Toward a Genealogy of Individualism

Toward a Genealogy of Individualism

Toward a Genealogy of Individualism

Toward a Genealogy of Individualism

Synopsis

"This engaging interdisciplinary study examines the emergence, rise, and decline of individualism as a central feature of the Western world view. Building on research into the concept of self, Daniel Shanahan argues that the seeds of individualism - "that system of beliefs in which the individual becomes the final arbiter of truth" - were sown in ancient civilizations where subjective consciousness first became apparent. He then traces the evolution of the Western self-concept through its various historical representations: the "analog self" of the Greeks and Hebrews; the "authorized self" of Augustine and the Christian era; and the "empowered self" of modernity. In Shanahan's view, the current collapse of individualism reflects growing skepticism about the capacity of the self alone to determine truth. These doubts can be attributed in part to the inherent tensions of a self-referential epistemology and in part to the increasing alienation of the individual from modern society. In a final chapter, Shanahan draws on cross-cultural and anthropological studies of non-Western cultures to show that alternatives to the individualistic paradigm not only exist, but may already signal the advent of a new world view based on the recognition of human interdependence." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

As Suzanne Langer has said, how one formulates one's inquiries reveals one's attitude of mind. This book is no exception. However, it is perhaps somewhat exceptional in that its mode of inquiry and the attitude of mind it implies are not what some (perhaps many) who pick it up will expect from its topic or its title. For the treatment contained here falls outside the framework of one of the primary modes of the contemporary discussion of individualism, and the differing attitude of mind implied therein bears some explaining.

Contemporary discussion about individualism has taken place primarily in two modes. One is that of Steven Lukes in Individualism, David Riesman in Individualism Reconsidered, and Louis Dumont in Essays in Individualism. Each of these takes a somewhat literalist approach: individualism is treated as a given in the Western tradition, a set of social and philosophical attitudes that can be analyzed and discussed in more or less traditional terms, within the framework of what Thomas Kuhn might call "normal" inquiry. This mode includes both defense (Reisman), critique (Dumont), and objective analysis (Lukes), and it has its strong points, chief among them the ability to uncover and explore some of the features of individualism that inform our social and personal lives, especially the subtly accepted but often unarticulated beliefs that accompany the individualistic frame of mind.

However, it can be rightly said that this "normal" -- what we will call traditional -- mode of inquiry runs the risk of psychological naïveté: Lukes and Dumont, for instance, ignore Freud completely; the notion that individualism might have some relation to the unconscious . . .

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