The meaning of “home”

Integrating Contexts & Philosophical Matters: The Meaning of “Being at Home” UPDATE

A large part of my work has been in reflecting on an attributable philosophical theory of what it means “to be at home”, or a reflection on what it is “to have a home”. I am interested in the different ways we speak of the term and how these notions affect the normative significance each have in terms of how things matter to me and how this in turn matters to institutions and governments, when thinking about the major social global issues, as well as how much freedom we may have in creating a home for ourselves and for others.

We tend to use the expression in at least two different ways. The first is in the sense referring to rootedness; i.e., a reference to where we have been brought up and have spent our life. We can enrich this sense by borrowing from the ancient Stoics of their conception of oikeiosis — that is, home not only as rootedness but as process that begins at birth and then naturally expands outwards to the family then expanding ever so outwardly to second moral orders of belonging to the state and cosmos. There is something about this that rings true. In fact, we all have not only inherited a rootedness or place in the world but one that has been developed through an expanding outward process through our lives and choices. It also seems true because the opposite, an uprootededness from the process of our life, quickly creates a sense of alienation – the very opposite of being at home but alienated; or, what the ancient stoics also termed as allotriosis.

The second way some of us speak of home is in referring to our ability to fit in and transmit the cultural and civilizational values that we have inherited and find of significance. We can broaden here the humanism of our contemporary democratic cultures and their values to the kind of sacred-humanism best captured in contemporary Confucian Chinese philosophy. It seems that at times we feel at home when we are not only personally flourishing but contributing to civilizational flourishing in ways that we (our civilization have thought or) think is meaningful. This second sense helps explain the kinds of attachments we develop in the first sense above and also how it is possible to feel at home not only at the global level but across different societies that share civilizational traditions and pasts, perhaps even a level of humanity and the sacred.

We can see in each sense the importance of the concept of “home” itself. In the first, the concept is at the heart and important for overcoming and understanding feelings of alienation. In the second, the concept refers to our embeddedness and indeed the role of human action in transmitting and in fact changing our long inherited civilizational intellectual and cultural inheritances.

There is also I think perhaps a third notion found in Aristotle’s work in the concept of oikos (oikonomia/economy) referring to the conditions for the political – not simply of securing the well-being of those who share a home – but of the symbiosis of home with politics and broader life. This refers to the notion of home as a primary stage in how we live with each other in order to participate in a secondary and more complex stage of politics which is meant to resolve our differences and shared problems. It is an insightful notion because it can analyze the concept normatively and gain insights about the concept of home in the context of our immediate responsibilities – particularly those that stem from our global relationships. These global relationships for instance require a complex sense of home in this aforementioned sense. In the global conversations, what we are doing is indeed sharing ideas about a variety of ethical approaches and disagreement about what should be and constitute our shared problems, but we are also sharing and trying to share a life.

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