Academic journal article Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry

Post-Political Subject: A Modernist Critique

Academic journal article Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry

Post-Political Subject: A Modernist Critique

Article excerpt

One of the misleading paths traveled so far in the history of western thought can be charted as a tendency to define subjectivity in terms of exteriority. From Descartes to Heidegger, Derrida to Foucault, philosophers have speciously defined subjectivity as an externally designated attribute. These thinkers engrossed on the subject's relation to the external world, but overlook the subject's relation to itself. What rational criterion in today's post-political traditions best defines the relation of self to self? Are concepts of freedom, truth and sovereignty any longer capable of standing as rational criterion for constructing a notion of subjectivity based on self-fashioning? My major focus in this essay is to find an alternative answer to the question of what constitutes the sovereignty of the subject. Rather than defining sovereignty through criteria imposed from without, I define subjective sovereignty through a notion of self-relational interiority. Here the freedom and truth a subject enjoys are figured as unactualized potentials proper to subjectivity rather than external concepts which must then be interiorized. A sovereign subject is its own cause; and knows how to use "forces of the outside" to form his interiority. My main aim is to take to task the traditional philosophical practice of defining subjective individuation through criteria that are external to one's inner, subjective potentials. For, our essential identity is a practice of self-fashioning from within these potentials rather than a construction borrowed from some positive social or political project. Within the tradition of western thought, I will (re)read Descartes and Heidegger, Derrida and Foucault, in order to point out what remains problematic in their approach to subjectivity. I will describe subjectivity as a non-subjectivity and show how non-subjectivity can be created by oneself without imagining any alterity.

Starting from Descartes, the sovereign subject is a representation of the thinking "I" (mind), which is separate and distinct from body. It is a rational agent which is free from the grip of the sensual body. For Descartes, conscious mind and extended body are different substances. Body, for him, is just what mind thinks--"I think, therefore I am." Mind possesses 'clear' and 'distinct' ideas or conscious states on the basis of which we evaluate the external world. So, for Descartes, subjectivity is an autonomous state.

Kant rejects the Cartesian model of sovereign subject which can independently know the truth of the world without the mediation of any external set of criteria--'universal laws.' For Kant, the autonomy of the subject depends on the self-legislation of the moral law giving rules that one gives to oneself: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." (1) Kant frees the subject from surrounding social contents, but locates it in a transcendental position. Kantian transcendental self was centered by a rational uniform set of universal principles that the subject held independent of social stuffs. Kant's challenge to Descartes is that subjectivity is not self-contained but works with transcendentally imposed, and thereby external, universal moral laws--categorical imperatives.

Contrary to this priority of the subject, Heidegger's goal is to show that there is no subject distinct, a-priori, from the external world of things, because Dasein is essentially Being-in-the-world. Therefore, Heidegger combines the separated subject and object with the concept of "Dasein" which is essentially a Being-in-the-world. And more humorously, Heidegger states that Being-in the world goes unnoticed in trite everydayness, but that we are conscious of it when we are really concerned about something significant. On these terms, subjectivity is an epistemic condition set by the exteriority. Derrida questions the distinction between other--exteriority and me--interiority and the impossibility of any solid essence that would make up one's being. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.