The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity


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Indeed the widespread recognition of the unique and irreplaceable role of the nervous system in mediating organismal unity has constituted an empirical pillar for philosophical conceptions of bodily integration that underwrite clinical ethics in death determinations [ 10 ]. As a fundamental capacity for goal seeking, integration is crucial to human flourishing. Hence, impairing these mechanisms can be expected to diminish this capacity and so evoke normative concern. Cognitive diseases, as mentioned, are especially prone to impairments of these mechanisms, and interventions reproducing effects of the cognitive disease states, either whole or in part, are likely to deleteriously influence them.

Accordingly, they are likely to be physical conditions that would be ethically probative. With death, mechanisms of integration are no longer operative, and organismal unity is thereby destroyed. As a conceptual position universally recognized across religious, cultural, and secular scholarship [ 11 ], the loss of all organismal unity constitutes a probative, ethical imperative of ultimate and universal significance. This is also to say that while the events of death and the organismal mechanisms that work to unify the organism are physically instantiated, it is in view of the conceptual validity of organismal unity that the normative imperative is validated.

By extension, factors that diminish but do not wholly void bodily integration also lessen individual well-being. A reduced capacity for intentional self-action, that is, a hallmark of several widely prevalent cognitive diseases, for example, diminishes autonomy and the satisfaction of individual need. Disturbances of self, for instance, traditionally mark the diagnostic evaluation of the schizophrenia patient [ 12 ], seen in an abnormal sense of ownership of the body, loss of ego boundary, and confused sense of self-agency.

Such reduced phenomenological capacities have been shown to have their counterpart in physical features of cognition. Imaging modalities reveal, for example, a consistently high correspondence between fMRI modules and those of diffusion imaging in normal individuals, whereas those from schizophrenia patients exhibit both decreases in overall modularity and in correspondence of networks [ 13 ].

These diseases illustrate that not only the absence but also the partial impairment of physical processes for organismal integration significantly impact individual flourishing. Taken together, meta-principles premised on disease and notions of malfunction have a practical but restricted role for evolving neuroethical praxis in the absence of philosophical judgments on global, physical attributes of the individual, of which the integrative and unitive dimension is paramount. Normative conclusions that relate to a global organizational order, on the other hand, resemble ethical approaches that generalize to the individual as a whole, that is, not as an epistemological abstraction only but as a metaphysical conclusion on the natural reality of the individual, who is epistemically evident.

They are thus also distinguished from an ethical pragmatism that is contingent to notions of disease as malfunction. Such holistic routes to metaethics typically value the individual as a normative locus that is operative in the world. By virtue of an intrinsic metaphysical unity, they then extend value contingency to the whole of the individual. Neo-Thomistic developments in the twentieth century, like that of Etienne Gilson [ 14 ], for example, draw normative value from metaphysical conclusions, prioritizing the notion of presence as action in philosophies of being.

The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity

As a metaethical principle, this dimension appeals to a dual normative contingency present within the individual. The personalist subject is considered, first, as an agent of ethical activity and, second, as an end for the pursuit of the good, that is, as a value contingent locus. Here the appeal is chiefly theoretical and conditioned by the analysis, since bridging these contingencies is the experience of morality in action. Kant, significantly, adopts a strikingly similar perspective, identifying the individual exclusively as an end and not as a means.

His ethical analysis, accordingly, experientially and superficially, resembles ethical approaches that are phenomenologically and functionally driven. For ethical praxis this is significant for linking all dimensions of the individual to an integral reality that is phenomenologically expressed. In fact, the absence of such a unifying dynamic leaves ethical praxis inchoate, without either a contingent locus for value or a medium for its execution. Accordingly, the identification of the subject as a metaethical principle thereby extends value to the cognitive dynamics and physical organization of the neural architecture also.

In other words, by invoking the unity of the uniquely human subject, the metaphysical subject identifies in the neural operation a normative terrain. The reality of the metaphysical subject is evident through the objective manifestation of the phenomenal subject; that is, it is a reality apparent through epistemological inference. This role is apparent first in a unified organizational order that is operationally confined, which is to say that the metaphysical subject is seen through the reality of organismal integration.

