Posts Tagged ‘subjectivity’

David Chandler “Resilience and the Autotelic Subject”

Chandler, David 2013. Resilience and the Autotelic Subject: Toward a Critique of the Societalization of Security. International Political Sociology 7: 210-226.

Fillipa Lentzos and Nikolas Rose, for example, in their critique of understandings that security discourses seem to be leading to the securitization of life, observe that we are witnessing “perhaps the opposite of a ‘Big Brother State’” (Lentzos and Rose 2009:243). Discourses of resilience do not centrally focus upon material attributes (military equipment, technology, welfare provisions, etc.) that can be provided by governments as a way of protecting populations or responding after an event. Resilience concerns attributes of the population, both as individuals and communities, which cannot be directly provided by state authorities. For this reason, discourses of resilience do not fit well with traditional liberal framings of security practices as state-centric, national or territorial forms of mobilization, protection, or regulation. (211)

It appears that resilience practices are transforming security discourses from concerns with external threats to fears over the domestic or internal coping and adaptive capacities of individuals and their communities. (212)

Once the human subject is understood as lacking in the capacity to make “free choices,” the private sphere of freedom and autonomy becomes problematized and “life”—that is, the formally private sphere beyond and separate from the public sphere of government—becomes the subject of governance.4 This focus on the inner world of both the state (the milieu of societal life) and the individual (their decision-making capability) operates to efface the traditional subject categories upon which liberal discourses of security, sovereignty, rights, and law were based. Discourses of societal resilience thereby societalize security in their reduction of the formally separate liberal sphere of securing rights and interests into the “everyday practices” of the social sphere, now understood as the source or cause of the problems to be dealt with (see Chandler 2010, 2012b). (214)

The problematic of “bounded rationality” suggests that societal resilience needs to inculcate generic capabilities to equip people with the capacity to make decisions in situations where they have limited knowledge or experience. The inculcation of resilience, in fact, depends on the dematerializing or abstraction from specific risks or insecurities, to become a mode of life, a way of social being: “Risk communication cannot be detached from our everyday lives. It has to be hotwired into our decision-making processes and behaviours” (Edwards 2009:43). In making resilience a matter of the “everyday,” the exceptional event becomes subsumed into the life process itself—choices of university, life partner, insurance policy, child rearing, etc.—subsuming responses to external risk, such as terrorist attack or environmental disaster, under the generic policy concerns of societal governance. (215)

In terms of genealogical framings, it is important to emphasize that what is key in the work of new institutional economics, and developed in the ideas of Hayek, is a conceptual framework of critique and inversion of classical liberal assumptions. This critique was based upon the dethroning or decentering of the human subject as a rational agent, capable of securing itself through knowing and shaping its external world. Even though Hayek does not explicitly frame his understanding in terms of resilience, the individual, subject-centered problematic of learning and adaption, and the influential role of the societal milieu—central to today’s societal discourses of resilience—is fully present. (216)

Giddens states that in the preliberal age, or pre-Enlightenment era, the main conceptual framework for dealing with, or rationalizing, unexpected events or contingencies was through the understanding of fate or nature or God— catastrophic events could not be prevented, merely accepted. In the liberal era, the dominant framework of understanding was that of “risk” or “accident,” a framework which highlighted the borders of control and could be calculated, minimized, or insured against—the point being that “accidents” or “risks” were conceptualized as external factors, outside control.7 Giddens argues that today there is no outside to the human world and therefore no external risk. Once the problem is understood in terms of manufactured risk—setbacks and damage as a consequence of the decisions we take ourselves—work on the self is the only area through which these problems can be addressed. (218-219)

Giddens’ work is very important for understanding and drawing out the consequences of a societalized conception of security within discourses of resilience, and its relationship to our understanding of the human subject. The key point Giddens makes is that societal security has to be addressed at the level of the inner life or the inner capacities of the individual, rather than the material level. This transformation occurs through welcoming insecurity and establishing a proactive relationship to potentially destabilizing security risks: “Schemes of positive welfare, orientated to manufactured rather than external risk, would be directed to fostering the autotelic self. The autotelic self is one with an inner confidence which comes from self-respect, and one where a sense of ontological security, originating in basic trust, allows for a positive appreciation of social difference. It refers to a person able to translate potential threats into rewarding challenges, someone who is able to turn entropy into a consistent flow of experience. The autotelic self does not seek to neutralize risk or to suppose that “someone else will take care of the problem”; risk is confronted as the active challenge which generates self-actualization.” (1994:192, emphasis added) (220)

The autotelic self is understood as an individual capable of self-governing in a world of contingency and radical
uncertainty. The autotelic self turns insecurity into self-actualization, into growth. The subject being interpellated—the “autotelic self”—is very different from the universalized subject of liberal modernity. Whereas the modern liberal subject was assumed to have the will and capacity to collectively act on and to transform, to secure and to know its external world, the transformative activity of the autotelic self is restricted to the internal and cognitive realm. (220)

