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I'm shocked you managed to write this article without reference to existentialism at all. What is existentialism if not a commitment to defining man within his context and a deference to the creation of self through choices in its future? I guess their idea of self is the conflict here, but I think it's unfair to talk about the "rediscovery" of these semi-Eastern ideas and skip from Kant to now.

GracefulDave: Yeah, I skipped both Hegel and the Existentialists. :) My only excuse is that I wrote this as a stream of consciousness...

With existentialism comes a denial of the circumstances that one finds oneself in as binding - which is (as you suggest) contrary to what I'm sketching here. But existentialism leads directly to the digital soul concept - if I buff this up later for something else, I'll be sure to add this thread. Cheers for the prod.

And thanks for commenting! Thought this was going to bat a duck for a moment... ;)


I had the same reaction as GracefulDave: where’s existentialism? And even before Sartre and co, William James’ radical empirism was pretty close to what you describe here, this network of interconnected relations (if I remember correctly, he even used the same image of the spider web, or maybe it was a tapestry of intertwined threads), and especially the question “who will you be?”, which is the same he would use. My knowledge of Heidegger is (very) superficial, but I’m pretty sure that his concept of Being also involves the idea of interconnection. And what about phenomenology? A conscience is defined as a conscience of something, meaning that conscience is born out of the relation between two objects. An isolated soul would have no conscience (well, no soul at all technically).

I think most of the philosophy in the 20th century tried to defy individualism. Even in modern art, when you read someone like Proust, the exploration of his subjectivity is a mean to gain a better understanding of the world, and our relation to the Others; we’re far from a withdrawal from reality (and he has the best answer I know to the question "how do you know who you are"). Or we can think of Virginia Woolfe or Dos Passos, or in a sense the choral movies à la Robert Altman.

Anyway, I share your point of view on the matter (on the spider web of existence I mean), but skipping the 20th century was rather daring!

On this note, I will make a bit of shameless self-promotion, and invite you over to my blog (here: It's on videogames for now, though, not ethics, but I think you could like it (and I’m in dire need of readers!)


Sylvain: Ha - another comment chastising me for overlooking the twentieth century! To be fair, I cite 20th century science fiction, I just skipped the existentialists. :) But as I said before, I wasn't trying to be complete here I was just sketching some general thoughts.

I've never read Proust, although I find him a fascinating figure. What is Proust's answer to how you know who you are, incidentally?

I've been reading a little William James recently, but I've not tackled it extensively. Where does he discuss "who will you be?"

I've added your blog both to my reader and to the Other Curiosities list here (which will improve your search engine rankings - especially since you have a link back). I should warn you that I'm not doing a very good job with my blog cluster at the moment, though, as "Chaos Ethics" is kicking me about. But the odd comment in the future can be expected. :)

Oh, and I don't agree that most 20th century philosophy tried to defy individualism - most of the calls for individualism are post-Kierkegaard and Nietzsche (late 19th century) and therefore must fall in the 20th century. Sartre is the watchword of individualist philosophers, surely! :) But the tensions that existentialism opened up did start to be pushed against in the late 20th century - perhaps this is what you refer to.

All the best!


Hmm... I wrote a long answer yesterday about Proust and James but it seems to be stuck somewhere in some Internet limbo. Or maybe I preview it but forgot to post it!

Anyway, the gist of it was: reading Proust is essential, and I would look in Essays on Radical Empirism for James.

Don't you just hate it when you lose a comment like that? I've taken to drafting in a text editor to try and avoid it. :( Sorry you lost the text, but thanks for the tips!

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