Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Death of Man

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Death of Man

Article excerpt

The machine has dropped the driver.

Horkheimer1

This essay elaborates a thesis in contemporary philosophy, still much neglected, but which, nevertheless, challenges the very foundation of the last four hundred years of Western culture. This thesis, which I have called "The Death Of Man," has hardly penetrated the leading forces of contemporary thought, but, if it were seriously appropriated, would transform the analysis of the humanities, the social sciences, and perhaps even the normal philosophy of the natural sciences, at least in Anglo-Saxon culture. I shall try to elaborate this development under the following headings: A New Obituary; The Appearance and Disappearance Of The Subject; The Authorless Text; Locus For Play; and Elements Of Anti-Humanism.

A New Obituary

Over the last decade there has arisen a new theme in modern Europe, especially in modern France, which has spread gradually, and even begins to have its impact in Anglo-Saxon cultures. Anglo-Saxon intellectual societies, with strong roots in British Empiricism, are frequently the inheritors of European ideas; German idealism, Marx, Freud, Phenomenology, Existentialism, and more recently Post-Modernism and Deconstructionism. There is an old saying in philosophy, the validity of which I must let the reader be the judge, to the effect that "every good idea when it is dead, goes to America." So one may be assured that, if there is anything to this theme, we will hear more of it in the future rather than less. Under the strong, although not exclusive, influence of Michel Foucault, the French have proclaimed, the death of man, or what Foucault also calls "The Anthropological Sleep." Consequently, this essay is an attempt to write and discuss our own obituary, an activity which most of mankind never has the good fortune to perform. The essential proposal is that Western thought, for the last four hundred years, has given privileged and inappropriate place to the primacy of the subject, and this context and episteme, this guiding thread of Western culture, is now over. Consequently, man is dead! There is no primacy of the subject, in fact there is no subject. For those who may be amazed by such a suggestion, let me repeat it loud and clear, there is no subject! Foucault writes,

For the threshold of modernity is situated not by the attempt to apply objective methods to the study of man, but rather by the constitution of an empirico-transcendental doublet which was called man.2

While this may have been the threshold, the very beginning of modernity, and while such philosophical anthropology may have dominated our day, its primacy and authority have now come to an end, at which point there arises post-modern culture, in which we live, whether we realize it or not. There is no subject, no self, no human essence, no focusing the world on the centering human being, there is no "I" whether finite or transcendental of supreme importance and at the heart of things. The self as the central reality became the grand illusion of our time. Man is dead! Little wonder that Joan Stambaugh suggests that the question of the self is "the supreme philosophical question,"3 or that Gary Brent Madison can write, "The question of personal identity is indeed the central question of philosophy."4 This arrangement of things, to which we have all become so accustomed, "is disintegrating before our eyes." Foucault continues,

To all those who still wish to talk about man, about his reign or his liberation, to all those who still ask themselves questions about what man is in his essence, to all those who wish to take him as their starting point in their attempts to reach the truth, to all those who, on the other hand refer all knowledge back to the truths of man himself, to all those who refuse to formalize without anthropologizing, who refuse to anthropologize without demystifying, who refuse to think without immediately thinking that it is man who is thinking, to all those warped and twisted forms of reflection we can only answer with a philosophical laugh-which means, to a certain extent, a silent one. …

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