Mediation is the intervention of an outside object between two or more things that cannot resolve a conflict or problem without such intervention. For many philosophers, mediation is a necessary component for the very coherence of human experience in the world (Kant, 2008). Epistemology, or the study of how human beings know what they now, is often interpreted through categories of mediation. Many philosophers have argued that human cognition and experience need the mediation of abstract ideas or concepts in order to be resolved to one another in a coherent manner (Locke, 1979; Kant, 2008; Hegel, 1976). Others have argued that all human knowledge and experience is mediated by power, therefore making all truth claims essentially forms of domination (Nietzsche, 1968; Foucault, 1980; Butler, 1997).
In more practical terms, mediation is often a necessary part of human community. As human beings are fundamentally embodied and social beings with particular needs in a world of limited resources, conflict between them is inevitable. This means that human beings often require the mediation of others to reach a resolution to the conflict. Premised on the need for intervention in order to resolve a conflict between two or more parties, mediation always involves a third party that functions as a “go between” or an intermediary between the parties. For example, when someone is accused of a crime and must go to court, a lawyer mediates between the accused and the judge. Mediation is also a necessary part of how information, which is infinite, is disseminated across large communities. In contemporary societies, the mass media is a social institution that serves, for better or worse, as a mediatory bridge between finite human beings and the infinite amount of knowledge to be acquired about the world.
Many religious and theological traditions have utilized the concept of mediation as a way to account for the limitations or perceived failures human beings. Mediation often relates to religious or theological anthropologies that assume that the human body has been tainted by sin and is in need of some sort of redemption through the mediation of another. For example, Christianity teaches that all human beings are in need of the mediation of Jesus Christ, who serves as the intermediary between sinful human beings and God the Father (Torrance, 1992). Many religious traditions have also understood material objects as mediators of the divine. Material objects can serve as a way in which the Divine becomes present within the material world, mediating between the transcendent and the immanent. Sacred sites such as the Islamic Ka’aba in Mecca or the Jewish Western Wall in Jerusalem serve as places where the divine’s presence is mediated by the actual materiality of the site that is visited.
Embodiment makes a significant difference in how mediation is understood. Indeed, the body itself can be understood as a form of mediation, as all knowledge, affect, and experience must be channeled through the physical body itself in order to be realized. Embodiment also provides helpful ways in which to understand why mediation is a necessary process through which human beings create meaning in the world. Because embodied human beings are fundamentally limited in their ability to understand the world, live in harmony with it, and transcend their material contexts, mediation is a necessary human mechanism that allows human beings to resolve the divide between a mysterious and infinite universe and the finitude of human bodies.
Butler, Judith. The Psychic Life of Power: Theories of Subjection. Stanford: Standford University Press, 1997
In The Psychic Life of Power: Theories of Subjection, Butler seeks to expand Foucualt’s theory that human subjectification is always a process inflected by power relations. Using social theory, psychoanalysis, and philosophy, Butler offers a theory of the subject that is grounded in human sociality. Butler explores how power is both a source of domination and construction, making power’s psychic effect on the subject one of ambivalence.
Hegel, Friedrich. Phenomenology of Spirit Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976
One of the most famous books of the Western philosophical tradition, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit outlines the evolution of human consciousness. Hegel theorizes the subject’s recognition of an other’s self-consciousness as the condition for the subject’s own self-consciousness. Included in the massive volume is the famous discussion of the master-slave dialectic based on the impasse of recognition at the heart of human being’s struggle for mastery over one another.
Foucualt, Michel. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977 New York: Vintage, 1980.
Comprised of interviews and writings dealing with a range of subjects, Foucault’s Power/Knowledge offers a theory of power that places it at the very heart of existence itself. This book provides a helpful guide to Foucault’s entire corpus as it includes essays on many of his most famous topics such as madness, sexuality, prisons, hospitals, and processes of subjectification.
Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Pure Reason. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999, orig., 1781.
This dense, theoretically rich philosophical text is best read through reading Kant’s Prologomena to Any Future Metaphysics first. Nevertheless, Kant’s central objective in The Critique of Pure Reason is to determine the limits of reason or rational thought. Kant argues that human beings can only obtain knowledge of the world through their senses and experience. Kant argues that human beings cannot know the essence of things in themselves, shifting the focus of philosophical investigation from ontology (the study of essence) to epistemology (the study of knowledge). In regards to the discussion of experience, two concepts are important: a priori knowledge and a posterior knowledge. A priori knowledge is defined as knowledge that exists independent of experience, and a posteriori knowledge is defined as knowledge that is acquired empirically or through practical experience. The basic definition of experience discussed above is grounded in Kant’s concept of a posteriori knowledge.
Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979
A major work in the history of Western philosoohy, Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding investigates the origins and epistemological certainty of human knowledge. Locke the empiricist offers a developmental account of personal human knowledge, attacking the notion of innate human knowledge and arguing that all knowledge must come from experience.
Nietzsche, Fredrich. On the Genalogy of Morals Oxford: Oxford University, 1996
On the Genealogy of Morals is Nietzsche’s interpretation and critique of the history of morality that analyzes all moral ideas as rooted in power and violence. Using a genealogical method that traces the history of key concepts, Nietzsche uncovers and exposes the origins of the key moral concepts that frame Western thinking. In the three essays that of which the book is comprised, Nietzsche critiques and deconstructs concepts such as good and evil, guilt, and asceticism.
Torrance, Thomas. The Mediation of Christ. Colorado Springs: Helmers and Howard 1992.
A devotional theology of the atonement of Christ, The Mediation of Christ offers reflections on the concept of mediation within Christian theology. Significant themes addressed by Torrance are revelation, reconciliation, the person Jesus Christ as a mediator, the human response to Christ’s mediation, and the atonement of Christ.