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Critical Wisdom versus Technological Framing

There is, however, also another way of understanding self-reflection, one that Dante can help us to discern. In this alternative optics, self-reflection is not an attempt to recreate or refound the universe with the self at its center as the origin and end of itself and the world. Instead, reflection is— and knows itself as—a response to an Other. At least for human subjects, self-reflection in this outlook is not the establishing of the whole universe on the single postulate of the isolated self-grounding and self-founding “I” or cogito. The structure of self-reflexivity, in this alternative way of appropriating it, places us rather into relation with a whole universe that is there without us and before us (though not as articulable in our discourse). For Dante and his culture, reflection places us in the bosom of God as participants and as reflexes within the divine self-reflection. This other understanding and practice of self-reflection is something that we stand in dire need of recuperating in our self-alienated age. It is possible for self-reflection to be not an assertion of the autonomous power of the individual, but rather a way of discovering the ground of oneself beyond


Bruno Latour, Politiques de la nature: Comment faire entrer les sciences en démocratie (Paris: La Découverte, 1999) addresses this question by exploring the shifting and indefinable interface between nature and human society.

Self-Reflection and Contemporary Thought 251 one’s own powers in rhe relations that bind us to others and to rhe conjecturable Ground of all things in their togetherness, which we can only imagine.

To this end, certain theological and poetic imaginations of selfreflexivity, which are of great sublimity, call to be revived and saved from the cultural politics condemning a whole civilization for the crimes and deviations perpetrated by its betrayals and failures. We need to understand anew the place of self-reflection in the constitution of our selves as human beings and of our civil societies and cultural and natural worlds. Self-reflection could and should be an inexhaustible and indispensable resource for contemporary identity politics, as much as for the millenary Western civilization that those politics so relentlessly contest in our academies today.

Self-reflection, as the principal motor of our progress, and as exploited for the distinctive achievements of modernity, can be a way of ignoring nature and paying attention only to our own artificial constructions. This has become the case today on an unprecedented scale. But self-reflection can also be a way through which we relate to others, including nature, as unknown. For self-relation to be this, we have to leave our systematic knowledge always open at the base and at its outer limits to what we do not know. Only this leveraging from the «»known vitalizes everything that is known, preventing our knowledge from turning into a spectrous, dead, mechanical system cut off in sterile autonomy.

Our relations, which, to the extent that we comprehend them, are species of self-relation, must become relations to what we do not comprehend but must rather seek to relate to and acknowledge as beyond the scope of our conceptual powers. The intricate detail of natural phenomena can be charted and analyzed, but where that vital force comes from—and the fact that it is at all—remain metaphysical mysteries to be contemplated: they cannot be coerced by any formula. A knowing that reflects on itself completely, and not just within the parameters of some specific project of deliberate manipulation, has to recognize its limits and open itself beyond itself to the infinite mystery of all that is. It must recognize the inexplicable fact that there is anything at all, something rather than nothing—to evoke Leibniz’s famous formulation of the metaphysical question. Following this path, self-reflection has to reflect self-critically so as to break out of its own self-enclosed circuits.

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