Tracy’s Notion of “Limit Situations”


1.     Experiences that disclose the limit dimension of the human condition.

a.     Those situations in which people find themselves confronted with an ultimate limit or horizon to their experience

b.     Any moment in life that forces us to acknowledge the limits or limitations of a strictly rational or empirical approach to life.

c.      These experiences impart the awareness that many of life’s most profound challenges prompt us to look beyond the resources and perspectives of the finite personality.

1.     Finitude is an essential aspect of our human condition.  

2.     It is part and parcel of being in the world as we understand and experience it – namely, the world is physical, exists within time and space, and within it all things come to an end.  We come to and end.

d.     Some limit experiences occur during intellectual reflection and are more or less calm, even sedate; some occur amidst highly emotional and dramatic moment such as ecstasy or despair

2.     Limit experiences force us to recognize that reason, logic, and worldly resources are alone incapable of adjusting us to some of the most recurring themes in human experience.

3.     Experiences that confront us with the “limit dimension” of human experience can have either a negative emotional tone or a positive one.

a.     Negative: moment of profound awareness or the limits or restrictions of our finitude

1.     These reveal that insofar as we view life solely from the standpoint of this-worldly values we derive no satisfactory answers or solutions to our dilemma

2.     E.g., Knowledge that you or someone you love will die in the near future; you lose one or more bodily functions (sight, mobility); you realize that you have missed an opportunity in life that will never come again – no resolution of the problem at hand is possible within a strictly scientific or empirical perspective.

-- Nor from any secular perspective.

3.     In life, we have many and recurring experiences which indicate that there are definite limits beyond which human beings cannot or adequately address without turning to  something – an idea or belief, a story, a sensed presence, a narrative, etc. – that extends “beyond” the physical world of space and time.  Limit experiences can bring us into awareness of “something more.”

4.     These are experiences of grief, disorientation and confusion, meaninglessness.

b.     Positive: Reveal the existence and reality of that which lies beyond the limits of the physical universe.

                                      i.     Mystical experiences, conversion experiences, participation in sacred rituals or sacraments, various altered states of consciousness – all have a revelatory character in that they afford us a direct experience of something More or Beyond

                                     ii.     These are experiences of bliss, ecstasy, euphoria, contentment

4.     Cf. James: The heart of religion is the conviction that (1) the visible world is part of an unseen spiritual universe from which it draws its ultimate meaning or purpose, and (2) the union or harmonious relationship with that higher universe is our true end as well as the key to achieving personal wholeness and well-being.