The reduction of politics to the administration of life was a central concern for Arendt, who argued that “through society it is the life process itself which in one form or another has been channeled into the public realm” (1998:45). The problematic of the societal influencing of behavioral choices she believed “reduce[d] man as a whole, in all his activities, to the level of a conditioned and behaving animal” (1998:45). Rather than understanding and resolving problems through action in the external world, this framing “concerns only a possible change in the psychology of human beings—their so-called behaviour patterns—not a change of the world they move in” (1998:49). For Arendt, this was a “psychological interpretation, for which the absence or presence of a public realm is as irrelevant as any tangible, worldly reality” (1998:49). (220)

The reduction in social, economic, political, and ecological questions to ones of individual choice-making capacities and environmental choice-shaping interventions is so pervasive, we often do not give the broader discourses of societal resilience a second thought. In essence, discourses of societal resilience seek to extend the responsibility of individuals to the world itself, insofar as it becomes reduced to the product of individual behavioral choice. Here, the subject, considered individually and communally, is held to be autotelic—to cognitively construct its own life or world. (222-223)

Cavelty, Kaufmann and Kristensen “Resilience and (In)security: Practices, Subjects, Temporalities”

Cavelty, Myriam Dunn; Kaufmann, Mareile; Kristensen, Kristian Soby 2015. Resilience and (In)security: Practices, Subjects, Temporalities. Security Dialogue 46(1): 3-14.

The basic assumption is that the (in)security of a subject is not only dependent on the character and severity of the threat it is exposed to (its vulnerability), but also on the subject itself – namely, its resilience to detrimental events. The concept thus aspires to describe mechanisms for maintaining stability, survival, and safety – mechanisms that seem equally applicable to the individual, society, nature, and technical systems. (4)

Resilience links security to logics of governance rooted in ecology, engineering, and psychology, which were previously not prominent in the security discourse. It provides novel conceptual linkages and forms of knowledge and asks for interdisciplinary epistemic communities as well as new modes of governance, including more and different types of actors. These interlinkages are the key to understanding how resilience functions in the realm of security, and how resilience is inscribed in a longer historical sequence dealing with the relationship between threats and the threatened and between effect and the affected. (5)

By acknowledging and accepting the idea of an unstable, unpredictable environment, the rise of resilience marks a significant shift from the predictable to the contingent. In contrast to risk analytics and other strategies that mainly seek to prevent and prepare for a potentially disruptive future, resilience is characterized by a temporality that combines the present with the future, but also actively deals with insecurities of the past. (5)

Underlining the importance of the disastrous event splits time into past and future and gives particular political significance to the practices of resilience – which either refer to overcoming past events or potential future disruption. In preparing for resilience, it is the imagined event of the future that determines the present. In enacting resilience, it can also be the disastrous event of the past that determines action in the present (and potentially the future, too). Therefore, resilience is related to technologies of preparedness, but also to the actual process of ‘coping’ (O’Malley, 2010: 488). With this emphasis on adapting to new situations, the discourse of resilience becomes ‘a discourse of futurity’ (Schott, 2013: 213). At the same time, it is backwards-oriented and encourages ‘actors to learn from catastrophes so that societies can become more responsive to further catastrophes on the horizon’ (Evans and Reid, 2013: 91). Resilience therefore promotes a vision of uncertain and traumatic futures (O’Malley, 2010: 488, 492) in tandem with the possibility of overcoming past adverse events and experiences. (7)

[…] resilience redistributes responsibilities – and possibilities of blame. It moves from government to municipalities, from national to local, from security authorities to the citizen – expecting and encouraging beneficial self-organization in the face of crisis by those units that are both knowledgeable of local contexts and directly affected by the adverse event (Hagmann and Dunn Cavelty, 2012). Such a responsibilization has been discussed as a form of  empowerment by some, especially if linked to participation and citizen-led initiatives (Bulley, 2013; Rogers, 2013a). Others have warned against an overly romantic notion of community, which is sought through resilience attempts targeted at the vulnerable (Bulley, 2013). Resilience programs create the subject they speak about and valorize it as either resilient and desirable or vulnerable, undesirable and in need of state intervention. (7)

not only the possibility of disruptive one-time events integrates the need for future resilience into the present. Structurally different from disastrous events are chronic emergencies that have already materialized and continuously materialize in the present. In its assumed universal applicability, resilience is also used to provide answers to such persistent insecurities. Chronic emergencies – for example, climate change (Methmann and Oels, 2015) – inject yet another temporality into the resilience concept. This already materialized insecurity requires a specific set of skills in the resilient subject to deal with insecurity, as the authors of this special issue illustrate. Howell’s account of the soldier takes yet a different angle on the chronic aspect of insecurity, since a resilient soldier, by dealing with the crisis of combat, also contributes to its perpetuation. Resilience thus not only responds to but actively extends crisis, adding to the temporality of the continuous (Howell, 2015). In sum, resilience assembles diverse security practices of dealing with a disruptive past, a potentially disruptive future and ongoing, chronic disruption in the present, all of which emphasize the reiterative temporality of resilience practices. (9)

Resilience thus brings the subject into the focus of security policies – not as an entity to be protected but as an active and responsible contributor to security. This results in a specific relationship between political practices and subjects. Not only is the subject a central enactor of resilience, but resilience policies and practices are productive of specific subjects: the autonomous, organized, emergency-managing subject who behaves in the way that the respective political rationale or practice promotes. (10)

Alain de Libera “When Did the Modern Subject Emerge?”

