The I and the me

Faced with the risk of losing man because of the self, Pierre Guenancia proposes to discard the self in order to find man.

Faced with the risk of losing man because of the self, Pierre Guenancia proposes in his work to discard the self in order to find man. The man without me, it is a bet to save identity by distinguishing it from interiority. It is less a question of focusing on oneself than of opening oneself to others, in order to make it an identity that is not damaging but salutary. To do this, we must rethink our grammar: I never part with We, the singular is united with the universal. What does such a result mean, and how to achieve it?? It is by starting from Cartesian metaphysics, by reconnecting with the notion of substance, that Guenancia suggests we rethink identity, in order to achieve a more human political philosophy.

Deterritorialize the self

In order to define man, modern anthropology started from the self, which is the center of everything, of the self acted by the passions and oriented by its desire for power, as described in particular by Hobbes: a centripetal self, which is a whole for itself, and tends to see others as obstacles. this anthropological conception based on the self, Guenancia wants to oppose a philosophical and metaphysical conception (p. 14) based on the I, that is to say on the subject who knows, on the understanding.

A quest for identity that stops at the self would only be an unstable object, a set of diverse elements, risking dissolving into pure phenomenality. To succeed, this quest for identity must find substance, that is to say something permanent and simple. Cartesian metaphysics allows us to find this permanent and simple thing in the soul, defined by its attribute which is thought. Inspired by this Cartesian metaphysics, Guenancia borrows its fundamental concepts, but to redefine its terms, in order to escape modern critiques of the notion of substance: this is not just a common basis or foundation of different properties or qualities (p. 47), in which case it would risk being unknowable; substance, following the Hgelian formula, is above all subject (p. 47), which here designates the fact of being able to initiate an action not prefigured in reality.

The quest for identity therefore consists of seeking substance, that is to say the subject, and therefore become I (chapter 1): the I does not designate here an object that one could observe alongside the self, as if in each man there were two different characters, but the I is reached by a modification of consciousness, which adopts a point of view overlooking with regard to itself, where it can observe its past, judge its present and envisage the future. To become a subject is to become a impartial spectator, disinterested (p. 28) vis–vis oneself: it is telling one's memories not as if they were exclusive properties that one would exhibit by perfectly identifying with them and claiming them as one's own to mark one's difference, but as if these roles played in childhood were the result of permanent play between possibilities (p. 68).

The I thus effects a defamiliarization with its own world, it leads man to extract himself from his environment which was the me. Guenancia then proposes an interpretation in Deleuzian terms of the Metaphysical meditations: in the Second meditation, the experience of cogito by which the individual becomes a subject is an experience of deterritorialization, that is to say an experience by which the individual becomes a stranger to the world he inhabited, what he thought was his self (his body, his senses), the existence of which he now questions. This experience is followed by a re-territorialization in the Fourth Meditation, the I disappears behind the self that Descartes finds with the concrete man who is body and self intimately united. But this re-territorialization keeps in mind the possibility of seeing oneself as another (p. 287).

It's all a question of look, of point of view: become Iis to deterritorialize the self, to replace the me gocentric which wants to be the center of everything, the I galilen (p. 312) who knows he is one among an infinity of others.

Rethinking a common humanity

Why deterritorialize the self and insist on a philosophy of the I? Guenancia's approach is not intended to be purely speculative, but also practical because it is political. The target here is no longer the modern self, but rather communitarian ideologies, which, according to the author, borrow from the self its form, that of a whole and fill it with a matter which is, or would be, that of an ethnicity, of a race, of a religion, of a human whole (p. 17). From the intrasubjective level, the I/me relationship is then transposed to the intersubjective level in order to think about We (chapter 2), that is to say the community, then the man (chapter 3).

Guenancia reverses the traditional communitarian criticism according to which the individual in modern societies is an isolated atom, detached from any community of belonging. In reality, communitarians have a mode of thinking analogous to that of the individualists to whom they are opposed: they think of the nous as a broad self presenting a character of totality (p. 191), each community comes to form an isolated whole alongside other communities conceived above all as different, with which the relationship risks being conflictual.

