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Jeppe Sinding Jensen

Tuesday, August 25, 11:30 a.m. | SG
No Human is an Island: Natures, Norms and Narratives

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Jeppe Sinding Jensen

Humans have two natures: The biological and the socio-cultural. Without the first, they would not exist and without the latter, they would not exist as human. Humans are social and cultural creatures and they have an inclination towards religion. For millennia, the modes of the socio-cultural existence of humans were shaped in relation to religion. Ludwig Feuerbach explored how sacralised human projections exerted their force on human, socio-cultural existence in indirect, reciprocal ways. Max Weber later explained how ‘humanity is suspended in webs of signification’. These webs have mostly consisted in religions as ideologies and discourses with known authors (more or less) and myths that think themselves in humans (without their knowledge of it). These webs are human social constructions that are transmitted in narrative and discourse, and solidified in norms and institutions. They present themselves as ‘what goes without saying’ and they modulate and regulate human thought, emotion and behaviour in normative cognition. The human cognitive machinery consists of an innate fast biological system (1) and an acquired socio-cultural system (2) that is modulated and regulated by norms and institutions. They are what Émile Durkheim termed ‘social facts’. They exert massive influences over human minds; one of these now being the fashionable idea that the present time is more individualistic and that individualization is the key to understanding contemporary social, cultural and religious forms. Individualization, then, may be studied as a ‘social fact’ that has a history (not to be exercised here). Any individual unavoidably needs internalization of collective ideologies (as pointed out by Peter L. Berger & Thomas Luckmann). This demonstrates the simultaneously public and private character of religion - designated as ‘I-religion’ and ‘E-religion’. Religiosity was never individualistic nor does ‘spiritualization’ seem to be, as current conceptualizations of individualization appear remarkably similar. This raises that question of ‘How private is the individual?’ Bringing three philosophers and a psychologist into the discussion may help clarify the issue: Donald Davidson on the nature of the subjective, John McDowell on the role of tradition in human cognition, Ludwig Wittgenstein on the idea of private language and Michael Tomasello on the cultural origins of human cognition. It is obvious that the present world offers more in terms of choice, liberty, and rights to individuals but that should not lead to the conclusion that humans are islands. Individualization is a discursive formation: As individuals we would not even be able to think of ourselves without shared language, shared norms and shared institutions. Entertaining notions about individualization may thus also be a way of ‘Cloning the mind’.