Situated in American citizenship, the autonomous subject is our central standpoint identity or window on the world. The stability of our standpoint identity is neither once-and-for-all nor fixed. Ideally it is sustained ongoingly with our philosophic discipline and the principled authority of our regulative selfhood. It is further buttressed by a naturalist understanding of subjectivity, self-knowledge, intellectual gravitas and cultural confidence.
What do I mean by principled? Think BCE Socrates, 16th century Thomas More and 21st century Alexey Navalny. They understood or understand that the presence of their stability depended on the principled authority of their selfhood. Yes, we don’t imagine that they ever referred to autonomy’s words, its tripartite principled mechanism, made up as it is of independence, morality and entrepreneurship, words that are operative for our agency, personage and biography. Yet we do know that for them, there is a fate worse than death. That fate? The instability of standpoint and the duplicitous behavior that this instability fosters. While Navalny is still alive, he almost died after being poisoned by those who fear his rhetoric.
Our selfhood is generated by the neurophysiological (systemic) processing of our embodied conditions of subjectivity. Or, said another way, it is the machinations that we go through now that we have internalized the autonomous subject. At the same time that we realize its content, e.g., the deliberations we process, the judgments we exercise, the words we speak, we realize its form. Its form? The first person led regulative selfhood of an autonomous subject, the self-conscious processing of a subject in principled possession of its life.
It is when we responsibly engage autonomy’s principled mechanism that we assert the progressive originality of our selfhood, the authentic response to creating our window on the world and to authoring a life of our own design.
Good. Very good, right? We get the picture. Yet all day long we are unsettled—by the nature, history and language bequeathed to us by our ancestors; by tribulations such as illness, a pandemic or everyday bad news; by personal habits such as self-doubt, impatience and bad judgment and by plans wrecked by human nature, by mediocrity, and by brutalizing relationships.
Still, we have intentions, targets and ambitions and they must be accomplished regardless of the intermittent instability of the ground on which we stand. So, what can we count on? A stable identity is knowing what you are and who you are when up against the conditions of your subjectivity. In spite of everything you know, will frustration thwart your days? You bet. Is your stability vulnerable to your nature, the nurturing you receive, your experience and education and your circumstances? Yes, yes, yes. Nonetheless, if life is what we make of it, we must push on.
Now, let me back up for a moment and address the other side of knowing what and who we are. In the Cartesian paradigm, we’re operating with a misplaced confidence in our ego, which guarantees the instability of our central standpoint identity. I say misplaced because we are not bifurcated creatures.
In the bifurcated situation, our central standpoint identity is so erratic that we can’t help but make up stories about ourselves that aren’t true, further muddling our identity and inviting unhappiness. Of course, a stable identity does not guarantee the success of all of our endeavors. Bifurcated creatures are often successful. Still, when we’ve fully integrated the autonomous subject with the balance of the living system, we no longer find ourselves scrambling for the admiration or adoration that our egos think would make us feel better about ourselves.
Let me say it another way. Several years ago (2009) I talked about the acrobatic reach of subjectivity being put to ill-use. For example, with our acrobatic subjectivity comes the possibility of solipsistic rationalization. That is, with deception it is possible for us to except ourselves from the personal imperatives that constitute the responsibilities of citizenship in America. We can mentally excuse ourselves from its demands. Further, with solipsistic rationalization, it is possible for us to create only the appearance of the regulative selfhood of an autonomous subject in principled possession of its life.
Happily, our philosophy serves as the ground on which you stand the authorship of your life. It has been an opportunity for you to stand anew, to overcome the unstable standpoint identity of a metaphysical ego and to challenge your creative capacity for progressive originality—the burden of your subjective consciousness. It is here that you lay claim to your principled authority and progressive originality and to knowing that what you are (your standpoint) is the author of who you are—the author of the author of your life.