Capable Capable
Capable Capable

The monumental idea of reintroducing self-possession to America
Arnold Siegel —July 4, 2022

“Know thyself” is inscribed on the temple wall of the Delphi Oracle, so Plato tells us. Thus, the philosophic challenge to know yourself has a history together with its appealing provocation that succeeding with the effort to take the measure of yourself will lead to a life lived in the light of greater consciousness and understanding of your responsibility for yourself, for commanding the organization, direction and control of your authorial voice of your embodied selfhood and not least, for realizing a quality of deliberative judgment and progressively original authorship that provides you with as much fulfillment, satisfaction and equanimity as your nature allows and as you can authentically accomplish.

To question who we are is to begin an ontological inquiry. The question of self-knowledge is often precipitated by the difficulties we encounter in the process of acting on our creative responsibility, i.e., acting on the authority provided by the design of who we are. But what is the design of who we are? It is the case that the manner in which we identify ourselves (“know thyself”) is critical to the exercise of our authority. However, the collapse of the metaphysical paradigms of “monotheism,” “essence,” and “ego,” (from the weight of science) has left each and all of us (aware of it or not) in a substantive identity crisis vis-à-vis a discipline common to all of us that describes what we are. And despite the advanced age of our civilization among the difficult challenges we confront, is recognizing what we term the substantive identity of the free individual. This all comes down to the fact that what we require is a philosophy with which to resolve this crisis. 

To start, we must shift the question of our identity, if only temporarily, from “Who am I?” to “What am I?” That is, we must take up the generic question, “What are we?” or “What are all of us?” Our conclusion? We are humans living in an era which we term late modernity, and a nation wherein we are subjected and as such, enculturated to be fully human. In America, we living systems have been socioculturally fashioned to be liberal democratic individuals (the free individual). Our virtuously intent autonomous behavior is the keystone to the success not just of ourselves but also of the political, economic and social structure of America.  The expectation is that this experiment in democracy and emancipation, i.e., our civilization, is so arranged that all of us can flourish in it. All of us can live a life worth living and, at the same time, achieve a country worth the effort of creating it.

Our examination of the free individual’s responsibility for its emancipation reveals that the normatively, institutionally and lawfully regulated free individual creates itself with its substantively principled authorial autonomy, a generic standpoint identity philosophically and constitutionally situated in America. Fully human, no crown, no cross, no ego and employing its biolinguistic tools, e.g., reason, rationality, felt-experience, imagination, the virtuously intent autonomous author of a free individual is deemed to be in possession of itself.

The philosophy of Autonomy and Life makes the mechanism of autonomy transparent. It addresses 1) how we should govern ourselves, 2) how we should know generically what we are and 3) how we should know ourselves in our individuated character, i.e., who we are. We believe the key to knowing ourselves lies in knowing how to govern ourselves. But equally salient, self-knowledge is the key to self-governing. We cannot expect to make sense of the significance of our lives or to truly enjoy our lives if we don’t know what we are and can’t take the necessary evaluative measure of ourselves in order to discover who we are.  

Here is the rub. While simultaneously engaged in this substantive philosophical inquiry, we also find ourselves at a time when our citizenship is sharply divided along lines of identity politics and what the media has termed the culture wars. On the one hand, we cannot ignore the likely to occur pluralistic arrangements of a 233-year-old country populated overwhelmingly by immigrants from countries scattered all over the world. We are a people with multicultural backgrounds being held together by a great experiment in the philosophic idea and lawful enactment of democracy and emancipation. On the other, we have become a nation whose political rhetoric is so divisive as to cast a prognostic gloom over the future of our enlightened democracy. The center appears to be in danger of not holding. Common ground for the assimilation of a diverse population remains out of sight. 

Many have given up on the possibility of assimilation. We have not. Our thinking goes like this. Paradigms of common referential authority that help hold a population together have emerged over the millennia. We have identified four: Pagan, Christian, dualistically conceived ego/mind and the one introduced in 1776, (legally founded in 1789), in which we find ourselves now, substantively principled emancipation. We believe that our democracy and our autonomy are two sides of the same coin. If our democracy fails, so does our autonomy. We expect that our paradigmatic organization of the emancipated subject’s responsibility for itself will be the grounds for assimilation along the substantive or principled lines of its generic standpoint identity. 

In conclusion, “know thyself,” or what we’ve come to know as our philosophy of self-possession, becomes critical and the keystone of civilized life in America. We expect our philosophy will provide the spark that will lead to the preservation of our democracy, a catalyst to unifying our nation and the grounds for our assimilation. That is, having authorially embodied the principles of autonomy in America, we would have held ourselves accountable for behaving responsibly and conscionably in the selection of ends and in the employment of means. As such, we envision a future wherein pluralism and assimilation, instead of being in conflict, exist in harmony with one another. 

Assimilation being the thorny problem that it is, we propose the monumental idea of reintroducing self-possession to America. The goal that our country be a melting pot yielding a unified identity, abandoned by many, can be achieved after all if we can all agree on what it means to be emancipated, i.e., to be a free individual in America. The fact is that to be assimilated we don’t have to be copies of each other, neither of an ideal race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, nor need it be by virtue of blood and soil. In other words, familial enculturation, local or regional preferences, differences of appearance, all can prevail in our democracy if self-possession is sufficiently disseminated. 

In other words, the nation can be conceived as a melting pot if we can agree that our perceptions depend on our standpoint, namely, the philosophically envisioned generic standpoint identity of the free individual and that practicing our substantively principled emancipation is what makes each of us, one of us. It is the case then that assimilation can be accomplished through philosophy. Each and all of us can enjoy the satisfaction of mutual recognition and of knowing and being what we are, namely, fully human autonomous authors of our lives.

Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its
Workshops and Advanced Classes.