Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Back again

Been too busy at work to write in the past few days. Meanwhile, my head has been exploding with ideas. Its time to bang some of ‘em out before there’s any cranial damage:

1) Recapturing the human. The proposal is that contemporary European anti-humanism (which has led to the theoretical cul-de-sac of a negative nihilism - language gets in the way of everything, human subjectivity is an illusion, machinic production undermines any coherent notion of agency and intervention etc) – an agenda which by definition cannot produce a coherent political philosophy – is challenged by a new humanism (yes I know we’ve had this kind of thing before).

So where would this new humanism begin?

On a conceptual level, in a bid to begin with connectivity (we are all humans), we need to recognise conceptual invariants. These are quite different to universals or essences – rather they are the concept-shells which embrace difference (in fact, difference is only possible on the basis of these concept-shells).

If we have to relate this to the vocabulary of European philosophy, these conceptual invariants are a bit like a transcendental layer of conceptuality – except the transcendental deals in conceptual invariants rather than essences.

I propose nine conceptual invariants as the basis of a new humanism:

  • Self
  • Community
  • World
  • Expression
  • Ethics
  • Spirit
  • History
  • Memory
  • Desire

My contention is that all human communities share these conceptual categories. More fundamentally, all human communities require a specific expression of these categories precisely in order to be human communities. In other words, there is no westernism or Occidentalism within these categories. A philosophically-based anthropology would therefore begin with these nine categories, analysing each human community on the basis of how these concepts are played out in existential real-time. The key point methodologically is that each human community itself embodies difference: there would therefore be no definitive answer for each concept. Instead, the methodology would seek a field of interpretations that orient the different expressions of each concept in a certain direction, therefore elaborating normative responses and the deviances that in turn respond to normativity.

In other words, this new humanism would be mindful of language, translation, the text etc., but it would not go so far as to say that all concepts are bounded by the specificity of language and the sign. At least, the nine conceptual invariants that form the transcendental layer of anthropological analysis are meta-concepts that are not subject to linguistic distortion. So the argument that the ‘self’ for instance is a western philosophical concept cannot wash: the new humanism would respond by saying that each society constructs a notion of self (defines the human individual and transmits this across time via socialisation/internalisation).

Without this return to a philosophical (and phenomenological) anthropology, anti-humanism will continue to dominate the European philosophy scene, and therefore the academy will remain mute and disengaged from contemporary geo-political realities.


zerowan 11:21 pm  

Your passion is inspired. Perhaps self, community, world, are fractals of an unrealized unity in all things. I think that we are still looking at "shadows on cave walls" building meaining from a world of effects, overlooking first causes.

"Know thyself..."


pelegius_the_heretic 7:27 pm  

Jeremy Weate is my hero. This was the case in 1998 when he introduced a young boy in South Texas to philosophy and is even more so now that I read this excellent entry on anti-humanism, one of the most serious threats in contemporary philosophical, religious and political culture.

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