The Self Under Siege

Lecture notes:

I. Current professional philosophy is “deflationary” in that it gives no answers to our larger questions, in particular our questions concerning our selves, our projects, our questions concerning our own selves, our projects, our place in society and in the world.

II. We have lost a vast resource of cultural meaning upon which we could draw to construct meaning for our lives. Meaning, in this large sense, can no longer be drawn unproblematic from religion. We have information, but not knowledge.

III. We all strive to have a “theory” or narrative about our selves., we want to have a meaningful story about our lives that affirms our humanity. In short, we want them to mean something.
The complex systems under which we live (economic, technological, global) have put the self”under siege”, overloaded with information and images that offer no meaning for us. We have difficulty making any sense out of our lives.

IV. Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche (the figures named the “masters of suspicion” by the French Philosopher Paul Ricoeur) developed powerful criticisms of out cultural mechanisms of meaning in particular religious meaning. Taken together, they raise the problem of “false consciousness”, the suspicion that our certainties and our beliefs are the products of hidden economic, psychological, and cultural motives.

V. They reflect and respond to the vast changes in out views of what it means to be human that come along with modernity and the economic and cultural system of capitalism. Marx exposes religion as a mask for vested economic interests, Freud shows its origins in infantile distress and fear, and Nietzsche raises the suspicion that it is a mechanism of power and deceit. After them, no simple faith is possible.

VI. They are the common possessions of our culture and their critiques belong to us. We have no choice except to engage them either consciously or unconsciously. They are the gate through which any relevant modern view of the self must pass. Thus, they mark the beginning of these considerations of the self under siege.

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