Its dynamic unity, for instance, is a fundamental feature shaped by evolutionary forces [ 17 ]. Indeed, it is generally recognized that material reality is subject to immaterial priors, for example, organizational principles. Recognition of these externally imposed orders can be seen in the need to invoke non-causal explananda in natural design, like the accounts used to explain the design of flagellar motors [ 19 ].

These immaterial determinants are even more apparent in the case of neural operation, where dynamic brain activity is necessarily linked to a system-wide network that subsumes regional activity to global performance [ 20 ]. Because such metaphysical determinants are only epistemically evident, however, empirically elucidating the physical mechanisms of integration becomes key to a principled neuroethical praxis.

In consequence, praxis remains subject to both empirical and philosophy of science accounts for its evolution. For integration, the reconciliation of these accounts has been the subject of much debate. Although the reality of integration is evident in the natural world, its conceptual articulation through philosophy of science accounts has restricted the choice of hypothetical presuppositions used to define empirical resources.


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This has exposed current accounts of integration to factual inconsistencies and delayed the evolution of more realistic and comprehensive frameworks. According to this understanding of integration, ethical practice is contingent on the empirical demonstration of an irreversible loss of the capacity to maintain cohesive and coordinative function, the causal origin of which is identified with the brain. Loss of brain function is therefore equated with loss of the capacity.

This conception now constitutes the philosophical linchpin for what has become a global clinical praxis. Probative actions, in consequence, such as the removal of vital organs, are defined in reference to the loss of a single organ, the brain. Its validity, however, is challenged by a number of empirical observations following a diagnosis of brain failure, including continued heart and whole body circulation [ 22 ], wound healing, temperature regulation, and even pregnancies [ 23 ].

The challenge to the somatic integrity thesis, in fact, retrieves a systemic notion of integration, where the source of integration is understood to be delocalized and distributed within and throughout the body rather than being confined to a single anatomical region. Such a conception of unity substantially differs from the strict causal notion of imposed control used to achieve an aggregate coordinative order.

The empirical contraindications thus evidence a form of integration that more closely resembles an integral unity shared equally by all material components and processes of the body, that is , a form of integration more closely corresponding with the metaphysical notion of unity invoked by Wojtyla. This altered conception has the important normative consequence of valuing the individual as a whole.

Importantly, it reveals how the understanding of normative value is itself influenced by the epistemic order of the material body. Considerable neuroscientific evidence favoring a systemic model of bodily integration has in fact now been gathered, particularly with regard to motor dynamics. Existing studies reveal, for instance, that peripheral and central nervous system activities mutually and reciprocally contribute to integration at multiple levels. These largely plastic influences have been shown to be progressively and hierarchically scaled within the nervous system to 1 shape inward and outward flow between the brain and body, 2 generate stable representations of bodily interaction with the world, and 3 yield a dynamic, bodily integrated performance unit.

The generation of the bodily percept appears to unify the body for performance [ 25 ]; that is, the percept is generated to unify action as originating from a single source. Accordingly, the dynamic nature of this process precludes the functional segregation of the events of the body from those of the brain. The need to achieve unity in performance, accordingly, implies that the perception of the world through the body requires the integration that is effected by the dynamical and reciprocal relations between the body and brain, that is , a delocalized source of unity , which relates the body to the world and which is fundamental to its interaction with it.

Nonetheless , the delocalization that distinctively characterizes systemic forms leaves unexplained the presence of goal-directed behavior that is essential to autonomous living and the relation of such behavior to the mediation of systemic unity. Notions of integration premised on a systemic model, notably, fail to account for higher order i. This is also to say that while systemic models are consonant with the holistic character of living organisms [ 19 ], they do not account for autonomous behavior [ 26 ] and so are unable to account for a material realization of ontology.