Libera, Alain de 2008. When Did the Modern Subject Emerge? American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 82(2):  181-220.

A fair assessment of late ancient and medieval views on the subject is essential for any reconstruction of a history of subjectivity with the subject. Such an assessment, I suggest, is best made in two steps: 1) a discussion of Heidegger’s account of the dominance of the subject in the modern age, and account that is based on the distinction between “subjecticity” or “subjectness” (Subiectität) and “subjectivity” (Subjektivität); 2) a study of the genealogy of Nietzsche’s alleged grammatische Gewöhnung. The two steps are intimately connected: the distinction between subjecticity and subjectivity and the “grammatical habit” constitute two major components of a conceptual scheme I call “mental attributivism”, whose rise and fall deserve a very thorough archaeological scrutiny if we are to understand what exactly happened to the “subject” in early modern philosophy. (186)

To begin with, let us focus on Heidegger’s account of what he calls the “emphatic positing of the subject in Modern Age.” The term Subiectität, which is rendered as “subjecticity” or “subjectness” in English translations, has a precise meaning: at first blush it points to the very quality of being a subjectum, ontologically speaking; that is, according to the meaning of the Greek hypokeimenon, which it translates, to the quality of being “that-which-lies-before, which, as ground, gathers everything onto itself.” (186)

[…] Heidegger does not limit himself to saying that with Descartes man is conceived as a subjectum; he pushes further by asserting that within Descartes’s metaphysics man “comes to play the role of the one and only subject proper.” (187)

Subjecticity thus becomes subjectivity: being is no longer merely created being (ens creatum); it is “certain being, indubitable, truly thought,” in a word: “representation” (ens certum, indubitatum, vere vogitatum, cogitatio). The Cartesian shift from subjecticity to subjectivity may be summed up in four major claims: “1) Man is subject in the sense of representing I-ness; 2) The beingness of beings is equivalent to representedness through and for the I-subject; 3) Truth means the same as secure conveyance of what is represented in the self-representing representation: truth is certitude; 4) Man is the measure of all beings in the sense of the presumption of the de-limitation of representing to self-securing certitude.” (Heidegger, Nihilism, 136-7) (188)

[…] from Descartes onwards up to Nietzsche himself one must consider “the subjecticity (not subjectivity) of the essence of man as the foundation for the objectivity of every subject (everything which is present).” (190)

The modern age is “the age of subjectness,” in which “every analysis of the situation is grounded, whether it knows it or not, in the metaphysics of subjectness.” The metaphysics of subjectness is not reducible to the ontology of “subjectivity” in the sense of “subjectivism.” To be a subject is “to be in the subject-object relation”; to be in that relation “is what constitutes the subjectness of the subject.” (190)

Let me first define what “subjecthood” is in traditional (that is, late ancient and medieval) philosophy. Inherence and predication are the two components of subjecthood. The notion of subjecthood links that of which there can be predicates, the so-called “logical subject,” and that in which there are accidents, the so-called “physical subject.” According to this distinction, Heidegger’s claim should be rephrased as follows: the modern subject emerged when this sub-jective pattern – the subjecthood of the physical subject, which is a substrate for accidents in a change, and at the same time, the subjecthood of the logical subject, which is a substrate for the predicates in a proposition – was extended to the human mind, to a mental subject, thus subjecthood becoming subjectivity. (194)

Let me define what I will hereafter call “mental attributivism.” By “mental attributivism” I understand any interpretation of the soul (or thought, or understanding, or mind) that contains or implies an assimilation of mental or psychic activities, operations, or dispositions to attributes or predicates of a subject defined as an “ego” or an “I”. (195)

The only Cartesian contribution to the emergence of the subject in its modern, “Cartesian,” sense – that is, the first-person relationship between thought and existence, not to say personal identity – is to accept the general axiom that we cannot conceive an act without a subject (that is, Nietzsche’s grammatische Gewöhnung) and to reject, as contrary to all linguistic usage and logic (contra omnem loquendi usum omnemque logicam), the idea that every subject should be material, when logicians and others commonly assert that some substances are spiritual, others corporeal. This is not enough to allow one to consider Descartes as the “father of modern subjectivity.” Descartes’s claim is that there are incorporeal substances – let us say incorporeal subjects. This claim is not primarily concerned with the idea that the thinking thing should be I as a subject – subject of thought, thinking subject. It is concerned with Hobbes’s thesis according to which the expressions “incorporeal substance” or “incorporeal subject” imply a contradiction – in other words, that to say that “x is an incorporeal substance” amounts to saying that “there is no x” […]. (200)

