Giving Descartes his Due

In Desire, Dialectic, and Otherness: An Essay on Origins, recently reprinted by Wipf & Stock, William Desmond concedes that “the modern self has been excessively subjectivized” (45). But he thinks that, for all its faults, Cartesianism focused attention on an inescapable philosophical problem:

“The Cartesian view has the merit that it brings out the inescapability of the problem of self and self-consciousness. We do not address the issue adequately if our strategy is simply to dissolve the Cartesian problem, to show that there is really no problem at all. We may criticize the answer of Cartesianism, the presuppositions of its whole approach, even the adequacy of the way it formulates the problem, but we can still hold that the problem of the self is one of the fundamental problems. We must acknowledge modern self-consciousness, preserving what is genuine in its emphasis.”

Desmond argues that the problem of the human self should be “anchored once again in being” in a way that preserves “infinite inwardness.” Only by such an anchoring can philosophy head off the “vacuity of empty inwardness” (45).

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