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The Rise and Fall of Modern Man

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Jacek Dobrowolski

Award-winning essay in philosophical anthropology meditating on who, in terms of history of ideas, modern western man was, is, and will perhaps become. The author focuses on developments of modern man’s self-knowledge, understood both as concept of his own human nature and as individual self-consciousness, made possible by the idea that each human being is an autonomous rational agent. The book examines how Selfhood and self-governed individuality connect to science and technology, and offers an imaginative exploration of various modern narratives of human singularity, from Robinson Crusoe to Zarathustra, and to contemporary individual Facebook profiles.

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1. Introduction: Who, Whom, Why and How?

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There are two responses to the question of whether science and technology can answer the ancient challenge Know Thyself and both of them are “no”. The first of these negative responses is rather trivial: they cannot because only the self-knowing-self can answer this challenge or not. Only the knowing self. Science and technology can merely assist, hinder or perhaps be neutral in this task, “adding up to zero”, bringing into it as many pluses as minuses. But can science and technology play this role at all? Could “self-knowledge” ever be one of their goals? Even if the final cause of the existence of science and technology—if there is one, and one can reasonably doubt that there is—has anything to do with the ancient commercial slogan of Pythia, it is that the first turn from “knowledge of nature” to “self-knowledge” in the history of Western thought, the Socratic turn, took place under the patronage and as part of the transfer of this slogan from the sacred space of the Oracle to the space of Philosophy. From its very inception Western science and its product in the form of technology followed a different course: the knowledge of what is objective, or nature, as opposed to the course of subjectivity, or what is human. In the very roots of our thinking, which would be difficult to cut off or uproot, there lies a difference between these two, a difference stemming from the perhaps most fundamental dualism of “subject” and...

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