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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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2. The Subject between Extremes

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It seems that everyone who has any experience with knowing himself knows that it is an unlimited, unclear and rather hopeless endeavor. As to the ontological definitiveness of its object, the knower oscillates between a sense of immediate access to it, “himself as such” (after all, who knows better who I am than I do?), and its mediation by specific and not easily graspable or definable concepts, structures and narratives which constitute the discourse of self-reflexivity; between the intuitive substantiality or presence of “selfhood” and its empirical transience and elusiveness, its non-obviousness. Descartes relied overly on the first and made it into an independent substance; the final consequence of the latter was drawn by Hume who negated the reality of the “I”.

By the same token, the more concrete expressions which I can ascribe to my “I” sometimes take a somewhat definite form and sometimes dissolve into indistinctness and hesitation. I am a given this, I possess such and such properties: I am this body, a human being, a Pole and a white middle class heterosexual man. I am also a mind, a desire, a combination of feelings and a certain malleable character. It happens that I think. Sometimes I think about myself. Sometimes I think in a focused and problem oriented way. And sometimes I think in the opposite way, dispersed and carefree, associationally. I often experience tiredness and my thoughts lose their contours, they flow one into the next in an uncontrollable and confusing...

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