The Immanent Self: Epigenetics, Modern Liberalism and Spinoza

I have just discovered Shea K Robison’s Nexus of Epigenetics blog, which is full of fascinating and thought-provoking material on epigenetics. It is especially full of good things on the philosophical context, content and implications of epigenetics. This post on epigenetics and the view of the self conceived by modern Western liberal (broadly-defined) thought:

I propose that the emerging science of epigenetics invokes an openness and an interconnectedness which are at odds with the ontological commitments of conventional Western politics and ethics. As I discuss in more detail elsewhere, the scientific assumptions of genetics mirror these basic ontological commitments of conventional Western politics and ethics. In this way, the scientific challenges presented by epigenetics actually mirror even more fundamental political and ethical challenges via their implications for the modern liberal concept of self.

The self as an atomistic and autonomous individual is the organizing principle of contemporary modern liberal society, as the locus of action and the focus of accountability in politics, in economics, in law, etc. However, even though this concept of the autonomous self seems self-evident and natural to us today, it is actually the contingent product of centuries of cultural and intellectual history which developed along a very specific trajectory.

In other words, different cultures, and even the same cultures at different times, have held different conceptions of what is a person, and therefore what are the appropriately ethical behaviors for this ‘person’ so defined. This cross-cultural and intra-cultural variability is one indicator that conceptions of personhood or selfhood are not ontologically objective (i.e., mind-independent) facts, but are rather the contingent products of specific historical and social processes.

The Nexus of Epigenetics

MeBlog

by Shea Robison (@EpigeneticsGuy)

(The following is a summary of a talk presented at the Center for East Asian and Comparative Philosophy on January 11, 2016. Copies of the full-length (draft) paper and the accompanying PowerPoint presentation are available here)

Per the guiding model of my project:

Epigenetic Model 2.0

I propose that the emerging science of epigenetics invokes an openness and an interconnectedness which are at odds with the ontological commitments of conventional Western politics and ethics. As I discuss in more detail elsewhere, the scientific assumptions of genetics mirror these basic ontological commitments of conventional Western politics and ethics. In this way, the scientific challenges presented by epigenetics actually mirror even more fundamental political and ethical challenges via their implications for the modern liberal concept of self.

The self as an atomistic and autonomous individual is the organizing principle of contemporary modern liberal society, as the locus of action…

View original post 2,772 more words

2 Thoughts

  1. Seamus/James,
    I appreciate your interest in my work on the philosophical and political implications of epigenetics, and your boosting of my signal. My book on this topic was recently published (available here http://bit.ly/2HG58bf for 20% off the cover price with promo code Q21820), in which I go into much more detail regarding both the science of epigenetics and the underlying political history, going back to the 1700s. If you have enjoyed what you have read on my blog so far, the book may be of interest to you. Excerpts are also available on my blog here: http://bit.ly/2HyPm17
    Given your other interests in this area, you may also like a paper I recently presented at the Midwest Political Science Conference on the history of the body in Western political philosophy, with an emphasis on Spinoza and the Radical Enlightenment (summary and link to the full-text here: http://bit.ly/2Jm4Ymq). This also links back to my work on epigenetics, but again from more of a philosophical and historical perspective.
    Thanks again, and let me know if you have any questions I can answer for you.
    Shea

    Like

    1. Shea, Apologies I didn’t reply to this at the time – thank you so much on this. I have had various real life things distract me from more serious reading so will hopefully be able to focus on this a bit more…

      Like

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