Such an explanation is crucial for neurobioethics in order to identify an empirically salient source of material processes undergirding ontology and structuring a systemic model of integration. In particular , they yield the most advanced expression of physical reality , the subjective entity , which , accordingly , is constituted as a metaphysical reality , as noted by Wojtyla. Indeed, neuroscientific evidence on the phenomenal subject is consonant with a role for their metaphysical evocation. Critically, empirical studies indicate that higher-order properties emerge from the corpus as a whole and that these properties implement organismal integration, here understood as an outcome of intentional, goal-oriented behavior.

Accordingly, the integral unity of the individual is directly attributed to the autonomy of the intentional subject. In other words, higher-order properties emerge from the body as a whole where they unify the body through intended global actions, including self-identity, agency, and consciousness, and so mediate a delocalized, systemic mode of integration. The need for the emergence of these properties from the body can be seen in the case of self-identity and understood as an ability to differentiate the physical breadth that is subsumed by processes belonging to itself from those of the contiguous environment.

An organism like Caenorhabditis elegans , for example, must identify this range through the dynamical operation of its neural architecture [ 30 ], which regulates individual motor movements in reference to this global activity.

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Similarly, the ability to initiate actions by oneself requires that these be stably linked to the self-percept [ 25 ] now known to entail a neural dynamic termed the motor image [ 31 ]. As currently understood the motor image constitutes a covert action undertaken only mentally and as a simulation of a non-executed action.

That is, the motor image contains the feature elements of a motor trajectory and so contains the projected series of motions that are prospective for execution. Insights drawn from the motor image reveal that bodily representation is a key feature that frames the elements of the plan as teleologically oriented, that is, one that inscribes actions linking an agent with an objective destination.

So inscribed, actions are thereby executed as a coherent and coordinated dynamical ensemble, which have a causal origin linked to the whole individual. Accordingly, features of the motor plan entail mutual though distinct contributions from peripheral as well as central origins, underscoring the essential unity of dynamic performance even in its covert formulation, and directing it toward a unique goal.

Such judgments thus evoke definitions of normality and deviation that are locally applied to the affected zone. Normative judgments, on the other hand, must be elicited on the empirical judgments to ascertain whether these constitute circumstances that are undesirable or that diminish the capacity for flourishing.


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Normative conclusions, accordingly, constitute value judgments that are meted out with respect to an objectively accepted value standard for an empirically circumscribed zone. In adopting an analogous approach to the neurobioethics of interventions, there is thus appropriated an empirical methodology used to delimit the range of processes for which normative conclusions may be drawn.

In a Boorsian [ 8 ] conception of disease as malfunction, notably, disease features are highly territorialized in their causal structure and zone of influence. Value judgments that are contingent to such narrowly defined empirical assessments, therefore, are restricted to normative judgments on physiological normality, that is, they are primarily conditioned by the normative valuation given to attributions of functional adequacy. In bodily domains outside the nervous system, such as the liver, and even in some brain-based regions such as stroke-related lesions, this value attribution is essentially valid.

Accordingly, normative judgments that are narrowly defined by a functionalist interpretation of the disease state, and the ethical praxis that devolves from this understanding, are insufficient for evolving metaethical principles suited to cognitive intervention. Functionalist approaches to cognitive diseases thus lend themselves with difficulty to the elaboration of a comprehensive, neurobioethical praxis, due to the broader organismal role with which the nervous system is associated. This broader role pertains, minimally, to capacities for unifying organismal operation and goal orientation, that is, integral and teleological features intrinsic to the ontological status of the organisms as a whole.

Indeed the widespread recognition of the unique and irreplaceable role of the nervous system in mediating organismal unity has constituted an empirical pillar for philosophical conceptions of bodily integration that underwrite clinical ethics in death determinations [ 10 ]. As a fundamental capacity for goal seeking, integration is crucial to human flourishing. Hence, impairing these mechanisms can be expected to diminish this capacity and so evoke normative concern.

Cognitive diseases, as mentioned, are especially prone to impairments of these mechanisms, and interventions reproducing effects of the cognitive disease states, either whole or in part, are likely to deleteriously influence them. Accordingly, they are likely to be physical conditions that would be ethically probative.

