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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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4. Modern Man: The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

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As is well known, Know Thyself is a foundational and source slogan. It constitutes Western man, as he was born in the Greek world: reflectively focused on himself as such, the singular-man, the individual subject, separate and ultimately lonely. Someone who thinks about himself, knows himself. And yet, as we have shown, the Greeks did not understand individuality the way it was understood in modernity or by “we” the 21st century people, with all the qualifiers and doubts. They did not understand it as a separate truth; for Plato its truth was an idea and in the more vernacular sense it was that which is common and which constitutes the political unity of all citizens. Certainly, as Hegel demonstrates in his History of Philosophy: “With this the infinite subjectivity, the freedom of self-consciousness in Socrates breaks out. This freedom which is contained therein, the fact that consciousness is clearly present in all that it thinks, and must necessarily be at home with itself, although eternal and in and for itself, must as truly be produced through me; but this my part in it is only the formal activity. Thus Socrates’ principle is that man has to find from himself both the end and of his actions and the end of the world, and must attain to truth through himself.”9 Socrates was thus the first individual subject, the first “I think”, and it was he who committed the source act of self-emancipation and returned to the self, although...

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