean, St. Lambert Interdiocesan, Major Seminary, Lantershofen, Germany.

Lecturer of the School of Bioethics of UCU

1. Some Observations, fostering a critical view at complex issues

At first sight it may seem surprising: A conference intends “tobring the diverse fields of study into a productive interdisciplinarydialogue” – and this precisely about ‘communication’ in thecontext of “Integral Human Development in the Digital Age” asone of “the matters of public relevance” [1]. Phenomenologicallyspeaking such surprise may emerge from different factors. First,the interdisciplinary nature seems to inhere to ‘communication’according to its word meaning, which can be described in athreefold way [2] – one of them termed ‘social contact’. All thethree show an increasing connotation exactly with designelements of human relationship, of dialogue and in some sense ofhuman development. Second, all issues really related to ‘humanity’require anyway interdisciplinary dialogue, hence also and inparticular issues around ‘Integral Human Development’. Actually,in this case such dialogue is essential and somehow most natural.So, beyond first surprise: Why focussing our discussion explicitlyon aspects that in a sense belong anyway to the core of reflectionupon Human Development and Communication? Here a thirdphenomenological hint may be useful, namely the flagging up ofcomplex problems that evidently resonates in discussing issues of‘Human Development in the Digital Age’, and more specifically oftopics like ‘Friendship in the time of Facebook’: On the one hand,experience with the digital age as well as further prospects likeArtificial Intelligence suggest that the accelerating digitalizingprocess is generally supportive to intensified human developmentand especially to improved personal and social communication. Onthe other hand, due to a sort of parallel development, namely togrowing awareness of unintentional side-effects or of evenopposite consequences of ‘digitalization’ – like endangering socialcohesion through ‘pop-media’ etc. – precisely the relation of‘Integral Human Development and communication potential’ isback on the public, political and academic agenda.There may be several reasons for raising and for examiningproblems in this context, up to a kind of general scepticismconcerning the correlation of (digital) technology and humanitywhich can be found particularly in some contributions from thehumanities and social sciences. From a philosophical point of viewhowever, one would emphasize noticing a sort of basicambivalence between life-serving and humanity promotingimplications and life- or socially-damaging and thus humandevelopment endangering impact; an ambivalence whichcharacterizes all human action and therefore applies to humanefforts in whatever technological innovation too. Pointing at thisambivalence has nothing to do with painting a pessimistic picture;it rather stresses the requirement of strictly favouring areasonable and realistic approach also to phenomena of the digitalage. Given the topical complexity, any serious debate about‘human development and communication potential’ (as a sub-chapter in this conference) would focus first and foremost on acritical view that literally aims at careful discernment and precise ABOUT CONNECTING LINES BETWEEN INTEGRAL HUMANDEVELOPMENT AND COMMUNICATIONdistinction [3].The latter applies also to the dimension of responsibility, which canbe discovered as an inherent red thread in all this – namely in‚constructing‘ the digital era, in dealing as human beings with thisreality, and also in any intellectualdiscourse on it.

2. A few ideas, inspiring reflection on Integral Human Development.

A truly critical view towards our topic (and its sub-chapter) maybenefit from some clarification about basic elements at stake, inparticular concerning ‘Integral Human Development’. In thisregard, an inspiring source can be found in Christian SocialSciences and particularly in Christian Social Thought as isparadigmatically laid down in the Churches’ Social Teaching andwhich has gained quite some general respect and attention. Justthree statements, pars pro toto, which I consider quiteenlightening:

(1) Pacem in terris (Pope John XXIII, 1963): It is important to note,that in this encyclical with specific reference to mankind ascreated, “progress of scientific knowledge and the inventions oftechnology”as well as respective efforts by the ”man made Lord of creation” are(as in the two other statements) on principle positivelyacknowledged [4], to the point that everybody is encouraged to “bescientifically competent, technically capable“ [5].However, asindicated in its title, ‘human development’ is taken up merely in thecontext of ‘peace’ as “intimately bound up with the progress ofhuman society“ [6]. Development of a true human society thereforeturns out being “an immense task .... Hence among the very seriousobligations incumbent upon men of high principles, We mustinclude the task of establishing new relationships in human society,under the mastery and guidance of truth, justice, charity andfreedom [...].” [7] In the 1960ies Pope John does not use the termcommunication here; instead he speaks – perhaps quite remarkablefor current discussions – about value-driven relations.