Both modes of thought have forgotten the philosophical idea of ​​the substance soul, from which it is possible to think of a We which is not differentialist but common. If we start from the Cartesian conception of substance evidenced through the individual experience of the cogito, only individuals are substantial. But these are not, however, isolated substances incapable of coming out on their own: they are in reality always already connected by a substantial bond. There is a strong intellectualist position here from the author, stated in the introduction: the human bond is not first of all a conscious bond of solidarity with all present and future men. It is intellectual in nature () (p. 25). Men are first united intellectually before they can even be united emotionally.

So what is this substantial link?? We must return to the Second Cartesian meditation to better understand what is at stake here: when Descartes passes from I am, I exist (ego sum, ego existo) I am a thinking thing (sum res cogitans4), the appearance of the term thing manifests the irruption of universality within a personal existence. Through thought, the I breaks away from the self which considered itself as a single whole, and becomes aware that it is one among a multiplicity of possible individuals having thought as a common property (p. 51-52). In becoming Ithat is to say a spectator of oneself, the intersubjective appears at the heart of the intrasubjective: we discover the other in ourselves, we discover at the very heart of the substance (thinking soul) the existence of a link to the other.

The common is therefore not second, but it precedes the proper, or rather it is given at the same time as the proper: neither the proper constitutes the common, nor the common the proper, it is the relation which generates and switches these two poles (p. 189). In other words, the common is above all relative, and does not designate a substantialized collective unlike the community. Just as, in Descartes, the union between the soul and the body is a substantial union without forming a third substance, so the union between individuals is a substantial union without forming a third substance which would be a closed us, identity or community. In a romantic relationship for example, underlines Guenancia, we can think of love as the meeting between an I, that is to say a me capable of becoming a spectator of itself, and another who comes to actualize a virtual existence that I carried in me: in this case, love does not mean the fusion of two selves within a we which would be a whole superior to the two selves, but love is the intensification of an individual existence by another, each individuality having to be cultivated to favor this intensification.

The I is therefore a first person which in reality covers a plurality. If the I thus reveals itself to be plural, would it therefore become impersonal?? Would the singular merge into the universal, in which case would the thought of each person be only a mode of thought in general?? No: that would be to forget that the I designates a mode of consciousness which always remains linked to a self. From metaphysics, Guenancia then moves on to the major problems of historical epistemology (chapter 4): is man a part of nature?? Unlike the Spinozist perspective which makes man an individual drawn into the substantial totality that is God or nature, the Cartesian perspective pursued by Guenancia considers that the only and true substance, the soul, is inseparable from the individual. Man does not dissolve into a whole that goes beyond him, nor is he a whole closed on himself: he is singular without being isolated, because he carries within him the dimension of intersubjectivity. Cartesian metaphysics thus makes it possible to reconcile individualism and humanism, because by becoming I, each individual at the same time accesses the substantial bond which already always unites him with other individuals.

From metaphysics to politics

It is difficult to fault Guenancia's analyses, as the author each time knows how to specify the conceptual debts he owes to the philosophers of the past, first and foremost Descartes, and the free interpretations he adds to them – as with the definition of substance. Precise and rigorous, Guenancia is concerned with the distinction, first and foremost that of I/me, sometimes even stretching the line to forge typical ideals, but whose explanatory significance always justifies the use. The analytical method starting from the I to rise to the nous, then the man, allows a clear and effective demonstration, while being non-exclusive from a more synthetic point of view that the author knows how to adopt at the end of the work, in order to think about the question of the relationship between man and nature (Is man the master of nature??, p. 320).

If we grasp the scope of such a metaphysical study, which provides an answer to the question of the condition of possibility of communication between individuals, we also sometimes cannot help but wonder if the passage from metaphysics to more political analyzes would not be too ambitious: Guenancia insists on the importance, in the face of defenders of a differentialist identity, of making assert the critical function I, the critical and dissociative power of thought (p. 372), but could the political problem of identity be resolved by a change of point of view??

However, Guenancia's objectives nonetheless remain perfectly achieved: identity is a concept that must not be abandoned but rethought, by not giving in to the ease of making it a tool of difference and particularity, but by capturing the paradoxical character of an identity which unites singularity and universality. The man without me is not a man without identity who has given up knowing himself; on the contrary, it is the man who has known himself so well that he can fully assume his singularity while knowing how to form an open common world.