Is anyone within the social structure an enemy to anyone? Is there a constant state of conflict and fight between them? These are two of the social domain-related descriptions of Thomas Hobbes, a renowned British philosopher. He, in a sense, says both yes and no as an answer to both questions.
The relationship between subject or ego and other subjects or alter egos has been taken into consideration in different ways for a long while, especially in the modern phase of the history of philosophy. It must be immediately stated that the concept of “alter ego” is chosen deliberately, while the concept of “other” is not used despite being used more widely, because the concept of “other”, in itself, naturally emphasizes exclusion towards those that do not belong to the ego. Nevertheless, the conceptualization of ego and alter ego includes a similarity of timbre that attempts to feature the essential similarity between the two. That’s why, instead of “other”, the expression “alter ego” or “different-ego(s)” seems to be more accurate when considered with its background of use in the philosophy.
Two philosophers stand out by their determinant aspects in the discussions of subject in the history of philosophy. The first one is René Descartes (1596-1650), who is partially within the coverage area of this chapter, and the other is Kant (1720-1804), a philosopher who cannot take it into consideration due to the narrowness of this field of study. Descartes leaped forward with his famous quote “Cogito ergo sum / I think therefore I am” regarding the question of subject that has been under discussion for long years, and he, by this aspect, became a ground-breaking philosopher within the context of that subject. Nonetheless, the pattern “i think” that Descartes offers is in a closed and isolated position due to the fact that it does not refer to any other egos or subjects; the reason why its subject exists, along with the knowledge of its existence, arise from itself; they are not open to any other minds. This form is the most fundamental deficiency for his modern theory of subject. Within this context, according to Doğan Göçmen:
“Descartes’ formula foresees that knowledge and knowledge of ego are enough for establishing the subject. However, as shown by [Dieter] Henrich, although the use of the word “ego” requires the knowledge of ego, it is not enough to form the “ego”. Knowledge of ego is a mediated and oblique knowledge that stipulates the outer world and other “egos”. According to Smith, “ego” can be formed in association with the outer world at a macro level and over the “we” on a historical basis, and in a mediated manner over the “you” at a micro level.” (Göçmen, 2015:63)
As seen, Göçmen also points out this issue, emphasizing the necessity of the ego and alter ego relationship. The second moment of leap, which is of more importance to us in the discussions of subject after Descartes, is made by Hegel (1770-1831), a 19th century German philosopher. It must be instantly stated that Hegel’s understanding of subject is not an isolated ego that tests and measures the source of its legitimacy solely by itself; on the contrary, an ego in its system is compulsorily required to establish a relationship with alter egos in order to fully realize itself as a modern subject. Of course, this relationship will self-apply the principle of considering other subjects equal to itself, which is almost an unnamed rule. Furthermore, Robert Williams, an American philosopher, specifies that a state of freedom will appear out of this reciprocal relationship. Ego and alter egos in interaction will both turn themselves into subjects and reach a state of liberation while doing it; this is a really well-functioning system. Freedom points out a situation that might appear as a consequence of each subject’s relationship with other subjects, and by its nature, it is social and it does not seem likely within the limitedness of individuality.
As far as I’m concerned, this theory of contemporary subject that fully finds itself in this state of mutual relationship and interaction, as brought forward by Hegel, still holds its validity within the collectivisms we live in today, and manifests itself in sociology, psychology and other fields of social sciences as well. Can a human live within the public sphere without needing any other humans? The answer is most likely “no”. Because we indeed are in constant contact with many other people in any area we live as a human/citizen/subject, and we survive by the contributions made by each; of course, we also make such contributions to other egos, we definitely do not live in an isolated way. None of us live a life within the limited world of ours neither morally nor materially, so much so that being left isolated for a long period of time is called “being quarantined” as a penalty within the related fields; this bad situation refers to a human being dragged away from collectivism, thus ending up in a bad situation, and judging by that, we understand that collectivism is what is ideal for humans. Accordingly, it is possible to say that a modern ego, in a relationship with other egos, can go in the direction of forming life conditions that progress in their ordinary flow and in a healthy way in all aspects.
Although there are states of competition or agreement within social structures, they are not essentially related to the structural cores of the subjects. Even though each of them seems to be in a “constant fight” in daily life, everyone, in fact, knows they are in need of others in various ways, and acts accordingly. In this context, contrary to what the 20th century French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre said, it is possible to say that “hell is ‘not’ other people”. It is not limited only to this fact, on the contrary, other people are a “cure” for a subject, or a person within their social formation; a subject is required to have contact with other egos in order to keep themselves solid spiritually and physically. The “I think therefore I am” claims made by Descartes were referring to a leap made in a period where the subject was sharply denied; nevertheless, it was not enough after a specific point, and it failed to provide a solution for the problems in modern world. Hegel’s understanding of a new subject, however, holds its validity in that it has the power to propose solutions for the problems of today’s world. One ego is not an enemy to another ego; on the contrary, they complete one another. One can say that this concise transfer also includes polysemy in a structure that is adaptable to many fields.
– Doğan Göçmen, Modern Felsefe-Tarihsel Anlamı, Güncel Mirası Adam Smith, Hegel ve Marx, Vivo Yayınevi, 2015
– Robert Williams, “Freedom as Correlation-Recognition and Self-Actualization in Hegel’s Philosophy of Spirit” (article), 2013.