In the Explicatio mentis humanae Regius had argued that there could perfectly be a single subject for thought and extension, intended as two different modes of the same substance. To prove his thesis, he claimed that “there is no reason why the mind should not be a sort of attribute co-existing with extension in the same subject.” For Descartes, this was the second and apparently the last opportunity to deal with the question of subjecthood. To Regius’s claim Descartes responds that “attributes which constitute the natures of things,” as thought and extension do, “cannot be said [to be] present together in one and the same subject; for that would be equivalent to saying that one and the same subject has two different natures – a statement that implies a contradiction, at least when it is a question of a simple subject … rather than a composite one.” (201)

[…] some of Descartes’s most fundamental claims: 1) thought and extension are not two modes of the same substance; 2) they are essential or main or principal attributes of two different substances: mind and body; 3) two different modes can inhere in the same subject; 4) two essential or principal attributes cannot have the same subject; 5) each substance has only one essential or principal attribute; 6) there is no subject common both to thought and extension. (201)

Man is such [a composite] entity: “That which we regard as having at the same time both extension and thought is a composite entity, namely a man – an entity consisting of a soul and a body.” This was exactly the thesis that Descartes had expressed in the Sixth Meditation: Peter Strawson’s two-subjects theory. Man is not his soul. Man is not his mind. Man is a subject composed of two substances, mind and body, which are the simple subjects, substantially different, of principal or essential attributes that are in each case unique: thought and extension. (202)

Thus, there is no “Cartesian subject” in Descartes, both because the Cartesian theory of mind and thought lacks a concept of subject – this was the core of Hobbes’s criticism – and, paradoxically, because there are too many subjects in his philosophy: mind and body, the two substances whose composition constitutes the composite entity called “man.” (203)

In the description of the mens-notitia-amor triad (On the Trinity IX, v, 8) the doctrine of the circumincession of the Persons of the Trinity is evoked even more directly in order to conceptualize the mutual indwelling of mens and its acts: “The mind, love and knowledge … each is a substance in itself, and all are found mutually in all, or each two in each one, consequently all are in all … These three, therefore, are in a marvelous manner inseparable from one another; and yet each of them is a substance, and all together are one substance or essence, while the terms themselves express a mutual relationship.” This is exactly what the Aristotelian hypokeimenon pattern would not and could not allow. Yet in the Middle Ages, the two conflicting patterns – the perichoretic and the Aristotelian – merged into a single one, giving rise to the concept of a mental subject, mentally active, in a modern sense. (206)

Arguing against Augustine, the Peripatetics posited the existence of a potentia subjectiva in order to demonstrate the existence of “a subject of knowledge acts that are oriented toward objects.” According to [Peter] Olivi, this conjecture, which certainly would look to moderns lie a decisive step toward subjectivity, lacked what the Augustinian model was meant to supply: self-certainty, certitudo infallibilis sui esse […]. Indeed, it actually says nothing about the ego or the I; it makes it possible to posit that my acts have a subject, but it does not establish that I am that subject. (207)

In order to arrive at the self-certainty of the moderns, one would have to take one more step: assume that I can directly intuit that I myself am the subject of my acts. One should, in a word, go back to Augustine’s perichoretic conception of the soul and adapt the “peripatetic” language of subjecthood to it. […] that would precisely mark the beginnings of “subjectivity,” or at least one of the preconditions for those beginnings. I think that this is the step taken by Peter Olivi when he expressly makes the perception of my acts depend upon “my prior perception of myself as subject of those acts.” This leads him to formulate the theorem that “in the perception of my acts, the perception of the subject itself [that is to say, of me as the suppositum of my own acts] comes first according to the natural order of things” […]. (207)

According to Olivi, the subject is perceived first because “according to the natural order of things, the subject is perceived before the predicate is attributed to it as such […]” – a psycholinguistic fact. With this claim, the “subjectivation” of the mind is now complete in every dimension, including the assumption of the linguistic or logical form of predication, which is backed up by the introduction of the word ego into the analysis of linguistic communication. (208)

From a modern point of view, Olivi’s subject satisfies all the requirements set forth in ego-based psychology. It meets the requirement of a doer for every deed. Olivi’s theory states that if there is thinking, there must be something that thinks. But it also establishes that I am this something. There is a grammatical move, a logical move, and a theological move. (209)

[…] if the equivalence of hypostasis, suppositum, and individua substantia (a Thomistic commonplace) is granted, the principle that actions belong to subjects brings about everything required for a concept of person or personality. It makes possible the interpretation of man as subiectum which Heidegger considered to be the exclusive trademark of Cartesianism. Such a concept includes three main elements: subsistence, individuality, and rationality. They are combined by Thomas in the following way: every substance is a suppositum, every suppositum is an individual (an individual substance), but it is not the case that every individual (individual substance) which is a suppositum is a person: only the supposita having dominion over their own actions, which can act of themselves (that is, rational individuals) are persons. (210)

The core argument is the principle actions belong to singulars. Nothing can act or be acted upon but a singular. […] That is the reason why human beings are called persons. There can be no persons but subjects which can act of themselves, that is to say, which can both be considered and consider themselves as subjects-agents of their own actions. (211)

