Monday, February 24, 2014


I few years ago, I came up with the unhappy notion of "anthropopathy" to capture the idea that there can't properly speaking be a "science of man", a scientific account (logos) of the human—no anthropology, that is, not even a philosophical one, because humanity is not a concept but an emotion, not a reason for being, if you will, but a passion to become. But this has not, of course, brought an end to the human "sciences", which are as strong as ever.

One of the means by which they establish themselves is to interpret all passion as a species of suffering on the model of illness. If you want to replace anthropology with a horrid word like anthropopathy (which I granted at the time was a indeed a very ugly word) then perhaps you also want to abandon sociology and psychology by a similar maneuver? But that just makes you either a sociopath or a psychopath.

It's a clever move. If you are not going to be reasonable, rational about your society or your psyche then you are implicitly admitting you're insane, i.e., irrational. But we should push back against this interpretation. After all, a great deal of mental illness simply is to approach emotions (i.e., one's own) as objects for rational analysis, rather than actual guides to who one might become.

If I'm right, the original error was to let philosophers consider the question of our humanity. They treated it as the unknown object of some obscure concept. Then they helped scientists believe that key parts of the object were now known, and well enough to be theorized good and proper. Throughout the centuries, the poets have been gradually pushed to the side, and with them the fundamental point that the self is not meant to be known in theory but to be mastered in practice.

It is not that the human has been conceptualized badly, but that it has been conceptualized at all. The construal of a pathos under logos has turned our passions into so much suffering. Though it may have been done in the name of rationality, there's nothing reasonable about it. I guess I risk being called insane for pointing it out.

See also: "Emotion and Society"

Update: In his 2013 book Intractable Conflicts Daniel Bar-Tal has coined the much less unhappy word "ethnopathy" (p. 344) to describe essentially what I'm talking about here: the suffering of peoples or, less, dramatically, a feeling toward a group. I believe this concept is absolutely crucial to resolving the world's current conflicts, its cultural crises, both in the West and between the West and its Other.

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