With death, mechanisms of integration are no longer operative, and organismal unity is thereby destroyed. As a conceptual position universally recognized across religious, cultural, and secular scholarship [ 11 ], the loss of all organismal unity constitutes a probative, ethical imperative of ultimate and universal significance. This is also to say that while the events of death and the organismal mechanisms that work to unify the organism are physically instantiated, it is in view of the conceptual validity of organismal unity that the normative imperative is validated.

By extension, factors that diminish but do not wholly void bodily integration also lessen individual well-being. A reduced capacity for intentional self-action, that is, a hallmark of several widely prevalent cognitive diseases, for example, diminishes autonomy and the satisfaction of individual need. Disturbances of self, for instance, traditionally mark the diagnostic evaluation of the schizophrenia patient [ 12 ], seen in an abnormal sense of ownership of the body, loss of ego boundary, and confused sense of self-agency.

Such reduced phenomenological capacities have been shown to have their counterpart in physical features of cognition. Imaging modalities reveal, for example, a consistently high correspondence between fMRI modules and those of diffusion imaging in normal individuals, whereas those from schizophrenia patients exhibit both decreases in overall modularity and in correspondence of networks [ 13 ]. These diseases illustrate that not only the absence but also the partial impairment of physical processes for organismal integration significantly impact individual flourishing.

Taken together, meta-principles premised on disease and notions of malfunction have a practical but restricted role for evolving neuroethical praxis in the absence of philosophical judgments on global, physical attributes of the individual, of which the integrative and unitive dimension is paramount. Normative conclusions that relate to a global organizational order, on the other hand, resemble ethical approaches that generalize to the individual as a whole, that is, not as an epistemological abstraction only but as a metaphysical conclusion on the natural reality of the individual, who is epistemically evident.

They are thus also distinguished from an ethical pragmatism that is contingent to notions of disease as malfunction. Such holistic routes to metaethics typically value the individual as a normative locus that is operative in the world.

The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity. - Free Online Library

By virtue of an intrinsic metaphysical unity, they then extend value contingency to the whole of the individual. Neo-Thomistic developments in the twentieth century, like that of Etienne Gilson [ 14 ], for example, draw normative value from metaphysical conclusions, prioritizing the notion of presence as action in philosophies of being. As a metaethical principle, this dimension appeals to a dual normative contingency present within the individual.

The personalist subject is considered, first, as an agent of ethical activity and, second, as an end for the pursuit of the good, that is, as a value contingent locus. Here the appeal is chiefly theoretical and conditioned by the analysis, since bridging these contingencies is the experience of morality in action. Kant, significantly, adopts a strikingly similar perspective, identifying the individual exclusively as an end and not as a means. His ethical analysis, accordingly, experientially and superficially, resembles ethical approaches that are phenomenologically and functionally driven.

For ethical praxis this is significant for linking all dimensions of the individual to an integral reality that is phenomenologically expressed. In fact, the absence of such a unifying dynamic leaves ethical praxis inchoate, without either a contingent locus for value or a medium for its execution. Accordingly, the identification of the subject as a metaethical principle thereby extends value to the cognitive dynamics and physical organization of the neural architecture also.

In other words, by invoking the unity of the uniquely human subject, the metaphysical subject identifies in the neural operation a normative terrain. The reality of the metaphysical subject is evident through the objective manifestation of the phenomenal subject; that is, it is a reality apparent through epistemological inference. This role is apparent first in a unified organizational order that is operationally confined, which is to say that the metaphysical subject is seen through the reality of organismal integration.

Its dynamic unity, for instance, is a fundamental feature shaped by evolutionary forces [ 17 ]. Indeed, it is generally recognized that material reality is subject to immaterial priors, for example, organizational principles. Recognition of these externally imposed orders can be seen in the need to invoke non-causal explananda in natural design, like the accounts used to explain the design of flagellar motors [ 19 ]. These immaterial determinants are even more apparent in the case of neural operation, where dynamic brain activity is necessarily linked to a system-wide network that subsumes regional activity to global performance [ 20 ].