[…] the axiom actiones sunt suppositorum cannot be found in Aristotle. It is an adage formulated in the Middle Ages on the basis of the only genuine Aristotelian axiom, stated in Metaphysics, Book I, chap. 1 (981a16-17): “actions and generations are all concerned with the individual.” (213)

The obvious meaning of the principle (which is also mentioned in Politics, 1267b23-1269a29, esp. “for what is written must be universal [in nature], whereas actions are concerned with individuals”) is that actions and generations bear on individuals, or that what results from an action or a generation can only be an individual. In the statement that every action is of an individual, “of” must be read as an objective genitive, meaning “about,” peri, circa. (214)

The medieval adage, however, states just the opposite. Actiones sunt suppositorum means actions are “of” individuals in the sense of subjective genitive, which denotes “the person who makes or produces something or who has a feeling,” as in dicta Platonis, “the utterances of Plato,” or timores liberorum, “the fears of the children.” (214)

The Leibnizian suppositum is some one who has a biographical definition. I am not a thinking thing “outfitted with the quality of thinking.” I am not even the one thinking I am I. I am an I, this I, a singular I: a subject including a set of action-attributes that make him/her an individual episode in the (best possible) world story. Leibniz’s new conception of the “subject” does not merely consist in equating suppositum, substance, and individually subsisting being. It is also firmly grounded in a set of agency principles. One is the principle stating that “actions belong to the suppositum.” Another is the principle maintaining that subjects are denominated by their actions, acts or activities: subjectum denominatur a propria actione. This is Leibniz’s praxeological answer to the Hobbesian ontological principle according to which “an essence is that accident for which we give the thing – the subject – its name,” the scholastic Accidens denominat proprium subiectum. The third principle states what one could call “metaphysical attributivism”: Praedicatum inest subiecto. (218)

Marshall Brown “I Think, Therefore I Feel”

February 28, 2017 Leave a comment

Brown, Marshall 2017. I think, therefore I feel. In: Brodsky, Claudia; LaBrada, Eloy (eds). Inventing Agency. Essays on the Literary and Philosophical Production of the Modern Subject. Bloomsbury Academic

Latin usage limits the meaning of “cogito” to judgments, excluding anything that might be considered mere intuitions or reveries. A thinking thing – res cogitans – is a rational animal. Being stands in some sort of relation of implication to judgment. But judgment must stand in some relationship to a judging mind. If thinking could be merely daydreaming, then it might be lodged almost anywhere. Animals might think, or (as some ecocritics now assert) even plants.

Kant’s Copernican revolution put the question of identity front and center. The Kantian world of experience is constituted by transcendental conditioning – by the pure forms of sensible intuition governing perceptions of space and time and by the categories of the understanding that make consciousness possible. It is not clear whether the conception of the transcendental ego defined being or simply displaced it into an indefinite intellectual region. But in any event it turned Descartes upside down by beginning philosophy with beings rather than with thinking. And what Kant posits as a starting point becomes – or, indeed, had already become – a focal point in imaginative writings. Selfhood is a mysterious, indefinite or even infinite “I am”; it is known before being understood. It dawns; it does not result.

The sentiment of being is nothing without a sensing self, and for Wordsworth it entails specifically not Rousseau’s thoughtlessness but a feeling thought that recovers what, otherwise, might be “lost”: the lost cannot be found in knowledge, that is, not in cognition, but rather in a feeling thought that touches the heart. And while Rousseau denies taking the trouble to think, he opens the Reveries by asserting his unique existence – “Me voici donc seul sur la terre” (“here am I, then, alone on earth”)  – and, a short paragraph later, his existence as a thinker: “et plus je pense à ma situation présente …” (“and the more I think on my present situation”).

As Michel Serres has reiterated more poetically than anyone else since, everything flows, panta rhei, and thought is, by consequence, “steeped”, that is, immersed, were it only in being surrounded by “steep and lofty cliffs” that willy-nilly impress “thoughts” in a self that dreams of merely feeling.

Sense, life, and joy mingle to constitute the intellect that links our existence to the world. Feeling is linked to thinking, but thinking remains an anti-Cartesian state that is independent of judging. “An intellectual charm” is not cogitation. (of Wordsworth)

Well before Wordsworth, in fact barely a year after the Reveries appeared, Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysic had echoed Rousseau’s feeling of self. Kant here restates the Cartesian principle as follows: “Nun scheint es, als ob wir in dem Bewusstsein unserer selbst (dem denkenden Subjekt) dieses Substantiale haben, und zwar in einer unmittlebaren Anschauung” (“Now it seems as if we have this substantial [self] in the consciousness of ourselves [in the thinking subject], and indeed in an immediate intuition”). But then a footnote defining “das absolute Subjekt” (“the absolute subject”) turns the tables on Descartes: it says that the absolute subject or the pure apperception of the self, is “ein Gefühl eines Daseins ohne den mindesten Begriff” (“a feeling of an existence without the slightest concept”). This sounds like Rousseau trumping Descartes. However, the note turns back on Rousseau to claim that the feeling of self is, after all, “nur Vorstellung desjenigen, worauf alles Denken in Beziehung (relatione accidentis) steht” (“only a representation of that to which all thinking stands in relation”).

