Being Human: The Problem of Agency

Being Human: The Problem of Agency

Being Human: The Problem of Agency

Being Human: The Problem of Agency

Synopsis

The human subject is under threat from postmodernist thinking that has declared the "Death of God" and the "Death of Man." This book is a revindication of the concept of humanity, rejecting contemporary social theory that seeks to diminish human properties and powers. Archer argues that being human depends on an interaction with the real world in which practice takes primacy over language in the emergence of human self-consciousness, thought, emotionality and personal identity--all of which are prior to, and more basic than, our acquisition of a social identity.

Excerpt

The particular interest of the Enlightenment's 'model of man' is that it represents a being whose fundamental constitution owes nothing to society. It is this metaphysical individual which we have just seen late twentieth-century thought seeking to demolish and deconstruct by dissolving him as the solute in society's conversation. Although I maintained that some kind of human animal was generally snatched back out of the jaws of textualism, it was one whose rugged individualism had been battered out of him, leaving a frail social dependant, prone to disaggregate into a plurality of discursive 'quasi-selves'.

Modernity's man was much more like the Clint Eastwood of the eighteenth century, the lone stranger who walked tall through the townships of the western world: the man from nowhere who arrived on the scene ready-made, imposed the order which he taciturnly deemed justified, and strode offi into the sunset, unchanged by his encounter. The major question about this stranger was why he should have any concern, however temporary, for the well-being of others who were never discovered to be constitutive of himself? Well, if the justification of moral action in Westerns boiled down to 'a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do', the Enlightenment did not entirely disagree with the sentiment, for Modernity's man had to be rational in his doings and was merely expected to be a good deal more articulate in supplying reasons for his moral and political actions.

Rationality not sociality was humankind's distinguishing feature. From the beginning, the paradigm of rational action was one of rational choice in a weak sense. Modernity's man was necessarily a chooser, because he was no longer embedded in, let alone constituted by, tradition. As has often been noted, once tradition comes under scrutiny, which implies an alternative stance from which to scrutinise it, its binding power, which rested upon its unquestioned status, has gone for ever. Such durability as it may show is a matter of choice, not necessity, and the chooser is now a diffierentiated individual rather than a member of a culturally homogenous collectivity. In tribalism what was indisputable was belonging . . .

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