Friday, 24 May 2019
Demetrios Harper: Self-determination and the Question of Subjectivity: Autexousion Agency in Maximus the Confessor
This paper seeks to interpret the conceptual mechanisms that give rise to Maximus the Confessor’s understanding of human self-determination, examining them through the lens of contemporary philosophical discourse concerning the origin of the philosophical categories of autonomy and heteronomy. Although the term αὐτεξούσιον is sometimes translated as “autonomy,” many contemporary scholars have argued persuasively that the philosophers and theologians of the pre-Renaissance world who employ the term do not have the same anthropological presuppositions that inform the contemporary understanding of the concept. Christopher Gill, Alasdair McIntyre, and Charles Taylor, et al., concur that the notion of an autonomous “self” arises in the wake of the Enlightenment and especially Kantian approaches to moral psychology. Post-enlightenment autonomy is dependent in turn upon the invention of subjectivity, which is inaugurated by René Descartes’s formulation of the Cartesian “ego.” As Gill argues in his two massive treatises, the diverse philosophical approaches in the pre-Renaissance world, mutatis mutandis, possess a common notion of self-hood, regarding an individual not as a distinct subject or “I” but rather as an “objective participant” in a larger human community. While Gill’s arguments appear to stand on firm ground in relation to pagan sources, his otherwise superb analysis largely ignores the Christian tradition and especially influential Greek patristic sources like Maximus the Confessor. In an effort to address this gap, this paper shall consider the principles of moral psychology that underlie Maximus the Confessor’s approach to self-determination, examining them in light of Gill’s subject/objective participant dichotomy.