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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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3. Genesis: The Socratic-Platonic Deception or The Irrepressible Need for Immortality

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Perhaps it was all about an ordinary deception from the beginning. There’s room for much abuse here. First of all, the self as such (auto to auto): does it exist at all? What is it? And what is it for? Second of all, there is the “knowledge”. Assuming that there is something to be known at all, can it actually be known? Can there be an ultimate proper answer to the question of who I am? Or, are we being snared, trapped or led astray, into an area of subjectivism without criterion? “Know Thyself” began its career atop the gates of the temple of an oracle who issued prophesies in the form of riddling and ambiguous, if not straightforwardly nonsensical, utterances. Can one think of any worse credential than this? At the same time, it is obvious that the slogan itself rests on an ambiguity—it is meant to be a promise as much as an initial condition. It suggests that one will know one’s deepest truth on one hand, and that one will not know it unless one knows himself first, on the other. Incidentally, it is usually cautiously assumed that it referred to the modus operandi of the Oracle itself rather than the general call for self-contemplation. Be that as it may, the titular principle already turns out to be unclear and rather sly at its source. What does it actually mean that we are encouraged to know ourselves by magic and its mumbled language of...

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