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A Philosophy Of The Impersonal Essay

5335 words - 21 pages

For a Philosophy of the Impersonal

1. Never more than today is the notion of person the unavoidable reference for all discourses, be they philosophical, political, or juridical in nature, that assert the value of human life as such. Leaving aside differences in ideology as well as specifically staked-out theoretical positions, no one doubts the relevance of the category of person or challenges it as the unexamined and incontrovertible presupposition of every possible perspective. This tacit convergence with regard to the category of person is especially obvious in a hotly debated field like bioethics. Truth be told, the debate between Catholics and secularists turns on the precise moment at which a living being can be considered a person (for Catholics, at the moment of conception, for secularists much later), but never on the decisive weight being awarded this attribution of personhood: whether one becomes a person by divine decree or through natural means, awarding personhood still remains the threshold, the decisive means by which a biological material lacking in meaning becomes something intangible. What remains presupposed here, even before other criteria and normative principles come into play, is the absolute ontological predominance, which is to say the incommensurable value added to the personal with respect to what is not: only life that has passed through this symbolic door can be sacred or qualitatively significant, and so can provide the proper personal credentials.

Turning to law, we find the same presupposition at work here, but now reinforced by a more elaborate argumentative apparatus: to be able to legitimately assert what we call subjective rights (at least in the modern juridical conception of rights), one needs beforehand to have penetrated the enclosed space of the person. Thus, to be a person means enjoying these rights in and of themselves. This thesis, which appears most frequently in the recent work of Stefano Rodotà (S. Rodotà, 2006) and Luigi Ferrajoli (L. Ferrajoli, 2001), is that the renewed value awarded the category of person lies in the fact that only it is able to bridge the difference that is established between the concept of man and that of citizen, one formed at the very inception of the Modern State. This difference-- as Hannah Arendt argued in the immediate postwar period (H. Arendt, 1996) -- is born from the exclusive attachment to nation or territory (particolaristico) that characterizes the category of citizen, where citizen is understood as a member of a given national community and therefore not to be extended to every man as such. The idea was that only a concept that was potentially universal, like person, would allow for the strengthening and expanding of the fundamental rights of every human being. It's here then that we find the calls made over a vast cultural front, to move away from the limited notion of citizen (or individual) to the more general one of person -- as Martha...

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