DOI: 10.30443/POI2018-0020

On the Problematic Notion of “Subject” Between Emotions and Reason

Notes on the thought of Antonio R. Damasio

Nazareno Pastorino

This paper addresses the problem of subjectivity in Antonio Damasio’s philosophy. The Portuguese philosopher questions the traditional notion of subjectivity, showing that the unquestioned and granitic unity of consciousness falters or even shatters under the blows of biological and neuronal changes. What does it mean to have a character? What is it that determines certain attitudes? How is it really possible to state that certain decisions belong to a specific subject and are completely consistent with his/her subjectivity? This work undertakes to shed some light on these questions, and to deepen the concept of person, revealing how can we still talk about ego and cogito, with the awareness that it is no longer possible to ignore the intrinsic reflexivity of the most important unreflective thing: one’s own body. The main references are to Damasio’s Descartes’ Error and Looking for Spinoza, in which psychological motives intertwine – more specifically and more effectively – with physical or biological factors. Subjectivity is no longer a dogma: it becomes a real problem when we are forced to note that, after the removal of a tumor or a serious accident leading to severe impairments, the affected subjects change their mood, behavior, and personality, with impact on their decision-making ability. Then, what about free will, responsibility, and decision?

Keywords: Subjectivity, Free Will, Neurosciences, Decision, Biology, Action

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