Department of Philosophy



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The Department of Philosophy Colloquium Series presents

Kurt Mertel (Northwestern University and Queen's University)

"Self-Appropriation vs. Self-Constitution: Social Philosophical Reflections on the Self-Relation"

THURSDAY, March 16th, 2017

WATSON HALL, ROOM 517 @ 4:00 p.m.

It is widely held that reflexivity is the defining feature of selfhood: the ability of the self to stand in a certain relation to itself. The question of how exactly to theorize this self-relation, however, has been the source of ongoing debate. In recent years, Kantian approaches such as Christine Korsgaard’s constitutivism and Richard Moran’s commitment view, have attempted to establish the priority of the agential over the epistemic self-relation, thereby re-orientating the debate away from metaphysics and epistemology towards ethics and moral psychology.

Despite the important progress they make towards a de-alienated and reified understanding of the self-relation, however, I argue that the Kantian paradigm is ultimately inadequate because its methodological individualism makes it incapable of accounting for the irreducibly social dimension of the self-relation and, therefore, of successfully making the transition from ethics to social and political philosophy. In other words, an adequate ontology of the self-relation is possible only as a social ontology. In order to motivate this thesis, I appeal to two examples that expose the “social deficit” of the Kantian approach: Frantz Fanon’s phenomenology of race/racism in “The Lived Experience of the Black” and the phenomenon of cultural collapse in Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope. I then go on to provide a sketch of an alternative approach based on the notion of “self-appropriation”, distinguishing it from Rahel Jaeggi’s use of the term in her critique of alienation, in the process.


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