Transcendence: On Self-Determination and Cosmopolitanism

Transcendence: On Self-Determination and Cosmopolitanism

Transcendence: On Self-Determination and Cosmopolitanism

Transcendence: On Self-Determination and Cosmopolitanism


Notions of self-determination are central to modern politics, yet the relationship between the self-determination of individuals and peoples has not been adequately addressed, nor adequately allied to cosmopolitanism. Transcendence seeks to rectify this by offering an original theory of self and society. It highlights overlooked affinities between existentialism and pragmatism and compares figures central to these traditions. The book's guiding thread is a unique model of the social development of the self that is indebted to the pragmatist George Herbert Mead. Drawing on the work of thinkers from both sides of the Atlantic- Hegel, William James, Dewey, Du Bois, Sartre, Marcuse, Bourdieu, Rorty, Neil Gross, and Jean-Baker Miller- and according supporting roles to Adam Smith, Habermas, Herder, Charles Taylor, and Simone de Beauvoir, Aboulafia combines European and American traditions of self-determination and cosmopolitanism in a new and persuasive way.


As a matter of fact, the pragmatic theory of intelligence means that
the function of mind is to project new and more complex ends—to
free experience from routine and from caprice…. [T]he doctrine
that intelligence develops within the sphere of action for the sake of
possibilities not yet given is the opposite of a doctrine of mechanical
efficiency…. [A]ction directed to ends to which the agent has not
previously been attached inevitably carries with it a quickened and
enlarged spirit. A pragmatic intelligence is a creative intelligence, not
a routine mechanic.

—John Dewey, “The Need for a Recovery of Philosophy”

In the modern world there has been an increasing expectation that individuals, in virtue of being persons, have a right to determine the course of their own lives. Indeed, one of the remarkable achievements of modernity is the widespread ideal that not only individuals but peoples, nations, and states have a “right” to self-determination. A pivotal figure here is Johann Gottfried von Herder, who managed to transfer Pietist beliefs regarding the sanctity of individuals to cultures.

In all the civil establishments from China to Rome, in all the varieties of their
political constitutions, in every one of their inventions, whether of peace or
war, and even in all the faults and barbarities that nations have committed,
we discern the grand law of nature: let man be man; let him mould his condi
tion according as to himself shall seem best…. Thus we every where find
mankind possessing and exercising the right of forming themselves to a kind
of humanity, as soon as they have discerned it.

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