LS 810: Technologies of the Self

Spring 2012  | Dr. Michael Kenny

Self-knowledge is influenced by the dominant discourses of the age. Feedback between ‘expert’ knowledge and ‘common’ knowledge is one aspect of this process, one that is greatly influenced by current social issues. New technologies, such as genomics and brain-imaging, have arisen that claim the ability to achieve a ‘deeper’ understanding of human nature, while at the same time making it more susceptible to technological manipulation – but to what end, and who is to decide? 

How are our concepts of personhood affected by the disciplines that claim the ability to tell us what kind of persons we are – and even to peer into the soul itself? How are these developments related to culturally situated concepts about what kind of person it is good to be? These are perennial philosophical, moral, political, and scientific issues. And so, with that in mind, we will read a selection of classical and contemporary works that explore the nature of selfhood, the evolving relationship between mind and matter, and the future of the soul.

Required Readings:

Aristotle, De Anima (‘On Life’)
(Mark Shiffman, trans)
Focus Publishing

René Descartes, The Passions of the Soul
(Stephen Voss, trans)
Hackett Publishing

Antonio Demasio, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain
Pantheon

Steven Fuller, Humanity 2.0: What it means to be Human, Past, Present, and Future
Palgrave Macmillan

M. Kenny (ed): Custom Courseware

Course Requirements

Participation in discussion & commentaries on specific readings. Two essays (~10pp each) and presentations exploring topics of particular interest.