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Vladimir Jankélévitch

A perspective on the future

Vladimir Jankélévitch PHILOSOPHE FRANÇAISProgress of consciousness

The whole trick of good consciences is to give to the poor as a courtesy, what is rightly due to them. Vladimir Jankélévitch

According to our philosophy, "humanity is intending to achieve perfection." In other words, the human phenomenon is progressing; our conscience and the progressive mastery of the environment, of behaviour and of questioning, are evolving. In our view, therefore the universal love will prevail in due time. Man will become "a lamb for the man".
Let us illustrate our thinking with this short text of Vladimir Jankélévitch:
At the level of ethics, laws, penalties and procedure, a continuous progress is noticeable. Our ethics are softer, and our justice less and less barbaric. What is quantifiable - scalar - is likely to improve.
In the year 3000, many inhumane practices will have disappeared. Women will not be used as a toy or an instrument of pleasure anymore; death penalty will be abolished everywhere and one even would asked how legal death could have been entered in the codes; goods would have become so abundant that there will be no more attempt to steal, selflessness will be the more mundane and less meritorious among virtues.
Own interest will then take other forms: there will still be vain and selfish liars! But selfishness will be more subtle. Superman, returning from an expedition in the stars, will be boastful and mean-spirited as everyone; he still will deceive his wife, and will make his neighbours suffer, because consciousness is twisted infinitely....
Man, endowed with consciousness, cannot but realize his clandestine power of deceit that ensures impunity anonymity and secrecy of his intentions. Vladimir Jankélévitch. Interviews

On philosophical beauty

These few lines show the exceptional extent of the scope of thinking that is philosophy; its radius of action enables it to use a special palette of means. In the immediate future, as in the future, this science seeks the substances necessary for its analysis.

About the vision of Jankélévitch

“Mécanique universelle” fully adheres to the first part of this small philosophical text. We agree to say with Vladimir Jankélévitch, that there is progress at the level of morals, of justice, laws, penalties and procedures. Like him, we see through the abundance of goods, an evolution towards the end of greed. But the conclusion by the philosopher appears somewhat antagonistic.

On Selflessness

Selflessness, to which evolution is leading Man, is contradictory with the existence of self-interest. If selflessness becomes general, self-interest will disappear of the human species.
If human society reaches abundance of goods, the object will lose its negative role: it will no longer be used to mark rank, hierarchy or caste; it will no more serve to abuse others; it will return to its true place of utensil in the service of man; and, of course, if man have nothing to envy to others, his greed will naturally disappear as his venality and his self-centeredness.
The core of selflessness is to destroy all primary reactions: vanity, selfishness, bragging, pettiness, cannot coexist with the discarding of all personal interests... If Man becomes indifferent to his neighbour’s possessions, lies, pride, envy, jealousy, will be unnecessary as the drives that he is now trying to hide in the secret of his heart.

The future has time before it

Man is the future of Mankind

Ethics has always the last word. Vladimir Jankélévitch

Another point seems to have been overlooked by Vladimir Jankélévitch: Human evolution has no deadline. If humanity has failed to solve its problems in the year 3,000, what is preventing it to continue until the year 4,000, or 5,000, 10,000? Then just add a few thousands of years of human evolution after the year 3000. The sentence: "many inhumane practices will have disappeared" would become: "all the inhuman practices will have disappeared."

The devious ply of the human soul

When Jankélévitch quite rightly highlights the devious side of human consciousness and the "impunity" that gives the secret kept on its intentions, he forgets the prodigious growth of social sciences, the growing influence of psychology, sociology and psychoanalysis; their impact on the progressive enlightenment of all the dark recesses of our minds; even some police researches work on such topics; they trace lies across faces, behaviour etc. And we are only at the beginning.

Why stopping before perfection?

On the other hand, as Vladimir Jankélévitch wrote, if mankind gradually eliminates its inhumane practices, it is inconceivable that it could stop this work before completion. How indeed, imagine our descendants, deciding to stop along the way? How could they agree to uphold a share of “inhumanity” without wishing to abolish it?
Which society would allow a degree of "acceptable evil", knowing that it can eliminate it fully? There is no reason for this. From year to year, the long work of disintegration of abusing impulses (i.e. the human capacity to mistreat its congeners) has naturally to go on. It began with the first prohibitions and the fight against "evil” will go on until completion. If any suspicion of injustice or wickedness persists, men will offer their existence to fight against it.

Demography accelerates time

Finally, Jankélévitch’s projection ignores the demographic explosion, which accelerates exponentially all human progresses even if for some it is a source of anxiety. The number of working brains within Mankind continues to increase. Creativity, thinking, analytical power and synthesis, increase in the same dizzying proportions. All major disciplines are also in constant evolution (philosophy, law, psychology, education, critical, physical, etc.).
This set of progress, is developing our conscience and our sensitivity, two great virtues able of defeating our inhuman practices. This is why we believe that in the end, humanity is doomed to reach its perfection.

Developing robots


Vladimir Jankélévitch est né dans une famille d'intellectuels russes. Son père médecin, Samuel, fut l'un des premiers traducteurs de Sigmund Freud en France ; il traduisit également des oeuvres de Hegel et Schelling ; il publia des articles dans les revues de philosophie. Comme de nombreuses personnes d'origine juive, les Jankélévitch ont fui les pogroms dans leur pays et se sont installés en France. Vladimir entre en 1922 à l'École normale supérieure où il étudie la philosophie ; il y a pour maître Léon Brunschwig (1869-1944). En 1923, il rencontre Henri Bergson avec qui il entretiendra une correspondance. Reçu premier à l'agrégation en 1926, Jankélévitch part pour l'Institut français de Prague l'année suivante.