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Rethinking the Human Person

Moral Landscape and Ethical Literacy

Nahal Jafroudi

Recent developments in the natural and social sciences have brought great benefits to humanity, both in terms of our material wellbeing and our intellectual and conceptual capacities. Yet, despite a broad ethical consensus and highly developed innate faculties of reason and conscience, there seems to be a significant discrepancy between how we ought to behave and how we actually behave, leading to a disregard for the dignity of human persons across the globe. This book suggests that the problem arises from various misunderstandings of the nature of the self and that the solution could lie in adopting a holistic concept of the human person within the context of a carefully cultivated ethical literacy. It argues that the ideas of the Iranian philosopher Ostad Elahi (1895–1974) provide a powerful and compelling alternative to the dominant post-Enlightenment understanding of selfhood, education and morality.

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Chapter 4: Descartes

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CHAPTER 4

Descartes

In defining the self as res cogitans (a thinking thing), and merging the two aspects of the self, the I and the me, into cogito, Descartes places the individual human being at the very centre of the universe and at the same time radically divorces the same individual from the rest of the world, thus effecting an epistemological paradigm shift in how the self is interpreted, marking the beginning of an age of individualism. That is, the Cartesian Dualist separation of the pure mind from all physical matter elevated the mind to that of sovereign ruler over everything external. Descartes’ programme of radical doubt, on the basis of which he acknowledged the existence of his own thinking-self, and from which he proceeded to argue for the existence of the external world, can be construed as concluding that the doubting-self may indeed be the only being that exists. Thus, in asserting cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am), he creates a model of self-reflection that places the I as the inner centre of his worldview.

Descartes conceives the human person as a conscious and embodied agent, whose essential nature is mind or soul,1 a substance whose essence is to think, that controls the mechanically working body and is also influenced by its movements. In considering thought as a constitutive essence of the self, which in its broad definition includes intellect and reason, sensations and passions, according to...

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