The ground of thinking both is and is not itself a thought. Thinking and feeling are two sides of one coin. Indeed, and essay a decade later, “On a Recently Emergent Superior Tone in Philosophy”, heaps scorn on a “Philosophie aus Gefühlen” […] and on the demand of “die allerneueste deutsche Weisheit …, durchs Gefühl zu philosophieren” (“the very latest German wisdom, to philosophize through feeling”). While I cannot think without being steeped in feeling, feeling is not independent of thought. Hence the implicit new syllogism: I think, therefore I feel.

In the Cartesian syllogism, the “I am” and the “I think” are mutually self-confirming. But they are so only under the condition of presupposing an enduring I that is the thing that thinks, and that is. Thinking and being are nothing in themselves; they must inhere in something. But that ego is a mystery. In terms of Descartes’s early remark that he ascended the stage of the world masked, the person is a persona. To be at thing, it would have to have a separate existence or nature. But Descartes is clear that the being of the ego is coterminous with its thoughts. The syllogism is true, as he says in the Meditations, “quoties a me profetur, vel mente concipitus” (“each time I utter it, or conceive it in my mind”), but only so long as he is uttering or conceiving it.

The Romantic sense of self teases apart the ego from its thoughts, engendering the mixed feelings of inexpressible satisfaction in autonomous existence with inexplicable sadness or even grief at separation.

“Dubito, ergo sum” has long been considered Descartes’s alternative version of his syllogism. Thinking and doubting are, at bottom, one. “I think, therefore I feel” links the intensity of selfhood to its uncertainty. Uncertainty is anxiety, inscrutability, potential, all three in ever-varying ration. Descartes is unraveled: he is rescued by being overcome. Any change is a transformation, and any transformation a deformation. That is how history moves, and seldom so radically as when the Romantics consumed Descartes, digested him, and transformed him into nourishment for a new spirit.

Sarah Lamb “Permanent Personhood or Meaningful Decline?”

Lamb, Sarah 2014. Permanent Personhood or Meaningful Decline? Toward a Critical Anthropology of Successful Aging. Journal of Aging Studies 29: 41-52.

Talk of readiness for death and acceptance of decline, in fact, seems to be expected cultural discourse among older Indians, and highlights a widely held Hindu view of the transience of the human condition—the temporariness of any individual’s stay within any one human body amidst the natural cycle of births and deaths of worldly existence or samsara. (42)

It is perhaps partly because the successful aging discourse of “healthy”aging originated to a degree out of biomedicine—a field particularly prone to be viewed as culture free—that scholars and the public alike often seem not to sufficiently recognize culture and ideology in their successful aging models. (42)

No one uniform definition of successful aging emerges from this discourse, which spans thousands of articles, books, policy documents and websites; yet several common cultural themes underlying the varying definitions stand out, including: an emphasis on individual agency and control (you can be the crafter of your own successful aging); the value of independence and the importance of avoiding dependence; the value of activity and productivity; and a vision of not aging at all, while pursuing the goals of agelessness and what could be termed a permanent personhood. (44)

Aging was previously imagined in North America as largely a natural and deleterious process beyond the control of the individual, but the successful aging project turns that assumption on its head: The declines commonly associated with aging are not inevitable; you as an individual can fashion your own successful aging. (44)

A final theme tying together much of the successful aging discourse may be termed “permanent personhood”—a vision of the ideal person as not really aging at all in late life, but rather maintaining the self of one’s earlier years, while avoiding or denying processes of decline, mortality and human transience (cf.,Kaufman, 1985; McHugh, 2000). (45)

Aging is potentially very costly—personally, socially and nationally—but the successful aging project exhorts persons to take control of their own aging by maintaining themselves as healthy, productive, active and independent individuals. Such a vision rests on a distinctive cultural model of personhood, featuring individual agency, independence, productivity, and self-maintenance, and might be viewed as a contemporary North American cultural and biopolitical project. (46)

I have also been struck by how—in keeping with prevailing US mores, perhaps—the majority of those in my research study have not brought up death and dying unless I raise the topic myself (though some do bring up mortality, as I get to below). If I do raise the topic, it is often quickly dismissed, as in one man’s response:“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it”or another’s “No, I don’t think about it”—or answered only in terms of the practical details of having one’s wills and trusts in order. Dale Abbey replied, when I asked if she thought about death and dying at all,“I joke, if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I’ve had a good full life. But I don’t waste my time worrying about it. It’s better to livenow. It’s better to do it while you can, because you never know. I’m making the most of it.” I mentioned to 85-year-old Edna Feldman,“I know that aging has all its aches and pains, butI’dstill love to make it to eighty-five and—”Edna interrupted,“Yes! I am really wanting to remain on this earth a while longer! I am trying my best!” (47)

John L. Roberts “Trauma, Technology and the Ontology of the Modern Subject”

March 16, 2016 Leave a comment

Roberts, John L. 2013. Trauma, Technology and the Ontology of the Modern Subject. Subjectivity 6(3): 298-319.

