Giancarlo Galeazzi, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the Istituto teologico marchigiano of the Pontifical Lateran University
There exist – both literally and metaphorically – cognitive and relational “paradigms”. In the cognitive field, at least three paradigms come to mind: the “visual” one is prevalent in the field of philosophy (the eye of reason to see ideas or through ideas: teoria, teoresi); the “auditory” one is prevalent in the field of religion (the ears of faith to attend to the Word: ob-audire); and the “tactile” one, prevalent in the field of science (the hands of the mind which allow us to have sensate experiences). Besides the cognitive, there are also relational paradigms, including the tactile sort.
Like every other sense organ, touch relates us to people and objects, but the relation achieved by touch is different from that established by the other sensory organs in that it involves the subject in his or her corporeal-spiritual unity: in other words, as a “spirit in the condition of incarnation” (as Jacques Maritain would say), or “an incarnate spirit” (in the words of Emmanuel Mounier), making the point that the distinctive characteristic of the sense of touch is the unity of the person – intellectual, emotional, affective, spiritual – a unity which has repercussions in various spheres, from the interpersonal to the aesthetic and from the social to the religious.
Over and above the extent of its use, the tactile faculty is to be considered a relational paradigm, both literally and metaphorically; and to reflect on the sense of touch today could hardly be more timely, now that it has been called into question by the coronavirus and, before that, by the proliferation of technological innovations (e.g. social networks). So we shall consider this relational paradigm of touch a propos of a number of questions: one to do with art, the others to do with society, with reference to political, religious and health aspects which will be dealt with severally.