(2) Caritas in veritate (Pope Benedict XVI, 2009): While dealingexplicitly with ‘integral development’, both in a principal and globalperspective [8], this encyclical provides some basic statements thatcan be instructive also for debating ‘integral human developmentand communication potential’. In line with Populorum progressio[9], it reads as follows: “The truth of development consists in itscompleteness: if it does not involve the whole man and every man,it is not true development.” [10]. And more specifically theencyclical states: “Integral human development presupposes theresponsible freedom of the individual and of peoples” [11],foremost since one should “regard development as a vocation“[12]. Hence, with regard to communication(s) “the meaning andpurpose of the media must be sought within an anthropologicalperspective. [...] The media can make an important contributiontowardsthe growth in communion of the human family and the ethos of society when they are used to promote universalparticipation in the common search for what is just.” [13]– Keeping in mind the just mentioned emphasis both on an‘anthropological perspective’ and on ‘participation’ could wellinspire our debate on ‘communication potential’, since successfulhuman communication implies definitely much more than optimizedcommunication technology.

(3) Laudato Si (Pope Francis I, 2015): It is quite interesting to notice,that this encyclical mentions “communication technology” and the“digital revolution” as essential characteristics of a “new era” ofhumanity with “enormous waves of change” [14]. At the same time itis stated that in this “new era [...] our technical prowess has broughtus to a crossroads.” [15]The latter is exemplified e.g. by concernsabout the relationship between “immense technologicaldevelopment” and “development in humanresponsibility, values and conscience” [16]. And here attention ispaid to the ‘integral’, and this from two angles: Firstly, by remindingof the fact, that “specialization which belongs to technology” and inparticular ”fragmentation of knowledge [...] often leads to a loss ofappreciation for the whole, for therelationships between things, and for the broader horizon, whichthen becomes irrelevant“ [17]. Secondly, by underpinning the highpotential of an integral view on human life that shapes theconcept of the common good, since an ‘underlying principle’ of thisconcept “is respect for the human person as such, endowed withbasic and inalienable rights ordered to his or her integraldevelopment.” [18] “While critically refusing to simply follow “anefficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy” the encyclical stressesthat “in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politicsand economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life,especially human life.” [19]

There is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life

Again, the terminology used can be considered noteworthy, especially the keywords that characterizethe context of human development and communication: responsibility, respect and dialogue. Remarkably, while pointing at a ‘deeper-going basic problem’ –namely humanity having “taken up technology and its developmentaccording to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm”[20], and this framed by some lack of “a sound ethics, a culture andspirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint” [21] – the encyclical refers in some way to‘friendship’ by saying: “we are the ones to lay our hands on things [...]while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us.Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendlyhand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational.”[22]. Following this rather specific reference to friendship (which in this case is even focussed on the relationbetween human beings and things), and extending it specificallyto human relationship, two quotations from the richness ofbroader reflection on this topic in the history of ideas can bequite revealing: One is taken from Cicero’s famous ‘Laelius deamicitia’, influenced by e.g. stoic philosophy, wherein‘friendship’ is basically perceived as “purest and most preciousexpression of human feeling”23 and in a way comprehensivelydefined as follows: “(For) friendship is nothing else than anaccord in all things, human and divine, conjoined with mutualgoodwill and affection, and I am inclined to think that, with theexception of wisdom, no better thing has been given to man bythe immortal gods.” [24] – The second one is taken from ThomasAquinas who has commented on friendship in different contexts [25]. In his Summa theologica we can read: With reference toAristotle “not every love has the character of friendship, butthat love which is together with benevolence, when, to wit, welove someone so as to wish good to him. [...] Yet neither doeswell-wishing suffice for friendship, for a certain mutual love isrequisite, since friendship is between friend and friend: and thiswell-wishing is founded on some kind of communication.” [26] Interesting to see, that Thomas Aquinas here uses the word‘communicatio’ [27], which probably is rather meant as a kind of‘commonness’ or ‘common ground’ that anyway provides someadditional idea for talking about ‘communication potential’.

3. Some questions, aiming at discernment of communicationpotential

Finally, it may be useful to shortly reflect on ‘communicationpotential’, just by way of raising some questions. And this inregard to a threefold dimension:

(1) In the context of academe and research: In the thematic frameof ‘friendship in the time of Facebook’ – which basically means“provide information about yourself, and communicate withgroups of friends” [28] – by definition, and also confirmed byexperience, ‘communication’ is an essential element of today’sreality, hence also of individual and social development. Thisgives rise to the question: How should appropriate efforts looklike to clearly notice and critically analyse the ‘human impact’ ofcomplex digital communication and its potential – in our casemainly from a human-sciences and philosophical perspective,but also from other views? And in how far are we awareparticularly of communication potential in the broadest sense(including e.g. education tools by a web of satellite-systems)that most probably would serve significant efforts in thisregard?