[…] both Foucault and later Heidegger find modern subjectivity beset with the impulse to technologically reduce phenomena to what can be discretely known and mastered, thereby concealing other possible ways of being. (299)

[…] Heidegger (1977a) writes that‘Enframing means the gathering together of that setting-upon which sets upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve’(p. 20). Notonly does the essence of modern technology, asGestell, order natural objects and processes into standing reserve, but human being itself becomes ordered into standing reserve; this is the essence of biopower (Foucault, 1979/1990). (300)

[…] the Kantian and modern ‘epistemological turn’ transforms Newtonian and Leibnizian conceptions of space/time as fundamental relation among objects in the external world into a dimension of thesubject’s relation to world through its own capacities. Because Kantian time is conceived neither empirically nor conceptually, but asa prioriintuition, the framework of all perceptions (Hoy, 2009), it becomes the most fundamental of cognitive filters that would frame the modern subject’s understanding of itself. Nonetheless, Kant’s cognitivism must itself traumatically lose time, as it is enabled to merely represent its own prior representations as a kind of post hocexamination of film footage. (303)

Memory, as a psychological construct, is not tethered to a truthful relation with self or events in the world, but the engraved experience of time, the representation of representation. […] As Hacking (1995) observes,‘One feature of the modern sensibility dazzling in its implausibility [is] the idea that what has been forgotten is what forms our character, our personality, our soul’ (p. 209). (304)

If the historical origin of representation is actually engaged, actually found, its thought falls into contradiction because it becomes identified with something other than itself, part of the terrain it desires to survey (Foucault, 1966/1973). (309)

For modernity, Dasein exists in a specific state of intrinsic incompleteness; its lack in being is that of Foucault’s neo-Kantian finitude, but raised to an ontological level.But what kind of historically constellated lack or finitude ontologically figures Dasein?In Heideggerian terms, Dasein’s finitude or lack in being is directly related toSorge, or the care-structure, which –in turn –is temporally anchored in being-towards-death. Along these lines, Carman (2003) argues that, for Heidegger, death is the perpetual closing down of possibilities, which allows others to ex-sist or to stand out. (310)

‘Our possibilities are constantly dropping away into nullity…. To say we are always dying is to say that our possibilities are constantly closing down around us’(Carman, 2003, p. 282). (311)

Being-towards-death, as negation, as the upsurge of time welling up from within Dasein, is that which separates itself from itself as the coming im/possibilities of the future. In other words, the modern subject’s temporality relates tofuturity as a nullity –not an absent but remote present, but the ever-present nihilation of what is not taken up, what becomes an impossibility as unlived. (311)

Furthermore, the everpresent nullity underwriting the future also traumatically separates Dasein from its lived, factical past. Consequently, Dasein’s trauma, stretching from the future and into the past, pervades its existence. Because of this historically ontological trauma, Dasein’s thrownness is always in question, and the meaning of its origin, its being-in-the-world is always potentially subverted by the threat of nothingness. (311)

Peter Trnka “Subjectivity and Values in Medicine”

February 19, 2016 Leave a comment

Trnka, Peter 2003. Subjectivity and Values in Medicine: The Case of Canguilhem. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 28(4): 427-446.

Canguilhem focuses on normality and pathology as the founding concepts of modern clinical and research medicine. In search of the normal to which therapy is drawn, Canguilhem unfolds its normative meaning. Unfolding further, he discovers the nature of the normative in the value-orientation of a constructive, future directed activity, i.e.,subjectivity. Value-orientation, accordingly, is not a variable or an object but a constructing of fields for variables or objects. Value-orientation and the creative act of the subject thus coincide. Holding that subjectivity is a real, creative biological activity, as Canguilhem does, means thatnormalityandvalue-orientation, as concepts, are neither pure scientific descriptions nor mere human preferences. (428)

The danger of Canguilhem’s work is a biologization of norms that neglects culture. Canguilhem seizes upon the idea of value-orientation (normativité), making it the pivot of his conceptual structure, while Foucault evades the normative, as if it were ineluctably a concept of the human sciences, though presupposing it in his critique of the human sciences. (429)

Canguilhem offers three interpretations of normality conceived as the norm of medicine: (1) the statistical average or the standard, (2) what ought to be, and (3) the new. Thefirst two senses are more familiar than the third, though it is this latter option that Canguilhem defends. (429)

Irregularity, for Canguilhem, is the constitutive condition of rules. The regulative ideal, the norm, or the rule is derivative of an experience of obstacle. This could be an epistemic point: awareness of rules is contingent upon transgression. Canguilhem’s point is stronger, i.e., ontological. The existence of a rule is, accordingly, derivative of the experience of an obstacle. The subjective experience of impediment brings the rule into being: ‘‘this which I now feel as resisting me should not be.’’ (430)

