American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 82, Issue 2, Spring 2008

Alain de Libera
Pages 181-220

When Did the Modern Subject Emerge?

This article offers a tentative deconstruction of Heidegger’s account of the “modern,” that is, the “Cartesian,” “subject.” It argues that subjectivity, understood as the idea of some “thing” that is both the owner of certain mental states and the agent of certain activities, is a medieval theological construct, based on two conflicting models of the mind (nous, mens) inherited from ancient philosophy and theology: the Aristotelian and the Augustinian (or perichoretic) one, developed in connection with such problems as that of the two wills in the incarnate Christ. Starting with Nietzsche’s criticism of the “superstition of logicians” (the belief that “the subject I is the condition of the predicate think”) and Peter Strawson’s question in Individuals (“Why are one’s states of consciousness ascribed to anything at all?”), the article discusses Peter Olivi’s and Thomas Aquinas’s treatments of the problem, as well as the principle invoked to resolve it: actiones sunt suppositorum, “actions belong to subjects.” Against this background, the discussion refers to Heidegger’s notion of “subjecticity” and Armstrong’s “attribute-theory” in order to reappraise the Hobbesian and Leibnizian contributions to the history of the Self.