Because such metaphysical determinants are only epistemically evident, however, empirically elucidating the physical mechanisms of integration becomes key to a principled neuroethical praxis. In consequence, praxis remains subject to both empirical and philosophy of science accounts for its evolution. For integration, the reconciliation of these accounts has been the subject of much debate. Although the reality of integration is evident in the natural world, its conceptual articulation through philosophy of science accounts has restricted the choice of hypothetical presuppositions used to define empirical resources.

This has exposed current accounts of integration to factual inconsistencies and delayed the evolution of more realistic and comprehensive frameworks. According to this understanding of integration, ethical practice is contingent on the empirical demonstration of an irreversible loss of the capacity to maintain cohesive and coordinative function, the causal origin of which is identified with the brain. Loss of brain function is therefore equated with loss of the capacity. This conception now constitutes the philosophical linchpin for what has become a global clinical praxis.

Probative actions, in consequence, such as the removal of vital organs, are defined in reference to the loss of a single organ, the brain. Its validity, however, is challenged by a number of empirical observations following a diagnosis of brain failure, including continued heart and whole body circulation [ 22 ], wound healing, temperature regulation, and even pregnancies [ 23 ].

The challenge to the somatic integrity thesis, in fact, retrieves a systemic notion of integration, where the source of integration is understood to be delocalized and distributed within and throughout the body rather than being confined to a single anatomical region. Such a conception of unity substantially differs from the strict causal notion of imposed control used to achieve an aggregate coordinative order. The empirical contraindications thus evidence a form of integration that more closely resembles an integral unity shared equally by all material components and processes of the body, that is , a form of integration more closely corresponding with the metaphysical notion of unity invoked by Wojtyla.

This altered conception has the important normative consequence of valuing the individual as a whole. Importantly, it reveals how the understanding of normative value is itself influenced by the epistemic order of the material body. Considerable neuroscientific evidence favoring a systemic model of bodily integration has in fact now been gathered, particularly with regard to motor dynamics. Existing studies reveal, for instance, that peripheral and central nervous system activities mutually and reciprocally contribute to integration at multiple levels.

These largely plastic influences have been shown to be progressively and hierarchically scaled within the nervous system to 1 shape inward and outward flow between the brain and body, 2 generate stable representations of bodily interaction with the world, and 3 yield a dynamic, bodily integrated performance unit.

The generation of the bodily percept appears to unify the body for performance [ 25 ]; that is, the percept is generated to unify action as originating from a single source. Accordingly, the dynamic nature of this process precludes the functional segregation of the events of the body from those of the brain. The need to achieve unity in performance, accordingly, implies that the perception of the world through the body requires the integration that is effected by the dynamical and reciprocal relations between the body and brain, that is , a delocalized source of unity , which relates the body to the world and which is fundamental to its interaction with it.

Nonetheless , the delocalization that distinctively characterizes systemic forms leaves unexplained the presence of goal-directed behavior that is essential to autonomous living and the relation of such behavior to the mediation of systemic unity. Notions of integration premised on a systemic model, notably, fail to account for higher order i.

The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity

This is also to say that while systemic models are consonant with the holistic character of living organisms [ 19 ], they do not account for autonomous behavior [ 26 ] and so are unable to account for a material realization of ontology. Such an explanation is crucial for neurobioethics in order to identify an empirically salient source of material processes undergirding ontology and structuring a systemic model of integration.

In particular , they yield the most advanced expression of physical reality , the subjective entity , which , accordingly , is constituted as a metaphysical reality , as noted by Wojtyla. Indeed, neuroscientific evidence on the phenomenal subject is consonant with a role for their metaphysical evocation.

Critically, empirical studies indicate that higher-order properties emerge from the corpus as a whole and that these properties implement organismal integration, here understood as an outcome of intentional, goal-oriented behavior.

The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity
The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity
The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity
The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity
The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity
The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity
The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity The Era of the Individual: A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity

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