To be alive presupposes some ability to distinguish between good and bad in the sense of what helps or hinders me. This minimal sense of the evaluative is subjective for Canguilhem, meaning that it must take root in the individual organism. (431)

[…] he distinguishes between two forms of life or two evaluative conceptions of adaptation and health. The first consists of propulsive values which attain a normal state (a constant or stable condition) only to exercise their normative function anew, and so depart from the previously achieved equilibrium in search of another. The second mode consists of repulsive values, which are not truly normative though they are stabilizing or normality-seeking; i.e., the being that strives entirely for equilibrium and is unwilling to give it up once it is attained relinquishes the process of generating values in favor of a permanent normality and by doing so turns pathological. The first mode is expressive, the second retentive or preservative. (431-432)

Canguilhem’s affirmation of propulsive norms completes our set of identifications by bringing creativity in line with the true meaning of normality. (432)

The WHO definition of health as complete well-being is broad and difficult to distinguish from economic prosperity, social comfort, political freedom, and moral satisfaction. And this is precisely its point: health may be a function of all the above factors and so an all-inclusive conception of health will necessarily blur the dividing line between the medical and the economic, social, political, philosophical, etc. (433)

The evolutionary point of view raises a number of ontological questions for the enterprise of defining health and disease: the wherein question (does health and/or disease reside in the cell, organ, individual or species?), the where question (does health and/or disease reside in a place or unit or in the relation between unit and environment?), and the when question (does health and/or disease exist now or in the next generation, etc.?). The‘when’question really folds together all three orientations, for the individual in relation to the species in an environment is the locus of transmission of traits, healthy or diseased, between the present and the future. Matters related to the temporal dimension of health are often ignored, perhaps because the issue is difficult or because of our hubris: we are prone to believe we can predict the future or shape it as we wish. (435-436)

The subjectivist view should not be confused with Canguilhem’s biological and ontological theory of subjectivity. Subjectivism, closely allied with individualism and cultural relativism, loosely resembles evolutionary theory in that individual preference, like genetic mutation, is the arbitraryelement decisive for the future. Suchinternalexplanations fail for the same reason: to conceive of evolution as driven by random mutability is anabstractionfrom a complex and co-implicatedfield of variables; to conceive of satisfaction as a ‘‘merely subjective’’, personal reaction is also an abstraction from the situation in which satisfaction functions as a real variable. In both the cases of genetic mutability and personal satisfaction, the internal moment only makes sense given afield in which it acts or is acted upon. (437)

[…] Canguilhem provides a biological and ontological account of value: living beings orient themselves to their environments (in part) by way of values. Living beings discriminate and accommodate based on an appreciation of the world or a system of values, be they implicit or explicit – this is, for Canguilhem, an actual attribute of the biological world. The creation of norms within the biological world is valuable not merely as novelty but as the variability which novelty signals or presupposes. Variability or the creative generation of norms is valuable and valued at least in part because of the difference such norms make in intensifying and extending life. (438)

[…] Canguilhem’s repulsive norms are associated with a mechanist or functionalist orientation to life: the belief that a norm may be secured to withstand variation is linked to a view of nature as inert and fundamentally repetitive. Propulsive norms, on the contrary, appeal to a generative conception of natural processes wherein variable, not static, repetition is the fundamental law; life is a‘‘vital force’’or biological being, not a mechanism or function. (438)

Teleological and mechanist views are fundamentally in error concerning the character of biological life. Mechanism and functionalism are inadequate characterizations from a biological point of view because they conceive of the environment as a fact, given or pre-constituted. In contrast, Canguilhem offers a fully biological, i.e., an ontological, view wherein the environment is itself partially constructed by the activity and needs of the organism. (439)

To value an individual feature involves the environment only as a given past or present condition, but not as an evolving, dynamic system. Canceling out errors through genetic manipulation assumes prior knowledge of the future shape of the conditions under which organisms will live. Such‘‘engineering’’ is neither impossible nor valueless, but the hubris of believing one can engineer the individual and their environment to perfection assumes the permanence of nature and reserves the creativity of science and reason for the subject. (441)

Whether we can in fact eliminate genetic ‘‘errors’’ is not Canguilhem’s main worry. The very possibility of naming a genetic feature an‘‘error’’ is the concern. For if an ‘‘error’’in the medical sense is neither a statistical anomaly nor a lesion, if it is not itself a dysfunction but a marker or harbinger of dysfunction, then how can the issue of values be removed from the judgement of error, and how may we, even in the rare case where a genetic marker has near certainty of phylogenetic expression as a defect, be sure about the environment in relation to which all such notions derive their meaning? (441)

Normality secured in total stability and local adaptation is the precursor of total pathology. Canguilhem brands such a nightmare, in which the very possibility of disease is thought to be eliminated, the ‘‘disease of the normal man’’ („la maladie de l’homme normal“): „the disturbance which arises in the course of time from the permanence of the normal state, from the incorruptible uniformity of the normal, the disease which arises from the deprivation of diseases, from an existence almost incompatible with disease.“ (1978, p. 178) (442)