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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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10. That which Returns

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Despite all the scientific and technological progress, all the changes that have been brought about by it and all the facets of our human civilization that are governed by it, despite all the discoveries and demystifications, breakthroughs and deconstructions, the last of the three great riddles—of body, mind and the self—still remains mysterious and as unsusceptible to the impact of science and technology as ever. It seems that wherever the right conditions for reflexive human individuality arise, albeit exclusive (and regardless of the question of whether there could ever arise social circumstances in which genuine and deep individuality would be denied to no one, as was Marx’s ardent belief), there is always some dimension in which it assumes some universally communicable shape and mechanism and some reoccurring form. Perhaps in the space of human individuality, like nowhere else, the truth of all becoming is eternal return: something here is not subject to change across various contexts. This is why we always have the impression that, despite all the differences in time and place, some formulae of self-knowledge are entirely transparent and intelligible to us, that some immutable mechanisms of being-oneself, self-creation and self-contemplation are close by, understandable and within our grasp, even after millennia.

There is nothing in the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, including the first book which is the author’s extensive self-presentation, that would not be transparent for us both on the surface and in depth. Of course, there is an extremely clear...

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