Monday, November 14, 2011

"Subjectivity, Selfhood and Agency in the Arabic and Latin Traditions," Uppsala University, Sweden, August 15-18, 2012.

Subjectivity, consciousness, self-awareness, and the intentional aspects of perception and apprehension are popular topics in the contemporary philosophy of mind. A common thread amongst the various approaches to them has been dissatisfaction with the Cartesian paradigm of a self-constituted subject that is perfectly free in its volitions and epistemically transparent to itself, typically presented as standard for the modern age. Working from the opposite end, historians of philosophy and ethicists have noted that ancient and medieval ethics operated in a strikingly different understanding of self. Far from subscribing to the Cartesian notion, pre-modern moral philosophy generally took its cue from the assumption that human selfhood is socially construed. Our instinctive apprehension and evaluation of reality has as much to do with our upbringing as it does with our conscious acts of cognition and evaluation.

It is in the Middle Ages that these two lines of thought converge. Historians of philosophy have noted that Descartes’ understanding of subjectivity did not develop in a vacuum; rather, it represents the culmination of medieval debates, which in turn build on ancient precedents. At the same time, the virtue ethics tradition underwent significant transformations, thanks in part to pressures arising from religious and legal considerations. These include a preoccupation with the freedom of choice and one’s culpability for the character one acquires.


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