Preface from The Death of Sophia
By Israfel Sivad
My main area of philosophical interest is that of the dual nature of the term “subject” in which humans exist both as “metaphysical” and as political entities. Primarily, I am examining how the evolution of the metaphysical subject evolved simultaneously into the individuated subject’s subjection to a political authority. It is my thesis that the modern, metaphysical subject either gave rise to or developed as a result of the notion of the political subject’s placement within a state. Which came first – the metaphysical subject or the political subject – is of less consequence to me than the idea that it is necessary for one to view oneself as a distinct, metaphysical subject in order to be a proper political subject within the modern state.
It must be stated that from its early modern inception, the philosophical notion of subjectivity has confronted the question of insanity – albeit, at times, obliquely. Descartes, in his Meditations on First Philosophy, asks and responds to his own question, “But on what grounds could one deny that these hands and this entire body are mine? Unless I were to liken myself to the insane…” It seems to me that, in this instance, Descartes has missed his own point. The point is not that he himself is not insane and that, therefore, he can discount such a viewpoint and continue on his own line of questioning. Rather, the question is: If one person, at any moment in her life, on any grounds whatsoever (rational or irrational) – provided that those grounds correspond with her direct experience at that moment – can deny that she is constituted subjectively in the same manner that Descartes perceives himself to be, then might not Descartes’s own notion of subjectivity be in jeopardy?
This idea does not sit well with me. For, it appears that the concept of a thinking subject (either independent or intersubjective), given the trajectory of modern philosophy from Descartes through Kant to Husserl, is an experience so basic to the human milieu that it is the most primary fact that must be proven once one endeavors upon philosophical reflection. Therefore, if this notion is so primal to the philosophical project, then, since there are moments in people’s lives where this subjectivity appears to break down (and in contemporary times, through the aid of medication, be reconstituted), we must continue to analyze the rational foundation for the idea of subjectivity itself.