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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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5. The Scientific Foundations of Modern Man

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One may claim, with little controversy, that the appearance of early modern subjectivity was only possible due to the leap made in science and technology—they facilitated the arrival of the idea of plastic transgression and breaking the mold of form which dominates the imagination of Francis Bacon. According to a competitive thesis, forcefully propagated by Hegel, we owe this modern guiding principle of unlimited, free and self-standing subjectivity to Christianity. However, without questioning its significance, I think that other events turned out to be more significant. Those events took place at the beginning of the modern era when a series of breakthroughs in the scientific knowledge of the world not only changed the cosmological paradigm but also transformed the way man understood himself by providing an indubitable proof for the fact that science can significantly assist man in the task of self-understanding. This transformation involves a takeover of infinity: the construal of self-sufficiency and autonomy as proper to the man-creator as an entity no longer subject to any boundary or top-down measure (the first to stumble upon this idea was Pico Della Mirandola). In order to become himself in the sense of modern humanity, man had to take over God’s power of creation (including self-creation). He had to become a creator, for which Christianity did not provide sufficient premises.

The Copernican turn was at first glance far from beneficial, it was even humiliating for man since it threw him off the cozy and distinguished place...

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