On Being Human: The Problem of Selfhood

Dr Catherine Mary Brennan
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In an increasingly postnational world subject to the onslaught of globalisation, the notion of 'the human' acquires more and more relevance in that it offers the potential of a normative limit. Similarly, the advances in molecular genetics point to the importance of 'humanity' since what human beings are, 'by nature', is increasingly coming within the ambit of technological intervention. What is more, commodity capitalism treats human beings in a fetishistic manner as if they were 'things'. And the possibility of a 'posthuman' world involving the imbrication of humans and animals and humans and machines, propels us to consider our humanness.

The difficulty, though, is that social science disciplines like sociology can be found guilty of misanthropy in that they tend to regard the 'human condition' solely as the product of socio-historical processes. This being so, this paper points to the open-ended character of the 'human condition' because the full development of pre-existing human powers/capacities such as self-consciousness, reflexivity, emotionality and imagination is socially contingent.

The paper, in particular, focuses on the emergence of the ontologically sustained self onto which all historically evolving personal and social identities are grafted. The continuity of consciousness constitutive of the self is incarnated in the body and this bodily self-consciousness has an ineradicable relation to the lifeworld. Moreover, the ontologically sustained self is irreducible in that incarnate consciousness does not pertain to knowledge of an 'object'. Knowledge by the self of itself is a form of direct and incorrigible awareness. It is only with the acquisition of language that human beings move to full reflective consciousness, that is, the capacity to make the self the 'object' of consciousness. The possibility of reflective consciousness is also contingent upon the exercise of the imagination.

Keywords: Human, Ontologically Sustained Self, Bodily self-consciousness, Lifeworld, Reflective Consciousness, Imagination
Stream: Philosophy, Ethics, Consciousness
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Being Human, On

Dr Catherine Mary Brennan

Senior Lecturer in Sociology, School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, Massey University
New Zealand

I was born in Ireland. I was awarded a PhD in Sociology by The Australian National University in 1991. I came to Massey University in New Zealand in 1995. I teach Sociological Theory at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level in the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work.

My research interests have revolved, in the main, around Sociological Theory. (My book, "Max Weber on Power and Social Stratification, "was published in 1997.) I have over the past few years developed a major interest in moral philosophy. I am particularly interested in the relationship between moral philosophy and sociology. I understand myself to be working out of a framework that could be aptly described as moral realism.

Ref: H05P0238