Saturday, February 28, 2009

What Is Enlightenment?

(Was ist Aufklärung?)

Michel Foucault, 1978
translation by Mathew Henson, 1992

Today when a periodical asks its readers a question, it does so in order to collect opinions on some subject about which everyone has an opinion already; there is not much likelihood of learning anything new. In the eighteenth century, editors preferred to question the public on problems that did not yet have solutions. I don't know whether or not that practice was more effective; it was unquestionably more entertaining.

In any event, in line with this custom, in November 1784 a German periodical, Berlinische Monatschrift published a response to the question: Was ist Aufklärung? And the respondent was Kant.

A minor text, perhaps. But it seems to me that it marks the discreet entrance into the history of thought of a question that modern philosophy has not been capable of answering, but that it has never managed to get rid of, either. And one that has been repeated in various forms for two centuries now. From Hegel through Nietzsche or Max Weber to Horkheimer or Habermas, hardly any philosophy has failed to confront this same question, directly or indirectly. What, then, is this event that is called the Aufklärung and that has determined, at least in part, what we are, what we think, and what we do today? Let us imagine that the Berlinische MonatschriftWas ist Aufklärung? still exists and that it is asking its readers the question: What is modern philosophy? Perhaps we could respond with an echo: modern philosophy is the philosophy that is attempting to answer the question raised so imprudently two centuries ago:

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Baudrillard’s Philosophy Of Seduction: an overview.

To appreciate Baudrillard s philosophy of Seduction what is at stake in it and why it is important today - we should remember the historical situation from which it evolves, viz., the postmodern context, in which it appears that rational theory has autodestructed and truth is dead . This autodestruction is said to occur for several reasons, eg: 1) The first principles of any rational system or theory, or the first rules of any language game, cannot prove themselves without logical circularity, or else falling into an infinite regress of first principles. But if the first principle is dubious and unproven, then the whole system derived from it is also dubious and unproven. Therefore all systems are questionable and truth cannot be established. 2) Theoretical systems or language games contain within themselves their own criteria for deciding such central issues as: good evidence, proper test, right method, authority, reliability, validity, and value. The criteria differ with the system. Therefore, there is no independent position from which one could judge between the systems to ascertain which one is correct, if any. Therefore the systems are said to be incommensurable, ie, they can t be measured or judged against one another. Therefore, the correct system or the real truth cannot be established. 3) The question may be posed: Why be rational? If the modern rationalist uses reason to provide rational arguments for being rational then he or she is simply begging the question. For he or she is assuming the validity of reason to argue toward the validity of reason. 4) Epistemology (the study of knowledge) has been at the heart of the philosophical enterprise from the beginning; for it was assumed that, before we can hope to say whether this or that worldview or theory constitutes true knowledge we need to know what knowledge is. Therefore, we must study what knowledge is first. But to know what knowledge is presumes we already have knowledge in knowing what knowledge is. So an assumption about knowledge is always made at the start. But, once again, this initial assumption cannot be validated without circularity. Therefore, there is no proven knowledge or truth. 5) Can we now draw the sceptic's conclusion, then, ie, that the truth is that there is no truth? Obviously not, because that statement itself claims to be a truth, so it undermines itself. Hence: epistemology, rationalism, critical theory, philosophical scepticism, even deconstruction, all now appear aporetic. Rational theory in all its forms autodestructs. Therefore - modernity is dead. (May it rest in peace.)

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Secular Age

Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, Harvard University Press, 2007, 874pp., $39.95 (hbk), ISBN 9780674026766

Reviewed by Michael L. Morgan, Indiana University

This is a very important book and quite an extraordinary one. Some years ago, a colleague of mine began a review with a sentence that I have always wanted to use myself: "if I had written this book, I would die a happy man." The sentiment expressed by this sentence, that the book being reviewed has about it a kind of greatness and worth such that authoring it could easily count as the culmination of a fully worthwhile life, is one that I admit to feeling about Charles Taylor's monumental work A Secular Age. Taylor of course is well-known for his books on psychological explanation, Hegel, communitarian political philosophy, ethics and moral philosophy, and much else. Arguably he is one of the most influential English- language philosophers of the past half century. The scope of his thought is impressive -- history, political theory, ethics and moral philosophy, art, epistemology, and religion. But more to the point, it is the special way in which Taylor has bridged the gap between continental and analytic philosophy that is important and the way that in the course of bridging that gap he has shaped an historically rich and philosophically powerful conception of the modern identity and its social and cultural matrices.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

What is Critique? An Essay on Foucault’s Virtue

Judith Butler

What is it to offer a critique? This is something that, I would wager, most of us understand in some ordinary sense. But matters become more vexing if we attempt to distinguish between a critique of this or that position and critique as a more generalized practice, one that might be described without reference to its specific objects. Can we even ask such a question about the generalized character of critique without gesturing toward an essence of critique? And if we achieved the generalized picture, offering something which approaches a philosophy of critique, would we then lose the very distinction between philosophy and critique that operates as part of the definition of critique itself? Critique is always a critique of some instituted practice, discourse, episteme, institution, and it loses its character the moment in which it is abstracted from its operation and made to stand alone as a purely generalizable practice. But if this is true, this does not mean that no generalizations are possible or that, indeed, we are mired in particularisms. On the contrary, we tread here in an area of constrained generality, one which broaches the philosophical, but must, if it is to remain critical, remain at a distance from that very achievement.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Heidegger on Art

Hubert Dreyfus

Heidegger is not interested in works of art as expressions of the vision of a creator, nor is he interested in them as the source of aesthetic experiences in a viewer. He holds that “Modern subjectivism … immediately misinterprets creation, taking it as the self-sovereign subject’s performance of genius” and he also insists that “aesthetic experience is the element in which art dies.” Rather, for Heidegger, an artwork is a thing that, when it works, performs at least one of three ontological functions. It either manifests, articulates or reconfigures the style of a culture from within the world of that culture. It follows that, for Heidegger, most of what hangs in museums, what is admired as great works of architecture, and what is published by poets, were never works of art, a few were once artworks but are no longer working, and none are working now. To understand this counter-intuitive account of art, we have to begin by reviewing what Heidegger means by world and being. . .

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Enjoy the Silence: An interview with Luce Irigaray

Interview by Julian Baggini

There are several reasons why Luce Irigrary might be thought brave, or foolish, to agree to be interviewed by me for tpm. First, there is a question of our respective genders. “Men and women do not generate language and structure discourses in the same way,” she has written. “And they cannot understand one another, nor even listen the one to the other, without first becoming conscious about such differences.”

As if that weren't enough of a potential obstacle to communication, Irigaray also agreed to handicap herself by talking in English, which she speaks and understands well enough, but not with true fluency.

Then there is the simple fact that tpm has its roots in anglophone philosophy, a tradition that has at best ignored and at worst mocked Irigaray, a thinker who in many circles is considered among the most important in the world.

Finally, there is the question of whether talking is the right way to encounter each other at all. “The first word we have to speak to one another is our capacity and acceptance of being silent,” she writes in her latest book, Sharing the World. “In this silence, the other may come towards me, as I may move towards him, or her.”

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