(2) Concerning so-called risk-potential of communication: Thoughsometimes philosophers, social and human scientists alike, areconsidered to focus too much on the role of doubters or evenworriers, it is part of their competence and responsibility toremain attentive to problematic effects of human action andprocesses set in motion, in particular with regard to undesirableimpact on human development in all its aspects. In this respectone may ask: Are we aware of possible hidden, non- disclosed,perhaps even ideological implications of the social-service-premise underlying ‘digital communication’ and especially thelabelling of ‘social communication’? [29] What would it mean, and how would arguments look like, to address respective concernsand to deal publicly with apparent phenomena like‘communication risk potential’ in regard to human dignity, socialcohesion, respectful international cooperation, and even to anon-violent and peaceful togetherness at all levels – in short: indealing with potential ‘un-social’ or ‘anti-social’ ingredients indigital social communication?

What would it mean, and how would arguments look like, to address respective concerns and to deal publicly with apparent phenomena like ‘communication risk potential’ in regard to human dignity, social cohesion, respectful international cooperation, and even to a non-violent and peaceful togetherness at all levels – in short: in dealing with potential ‘un-social’ or ‘anti-social’ ingredients in digital social communication?

(3) Finally in a more general perspective: Could preciselycommunication in the digital age disclose a kind of additional, inthis case self-critical potential by becoming itself an efficientmeans for critically analysing or overcoming such ‘anti-socialpotential’ of digital communication, and thus couldcommunication itself foster re-inventing its true social potential?Or, in positive terms, would it be possible, in the given setting ofacademic and public debates, to even open philosophically thediscussion to the point of dialoguing about potential or factualsubliminal spiritual resp. religious messages – i.e. exceeding thesocial and ethical aspects – within the prospects of further digitaldevelopment, especially with regard to promised cures ofoptimisation potential in ‘Artificial Intelligence’ [30]? Followingup on this kind of questions may pose a challenge on an individuallevel to those being personally and professionally committed tosuch issues. But on a more structural and institutional levelquestions about ‘integral human development and communicationpotential’ could raise even more potentials in regard to properunderstanding and to responsible design of the respective areas;this particularly in an indeed interdisciplinary dialogueoutreaching also to a public discourse – which for scientists andfor the academia at large are both a challenge and a commitment.

1 See: Conference description – January 19, 2019.

2 See: ‘communication’ - (February 06, 2019,17:55 h).

3The ‘critical’ view intended here is also expressed in one of the word meanings of‘critical’: “Involving theobjective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement” – see: (February 14, 2019, 17:03 h).

4 POPE JOHN XIII, Encyclical ‘Pacem in terris’ (PT), 1963, no. 3.

5 PT no. 148.

6 PT no. 166.

7 PT no. 163.

8 POPE BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical ‘Caritas in Veritate’ (CiV), 2009.

9 POPE PAUL VI, Encyclical Populorum progressio (1967).

10 CiV no. 18.

11 CiV no. 17.

12 Civ no. 16.

13 CiV no. 73.

14 POPE FRANCIS, Encyclical Laudato Si‘ (LS), 2015, no. 102.

15 LS no. 102.

16 LS no. 105.

17 LS no. 110.

18 LS no. 157.

19 LS no. 189.

20 LS no. 106.

21 LS no. 105.

22 LS no. 106. – ‚Friendly‘ may be connoted with ‚friendliness‘ as well as with‘friendship’. The word meaning covers way both, particularly in American English:“having an attitude or acting in a way that shows that you like people and want them to like and trust you” – see: (February 15, 2019 –10:14 h).

23 TRIMBORN, Wilhelm (ed.), Cicero. Laelius de amicitia, 15th ed. Münster:Aschendorff 1970, V (introduction;translation: A. J. Buch)

24 Cicero, Laelius de amicitia, published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1923 § 20 -*.html. (February 15,2019, 11:30 h).

25 For more see: SCHOCKENHOFF, Eberhard, Die Liebe als Freundschaft desMenschen mit Gott. Das Propriumder Caritas-Lehre des Thomas von Aquin, in: IKaZ 36 (2007) 232-246.

26 Sth II-II, 23, 1; St. Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica, Benziger Bros. edition,1947 (Translated byFathers of the English Dominican Province) – online - (February 15,2019, 14:08 h).

27 „Talis autem mutua benevolentia fundatur super aliqua communicatione.“ (Sth, II-II, 23, 1); Sancti Thomae deAquino Summa Theologiae, Alba – Roma: Editiones Paulinae, 1962. – cf. on thisSCHOCKENHOFF, Eberhard, loc.cit., 234 f – there with reference to ‚philia‘ in Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1159 b24-1160 a 30.

28 As interpretation of the word meaning of Facebook – see: (February 15, 2019, 16:41 h).

29 See, as a specifically critical voice in regard to ‘listening’, ‘listener’ and so-called‘de-personalised communication’: HAN, Byung-Chul, Die Austreibung des Anderen.Gesellschaft, Wahrnehmung und Kommunikation heute, 3rd ed. Frankfurt am Main2018, 93-102.

30 For more see: Was Künstliche Intelligenz so „religös“ macht, in: CiG 71 (2019) 70.


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