- What Is It Like to Be a Subject?
We thank Mario Eduardo Costa Pereira and João José R. L. de Almeida for their comments regarding our article “The subject of psychopathology: Of what plural is it made?” They enabled us to advance our understanding of the theme and to elucidate points that may have remained unclear in the original text.
Pereira’s reading undoubtedly enriched the discussion. By emphasizing the “importance of the field of the other in the construction of the singularity of the subject,” he succinctly translated our main goal. We hold that the main fragilities of the theories we discussed consist of the premise, underscored by Pereira, of a “monistic materialism,” expressed in a “mechanical, homeostatic conception of the physiology of the body.” We therefore agree that the neuroscientific theses he suggests—such as those deriving from epigenetics that postulate “the a priori openness to the environment and to the ‘other’ as ways of the brain’s biological functioning”—may create theoretical connections that have the potential to renew our understanding of the relations between brain, language, and subject.
There are fewer points of convergence with Almeida’s reading. We believe that his critiques will certainly help readers to perceive the article’s possible inconsistencies. Broadly speaking, however, we continue to support the points of view he refutes as argumentative flaws or “theoretical omissions.”
First, the problem of the notion of the subject. Almeida seems to assume that, by using “subject,” “self,” and “consciousness” interchangeably, we ignore or underestimate the important conceptual distinctions between the terms. The assumption is, in our view, unfounded. We use these terms as notional equivalents because we deliberately chose to discuss them in the terms set by the very authors we analyze. This does not mean that we ignore the importance of these differences to certain disciplines, such as psychoanalysis, for example. In four of the eight footnotes to the text, we justify the interchangeable use of the terms “I,” “me,” “consciousness,” “phenomenal self,” “Ego,” “selfhood,” “subject,” and “subjectivity,” “as having the same semantic extension.” In the second note, we additionally make clear that what authorizes us to proceed in treating the terms as synonymous are “the empirical examples provided” by the authors we discuss, whether phenomenologists or cognitive neuroscientists. In the examples, the terms have the same referent, that is, the idea of a subject that is predominant in everyday language and in most philosophical and psychiatric/psychological works on the theme: entities whose main attributes are “reflexivity, self-distancing, a sense of inwardness, a first-person standpoint, and disengagement from body and world,” according to Vidal and Ortega (2018, p. 25). [End Page 107]
Obviously, we had to make notions originating in different conceptual matrices comparable, otherwise a dialog would be impossible. This, however, does not mean replacing the need imposed by the methodological requirement with the supposed notional vacuity of the expression “ways of existing.” This expression was a metaphor, alluding to the experience of the subject as an “existent” that is irreducible to exhaustive descriptions. Almeida gave it a theoretical heft it did not possess and, in doing so, incurred in two errors. First, he intended to show that we failed to construct a solid notion of subject, as if this had been our intention. Our goal was never to offer a definition for the concept of subject, but rather to state that the subjective experience is not exhausted in its neurobiological components. Second, he inadvertently contradicted himself by mentioning, in a later passage, three available descriptions of the subject highlighted in our text and that could not possibly be read as paraphrases of the apparent triviality or theoretical nullity of the expression “ways of existing.” We will return to this point.
Almeida’s second critique refers to the choice of authors analyzed. For him, this “attitude” is “suspicious” because we mixed science communication authors, such as Taylor and Hofstadter, with others, such as Metzinger, whose intellectual authority is perceived to be “more professional.” We view this differently. First, popular science texts do not necessarily have less informative value than canonical...