Saturday, February 18, 2006

A Very Brief Theory of the Enlightenment

Enlightenment is the overcoming of myth through critique. However, the predisposition to mythic thinking is inscribed in the cognitive structures through which any complex, hierarchical society is produced and reproduced. Therefore, the task of critique is without end. An infinite and incompleteable critique.

Myth is totality: the total and complete picture of the real. The temptation to totality. ("From Ionia to Jena," as Franz Rosenszweig puts it in his The Star of Redemption -- that is, from Parmenides to Hegel.) Myth does not cease to be myth when it is rendered in a conceptual form, and at the heart of all myths is something that refuses to be conceptualized. (This is true for conceptual myth-makers like Plato and Hegel. And in our own day, the thirst for conceptual myth-making, such as that of Ken Wilbur or Richard Tarnas, remains unquenchable.)

If myth runs so deep, how is critique even possible? Is critique a late accomplishment in the history of our species, as fragile and as dangerous as a test-tube -- or is critique an expression of something in the mind, or something in the blood, which runs even deeper than myth?

The totalitzation of myth vs. the infinitization of enlightenment.

I want to see how far this framework can go in explaining the historical Enlightenment (1648-1789), the tensions and difficulties that animate the work of the great Enlightenment thinkers (esp. Spinoza, Hume, and Kant), the appeal of the Counter-Enlightenment, and the temptations of fascism.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Yusef Asabiyah said...

I am very interested in your idea that myth is totality.

I want to try to understand whether in your saying this it means that you are saying that Hegel's ambition,(or is it delusional self-aggrandizement?) of absolute knowledge and an absolute knower (himself) could be shown by you to be myth and delusion.

I think that I want to know to what extent dispensing with Hegel's absolute knowledge and knower, and with "totality," commits me to various relativisms of which I have been unaware until only recently.

I am very comfortable with a philosophy of " always learning, always questioning, always moving closer to but never reaching in practice an absolute knowledge," which I associate with Kant - maybe too comfortable.

How do I know that in practice this philosophy doesn't simply amount to a relativism?

How do I know that this kind of critical thinking relies any less on myth than the thinking of absolute knowledge and totality in Hegel?

What if it relies on it even more?

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Yusef Asabiyah said...

Marcuse was a Hegel scholar.

3:57 PM  
Anonymous Yusef Asabiyah said...

I'm fascinated by the extent to which the way that your theory of the Enlightenment appears to break down into something that looks like Kant ( critique ) versus Hegel (totalization.)

4:39 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

Marcuse (and later Adorno) tried to rescue something of value from Hegel. But what they ended up doing is severing the dialectical method from the telos which Hegel assigned to it -- Absolute Spirit. Adorno's version of this is his "negative dialectics" -- dialectics without positive synthesis or reconciliation.

I don't want to trap myself in an opposition between Kantian critique and Hegelian totalization, because that would hamstring critical theory. And I don't want to uncritically accept the anti-Hegelianism of Foucault and Deleuze.

So what do I want? I'm not yet sure.

8:30 PM  
Anonymous Yusef Asabiyah said...

The very idea of a "political science" or a "social science" used to give me the creeps.

What I want is a "political science" and/or a "social science" which doesn't give me the creeps.

Traps/oppositions/hamstringings: these are things which definitely give me the creeps.

I cling to the idea that the really smart people in life end up, not as generals or CEO's or Presidents, but doing things that seem almost unimaginably wonderful... but things which also escape the radar...

A political science and a social science which wouldn't give me the creeps would be such as to make that available to anyone who would want it.

( Which probably wouldn't be everyone, alas... but maybe there'd be provisions for McDonalds, SUVs, and TV for these stalwarts... that's my utopia.)

9:42 PM  

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