Saturday, April 21, 2012

A history of the Subject – Subject Theory Explained

The "subject" (with or without capital S) is a very prominent concept in the fields of critical theory, psychoanalysis and cultural studies. The use of the term "subject" has been known to be very diversified and non-unitary across literature. Subject has of course a grammatical meaning as the part of the sentence which carries out the action. In modern philosophy and psychoanalysis the subject is considered to be the human existence which is in a relational state with other existences. In its various uses, subject does not have a clear definition and its denotation is the subject of great debate.

The concept of subject can be traced back to Greek philology were it served Aristotle to denote the basic platform to which predicates can be attributed. The subject in Greek Philosophy was that which maintains its essence through change. This perception of the subject incorporates the object as well, and is not opposed to it as later perceptions of the subject believed.

The modern perception of the subject first appeared in philosophy in the works of early modern thinkers such as Descartes. Descartes' cogito is a reflexive consciousness and not just a platform for traits as the Greek philosophers would have it. Starting with Descartes the subject became an important term in philosophy which denotes the primary condition for consciousness. Kant spoke specifically about the subject as a unitary structure of consciousness which constitutes the objects perceived by it. According to Kant, it is the unitary nature of the subject which guarantees the unity of experience and allows reality to bear meaning. For Kant, the structure of human consciousness enables rational epistemology.  

Following Kant modern philosophy has linked subjectivity with rationality and awareness. The term subject was linked with that of "agency" and man was perceived as the sovereign of his own world, its meanings and content. In other words, the subject was the source of reality. This perception of the subject was instrumental is the formation of various principles in the philosophy of the Enlightenment, such as for example democracy.

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