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The Rise and Fall of Modern Man


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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6. The Evolution of Modern Man, Nietzsche’s Moustache, The Fittest Man and the Man Without Qualities, The Four Pillars of Modern Man


Newtonian dynamism finds its paradoxical and contradictory supplement in the second principle of thermodynamics: the increase in entropy. It states, against the idea of the autonomy of motion, that every order is costly and that the cost of order is a more general increase in disorder, that an increase in complexity requires an effort on the part of chaos which itself also increases and that fatigue and exhaustion are the only ultimate “goal” of progress and motion. Mechanics is optimistic, while the later thermodynamics plays a darker tune which ultimately leads to ontological nihilism and a lack of hope. Certainly, the discussion regarding the potential “heat death of the universe” also involves the question of its expansion—the winner will either be the principle of motion (provided that the expansion marks the defeat of the growing entropy) or the principle of the exhaustion of motion, a universal frost. However, it is also true that scientific cosmology introduces time scales of unprecedented orders of magnitude into the image of the universe and it gives a perspective of extreme duration and slow becoming to cosmic and natural processes. By doing so, it distances the question of the ultimate destiny of the cosmos from the dimension of human life so much that general eschatology loses its rationale. And even if the most intellectually flamboyant conceptions of the world put forward in the classical modern era (by Hegel, Comte and Marx) were still after some rational culmination in the form of a...

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