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Sub-thesis 3

Researcher: Kasper Lysemose

As responsive beings, humans preserve their existence

Human beings must respond to their being in order to be at all. This means that by responding human beings are always performing an act of self-preservation. The term ‘self-preservation’ has strong naturalistic connotations. It seems to imply ideas like ‘survival of the fittest’ and egotistic behaviour. The concept of human self-preservation, as suggested here, is of a different kind. This may be illustrated with a human child learning to walk. Clearly vertical existence is something achieved and to be maintained. Homo erectus would immediately cease to be if it did not perform a conservatio continua. Self-preservation is the ground of its being. As Husserl puts it in a condensed formulation: ”Ich bin nicht erst und erhalte mich hinterher, Sein ist Selbsterhaltung”. Taking this as a clue to an anthropological concept of self-preservation implies that human beings do not have a being, which they henceforth seek to defend by all means necessary. Rather, human self-preservation means that the being in question must be acquired through self-preservation.

Sub-project 3: The Anthropology of Self-preservation

The concept of self-preservation played a major role in German philosophy in the mid 1970s, being declared a founding principle of modernity and subjectivity by Blumenberg and Henrich. Nevertheless, the concept was soon abandoned. Henrich did not apply it in his theory of subjectivity and Blumenberg ventured into comprehensive historical studies. The posthumously published phenomenological anthropology of the latter, however, hints at self-preservation as an anthropological principle. Sub-project 3 is animated by this hint, seeking to develop it into a full systematic account. This means differentiating the implications of self-preservation and integrating them into a philosophical anthropology of responsiveness. In order to do so, sub-project 3 will in particular have to account for:

  • The difference between a substantialist and a relational concept of self-preservation. The self implied in human self-preservation is relational. It is not given prior to but acquired through self-preservation. An obvious objection to this would be that self-preservation, then, does not really have a self to preserve. The task will be to show that the self is even more at stake, precisely because it does not contain a fixed inner being which would only have to be defended. The human self is wholly absorbed in the balancing act of self-preservation.
  • The relation between a naturalistic and an anthropological concept of self-preservation. How did beings characterised by self-preservation in the specified sense come into being on the backdrop of self-preservation in a biological setting? To answer this question an empirically informed anthropogenetic account will be developed. The project will use the opportunity to explore a fruitful relationship to paleoanthropology, in particular to Leroi-Gourhan and the for too long overlooked Alsberg. The aim will be to show how hominids arrived at the exceptional position in nature which they are deemed not worthy of by various naturalistic accounts.